The ‘Lord’s Prayer’ is probably the most familiar passage of the Bible to millions of people. Memories of it for older generations of people are inevitably linked with school assemblies where it was taught and recited every week, though younger generations will not be so familiar with in how that schools are dropping the Christian emphasis of school assemblies. In church circles it is the one prayer that is used by most Christian traditions as part of their formal collective worship and is often recited by many in the home every evening before they go to sleep. It is undoubtedly a much-loved and familiar passage of the Bible. Yet, though it is a familiar prayer, the question remains as to how much of the Prayer is actually understood by those who recite it. It is ironic that our Lord, in giving the Prayer to His disciples, did so in order to prevent them from doing what many now proceed to do – recite the prayer by heart while their minds are occupied with other things. ‘When ye pray’, our Lord said, ‘use not vain repetition as the heathen do’. Are we not guilty of doing just that if we use the prayer mindlessly, unthinkingly and repeatedly? Surely our Lord was teaching us that it is not the use of endless repetitions or incantations that draws a response from Him. It is not the ‘much speaking’ that draws His attention, but the thoughtful, sincere expression in our own words of the thoughts and desires of our hearts. Prayer is talking to God, not merely reciting to Him. The mis-use of the Lord’s Prayer should be as much a matter of concern to us as its use.
Our Lord began the Prayer with the words, ‘Our Father’. The Lord’s Prayer is essentially a family prayer, which only those who know God as Father can pray. In this regard, the early church was probably right to refuse to let unbelievers recite it, just as they refused to let unbelievers remember the Lord in the breaking of bread. The right to call God ‘Father’ and the right to take communion are rights that belong only to God’s true children. There are some that would say it is a prayer that was given to Jewish disciples and is for Jews to use in a coming day of tribulation. That may be so, but its principles can still be used by believers today. ‘Although the prayer pattern was primarily for subjects of the kingdom, it can scarcely be regarded as entirely irrelevant to the present day for those who are already members of the kingdom of God’, wrote FRED. TATFORD.
As there is no evidence that the Lord Jesus ever used it Himself, but rather said to His disciples, ‘After this manner pray ye’, it would be better to call it the Disciples’ Prayer, rather than the Lord’s Prayer. That our Lord gave two versions of the Prayer on two different occasions, one recorded in the Gospel of Matthew and one in the Gospel of Luke, makes us think that He did not intend us to learn it by heart, either, and to repeat it without thought. Because the two versions are different, yet the layout is similar, the Prayer is more likely to show us how to formulate our own prayers rather than to give us phrases to use. The purpose of the Prayer is to give us a pattern for prayer rather than a ritual; it is to give us a skeleton of‘bones’ that we are to clothe with our own words. This is borne out by the wayin which our Lord said in Matthew, ‘After this manner pray ye’, or, as one version has it, ‘This, then, is how you should pray’. Note it is not what we are to pray, but how we are to pray. Often, when people are encouraged to pray they say, ‘But I don’t know what to say’. This pattern shows us the priorities and subjects of prayer.The Pattern Prayer then works like this:
Calling upon God by name
Reminding us of our relationship with Him
Expressing concern for God’s glory
First of all, then, this pattern prayer of the disciples shows us that we should address our prayer to someone. We should ‘call upon his name’. Our Lord tells us that, if we are God’s children, we can address Him as our Father. What a wonderful privilege that is – to call the great Creator ‘Father’. He then tells us that our priorities in prayer should not be our own needs, but His. Too often when we pray we come to the Lord with a glorified shopping list, a long line of things that we want. Our Lord shows us in this pattern prayer that we ought to make God’s concerns a priority with us, not our own, however legitimate and urgent our needs may be. He Himself once said to His disciples, ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God … and all these things shall be added unto you’. In praying for God’s concerns first, we should pray that His name should be revered, His kingdom should be furthered and His will should be done, and that not just by others but by ourselves too. Having then given God and His interests pride of place in our lives and prayers, we can legitimately raise our own concerns. We can then ask God to supply our needs, though not our greed, we can ask for His provision, His pardon and His protection. All can then be concluded by a stimulus to worship and faith, as we remind ourselves of the power and the position of the One we call Father. ‘The Lord’s Prayer covers everything;and all we do is to take these principles and employ and expand them and base our every petition upon them. That is the way in which it is to be approached’, MARTYN LLOYD JONES, Sermon on the Mount. Do you not know how to pray or what to pray? ‘After this manner pray ye’, says the Lord. Were we to pray like this, rather than to pray this, we would find our prayers properly addressed, our priorities correctly ordered, our requests humbly presented to God, and our faith that He can do anything according to His will stimulated so that we can conclude all with the word, ‘Amen’, ‘so let it be’. The Lord often prayed and seemed to pray with such ease and power that it is no wonder the disciples asked him one day, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’. Let us also learn from Him.