Luke 11:1 (ERV)
One time Jesus was out praying,
and when he finished,
one of his followers said to him . . .
“Lord, teach us how to pray.”
The Bible tells us that Jesus found some secret places to pray. Where would we find you praying?
- At church
- Before bed
- At the table
- Not out in public, that’s for sure
The disciples saw that Jesus prayed differently. He’d disappear and pray. For hours.
Jesus often went away to other places to be alone so that he could pray.
What did his disciples think when they found him gone?
Where does he go?
How does he do it?
What does he say to God?
There must have been something different about Jesus when he came back. They wouldn’t have asked just for the fun of getting up in the dark of night and heading out to an isolated place. Alone.
What did they expect for an answer? Hard to say, but probably not what they got—five lines, 52 words. How did those simple words keep Jesus up for hours?
Matthew 6:9-13 (KJV)
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in 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.
These words are familiar to most of us. We say them from memory. Without even thinking.
So let’s think about them for a bit.
“Our Father.” These Hebrew disciples would have known the many names for God: Adonai, “Lord.” Eheyeh, “I am.” El-Shaddai, “Almighty.” El-Elyon, “Most high God.”
Jesus didn’t use these names. We know that Jesus is God’s Son—“My Father” would have been factual and logical. He said, “Our.” That speaks to our relationship with Jesus and to our relationship with each other. With that word, Jesus included his disciples (and us) in his spiritual inner circle.
He said “Our Father.” We have a seat at the Father-Son table. It is the intersection of God and humans. What an amazing start to our prayer lesson!
That intersection—that cross—between God and us is repeated later in the prayer. “Forgive us our debts,” is the upright line: our relationship with God. “As we forgive our debtors” is the horizontal line: our relationship to each other. The cross is the symbol of forgiveness, and it is right here in the Lord’s Prayer.
Jesus didn’t forget all those Old Testament names for God. They are included in the “Hallowed (holy) is your name.” God isn’t weaker or more common because of his fatherly relationship with us. He is love wrapped in unmatched power. And he’s listening to our prayers.
“Your kingdom come.” Face it. With or without us, God’s kingdom marches forward. And yet, our prayers become part of the marching force. With these words, we welcome it, we prepare the way, we draw others into the kingdom, we work with it and not against it.
“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Words of praise to our most powerful God, who has the final word in all things. Words of willing submission for the issues we face right now (“your way, Lord, not my way”). Words of intercession for those we know who are not following God’s will. Words of longing for the whole world made right with God.
“Give us this day our daily bread.” We pray for our most basic needs, for our daily survival. In stories of great suffering—in cruel prison camps, for folks on the run from evil, for people trapped in dangerous places—I am amazed how little food it takes to sustain them: a crust of bread, a few swallows of broth, a shared vitamin. Think of the hungry Hebrews in the desert. Millions of people with nothing to eat.
Exodus 16:13-16, 19-20 (ERV)
After the dew was gone, something like thin flakes of frost was on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they asked each other, “What is that?” because they did not know what it was. So Moses told them, “This is the food the Lord is giving you to eat. The Lord says, ‘Each of you should gather what you need, a basket of manna for everyone in your family’”. . . Moses told them, “Don’t save that food to eat the next day.” But some of the people did not obey Moses. They saved their food for the next day. But worms got into the food and it began to stink.
“This day.” Today. We don’t know the future. We tend to trust in our own power to plan, organize, stockpile, provide. This is our “I trust you” to God.
But there is more. Jesus is the “Bread of life.” We need him daily. Not just Christmas and Easter, and we’re good for a year. Not even the Sabbath and we’re good for the week. Daily.
“Lead us not into temptation.” Where are you at your weakest? Where are you most likely to sin? This phrase puts caution tape exactly where we need it. If we swap “temptation” for our personal gaps in willpower, we put the power of God between us and our problems: “Lead me not into that bar.” “Lead me not into spending money I don’t have.” “Lead me not into taking revenge.”
“But deliver us from evil.” Sometimes we step into evil in our power, and sometimes evil chases us. We have an enemy.
1 Peter 5:8
The devil is your enemy, and he goes around like a roaring lion looking for someone to attack and eat.
This is our prayer for safety. “Give me eyes to see Satan sneaking around, ears to know which whispers come from his lips and an escape route if he catches me.”
The Lord’s Prayer: five lines, 52 words. They apply to all of us. All the time.
These are simple words.
Sometimes we think we need big fancy words to get God’s attention. Sometimes we look for words that will impress God. We think that if we explain it better, God will understand.
God already knows.
Lord, you know what I want to say,
even before the words leave my mouth.
I know someone who prays like a lawyer writing contracts, careful to cover every angle. God isn’t looking for a loophole, a way out of what you’re asking. Circle back to “Your will be done.”
You can ask, and God may answer, “That’s not how it’s going to work.’ He isn’t going to say “No” because you didn’t ask exactly right. God says “No” because it isn’t in his plan.
Jesus teaches us to talk to God just like we talk to our friends, just like we talk to ourselves.
But wait, you say. What about “Thy” and “Thou,” aren’t they words of reverence and respect?
Those words are less common now than they were in my childhood. I remember many people using “Thou” when they talked to God, and I’m sure their intentions were good. But they were stuck in a translation of the Bible—that is, the words chosen to put the original Scripture (Hebrew for the Old Testament, Greek for the New Testament) into the language of the people reading it. When the King James Version was translated, people used Thy and Thou commonly: “Watch thy step,” to a friend at the front door, or to a child, “Use thy fork, not thy fingers.
Use everyday words. But keep in mind “Holy is your name.” God is who he is. Approaching him as our loving heavenly Father is a gift. All of this is a reflection of his love for us.
“If the prayer of our text had not been dictated by the Lord Jesus himself, we might think it too bold . . . Can thy will, O God, be done in earth as it is in heaven?”
Charles H. Spurgeon (1884)
A Heavenly Pattern for Our Earthly Life
When he gave us these simple words, Jesus said,
So this is how you should pray.
Did he mean to use his exact words, or was he giving us a how-to example? I’m guessing it is both.
How do you personalize these words, make them unique to you?
Sometimes I use words. And sometimes I speak with my hands. I can do the Lord’s Pray and never say the words: Our Father: arms up, like a child asking to be carried. Your name: hands folded in prayer. Kingdom come: a “come here” motion with my right arm. Will be done: fist over fist, turning. On earth: palms down. In heaven: palms up. Give us: palms cupped, ready to receive. Forgive us: two fingers moving down, As we forgive: same fingers moving across, making the sign of the cross. Lead us not: left and right fingers meeting together, symbolizing a shut gate. Deliver us from evil: pulling one fist away from the other, breaking a chain.
I can apply those motions to other prayer moments. Hands up—I need help, Lord. Come here—May he stop running from you, Father. Fist turning over fist—Let’s do this your way, Lord. Cupped hands—God, you know what I need. Horizontal line—help me drop this grudge. Finger gate—Give me the strength to walk away. Broken chain—Show her how to overcome her addiction.
How do you apply Christ’s pattern to your prayer life? Maybe you use mental images. Maybe you rewrite it in your own words. Maybe you set it to music. Maybe you dance to it.
Regardless, here’s how it starts: Teach me to pray, Lord.