The Lord’s Prayer is one of the most familiar and beloved Christian scriptures – yet it may also be one of the most misunderstood. But it is a scripture that is VITAL for us as we would learn to pray.
We are going to look at “The Discipline of Prayer” in our “Disciplines of Disciples” series here in a few weeks on Sunday morning. But I wanted those of us who come on Wednesday nights to have an even more in-depth look at prayer, specifically the Model Prayer that Jesus gave us here in Matthew 6:9-13.
We’ll do a little bit of background and an overview of the prayertonight, and then we’ll spend the next 6 weeks looking at it by line:
I. The Context of the Model Prayer
The larger context of the Model Prayer is the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus is instructing His disciples as to the kind of people we are to be in His kingdom.
The more immediate context is Chapter 6:1-8, where Jesus is teaching His disciples about the way that we are (and are NOT) to practice our righteousness. He begins the chapter by warning against giving in order to be seen by other people, and then He begins to teach us some principles of prayer:
A. Do NOT be hypocritical
:5 begins: “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.”
So Jesus is saying, don’t be hypocritical when you pray. Don’t pray for the approval of other people; pray to God.
We need to understand what He is and isn’t saying here. He is NOT saying, “Don’t ever pray in public.”
I was pastoring a church one time, and I asked a certain man if he would pray during an upcoming service. He said he wouldn’t, because Jesus commanded us not to pray in public — and he quoted this verse.
But that is a mistaken application of these verses. JESUS HIMSELF prayed in public!! In John 11:41 at the death of Lazarus, and other times as well, Jesus prayed in public — and so did His disciples.
So He wasn’t issuing a general prohibition against ever praying in public. Rather, He was saying: be sure that you don’t pray FOR public attention. There is a difference.
This verse specifically says that the hypocrites “LOVE to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners SO THAT they may be seen by men.”
2 things here indicate their selfish intentions:
it is not just that they pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, but that they LOVE to stand and pray there.
the words “SO THAT” are what we call a “purpose clause” — they indicate the purpose for what is done. WHY do they pray on the street corners or in the synagogues? SO THAT/FOR THE PURPOSE THAT they might be seen by men.So it is not “praying in public” in and of itself that is wrong; it is praying in public FOR THE WRONG MOTIVES: to be seen by men, instead of to talk to God.
So the lesson is: don’t pray to be seen by other people, but to talk to God.
There is one question which gets to our heart of whether you are a hypocrite in your praying or not: where is most of your praying done? If most of your praying is done in church, with other people, at meals when others are present, and in other public settings, then you may very well be a hypocrite. But if most of your praying is done when it is just you and God, then you can be assured that you are probably no hypocrite.
So public prayer should be only “the tip of the iceberg” of our praying. You probably know that only 1/10 of an iceberg is what we see protruding on the surface of the water. 9/10 of it is hidden, underneath the water. THAT is the way our praying is to be: it is ok, according to Jesus, to pray in public. But if you are really praying for God and not for other people, then your public praying will be the smallest portion of your prayers — perhaps 1/10 like the iceberg. 9/10 of your praying — if it is really for God — will be when it is just you and Him.
So Jesus says, don’t by hypocritical in your praying.
B. DO pray alone
:6, “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Here Jesus encourages us to pray most of our prayers when it is just us and God — “the lower 9/10 of the iceberg”, like we were just saying.
Again, we don’t want to be legalistic about it. Jesus wasn’t saying that the ONLY way to pray is to go inside a house into an inner room. In fact, we see that Jesus Himself prayed in other ways: Mark 1:35 doesn’t say He went into the house and shut the door, but that He went OUT of the house and into the wilderness! And near His death, He famously went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. So Jesus Himself did not always pray in an inner room inside a house.
But the point was, He prayed ALONE with God. This is the point of what He is telling us, and we should seek for.
— some have a little room at home where they can pray alone
— some go out to prayer walk (that is what I usually do)
— we should all pray spontaneously all through the day, wherever we are (We’ll talk about that more during our “Disciplines of Disciples” series).
But the point is, make sure that most of your prayers are between you and God alone.
C. Do NOT use meaningless repetition
“and when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do …”
This is an admonition Jesus gives us that many of us might think we are not guilty of, but it might apply to more of our prayers than we think!
