Prayer is the bread and butter of the Christian life.
Prayer is not something we are born knowing how to do. We don’t just jump out in our diapers and know how to pray. It is something we learn. We learn to pray from others, from pastors, from hearing others pray. We learn by praying ourselves.
One time Jesus’ disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. When they asked Jesus this he didn’t ridicule them for not knowing how to pray. He didn’t say that they should already know how. He honored their desire and taught them. The fact that Jesus was willing to teach them to pray tells us that prayer is something that is learned. And my experience, and the experience of many others, is that we are always learning to pray.
Jesus taught his disciples to pray not with a series of sermons like some people do. He didn’t have pages and pages of methods and points. No, Jesus taught his disciples to pray by giving them words to pray, what we have come to call The Lord’s Prayer.
The Lord’s Prayer is found in the Gospel of Luke when Jesus’ disciples ask him to teach them to pray. We also find it in the Gospel of Matthew in another teaching of Jesus on prayer. The Lord’s Prayer was probably common teaching for Jesus when he spoke about prayer.
Jesus says to his disciples, “This is how you should pray”, and then gives them the familiar words of The Lord’s Prayer.
I don’t think Jesus’ meant that these are the only words we can or should use to pray. When we read about Jesus praying in the Gospels, he himself doesn’t use these exact words. The Lord’s Prayer is a model, a form, a framework for our own praying. We might see The Lord’s Prayer as a handrail that we can hold onto as we move along the path or stairs of our own praying.
When it comes to prayer, Jesus doesn’t leave us to ourselves. He gave us something we could use.
I have chosen to preach through The Lord’s Prayer during Lent, and I will be using the passage of the version found in Matthew. As we go through this prayer stanza by stanza over the next several weeks, I want it to help us learn to pray, to encourage us to pray, and maybe reinvigorate what is stale in our prayer lives (and if you are like me you find there are plenty of seasons where prayer goes stale).
Let’s let Jesus teach us how to pray.
We call it The Lord’s Prayer, but really it should be called The Disciple’s Prayer, because it is what Jesus gave his disciples, us, to pray. This prayer has been a fundamental building block in the life of Christian disciples ever since Jesus taught it.
There is an early Christian document called The Didache, which means “the teaching”, and was a manual for Christian instruction. It is from 1600 years ago. And it tells new Christians getting ready for baptism that they have to know and pray this prayer. Monastic communities pray this prayer every morning and every night. Many churches in their worship services include this prayer every week, as we do.
The Lord’s Prayer is basic to the fabric of the Christian prayer tradition.
In 2013 Nancy and I were in the Holy Land. One of the places we visited was the Church of the Pater Noster. Pater Noster is a Latin phrase for Our Father, the opening words of the prayer Jesus gave us. It is believed that where this church sits is where Jesus taught The Lord’s Prayer to his disciples. Underneath the church building is a small room where you go down and see the actual floor, which is really a stone rock, where Jesus was with his disciples when he taught this prayer.
One of the unique and beautiful things about the Church of the Pater Noster is that there are mosaics with the words of The Lord’s Prayer in various languages throughout the grounds. People from all over the world can find this prayer in their native tongue because people all over the world pray this prayer. One of the moving things about being at this site is hearing Christian pilgrims praying The Lord’s Prayer in their own language all around. This prayer unites Christians. Protestants, Roman Catholics, Orthodox…even Baptists know and share this prayer.
Let’s get into the prayer itself.
It is only 53 words in the English New International Version of the Bible. The last stanza, “For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever. Amen” you will notice is not there because it was not part of Jesus’ teaching. We will talk about that when we get to the end of the prayer, so make sure you come back in five weeks.
The prayer is really very brief. Here is perhaps our first lesson in praying with Jesus: we don’t need to say a lot. Sometimes we think the longer we pray and the more words we use, the more God will listen and more effective our prayer is. That’s not what Jesus says.
Right before teaching The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells us disciples to not pray like the pagans who think they are heard for their many words. Jesus specifically says, “Do not be like them.” And the reason we don’t have to heave lots and lots of words is that the Father knows what we need. The Father knows our trouble and our deepest needs far better than we do ourselves.
Prayer might be best when its brief. We don’t need to get God to listen to us. I wonder sometimes, if God hears me pray and is thinking, “Phil, I got it. Enough already. Would you just shut up.”
Notice all that is contained in just 53 words:
The first stanzas don’t have to do with us, but with God: who he is, his name, his kingdom, his will. Our concerns and needs come after this in the second part of the prayer. And the prayer begins, “Our Father, who art (is) in heaven.” Which gives us the second thing we learn from The Lord’s Prayer, “It is only when God is given his proper place that all other things fall into their proper places.” God first, and then us. Try that when you pray.
He is Our Father, and when we pray “who is in heaven” we are balancing the intimacy, familiarity, and closeness that we have with our Abba, with the reverence and honor that is due him.
