Prayer is a tremendous blessing from God. It is a privilege to be able to take our appreciation, thanksgiving, praise, requests and complaints directly to God and to know he not only loves us and cares about us, but listens and reacts to our prayers. But prayer is also a tremendous challenge. It is amazing how many Christians feel guilty about their prayer life. Many worry that they don’t pray enough or that they pray the same things every day. We may even struggle with coming up with the right words to express our thoughts to God in prayer. Even the apostle Paul thanked God for the Holy Spirit who helps us in our weaknesses because we don’t know what to pray for as we should but the Spirit intercedes for us with groans we can’t utter (Romans 8:26-27).
That makes the simple teaching of Jesus to his disciples on how we should pray all the more valuable. You’ve heard it and likely said it many, many times. But look at it with fresh eyes today. “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” Jesus is the one who often rose before day to go out in lonely places to pray to the Father. He also would go up on the mountain and spend all night in prayer before major events in his life. The writer of Hebrews pictures Jesus in prayer in chapter 5 and verse 7. “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears, to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” He likely was referring to Jesus prayer in Gethsemane before the crucifixion. In light of Jesus own prayer life on earth it seems odd in many ways that his teaching to us on how to pray is so short, to the point and simple. It certainly points out that prayer to God isn’t some formal presentation that has to have every word in place for God to hear and answer. It is a conversation with one we love and who loves us.
He said, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” Notice, it is inclusive. God is Father to Jesus in a special way, but He is our Father in heaven as well. It certainly isn’t wrong to pray to God as the almighty, all powerful, all knowing God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But Jesus longs for us to see God as our own father in heaven and to know that just as our father on earth loves us and longs to hear from us our father in heaven is anxious to hear our voices calling upon him. His name is hallowed, or holy, separate in the he is our unique Father. Earthly fathers are a wonderful blessing from God. But our earthly father has both great, loving qualities and inconsistencies and failures in his life. God is a different kind of Father. He is above and serves as the ideal for every other father in the world. When we approach God it should be with respect for Him who cares more deeply for us than we can ever comprehend.
“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Notice the first plea isn’t about our needs but for God’s kingdom or rule to come. This isn’t particularly about the kingdom of God coming into existence but for his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven all the time. This is a prayer we are to pray and it would make no sense to pray for God’s will to be done on earth when I am not allowing his will to be done in my own life. It makes all kinds of sense to me that we would prayer this prayer for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven and to add the phrase and Lord begin with me. The second part of this sentence is his explanation of the first part. When the kingdom comes, His will is done. The only way God’s will is done in our lives is when we are willing to yield to his will even if it differs from our own. Jesus best illustrated this principle when he prayed for the cup of the cross to pass from him but added, “Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.” God’s will is done perfectly and totally in heaven. For his will to be done in that same way on earth seems highly unlikely. After all Satan is the god of this world and he leads it further and further from the Lord. This prayer is only fulfilled as we personally yield to him.
“Give us today our daily bread.” This was the first personal request Jesus mentioned. It isn’t just about food, but about our normal, every day kind of needs in life. He tells us to pray to God about the daily concerns of life and know God is interested in those little things like what we will eat today. It is significant that he placed the request for daily bread before the request for forgiveness of sins. It certainly doesn’t mean that daily bread is more important. It likely does recognize that we tend to think first about such daily needs before the problem of sin and what it is doing in our life.
“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” We owe God our lives, our loyalty and our worship. Every act of disobedience or failure in life puts us deeper into debt to him. Remember the story Jesus told in Matthew 18 after Peter had asked how many times he had to forgive his brother and asked if it was up to seven times. Jesus first said to him that it was not up to seven times but to seventy times seven as a way of saying there is no limit. But he then told the story of a man who owed the ruler of the land $10,000,000 and was called on to pay his debt. When he stood before the ruler he pleaded for more time and said he would repay it in full. The ruler had compassion on him and forgave the entire debt. He went out from this amazing gift to find a brother who owed him $15.00 and demanded he repay him what he owed him. The man pleaded for mercy and for time and promised to repay it completely but he had no mercy and called for the man and his family to be thrown into prison until he paid every penny. Other servants told the ruler what had happened and he called the man back to challenge his actions after he had been so totally forgiven and had the man thrown into the dungeon for his actions. Jesus said that is the way it is when we are forgiven by God of such a huge debt we have with him and then turn around and refuse to forgive something another person has done to us.
He said to pray for forgiveness because we have forgiven others who owed us. Matthew adds in verse 14 “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Our appreciation for God’s forgiving us ought to be so great that we are ready and willing to forgive anything that another person may do to us in life.
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” This isn’t to imply that if we don’t ask God we will be led into temptation. James tells us that God cannot be tempted by evil and neither does he tempt any person but we are drawn away by our own lust and when lust conceives it brings forth sin and when sin is full grown in brings forth death. Our prayer is for God’s guidance. It is that God would keep us alert to the temptations of the devil and give us the courage to refuse the temptation. Notice Jesus explained it further by saying to deliver us from the evil one. Other translations have it to deliver us from evil. Neither translation is bad but probably the one that says to deliver us from evil is better. We need to avoid the evil in life whether it is coming directly from the devil or from life as a whole. Sometimes the evil is of our own making, yet we still need God’s deliverance.
It is a simple prayer. But it covers the range of our needs as God’s people. Whether we pray it as a prayer every day or use it as a pattern to make certain we are praying for the kinds of things God wants us to pray about, doesn’t really matter. It is vital to remember the heart and the scope of this prayer as we approach God anytime.