The word for “meaningless repetition” here is the Greek word “battalogysete”, and the word is onomatopoetic, that is, it sounds like the thing it is describing: “batta–batta–batta–batta” — an endless line of nonsensical babbling.
— Chuck Quarles, in his commentary on the SOTM, says that this may be referring to some of the “magical formulas” that some of the Greeks employed in their religious duties, in which they would repeat some nonsensical words similar to our “abracadabra”, which were supposed to call down some mystical powers from the gods if they repeated them.
— We see an Biblical example of a repeated “prayer” of sorts in Acts 19:34, where the pagan worshippers in the Temple of Diana, who were protesting Paul’s proclamation of the gospel, shouted “Great is Diana of the Ephesians” over and over for two hours!
— Of course, we don’t have to look too far for examples of “meaningless repetition” even in prayers that are used in many religions today. Cheryl & I recently served in Southwest Louisiana, which has a very strong Catholic influence, and we had many opportunities to see the adherents of that religion practice their repeated prayers: so many “Our Father” or so many “Hail Mary’s”, prayers they would repeat word-by-word hundreds and thousands of times — and you know that any time you repeat something verbatim like that, over and over, it loses its meaning.
The ironic thing is that many have taken the very prayer that Jesus gave us after saying, “Do not use meaningless repetitions”, and have made a meaningless repetition out of it, by repeating it word-by-word, over and over. That is NOT what He gave us that prayer for, as we shall see momentarily. Now I know that some of us might say, “Well, this doesn’t apply to me, because I don’t do ‘prescribed prayers.'”– but in truth this applies to more of us than we might think. We may not pray a “memorized” prayer per se, over and over, but if you think about it, many of us DO pray the same old dinner prayer, the same old SS prayer, the same of offertory prayer, etc. You may not have it written down, but you may as well have, because it is the same thing! I’ve had people in churches say, “I know what so-and-so is going to pray” and just nail it word-for-word!
So we ALL need to be careful that we don’t become too repetitious in our praying. The key is the next point:
D. DO focus on the relationship
Jesus says in :8 “So do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him”. and then He begins the Model Prayer in :9 with “Our Father …”
The key word here is “Father.” In prayer we are speaking to our FATHER in heaven. God is not a machine you put coins into; God is a person, with whom we have a relationship.
That is what so many religions are missing when they have things like “prayer wheels” of the Buddhists in Nepal. When we were there on mission trips, we would see these prayer wheels. Some of them were handheld, and some were huge wheels many feet around. The key to it was that you would write a prayer and insert it into the wheel, and whenever it would spin around, the “prayer” was going up to God. So we would see people passing by the Buddhist temple, and they would just thoughtlessly “spin” the prayer wheel as they went by, to make the prayers that were inserted “go up.” Or you could sit there with a prayer wheel in your hand, and watch tv or read the comics, and be “spinning” up prayers to God!
The problem with that is that it overlooks the fact that God is not some “machine” that you just thoughtlessly “send prayers up to.” He is not like “vending machine” that if you put the right coins into Him, He’ll give you what you want. God is a PERSON; our “Father in Heaven”, and that is how we are to pray to Him — we are to talk to Him as we would a person. That is not to imply that we are free to speak to Him disrespectfully, because we are not; He is a HOLY God. But it does imply that He has personality, and that we are to have a relationship with Him.
So we need to be careful that we do that: Speak to God as to a Person, your Father in Heaven. It is easy to get in “rut” in our prayer life, and just “say our prayers” or “read my Bible” — instead really focusing on meeting with the PERSON of God, which is what Jesus teaches us here.
We have seen that Jesus told us in John 17:3, “This is eternal life, that they may KNOW THEE”. The great privilege of Christianity is the relationship we have with God through Jesus Christ. And that should be the focus of our prayers. Even as we follow the Model that Jesus gave us — as I hope that you will learn to do — let’s never lose sight that it is a RELATIONSHIP that we are to be focusing on.
