Therefore, you should pray like this . . . (Matthew 6:9)
Jesus is clearly against that kind of praying. What sometimes gets confused with it, but what Jesus is NOT against, is liturgical prayer—the use of prewritten, preset, or pre-patterned prayers.
Liturgical prayers are extremely familiar in most “high church” settings and generally held in suspicion by most evangelicals. But Jesus himself gives us the most famous of liturgical prayers in Matthew 6:9-13, and I have personally found tremendous benefit in praying it, verbatim, when I’m alone with God and when I’m in groups.
In fact, I pray the Lord’s Prayer nearly every morning. It’s the cornerstone of my personal devotional life.
The Pattern in the Prayer
I do pray the Lord’s Prayer word for word, nearly every day as I said. It’s like an anchor for my thoughts, immediately bringing them into focus. It’s an anchor for my soul, as well, directing my feelings upward toward my Father in heaven. And it ensures that I pray at least one thing of great value every morning!
But the Lord’s Prayer becomes even more impactful when we use it not just as liturgy, saying the precise wording Jesus gave us, but also as a pattern.
The Lord’s Prayer (also called the “Our Father” in a kind of shorthand) lays out a pattern for the WAY we pray as well as the words we pray. It’s like a ladder, leading up to heaven and bringing heaven down to us—much like the vision Jacob saw at Bethel when he wandered through the desert in Genesis 28, a vision Jesus explicitly connected to himself in John 1:51.
“Our Father in heaven”
The first rung of the ladder (top rung or bottom rung, I don’t know—you decide!) focuses our thoughts on God himself. Prayer is about God, after all, approaching God and connecting with God.
However, this isn’t a kind of disconnected adoration wherein “It’s all about God and it’s not about us.” That’s a false dichotomy. Jesus actually connects us immediately to God: this is a relational prayer: “Our Father in heaven.”
Of all the lines in the prayer, this one has probably opened up to me with the greatest amount of revelation. To begin every day recognizing and confessing that God is my Father has been life-changing for me.
“Your name be honored as holy.”
I usually add the imperative when I pray this line, which reflects the Greek a little more closely: “Let your name be honored as holy.” This is the first request in the prayer, and it’s a God-focused request: let the name of God, the name of Yahweh, of Jesus, be honored as holy.
I take this line inward: Let your name be honored as holy in my life. Let your name be honored in the deepest part of my heart. Let your name be honored in my choices and my actions. Let it be honored, sanctified, revered in my thoughts.
And then I take it outward: Let your name be honored as holy in my church, in my community, in my nation, in our world. Let the transformational power of your holiness be enacted throughout the world. Let it be honored in my government, in my culture.
“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is heaven.”
I generally treat these requests as a single unit, and again, I add the imperative: “Let your kingdom come, let your will be done.”
Like the prayer of holiness, I take this both inward and outward. In many ways, this request is for the outward manifestation of the inner attitude in the first request, that we might revere and honor the name of God.
There is so much that could be said about this request (and I will be writing in more depth about each line of the prayer), but I want to focus here on the pattern.
Notice what this opening emphasis of the prayer says about our needs. Some might say these requests aren’t “about us” at all, that they’re not about “our needs but about God’s glory,” but again I think that’s a false dichotomy.
Actually, these three things are the ultimate need of mankind. We are praying for God to give us exactly what we need on the most minute and the most cosmic scale, understanding that those things are intimately connected. My innermost, most personal needs are intimately connected to the entire universe aligning with the Creator.
Praying this every day, connecting our own souls to this transcendent purpose, is truly life-changing.
“Give us today our daily bread.”
Or, as it can also be translated, “our bread for tomorrow.” In a world without artificial preservatives, bread needed to be baked and obtained on a daily basis, so the emphasis here is on immediate physical need.
This is the part of the prayer where I come down from the “high” of holiness, kingdom, and the worldwide will of God to ask my Father for things like money to pay the bills, food for dinner, provision of energy and focus or resources for today’s work, stuff like that.
(Truth be told, I don’t always come off the high. Sometimes I’m having such a good time in the first three lines that I only get halfway through the prayer.)
It’s helpful to be really detailed about this: check in with yourself to see what “felt needs” are pressing on you today and intentionally, specifically ask God to meet them.
“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
Jesus does make forgiveness something of a prerequisite for getting our prayers answered (Matthew 6:14-15), but given that, it’s interesting to me that this line doesn’t come first. We aren’t required to “clear the air” before we pray: instead, we connect to identity, purpose, and provision, and THEN ask God for forgiveness.
Don’t get me wrong: I believe the best time to ask God for forgiveness and cleansing is the exact moment you realize you need it. But I see in the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer a lot of grace, and God empowering us with purpose and identity to be able to forgive.
He doesn’t withhold the kingdom until we forgive; he gives us the kingdom so that we can.
This again is a great daily discipline, and one to be really specific and intentional about. Check in with yourself: Are you holding judgments against anyone? Holding a debt over someone’s head? Who is it? What is the debt? Whatever it is, choose to release it. At the same time, do you need to be freed from any debt yourself? Receive forgiveness for it.
“And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
The idea of “temptation” here is not just temptation to sin, but trouble or trial, which the evil one brings into our lives for the purpose of tripping us up in our walk with God and causing us to sin against him. Think Job.
I love this line in the prayer, although I find it challenges me deeply because it flies in the face of my deeply ingrained fatalism. I tend to believe there’s no avoiding trouble. Apparently there is, as Jesus tells us directly to pray that we will be delivered from the evil one and not led into temptation.
Again, don’t get me wrong: Jesus also said that in this world we would have trouble. Suffering is part of life here. That’s clear throughout the Bible. But at the same time, let’s not underestimate the power of prayer or fail to use an access point to heaven that Jesus himself has given us.
“For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
Okay, so there’s a good chance Jesus didn’t actually say this at the end of his prayer. Most textual scholars agree that it was added in the margin by some copyist somewhere down the line, and eventually got pulled into the text itself.
But I still use it. It’s a beautiful end point, a beautiful benediction, a beautiful recalibration to God. And besides, it is Scripture: it’s a direct (although truncated) quote from David’s prayer in 1 Chronicles 29:11-13. So sometimes I just pray the whole thing:
Yours, LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the splendour and the majesty, for everything in the heavens and on earth belongs to You. Yours, LORD, is the kingdom, and You are exalted as head over all. Riches and honor come from You, and You are the ruler of everything. Power and might are in Your hand, and it is in Your hand to make great and to give strength to all. Now there, our God, we give You thanks and praise Your glorious name.
Pray Like This
If you don’t already “pray like this,” I would encourage you to give the pattern in Jesus’s prayer a try. Pray it every day, as you start your morning. It doesn’t take long, and it isn’t burdensome. Let each line of the prayer resonate in your heart, and follow it in any direction it takes you.
And if it makes a difference for you, come back and let me know in the comments.
(This is Part 58 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.)