We, as Christians, definitely need, and should feel the need to “pray without ceasing” (I Thess. 5:17). But how ought we to pray? Many blindly repeat “The Lord’s Prayer” when the Lord has said that it is characteristic of those without the Lord to “use meaningless repetition” (Matt. 6:7b)—whether “The Lord’s Prayer,” some church’s liturgical prayer, or even our own. Many others, while not deliberately repeating memorized prayers, have prayer lives so stale and desires so narrow that they wind up repeating selfish requests almost as hackneyed as these words I once heard: “Dear Lord, Bless me, my wife, my son John, his wife, us four, no more. Amen.”
The Lord must tire of hearing our words if the prayers we offer are self-centered, faithless, and without fervor. Furthermore, the Lord instructs us to reject the manner in which the Gentiles pray, “for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. . . . Pray, then, in this way” (Matt. 6:7c, 9a). Then follows what is commonly called “The Lord’s Prayer.” We are to pray, then, “in this way,” in other words, not using a verbatim repetition of those words. Rather, we are to recognize the words as providing a pattern that includes all we ought to pray for in an order that God approves.
1. “Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name” (v. 9). The Lord instructs us to begin our prayer in the proper frame of mind and heart. We are to come reverently—not like a child raiding the cookie jar or making belligerent demands. We must respect the character, will, and work of God and offer Him genuine praise and thanksgiving for who He is and what He does.
2. “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (v. 10). The church age had not begun, so the kingdom for which the disciples were instructed to pray was Christ’s earthly kingdom yet to be established during the Millennium. But the principle remains. Believers should pray for God’s eternal purpose and will to be worked out in this age. This request primarily entails praying for the ministers and ministries that proclaim the gospel, and for the personal testimonies of individual believers as well. But it includes prayer for other God-ordained institutions, such as government and the family.
3. “Give us this day our daily bread” (v. 11). We are encouraged to come as children to their natural father requesting the things pertaining to our natural lives. The stark brevity and simplicity of the request remind us to put no stock in the things of this world and to focus on God’s supply today rather than worrying about the future.
4. “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (v. 12). These words express the God-required repentance and confession of sin. Real believers are forever saved. But we sin daily and have need of God’s forgiveness and cleansing. Forgiving “our debtors” is not suggesting that we must do a good work in order for God to forgive us; rather, it is the practical evidence that the repentance we profess is genuine.
5. “Do not lead us into temptation” (v. 13a). The Lord cannot tempt anyone to sin (Jam. 1:13). This request is similar to the one prayed by the Lord in the Garden: “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39b). It is a prayer for the Father’s protection against unnecessary trials and the increased potential to sin that they afford.
6. “Deliver us from evil” (v. 13b). Whether the evil might be done to us or through us, this request is that we might avoid sin and its consequences wherever it arises.
Much, much more should be said about this prayer, and about praying in general. For following this pattern, we might pray at one time for two minutes or at another time for two hours. Also, of course, adhering to this pattern is not demanded (as many subsequent prayers recorded in the epistles prove), but it does afford a framework that reminds us of all that we should pray for and of what is most important to pray about. Regardless, we should “pray without ceasing” (I Thess. 5:17).
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