So that’s the CONTEXT in which the Model Prayer was given to us. Now, let’s look at:
II. The Purpose of the Model Prayer
A. What it is NOT: a rote prayer to be prayed over & over.
What many religious adherents have done is to take this prayer, and pray it over and over. As I said a minute ago, this is so ironic, because Jesus had just said, “DO NOT use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do …”. But sadly, many have taken the very prayer Jesus gave us after He commanded us NOT to use meaningless repetitions, and have basically made a meaningless repetition out of by praying those same words over and over, hundreds and thousands of times!
NOTICE that Jesus did NOT say: “PRAY THIS.” He said, “Pray IN THIS WAY.” There is a big difference. He was not telling us to pray this same thing over and over, but rather He was giving us a model of the way that we are to pray when we talk to God.
B. What it IS: an outline of the things God wants us to speak to Him about when we pray.
Jesus said, “Pray then, IN THIS WAY …”
The words the Greek Bible uses here are important. “Houtos” is an adverb that means “like this”. There is another word “touto”, that means “this” that God did not use. Quarles (SOTM) says that the adverb indicates that “it is a model to be emulated, not a script to be recited.”
So what we call “The Lord’s Prayer” is really a MODEL — which is why many (myself included) like to call it “The Model Prayer.” We are not merely to repeat these same words back to God, but we are to use it as an outline, a model, of the things that God wants us to speak with Him about when we pray.
The illustration I like to use is of the e-mails I used to send to my dad. When my father was still alive, we communicated a lot via e-mail. Dad would often send me a note, and he would talk about the weather where he was for a while, and then his health, and then what he had going in his garden, maybe talk about the latest OU game, and he would ask about Cheryl & kids. Now when I got his e-mail, I would read it, and then hit “reply”, and I would look at what he wrote, and reply with my own thoughts about each section. What was the first thing he talked about? It was the weather. So I might comment on that, and maybe tell him how the weather was where we were. When I had finished a paragraph about that, I would go back to his e-mail and look: what did he talk about next? Oh, his health! So I would write about that for a while. What next? The OU game. So I would write what I thought about that last game — and so on through each section of his e-mail. I might add a topic or two to it, but I would generally follow the outline of the letter he had sent me, because I knew that these were the things my father wanted to talk about with me. I didn’t just hit “reply” and send his same letter back to him — that is not what he wanted. He wanted me to talk with him about the topics that he gave me.
I believe that is exactly what the Model Prayer is. Jesus did not give this prayer to us so that we could just memorize it and hit “reply” and send those same words back to Him — just like Dad didn’t want me to send his same note back to him. God wants us to personalize this prayer; to use it as an outline. Just like my dad’s e-mail, the things we find in “The Model Prayer” are an outline of the kinds of things our Heavenly Father wants us to talk with Him about when we pray.
III. The Outline of the Model Prayer
Understanding the nature of the prayer then, let’s briefly touch on the “categories” of the outline. What ARE the things God lists here that He wants us to speak with Him about?
The Model Prayer is composed of 6 requests, and each request is an outline point we can use to pray. We are going to spend a week on each of these points for the next 6 weeks, but let’s look at a brief overview of each of these for just a few minutes:
A. Hallowed be Your name
“Hallowed” means to make holy. So we are to make God’s name holy — this teaches us to begin our prayers with praise. This is just like Psalm 100 teaches us: “Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise.”
Next week we’ll look at 3 Biblical ways we can begin our prayers with praise. There are many ways for us to praise God: in words, songs, scriptures, thanksgivings — but the important thing is to begin our prayers with praise and focusing on Who God is — it will make a huge difference in the kind of prayers that we pray.
In fact, NOTICE: the focus of the first 3 requests of the Model Prayer is GODWARD: “Hallowed by THY name; THY Kingdom come; THY will be done.” It is “THY …THY … THY.” The focus of our prayer, especially at the beginning, is not on US, but on GOD.
So this first section starts us off right by focusing on God as we begin our prayers with praise.
B. Your Kingdom Come
The word “kingdom” (baseleia) means the rule or reign of God. So we are to pray for the rule of God to increase in the world — that means that people are being saved, in missions and in local church fields, and that people are growing spiritually so that God’s reign in their hearts is increasing.
So we can pray here for pastors and staff members who are seeking to spread the Kingdom of God; and for missionaries and mission points all over the world, where missionaries are working to spread the Kingdom.
