May 16 – The Lord’s Prayer: An Overview, Part 2

Pray, then, in this way.—Matt. 6:9a

Over the years people have had misunderstandings about the Lord’s Prayer (more accurately, the Disciples’ Prayer) that need correcting. First, Jesus’ words were not meant to be repeated as a formal prayer. The disciples had asked Him how to pray, not what to pray. And He hardly would have given them a prayer to recite after He had just warned against “meaningless repetition” (v. 7).

Second, people often don’t realize that Jesus’ teaching here is simply a skeleton or pattern for prayer. As believers, we are to flesh out the skeleton with our own words of worship, praise, and intercession as we come to the Father.

Third, people have seldom realized how versatile Jesus’ pattern for prayer is. Each phrase reflects the relationship between Creator and creature, and each one demonstrates an attitude and spirit of prayer. Similarly, we can variously outline it to show God’s glory versus our need, the threefold purpose of prayer (hallow His name, usher in His kingdom, and do His will), or to present our concerns from a past, present, and future standpoint.

We can see God’s overall purpose in prayer throughout the Lord’s Prayer. The primary focus is on God, which includes our adoration of Him, His worthiness, and His glory. From this model we see that prayer is not so much our asking to meet our own needs and wants, but our affirming God’s sovereignty, holiness, and majesty, and conforming our desires and purposes to His will.

ASK YOURSELF
What have people forfeited the most by viewing this prayer primarily as a rote, methodical, unthinking recitation before God? Does this argue against stating it in unison at church or in other religious gatherings? Or is there value in quoting it together—as long as our hearts are attuned to its meanings?[1]

That the prayer Jesus is about to give was not meant to be repeated as a prayer itself is clear for several reasons. First, in the present passage it is introduced with the words, Pray, then, in this way. In the account in Luke the disciples did not ask Jesus to teach them a prayer but to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1). Houtōs oun (then, in this way) means literally, “Thus therefore,” and frequently carried the idea of “along these lines” or “in the following manner.” Second, Jesus had just warned His followers not to pray with “meaningless repetition” (v. 7). To then give a prayer whose primary purpose was to be recited verbatim would have been an obvious contradiction of Himself. Third, nowhere in the New Testament-gospels, Acts, or epistles-do we find an instance of that or any other prayer being repeated by anyone or used in a repetitious, ritualistic manner by a group.

The Lord’s Prayer, or more accurately, the Disciples’ Prayer, is not a set group of words to repeat. It is fine to recite it, as we recite many parts of Scripture. It is certainly fine to memorize it and to rehearse it in our minds and meditate on it in our hearts. But it is not so much a prayer in itself as it is a skeleton which believers are to flesh out with their own words of praise, adoration, petitions, and so on. It is not a substitute for our own prayers but a guide for them.

In fewer than seventy words we find a masterpiece of the infinite mind of God, who alone could compress every conceivable element of true prayer into such a brief and simple form-a form that even a young child can understand but the most mature believer cannot fully comprehend.[2]


9a. This, then, is how you should pray. Before entering into the contents of this prayer a few introductory remarks may be in order:

(a) Christ’s Reason for Teaching His Disciples This Prayer Literally, according to the original, the sentence reads: “Thus (or: in this manner), therefore, you should pray.” Some stress the fact that the second person plural imperative verb is in the present tense. They interpret this present as having continuative force (you should keep on praying), and on this they base their conclusion that Jesus wants his very prayer to be prayed again and again and again. Now it certainly is not wrong to make frequent use of this prayer if the worshiper, when he does this, is able to do it with heart and mind. On the other hand, very frequent use may easily lead to the sin of formalism which the Lord has been condemning. Besides, it must be borne in mind that Jesus said, “Thus” or “In this manner” or “This is how.” He did not say, “Use exactly these words, and no other.” The so-called “Lord’s Prayer” is really the model prayer; meaning: it should serve as a pattern for our devotions. Its characteristics should mark also our prayers. Some of these qualities will now be mentioned:

(b) Its Brevity The prayer consists of two parts: an invocation (“Our Father who art in heaven”) and six petitions; or, if the conclusion (“For thine is the kingdom, etc.”) be considered as belonging to it, then three parts, approximately seventy words in all.

(c) The Priority to Which It Points In harmony with the fact that, according to both Old and New Testament, the glory of God is important above everything else, the first three petitions have reference to the Father’s name, kingdom, and will. Human needs—bread, pardon for sin, and victory over the evil one—take second place.

(d) Its Breadth or Scope There are six petitions, as follows,

Petitions with reference to

 

God’s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

name

 

first petition

 

verse 9b

 

 

 

reign

 

second.…

 

… 10a

 

 

 

will

 

third …

 

… 10b

 

Our

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

bread

 

fourth …

 

.… 11

 

 

 

debts

 

fifth …

 

.… 12

 

 

 

foe

 

sixth …

 

.… 13

 

The comprehensive or universe-embracing nature of these petitions appears from the fact that they bear reference not only to God’s glory, etc. (first three petitions), but also to our needs (last three); not only to our physical needs (fourth petition), but also to our spiritual (fifth and sixth); not only to our present need (fourth petition), but also to our need with reference to the past (fifth), and even to our future need (sixth). Finally, in this prayer the worshiper carries to the throne of grace the burdens that are not only his own but also his brothers’ (“our,” “us”). All of this is included in the six brief requests. This is indeed the perfect pattern for our prayers![3]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 145). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 374). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Vol. 9, pp. 324–326). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

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