Yes, he is close. But he is also great, awesome, and all-powerful. We have to be careful about becoming too chummy with the God of all the universe. Yes, he is our loving, kind and familiar Father. But let’s be careful about carelessly coming into the holy presence. We are taught to approach God with humility and a sense of deep reverence and worship.
What are we praying when we pray “hallowed be thy name”? “Hallowed” is an old English word for “holy”. So we are praying, “Holy be your name.”
We are praying, “Let God’s name be treated different than all other names. Let it be glorified, sanctified, and raised above all other names.”
To pray “hallowed (or holy) be your name” is to pray that God’ character be revered and honored, that it be greater than anything else. We are praying, “Father, enhance your reputation. Make who you are known so that you will be central and the big deal for everyone, including us.”
I suspect that if we honor God, let him work in our life, and actually let him have first place in our life, the more we will find the knots in our life that frustrate us so will get worked out.
And then, notice the comprehensiveness of the prayer: It covers God’s glory and all that he is about – that he is in heaven, the sanctifying of his name, his kingdom and his will.
But it also covers our needs. The prayer covers our physical needs (daily bread), our spiritual needs (forgiveness), our present needs (deliverance from evil and temptation).
The prayer brings the past, the present and the future of our lives before God. Forgiveness brings the past. Daily bread is the present. Protection and deliverance from the evil that might come at us is the future.
The Lord’s Prayer covers a lot of territory. “Jesus teaches us to bring the whole of life to the whole of God, and to bring the whole of God to the whole of life.”
Notice the words “I”, “me, or “mine” never occur in The Lord’s Prayer. We are taught to pray “ours” and “us”. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we are praying for everyone. And when people in other churches and other nations pray this, they are praying with us and for us.
The whole family of God is praying together and for one another. “Ours”. “Us”. I’m praying for you. You are praying for me.
The first word of the prayer is “Our”. And the one we are all calling on together is “Father”. Jesus is inviting us into and sharing with us his own relationship with his Father. He doesn’t say to just pray “Heavenly Father” or “Lord God”, but “Our Father”. In this prayer, Jesus, God’s Son, brings us in to the family of God.
It says in Romans, “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” (Romans 8:14) And in 1 John, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” (I John 3:1)
God is a loving Father. Now, I know for some of us the image of “father” is not a positive one because our earthly father may have been anything but loving. He may have been cold, demanding, distant, abusive, or not even in our lives.
The image of “Father” can be a great barrier for some people. I am sorry for the way your earthly father has hurt you. God knows your hurt. And parents that were not faithful to their authority as a parent can really mess us up in all kinds of ways.
Sometimes we go through trials and suffering and we wonder if our Father is good, or if he is caring for us. But everything we go through is examined by his eye. He works out all things for good for those who love him. It is as if our Father intercepts the terrible things intended for our hurt, catches them in his fatherly arms, and sends them in a direction he wants them to go to work good in our lives.
When we can’t see his hand, even the little hurts become heavy. But even the hardest blows can eventually be accepted when we know that his good hand is at work in our lives. The Father has a purpose. His plans for us cannot be stopped. And the hard places become times when we can know that our Father is caring for us.
I believe through this past year of pandemic, loss and adversity, our Father has been with us. And if things continue to be challenging, our Father in heaven will be present. He knows what we need even before we ask him. He is working.
Do we know God as our Father? It is a relationship that comes through believing and trusting in his Son, Jesus Christ. It is a relationship he wants to have with every person.
The Lord’s Prayer begins by making God supreme. “Our Father.” Prayer begins with God and recognizing the relationship we have with him through the grace of his Son Jesus Christ.
And that’s really what prayer is: a relationship. Not formality. Not a formula. Not a method. It is a relationship. We pray much better when we see the loving relationship we have with our Father, and the love he has for us.
The main question of our life is whether we have fellowship with God. If this relationship is right, then what is inside of us with also be right.
Whenever, however, wherever you pray this week (and I hope you will) whether it is in the morning to begin your day, or at night to end your day, or at other times, do this:
First, don’t worry about having to say the right words, or a lot of words.
Second, begin by praying to God as our Heavenly Father, and think about how he is your Father as you pray.
Third, ask that he be glorified first, before you lay before him any requests.
And remember that we are all learning to pray.
Prayer: Our Father, make your name holy, and the big deal. Make it holy in our lives so that we give you first place. Thank you that you have opened the way through Jesus Christ to you to come freely. Thank you that you want us to pray to you. Thank you that you hear us and care for all our needs. Walk with us through these days of Lent, and draw us closer to you. Amen.
 Gospel of Matthew, vol. 1, p.199  William Hendriksen, The Gospel of Matthew, New Testament Commentary, p. 326  Barclay, p.200  See Helmut Thielicke, The Prayers That Spans the World, p.27  Andrew Murray, In the School of Prayer, p.28