I have virtually ignored the Lord’s Prayer most of my life. In my mind the familiar “Our Father” belonged in a category of high church liturgy or, at best, “nice verses” that lacked power, grandness, or personal application. But in spite of my inattention the Lord’s Prayer had somehow gotten itself lodged in my memory.
And I’m so glad it did.
This year was a tough one. On the stress management point scale I experienced some big numbers. The twenty minutes it took me to drive to and from work seemed to be the hardest. As my brain went into neutral during the routine drive, anxiety joined me in the car. Worry came along for fun. I knew I needed to take some defensive action.
I began my anti-anxiety strategy by recalling Scripture that I had committed to memory. Beginning in Matthew, I intended to work through the entire New Testament rehearsing Scripture I held dear. That’s when I stumbled on the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6.
Repeating the familiar words there in my car, I felt like I was hearing them for the first time. Gone was the background wedding or funeral music accompanying the text. No candles. No liturgy.
Just Jesus’ words.
For the first time I heard His simple requests of faith, relationship, daily living, and eternal life. I pictured Him sitting with His disciples saying, “This is the way to pray”—in essence, “This is the way to live.”
Our Father who is in heaven
With this simple beginning Jesus changed the way we approach God in prayer. In the Old Testament God’s people recognized Him as Creator-Father of their nation, but never as their personal Father.
No one had ever prayed like Jesus. And now Jesus escorted them into the intimate relationship He had with His Father. In fact Jesus addressed God only as Father, using the common Aramaic word Abba that any trusting child would call his or her dad.
By example and instruction Jesus transformed the God-human relationship from a distant, corporate experience into a new kind of intimacy, and He invites us to share in it as well
Hallowed be Your name.
Jesus then reminded His disciples that though we have intimate access to God, we should not forget who He is. He is the Almighty. He is holy. He is set apart in His glory above all else. Jesus was saying, “In your familiarity with God don’t lose your reverence.”
As people who bear God’s name, our actions should also reflect His holiness. In deep gratitude and respect we are to set ourselves apart from anything that fails to reflect God’s character.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven
What does it mean to pray such words? It probably has to do with the kind of prayer taking place. It is certainly proper to pray for God’s rule to be extended now as people submit to Him. However, this prayer also looks forward to a time of future blessing.
When you follow Jesus’ model prayer, you invite God to be involved and to accomplish whatever He deems necessary in your life and throughout the earth, as He also reigns in heaven. You welcome His rule personally and completely.
Give us today our daily bread.
To the Jewish man or woman in Jesus’ day Israel’s rescue from Egypt was never just ancient history. They relived the miracle every year in their celebrations of the Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles. Never far from their minds was God’s provision of food from the sky every morning.
Like their wandering ancestors, the disciples were to pray for “food that is needful for me today.” Here Jesus alluded to a favorite proverb that said: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; but give me only my daily bread [food that is needful for me today]” (Prov. 30:8).
Over and again Jesus taught that dependence on God is a daily choice. We must trust Him for our physical needs as well as our relational needs.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Forgiveness always sounds like a great idea—until you’re the one who must forgive! Forgiving someone may be one of the hardest things you ever do, but it is also one of the greatest evidences that you understand the grace God gave you by forgiving you.
Only a forgiven and forgiving heart can approach Abba and enjoy His fellowship.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Perhaps it was only a few weeks before Jesus taught this prayer lesson that He himself had squarely faced temptation to sin. Forty days in the wilderness, haunted by His own physical need and by Satan himself, Jesus’ petition for protection came from personal experience.
In these words Jesus reinforced the reality of spiritual warfare. But the words also remind us of the reality of our position as Abba’s child, relying on His Spirit to strengthen and enable us to resist temptation. First Corinthians 10:13 also assures us that God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to endure.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
This wonderful doxology gives marvelous perspective to Jesus’ meaningful prayer model. Near the end of his life David had this same worshipful response when he offered a prayer similar to our Lord’s model. Consider the similarity in 1 Chronicles 29:10–13:
“Praise be to you, O LORD, God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.”
There in my car, reciting the well-known words of Jesus’ exemplary prayer, I found no better stress reliever than the simple faith that comes from following His commands—in this case, “This is the way I want you to pray.” As Abba’s child, I rediscovered that I am to live in simple faith and relationship with my Father, content to trust His direction in my life, confident He will provide what I need. In this prayer Jesus was providing instruction about how to pray. But He was also saying, “This is the way to live.”
Barb Peil (MA/CE, 1987) is a staff writer at Insight for Living in Plano, Texas.