The Lord's Prayer
Introducing the Lord's Prayer
by Rev. Ralph Allan Smith
The Lord's prayer (Mat. 6:9-13) is part of a larger section of the
Sermon on the Mount in which our Lord taught about worship and prayer
(6:1-18). Jesus contrasted true prayer and worship with the hypocrisy
of the Pharisees and the Gentiles. It is important to remember this
context for the Lord's prayer is Jesus' alternative to every form of
false praying. It is also important to stress from the beginning that
the Lord's prayer was obviously intended to be a daily prayer -- "give
us this day our daily bread."
On the one hand, we are reminded by the larger context that prayer
is the very essence of worship, which may be said to be a sort of dialogue
between God and the worshipers. We speak to God in singing and prayers
and God speaks to us through the reading and teaching of His word. Learning
to pray rightly, then, is, in part, learning how to rightly participate
On the other hand, the daily petition for bread means that the Lord's
prayer was designed to be a family prayer, for it is in the context
of the family that we seek our daily bread. Perhaps we may say that
the Lord's prayer suggests a connection between family prayer and formal
worship, for the same pattern and principles for prayer govern them
both. Though family worship and Sunday worship are not the same -- we
do not baptize and take communion in family worship -- they share the
same spirit of faith and prayer to God.
Pray Not Like Hypocrites
Jesus' frequent condemnation of the Pharisees for their hypocrisy has
become unpopular with some scholars, but sincere Christians should not
doubt His judgment. The Pharisees appeared to be good men but they were
inwardly corrupt. When they prayed, for example, they stood on the street
corners or in the synagogues and prayed long prayers. What is wrong
with that? The hypocrisy is not found in the fact that they prayed publicly,
nor is Jesus to be understood here as condemning public prayer, for
both Jesus Himself and His disciples prayed publicly. The problem was
that the Pharisees prayed to be seen of men (vs. 5, "for they love
to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets,
that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their
In other words, the Pharisees used prayer not as a means of communicating
with God, but as means of gaining the respect of men. Which means also
that the Pharisees attempted to use God as a means for their own personal
gain. This is the very essence of idolatrous religion which regards
God as useful only so long and in so far as He does man's will or brings
some benefit to man. By way of contrast, Biblical religion regards man
as useful only in so far as he bears fruit for God. The Creator is above
Now the Pharisees professed to believe in God as Creator and to be
loyal to that faith in their worship, but Jesus accuses them of extreme
hypocrisy: "How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another,
and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?" (Jn. 5:44).
They manifested a spirit precisely opposite that of true prayer, which
seeks God Himself. In contrast to the pharisees, Jesus says go into
your private room where there is none but God and yourself and there
seek Him in prayer. Rather than attempting to use God for personal gain,
seek God Himself, the Father in Heaven who sees in secret. Prayer is
the expression of a personal relationship in which we may express our
most private concerns and fears, together with thanksgiving, praise
and adoration to the One who loves us with perfect Fatherly love.
Pray Not Like Gentiles
Gentiles who, unlike the Pharisees, do not even know the true God,
approach God with vain repetition (vs. 7, "use not vain repetitions,
as the heathen"). Anyone who has heard Buddhist prayer (or the
repetitions of "Hail Mary") knows the kind of prayer Jesus
is condemning here. True prayer is not an attempt to coerce god through
magical formulas. He already knows what we need even before we ask Him
(vs. 8). He is our Father who loves us. Magical chants do not charm
Him into action. Repetition does not wake Him up or stir Him out of
reluctance into action (cf. 1 Kn. 18:26 ff.).
Again, Jesus contrasts the false approach to true prayer by pointing
out that prayer should be offered to the Father in heaven (vs. 8, "for
your Father knoweth what things ye have need of"). Prayer, in other
words, is part of a living personal relationship between God and the
believer. When He contrasts the false praying of the Pharisees and the
Gentiles with true prayer, Jesus clearly has in mind private individual
prayer (vs. 6, "when thou prayest, enter into thy closet").
In true prayer, then, the individual believer comes to God with faith
in His Fatherly love and goodness, seeking a private and personal audience
with Him with confidence that He cares about each one.
After this manner
What we know as the Lord's prayer begins with the words "after
this manner therefore pray ye." Jesus is not merely telling His
hearers to daily repeat the words that He gave them. Rather, Jesus is
giving instruction about prayer that shows us a general pattern. He
is setting down principles, not just giving us the words to say. Please
do not misunderstand me here. I do not mean that we should not repeat
these words. Certainly we should employ the Lord's prayer just as it
is. But when we offer this prayer, we should self-consciously employ
these words as a model that teaches us the true meaning of prayer.
Jesus provides a basic pattern that is clear. The prayer divides into
three parts: an introduction, a set of six petitions, and a conclusion.
The introduction reminds us of who we are as well as the love and majesty
of the God to whom we pray. The body of six petitions is divided into
two parts of three petitions. The first three concern God; the last
three concern man.
Our Father who art in heaven
Petitions, part one (concerning God):
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Petitions, part two (concerning man):
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:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.
The order is, of course, profoundly significant. It teaches us not
only to seek God and His kingdom first, but also that all that we seek
for ourselves should be sought in reference to His kingdom.
It is by praying this prayer daily at home and weekly in Church that
Christians learn what it means to pray. But we also need to study this
prayer and think about what it has to teach us. Perhaps the best commentary
on this prayer may be found in the Westminster Larger Catechism beginning
with question 185. I highly recommend that fathers and mothers study
the Catechism for their own understanding and use it to help them teach
their children the meaning of the Lord's prayer.
When the repetition of the prayer is combined with teaching, both we
and our children will learn to come to our heavenly Father with simple
trust in His love, casting all our care upon the One who cares for us.
Our prayer life will be personal and intimate without being disrespectful
or improper. We will learn to live for His kingdom as we constantly
seek it in prayer.
[ Home => Sermon
Summaries => The Lord's Prayer ]