The Lord's Prayer
Scripture: Matthew 6:7-15
We are in the middle of a teaching series about the Sermon on the Mount. Last week, we talked about giving, praying, and fasting – some of the ways we draw near to God.
We skipped over the Lord’s Prayer, and we are coming back to it today. But before we read it, I want to make one connection back to last week’s sermon.
If you remember, Jesus talked a lot about the reward of being a disciple. We are not living the Christian life only to get a grand prize in heaven. Instead, our relationship with God is the prize. Being with Him. Becoming more like Him. Helping others know Him. Our religious practices matter only in the sense that they bring us closer to the Father.
Keep that in mind as we read the Lord’s Prayer. Let’s begin in verse 7.
7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.
The Greek word for “empty phrases” is so unique, we think Jesus made it up. And that makes sense, because that’s what pagans are doing when they pray. They are making up prayers.
The word sounds like our word for “babbling” and probably means something like “blah blah blah”. The idea is this – when you pray, don’t go on and on making up things to say to God. We don’t get extra credit for extra words.
Jesus has a perfect relationship with His father and the longest prayer by Jesus recorded in the New Testament is John 17 – but you can say the whole prayer in 90 seconds.
There is a sense in which prayerfulness should be constant and our lives marked by little prayers all day long. Paul tells us to “pray without ceasing”.
But what Jesus has in mind here is the formulaic or ritualistic prayers of the Gentiles. They pray for their religion, but they have no idea who they are talking to or what their made-up gods want to hear.
He’s asking us not to talk to God that way.
8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
This is why Jesus asks us not to make up long prayers. Keep it simple, because your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
But this raises an important question. If God already knows, why pray at all?
It is true. We aren’t telling God something He doesn’t already know. Neither are we trying to convince God to do something, as if He might be lazy or disinterested in our lives. Why then does God ask us to pray?
God tells us to pray because it changes us, not Him. It is an act of dependance. The emphasis is on humble reliance, not magic words or ritual content. If your mind and your heart are not engaged in prayer, then it is worthless, because the most basic truth about prayer is that we are talking to a relational God.
According to Jesus the relationship is Father and child. God already knows, but He wants to hear from His children. It’s less about the content and more about the relationship. But Jesus now gives us a basic pattern for prayer.
9 Pray then like this:
Or “in this manner”. The Lord’s Prayer is a pattern for prayer – a guide. And what I want you to notice is that Jesus uses short, simple phrases. We teach this prayer to our children because even the smallest children can remember it.
I’m going to add a lot of words to explain the meaning behind each phrase, but please don’t miss the intentional simplicity of Jesus. There is depth and meaning to it, but notice how simple and childlike Jesus makes this prayer.
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
When we pray, we are speaking to a God who is both near and far. He’s my Father. We have a parent/child relationship. But He’s also in heaven… and He is holy.
Jesus begins the prayer by focusing our attention on the character of God and our relationship with God. The idea is that when we pray, we begin with a correct understanding of who we are talking to. Not Santa Claus in heaven… not Zeus or Allah or Vishnu or Buddha… this is Yahweh, holy Creator of heaven and earth… but He is also my Father.
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
This is the first prayer request but notice the focus of this request. Before we start asking for things we need and things we want, Jesus instructs us to remember what God wants.
God wants His kingdom to come. God wants His will to be done. “On earth as it is in heaven.” In heaven, the angels know God and they serve Him as King. That’s not yet true on the earth. Everyone doesn’t know or love God.
Jesus teaches us to pray for that to happen – for everyone to know and worship God rightly.
This is an example of us saying to God, “I want what you want. Help me to see it.”
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
Some have been tempted to over spiritualize this prayer in the past. Surely Jesus must be talking about spiritual bread? Nope. He’s talking about literal bread. Father, please feed me today.
As a pattern for how we pray, I think we can include all physical needs here. This is admitting that we have physical needs and that we trust our Father to provide for us.
12 and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And this is the spiritual need. Just as we ask God to provide for our physical needs, we also ask Him to provide for our spiritual needs – most importantly, forgiveness.
But notice the second half. “As we also have forgiven our debtors.” As we will see in verses 14 and 15, this is actually the heart of the prayer. But first, Jesus says this at the end of the prayer:
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
The prayer ends with a request for guidance and protection. Father, help me not to compromise. Help me not to fall. Protect me from the enemy – and we face a real enemy from whom we need real, supernatural protection.
This prayer, in contrast to the religious leaders, is preoccupied with the glory of God not the glory of self.
In contrast to the pagans, it is preoccupied with humble thoughtfulness instead of meaningless ritual.
The prayer is simple. It’s only 57 words in Greek. Easy to memorize. Easy for a child to repeat. No wasted words. No big words.
He’s my Father. He’s the King. He provides for me. He forgives me. He wants me to forgive people. He guides me. He protects me. Amen.
We don’t need a lot of fancy words to have a healthy relationship with God.
But notice again the heart of the prayer – verse 12.
12 and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Look what Jesus says immediately following the prayer.
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Is Jesus here teaching that God will only forgive us on the condition that we first forgive others? On the surface, it sounds exactly like that.
This would be a problem, because the Gospel tells us that God’s forgiveness is never a reward for our works. Instead, the Bible teaches clearly that we have done nothing to earn our salvation. God’s forgiveness is based on the person and work of Jesus Christ.
I believe Jesus stated it in this way to make it clear that we have an obligation to forgive as disciples. In the same way God has forgiven us, we have an obligation to forgive others. The Gospel demands it.
Jesus mentions my sin before he mentions the sin of someone else, in order to remind me that I have been forgiven much. My tendency is to exaggerate the sins of other people and minimize my own sin. But Jesus wants me humbled. By saying it in this way, Jesus forces me to pray about my own spiritual need before I address the sins of others.
Remember, the entire sermon on the mount is about the fruit of repentance. In many ways, the greatest example of a life being shaped by the grace of God is the ability to forgive someone else. If you cannot bring yourself to forgive someone who wronged you, then perhaps you haven’t experienced the grace of God in your life.
And so, this is a prayer of humility. Having the right words or a lot of words – that’s not important. Is your heart engaged? Do you sense the need for God’s help?
The reason our words are less important than our hearts is because Scripture tells us that Jesus is praying for us and so is the Holy Spirit. God knows what we need better than we do. We can go to Him knowing that we are covered in perfect prayer.
The longer I have been a Christian, the more compelled I am to pray… the more I feel the need to talk to God. I think that’s probably normal.
As a young man, I didn’t feel as needy as I do now. But the more I have experienced the consequences of sin and death in this world, the more I experience the consequences of my own sin, the more aware I have become of my need for God’s help.
If you feel frustrated with your own prayer life, my encouragement to you is to spend some time reflecting on your need and God’s character. And there’s no better place than the cross. If your sin required the death of God’s only Son – and He was willing to give it – there’s your motivation to talk to Him.