The Lord’s Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) is recited by millions worldwide every day.  Knowing the prayer by heart is helpful, no doubt; but we might want to question the value of merely trotting out the words, unless this leads us to a deeper meditation and communication with God. 

Just two verses earlier (Matthew 6:7), Jesus specifically teaches us NOT to pray mere words without engaging our understanding, which as many of us know it is all too easy to do. In this context it makes little sense to regard these great words as a precise formula, to be repeated word-for-word. It makes more sense as a guideline: bullet-points for several minutes (or even hours!) of prayer. 

Our Father

who is in heaven

hallowed be Your name

Your kingdom come

Your will be done

on earth as it is in heaven

give us this day our daily bread

and forgive us our debts

as we forgive our debtors

and lead us not into temptation

but deliver us from evil

FOR YOURS IS THE KINGDOM
THE POWER AND THE GLORY
forever and ever

amen.

 

Our Father 

Notice ‘our’ not ‘my’. We might be praying alone, but we are part of a worldwide, history-spanning family: the Kingdom of God.  As His family, we dare to call our Creator ‘Father’: a relationship not of equality, but still one of incredible, unbreakable closeness.

in heaven 

Jesus’ principal message, like John the Baptist before Him, was: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matthew 3:2 ESV).  In other words it is so close you can reach out and touch it!  That is where Our Father lives and reigns: in a place of total power and control, yet still ‘at hand’.

Hallowed be your name 

This is basically an expression of worship: ‘May your fame, your reputation, be held in the highest honour’ (and we’ll work to make it so).

Your kingdom come 

His kingdom is ‘Now-and-Not-Yet’. It’s already here, wherever He is acknowledged as King, but that’s far from universal.  We pray that it will one day fill the whole world (and we’ll work to make it so).

Your will be done 

This is really another angle on the same truth.  But here the emphasis is on the will, like Jesus’ prayer at Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39): ‘Not my will, but yours, Lord’. 

On earth as it is in heaven 

This is the ‘Now-and-Not-Yet’ moving towards fulfilment, when there will be no more Not-Yet but only the Now. Revelation 21 shows us a new heaven and a new earth, both filled with glory and light, where there will be no more crying or mourning or pain or death.  We pray for the coming of that day (and we’ll work to make it so).

Give us this day our daily bread 

Notice ‘us’ again, not ‘me’.  This, in Jewish thought, is a clear reference to Israel’s Exodus, on their way from slavery to the Promised Land; fed with bread from heaven.  Elsewhere, Jesus speaks of Himself as the Bread of Life, so there is a double meaning here.  We pray for God’s physical provision, day by day, but we also identify with Israel’s struggles as we walk through life to our own Promised Land.  We too are journeying to Another Country: the new heaven and new earth Jesus will bring when He comes again; and we too need spiritual food to sustain us on our way.

And forgive us our debts 

The commonly used, old word ’trespasses’ is a helpful description of sin. It carries the idea of a transgression: the illegal crossing of a boundary onto forbidden ground.  But ‘debts’ in the newer Bible versions is an equally valid translation: we owe God a clean and loving life, and we have failed to, indeed we cannot, pay this ‘debt’. We can only rely on Him letting us off.  And happily, Jesus tells us He will, but there is a condition.

As we forgive our debtors 

In the Greek, this is actually in the past tense: ‘as we forgave’.  This suggests we cannot come to pray for our own forgiveness unless we have already forgiven others! (see the previous chapter: Matthew 5:23-26. This is also a point Jesus stresses in verses 14 and15, immediately following the end of the prayer.) If you struggle with this, remember forgiveness is not a feeling but a decision.  It’s about the direction of our heart.

And lead us not into temptation 

For obvious reasons, we would all do well to pray this more often than we do!

But deliver us from evil 

Biblically, ‘evil’ means something broader than we tend to think, including ‘toils, annoyances and hardships’. Here as throughout, the prayer encourages us to receive and trust in our Father’s love and provision.

Toby Foster was a Law graduate, then a London policeman for many years before church-planting in St Andrews. Ideal training, some would say.