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Jesus Teaches How to Pray

9"This, then, is how you should pray:

Our Father in heaven,

Hallowed be Your name,

10Your kingdom come,

Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

11Give us today our daily bread.

12Forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

13And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from the evil one.

14For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."

In the previous section, Jesus gave some instructions on how not to pray. First, He said not to pray "to be seen by men" (vs. 5). Then, He said, "And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words" (vs. 7). A great thing about the teachings of Jesus is that He instructs us, not only by precept, but also by example, in order that we may know what He really means by His teachings. So here, Jesus provides us with an outstanding example of a short, powerful prayer, given as a contrast to ostentatious prayers and the meaningless babble spoken of in the previous verses. Containing a mere six petitions, Jesus has given us prayer that expresses all that a child of God need desire. The extent to which our own desires reflect the petitions in this short prayer, is the extent to which we have been conformed to the mind of Christ.

This prayer is, of course, very well known to hundreds of millions of people, many of whom recite it regularly. It is ironic, and sad, considering the teaching of Jesus that prayer should not consist of meaningless babble and vain repetition, that many people pray this very prayer meaninglessly and repetitively. Some even superstitiously pray this prayer, thinking that the words in and of themselves (even if unfelt by us) have some magical power of their own. To pray this prayer vainly, repetitively, unfeelingly, is wrong, and contrary to the very teaching of our Lord for which this prayer is an example. Don't get me wrong, though. I am not saying we should avoid praying this prayer. It is a beautiful prayer to pray! So when we pray this prayer, we should ponder, meditate and feel what we are saying. If we do not feel what we pray, our prayer becomes meaningless babble: a noisy, unpleasant din to God's ears.

The structure of this prayer is very simple: an opening address; three petitions for God's glory; three petitions for our own sake. The prayer opens by addressing the One we are praying to: "Our Father in heaven" (vs. 9). This address is effective for us when we pray, because it reminds us of the goodness ("Our Father") of God, and power ("in heaven") of God.

The address "our Father" is an excellent preparation for prayer, because it builds our confidence by reminding us of the accessibility of God. He is our loving "Father", so certainly He will listen to our prayer. As "our Father", He personally cares for us. Never forget how great a privilege it is to be able to call the Creator of the Universe "our Father". John reminds us: "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!" (I John 3:1).

While saying "our Father" reminds us of God's accessibility, adding "in heaven" reminds us of His ability: He is God "in heaven", so He is certainly able to answer our prayers. Moreover, since He is an exalted Father, a Father "in heaven", and not a father in this fallen world, He is not saddled with the frailties and fickleness of our fathers on earth. He is a Father with perfect love for His children.

The first three petitions in this prayer concern God's glory. Many of us, many times, forget to pray for God's glory. We jump right to our own needs, and go on and on about them. "It is quite absurd if we only take care for our own business, and neglect the kingdom of God, which is so much more important."[3] By placing the petitions about God's glory first, Jesus gives them the highest priority. So should we.

The first petition in Jesus' model prayer is: "Hallowed be Your name" (vs. 9). This petition expresses a desire that the "name" of God--which denotes His entire character as revealed in the Bible: His power, wisdom, holiness, justice, mercy, truth, etc.--I say, this petition expresses a desire that the "name" of God be revered here one earth. This petition is greatly needed, because it is far from being accomplished in this fallen world. Rather than being "hallowed", God's name is blasphemed and belittled. Rather than appreciating the exalted character of God, we blame Him for everything that goes wrong in the world. Oh, that the whole world would realize that the main purpose for our existence is to glorify God. For this we pray, when we say: "Hallowed by Your name."

The second petition is "Your kingdom come" (vs. 10). There are two aspects of the kingdom of God for which we are praying: the present and the future. We pray that the present aspect of the kingdom of God would be strengthened: that God's salvation would be extended to more and more people; that His rule and reign would be submitted to more completely by His people; that the laws of His kingdom would be respected and obeyed by all. At the same time, we pray for the soon coming of the future aspect of God's kingdom: when Jesus Christ will return to reign directly over the earth; when His name will be exalted in every corner of the world; when every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. By the way, to pray such a petition as "Your kingdom come" is to (in order to avoid hypocrisy) desire in one's heart the coming of God's kingdom, and to be committed to the action of furthering God's kingdom on earth by devoting one's time and resources to that end.

The third petition is "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (vs. 10). Now, the inhabitants of "heaven" are in constant and perfect willful submission to purposes of God. And so, this is essentially a prayer that we, here on earth, would yield ourselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, so that God's purposes may be carried out through us, willingly and joyfully. To pray such a prayer sincerely requires that we ourselves be open to God's guidance through His Spirit.