And be sure to pray for what YOU are doing to spread the Kingdom — or what you should be doing if you aren’t!
C. Your Will Be Done
This is where we are to pray for God’s will to be done: in our own lives, and in the lives of those we care about.
D. Give Us This Day
As we can see from this outline, our prayers are not merely to consists of lists of requests for our needs — but there is a place to ask God for requests, and this is it.
— AND NOTICE: This begins a shift in the prayer: the first 3 requests were all “God-focused”: “Thy … Thy … Thy” — now it is “our … our … our.”
So we ask for our needs here.
— And notice again it is still not “MY … MY … MY …” but “OUR”! So we are to include others in our prayers; we are not to be selfish and self-centered in our asking.
E. Forgive Us Our Debts
This is where we ask forgiveness of our daily sins — but it also reminds us to forgive OTHERS for their sins against us. Jesus adds a strong word about just after the Model Prayer in :14-15, which we will look at in a few weeks.
F. Lead Us Not Into Temptation
Then Jesus has us close the prayer with a request for spiritual protection: “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Having just asked for forgiveness of sins, we then ask God to help us from going back into more sin again.
There are evidently some sins we can avoid by praying: Jesus said in Matthew 26:41, “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation.”
And again, it is not just “lead ME not into temptation”, but “lead US” — so we can and should pray for spiritual protection for those we love: our spouse, children, church staff, others.
So these 6 requests form the basic outline of the Model Prayer that Jesus gave us, and beginning next Wednesday night, we will begin looking at them a little more in-depth, a week at a time.
JUST A COUPLE OF THINGS IN CONCLUSION:
— This model is for the longer, DAILY-type prayers that we pray. We do not have to pray like this every single time we pray throughout the day.
Jesus says that one of the requests of the prayer is: : “give us this day our daily bread” — which indicates that it is a “morning-begin-the-day-type prayer”, in which we spend a block of time praying before we start the day.
I think those larger periods of time that we spend in prayer is especially what Jesus had in mind for this Model Prayer.
There are other, more brief prayers that we pray, spontaneous prayers (we will talk about these in our “Disciplines of Disciples” in a few weeks) and we don’t need to worry about praying through the whole Lord’s Prayer outline every time we see an ambulance go by, or need to pray some quick prayer. There are times when we pray just a quick “breath” of a prayer; we don’t pray the whole Model Prayer in those. We can just pray “God help me”, or “God help them” — and that is ok. Don’t feel like you can’t pray because you can’t go through the whole outline.
But for the larger “blocks” of time that we pray — especially like those where the scripture commands and models for us praying in the morning before we begin the day — we can and should use the Model Prayer as an outline.
— And we don’t want to be legalistic about it. We shouldn’t look down on people who don’t use this Model; and we shouldn’t stick so rigidly to it that we never deviate from it.
I know there are a number of times when I have praised God at the beginning of my prayer, and it immediately led to me confessing my sins right after — because His holiness and glory was convicting. I don’t think that is “wrong” because I “got them in the wrong order”! I still prayed about the things He wanted me to talk with Him about; just a little different order, and that’s not “wrong.” We don’t want to get too legalistic about using the Model.
— But that being said, it IS the best model — it is the one Jesus gave us.
Just a personal testimony. I learned to use several outlines for prayer as a growing Christian in my teen and college years, like: Praise; Thanksgiving; Confession; Requests & Intercession, and the “ACTS”: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication, etc. and I have done well praying with them.
But when I really studied the Model Prayer, I thought, “Why are we looking elsewhere for a model to pray by, when Jesus has given us a model right here in His word?”
And this model is more complete than those others: it focuses on God like they do, and has confession and requests, but it also focuses us more specifically on God’s Kingdom work, and His will, and spiritual warfare (“lead us not into temptation”). It is the perfect Model Prayer that has been given to us by our Perfect Teacher. And I think we would do well to start using the Model Jesus gave us as the outline for our daily prayers.
I’ve prepared a little “outline form” to help us do that tonight … you can “fill in the blanks” and make your own prayer with it — and/or take it home and use it as an outline for your own daily prayers.
LET’S SPEND A FEW MINUTES PRAYING THROUGH THIS OUTLINE TOGETHER TONITE: