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Unpacking the Bible’s Most Famous Prayer

By • January 17 2018

The Lord’s Prayer is such a universally known and respected piece of literature that I bet if you suddenly stood up anywhere—on a bus, in a restaurant, in a waiting room—and started reciting it loud enough for others to hear, they just might join you. Maybe.

I think most people think of it as a convenient blessing at meal times, a prayer that’s appropriate at public events because it’s familiar to people and they can chime in without missing a beat, and a “safe” prayer since we know Jesus is the one who gave these very words to His disciples when they asked Him for instructions about how they should pray.

But there’s actually a lot more to this passage than meets the eye when you really dig into it. While I’m sure it’s fine to recite this prayer verbatim, there are principles embedded within it that can guide us as we pray for everything from an unsaved family member to God’s miraculous provision for our lives. Here’s how I’ve been breaking down the elements of this prayer in my own life for the past thirty years (Matthew 6:9b-13, NIV):

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name (v. 9b): Before you pray for anything, thank God for who He is and what He has done for you, and be specific as you do this. You might even want to take some time to worship Him before you start praying. This helps you to remember that He is able to do what you are about to ask, and put yourself in God’s shoes—aren’t you more inclined to bless someone who remembers to thank you? Philippians 4:6 instructs us: Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Gratefulness for what God has already done gets the ball rolling in the best way possible.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as is it in heaven (v. 10): God cares about what is important to us, but it’s even more important that our desires are a reflection of what is near and dear to God’s heart. Psalm 37:4 reminds us: Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. But how do we apply this to our prayers? Think about what God would want to see in the lives of:

  • your family members
  • your friends
  • your coworkers
  • your neighbors
  • your classmates
  • your church members
  • your government officials
  • your own life, now and in the future
  • Pray that God will have His way—for His kingdom and rule to come as you pray for yourself and others. For the record, I spend the majority of my prayer time on this part, asking God to have His way and to do what He wants in the people I know and in the world around me—and also in me. He promises that when we put Him first, He takes care of us. Luke 12:31 says, But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

    Give us today our daily bread (v. 11): Here is clear permission to ask for financial provision and blessing. Contrary to what many people think, it is not at all unbiblical, greedy, or sinful to ask for the provision you need, and even for abundant blessing on your business, your finances, your investments, and so forth—as long as your motives are right. James 4:2 says, You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. So ask away, but make sure your motives are in sync with God’s.

    And forgive us our debts [sins] as we also have forgiven our debtors [those who have sinned against us] (v. 12): [Note: Explanations in brackets are mine] This is a great reminder that no matter how “good” you think you are, you are a sinner in need of forgiveness every day. It keeps us humble, and helps us to remember that sin is always crouching at our door and desires to have us, as God told Cain in Genesis 4:7. When I come to this part as I pray, I take some time to let God remind me of areas that need work in my life, and I repent and ask for His grace to grow in righteousness and to resist sin.

    About forgiving others, this is also extremely important. Following the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus says these sobering words to us about the importance of forgiving others:

    ”For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Now, how this works theologically with what we know about the blood of Jesus covering all of our sins, I am not about to try to explain, but here is my takeaway: Jesus, show me where I have unforgiveness toward others and help me to lay hold of your enabling grace to be the best grace-extender I can be to those who have offended me. Better to be safe than sorry, right?

    And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (v. 13): This is the perfect follow-up to asking for forgiveness, because this is a reminder that no matter where we go, the devil is looking for ways to ensnare us, and no one is exempt. Sometimes when I come to this part, I think ahead of possible scenarios that might be challenging as I go through my day, and I ask in advance for the grace to overcome whatever I might face. For example, I’m a teacher, and I often ask for extra patience for that one kid, or to not blow up at my husband when I see all the crumbs he left behind on the kitchen counter, or all of his whisker clippings clinging to the bathroom sink.

    I realize that this might seem like a lot, so here is my encouragement to you: start with just one part and ask God to show you how to start applying that to your prayer life. Or, just start with the parts that make the most sense to you, and build from there. Whatever you do, make prayer a priority, and use the Lord’s Prayer as a guide in the ways you see fit. Make some prayer goals for 2018, and see how you grow!

    Photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash

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