The next three petitions concern our own needs. The first of these is: "Give us today our daily bread" (vs. 11). Note well: God supplies our physical needs, as well as our spiritual needs. We have just prayed exalted petitions concerning God's glory: His name, His kingdom, His will; but, in this present life, we must also be concerned with the physical details of our existence. Many times, any defiency of physical needs, and the anxiety that such a deficiency engenders, interferes with our seeking the (in many ways) more important spiritual needs that we have. Thus, Jesus places this petition concerning our physical needs as the first of petitions that pertain to our own needs. Jesus phrases this petition wisely. This petition asks for physical needs, while avoiding greed. It asks for "bread" (a modest request), and then also, just our "daily" bread, our bread for this day only: not luxuriousness but suffiency. Moreover, to ask for "daily" bread implies that we will ask God for the next day's bread also: we acknowledge our constant, daily dependence on God for our needs, just as the Israelites daily depended on God for manna in the wilderness. Note also that the "daily bread" for which we ask is "our" daily bread: the bread that we ourselves have toiled for, not bread that belongs to someone else. "The idea of God giving the food in no way diminishes responsibility to work, but presupposes not only that Jesus' disciples live one day at a time, but that all good things, even our ability to work and earn our food, come from God's hand."[4]

The second petition concerning our own needs is: "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" (vs. 12). Because of God's goodness to us, we owe Him perfect obedience, and so, our sins are appropriately called "debts" here. To ask God for forgiveness of sins is an always needful, though often forgotten (especially in public prayer) petition. We are constantly falling into debt to God by our frequent sinning. Our unforgiven sins are a "cloud" over us (see Lam. 3:44), separating us from God, rendering our prayers ineffective. Isaiah taught: "Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor His ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear" (Isa. 59:1-2). God, in His great mercy, has provided us a way through confession of sins to be assured that our sins are forgiven. He promised: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9). Spurgeon rightly notes: "No prayer of mortal men could be complete without confession of sin."[5] We need to establish a continual habit of confession of sin to God.

In order to avoid hypocrisy, Jesus reminds us that, if we are to expect forgive for our sins from God, we must also forgive others for their sins against us. "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." One who does not forgive others does not really understand full import of the great gift of God's forgiveness (Jesus eloquently illustrates this in the parable found in Matt. 18:22-35). Jesus clearly considered this important, because, after He finished this model prayer, He returned to this specific point. He clearly stated: "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (vs. 14-15). "To ask God for what we ourselves refuse to men, is to insult Him... But as no one can reasonably imagine himself to be the object of Divine forgiveness who is deliberately and habitually unforgiving towards his fellow-men, so it is a beautiful provision to make our right to ask and expect daily forgiveness of our daily shortcomings, and our final absolution and acquittal at the great day of admission into the kingdom, dependent upon our conciousness of a forgiving disposition towards our fellows."[6]

The final petition is: "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one" (vs. 13). James states: "When tempted, no one should say, `God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed" (James 1:13-14). So, whatever the situation, our temptation to sin comes from our own evil desires. "The evil one", known also as Satan, does what he can to incite our evil desires to lead us into sin. God does test us, but not with a view that we would fall. Rather, God tests us so that we would be strengthened by the success of passing His tests. So, in the petition here, "lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one", we are asking that God would order circumstances so that we would not be put into situations in which our own weaknesses would cause us to fall. And if we are to undergo testings (as we certainly will in this life), we are asking that the testings serve to strengthen us and make us grow up in spiritual maturity. In the Bible, we have an example of the importance of this petition. In Gethsemane, Jesus told Peter, John and James to "watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation" (Matt. 26:51). Instead of praying as Jesus exhorted them, they fell asleep. Later, Peter was led into temptation, and failed miserably by denying His Lord three times (see Matt. 26:69-75).

In some Greek manuscripts of the Bible, a doxology is added to the end of the prayer: "For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen." Beautiful as this doxology is, most scholars do not believe it was originally part of Matthew's Gospel, but they believe it was added later to some manuscripts by scribes. There are three main reasons scholars do not think that it was originally part of the Gospel: it is not contained in the earliest and most reliable manuscripts; it is found in differing forms in the manuscripts that do contain it; it was not commented on by the early church fathers who had access to the earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of Matthew. In fact, Tertullian (who lived in the late 2nd/early 3rd centuries, and so he had access to a very early manuscript) explicitly stated that "deliver us from the evil one" is the conclusion of this prayer. This is not to say that we must refrain from praying this doxology. In fact, the well-known doxology is very similar to part of one of David's prayers: "Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is Yours. Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom; You are exalted as head over all" (I Chron. 29:11).

Yes, indeed, Father in heaven, Yours is the kingdom and the glory and the power forever. We praise and thank You for teaching us how to pray. Bring it to mind in our personal and public prayer times. Help us, by Your Spirit, to use it as a model, so that we may pray aright. We look forward to the time when this prayer will be rendered unnecessary: when Your Name will be hallowed throughout all the heavens and the earth; when Your Kingdom will have come in full glory; when Your will shall be done by all, joyfully and continually; when all our physical and spiritual needs will be satisfied; when we will be delivered from temptation and sin forever, as we live with You, dwelling in Your presence forever. In the name of Your Son Jesus Christ, who will bring us into Your presence, we look forward to this time, Amen.

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