Summary: A look at the various elements in the Lord’s prayer.
C.L. Null, in Christian Reader says, “My Sunday school class of youngsters had some problems repeating the Lord’s Prayer, but they didn’t lack in imagination. One child prayed, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven, how’d you know my name?’” It is a wonderful thing when we realize that God knows our name. But it is better to know God’s name and reverence it. This is only one of the lessons that we learn from Jesus in the school of prayer.
I think the thing that amazes me most as I read the Gospels is how much time Jesus spent in prayer. Over and over again we read about him going to a quiet place for prayer. Sometimes he prayed all night. Luke 6:12 says, “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.” Matthew 14:23 says, “After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.” I think of the fact that Jesus was the Son of God and he relied on prayer more than I do. I think about we who are weak and sinful, and how much we need to pray, and how little we pray. I think about the fact that he was perfect and powerful, and yet he spent all night in prayer. Very few of us have ever spent a full hour in prayer at any time of the day, let alone all night. I remember that Jesus was alone praying when the disciples interrupted him to tell him that the crowds were looking for him. I remember that in his final hours he was in the garden praying while his disciples were sleeping — even after he had told them that he needed them to pray with him. They continued to sleep even after he repeatedly awakened them. Jesus’ disciples today continue to sleep when they should be praying.
But how do we pray, and what do we pray for? Jesus explicitly answers that question in the Scripture we have read today. He answers that question by giving a pattern for prayer that we have turned it into an infantile form prayer that we rattle off by rote. This was never meant to be a memorized prayer that we use as a part of religious ritual — either in church or as a part of personal devotion. In fact, Jesus prefaced the prayer with this command: “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words” (Matthew 6:7). The King James Version translates it: “use not vain repetitions.” Part of the proof that it is not to be repeated as a memorized prayer is that two of the four Gospels do not even include the prayer. Matthew has the most complete form of the prayer, and Luke has only an abbreviated form of it. The ending which we use: “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever” is a later addition which is not in Scripture. This does not take away from the importance of the prayer — far from it — the prayer was given by Jesus as a pattern for prayer. Not a legalistic list of things to remember to include, but a helpful outline that can serve as a guide. If you want to learn to pray, look no further than this sample prayer of Jesus. It is simple, and yet I think you will be surprised by some of the things it is really teaching us.
Let’s begin with the person to whom the prayer is addressed — our Father. It is possible to pray this prayer and not have God as your heavenly Father. It is possible to use this prayer as some kind of religious magic or ritual, and miss the meaning of it altogether. Jesus said that we were to pray to “our Father.” This is not just any spiritual power that may be floating around in space. This is a particular God — the only God — and this God is personal and relational. If we pray to “the sovereign Power of the universe,” there is an emotional detachment and disconnect. But when we pray to our Father, there is intimacy. Jesus usually used the familiar word for Father in the Aramaic, which was “Abba” or Papa. The Bible often uses very tender language when it describes the Father’s feelings for us. In Zephaniah 3:17 it says, “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” Isn’t it wonderful to realize that God delights in us? That he loves us and rejoices over us with singing? What a great picture of what God is like And this is the God to whom we pray.