The Model Prayer

The prayer Jesus taught his disciples is in two places in the Bible: Matthew 6:9-13 and  Luke 11:2-4. In most people refer to this as the Lord’s Prayer. That is a classic mistake for several reasons:

  1. The Bible records the actual prayers of Jesus and not one of them begins with “Our Father”, as this prayer does.
  2. Jesus did not say “This is how I pray.” He said “when you pray, say this.”
  3. Because our thinking about prayer is asking for something, people miss the fact that this is a series of declarations.

King James Rendering

Because the King James Bible is in the public domain, I quote from it here. I also placed links to comparative translations. Later I will look at each phrase in detail…

8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.11 Give us this day our daily bread.12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:Comparative translations

And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.2 And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.3 Give us day by day our daily bread.4 And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.Comparative verses

In the passage on the left, Jesus is teaching a multitude in the Sermon on the Mount. In the passage on the right, His disciples specifically asked Him to teach them. In both cases, though, He begins the prayer with two words that He never used together in His own prayers.

Our Father

Here Jesus is underscoring the truth that we are all connected. Of course, if God is “our” father, He is also “my” father, but the emphasis here is on the “our.” That particular truth is so difficult for us to wrap our heads around that Jesus made sure it would be prominent. We begin with the realization that I am my brother’s keeper. We are a family and God is OUR Father. Everything else proceeds from that.

Because He is our father, we should treat His name with deepest respect and veneration. 

As it is in Heaven

Consider for a moment the section that reads “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” This is, perhaps, the only real request in the prayer. What is your understanding of the way God’s will is carried out in Heaven? Is there sickness, sorrow, disease and war? Is Heaven filled with competition or cooperation? What is your vision?

Two places in the Book of Revelations give us some insight: The first speaks of those who came out of the tribulation.

Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.17 For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. Compare translations…

The second speaks of the new order:

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.5 And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.Comparative translations…

Notice the common theme: no crying, pain, hunger and the nearness of God to man. This is what Jesus told us to pray.

Give Us…

The next several verses troubled me until I asked for insight. Why, if God knows what we need before we ask, would Jesus include asking for it? What would we think of a natural, human father who knew what his child needed and withheld it until the child asked? 

When I asked about this and listened, the thought came “what is the understood subject of the sentence?” I answered “you.” Another thought came “Read it that way.” Early languages include the pronoun in the verb and we have “You give us…” which is a declaration, not a petition.

Forgive Us…

Jesus gave a clue in verse 14 that God forgives as we forgive. So why would we ask for that, if that’s how it works anyway? Again, read it with the understood subject and it becomes “You forgive us…” Another declaration. This is consistent with other teaching on the importance of forgiving others:

22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

Lead Us Not…

Here again is an apparent contradiction. James says “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:” Why, then, would Jesus teach us to pray for God not to do what He never does? “You lead us not.into temptation, but you deliver us from evil” becomes another declaration instead of a petition.

Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.

For Thine is…

Jesus concludes the model prayer with another rousing declaration. If our consciousness is that God is our loving father who provides for us and forgives us and has all power, what should we fear?

Let me challenge you to read the prayer as a series of declarations. The one petition is that God’s kingdom be manifested on earth as it is in Heaven. See what that does for your outlook.

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