The Lord's Prayer
Introducing the Petitions (Mat. 6:9-13)
by Rev. Ralph Allan Smith
The Lord's prayer begins, as we pointed out before, with a preface
that reminds us of who we are and who God is, so that we may approach
Him with a right heart and mind. After a brief preface, the Lord's prayer
continues with six brief interrelated petitions. It is vital to understand
the relationship between these petitions and the general flow of thought
before we consider the individual petitions in detail.
The general structure is clear and simple. Of the six petitions, the
first three concern the things of God and the next three concern the
things of man. But the petitions are also interrelated so that the first
three petitions which are focused on God Himself nevertheless concern
life in this world and the last three petitions which concern our needs
in this life are subordinate to the glory and kingdom of God. The whole
prayer, then, presupposes a covenant (when you see the word "covenant",
think "oath-based bond of love") relationship and exudes the
true spirit of worship.
A Covenantal Prayer
The Lord's prayer is a covenantal prayer because it is a prayer that
assumes a relationship of love between God and His people. This is evident
from the very beginning for we call upon God as our Father. Also the
petitions themselves are concrete and covenantal. The first petition
(Hallowed by Thy name), which seeks the glory of God's name, is only
satisfied when the second petition (Thy kingdom come), for the coming
of God's kingdom, is fulfilled. But what does that mean, other than
that which is expressed in the third petition (Thy will be done on earth,
as it is in heaven), God's will being done on by men earth as it is
in heaven? Thus our prayers for the name of God to be praised are connected
with the concrete realities of earth history and the everyday lives
of the mass of men. Until the human race as a whole learns to seek the
praise of God's name, this prayer will not have been fully answered.
The covenantal nature of the prayer is also seen in the fact that the
petitions seeking the glory of God and those seeking the blessing of
man mutually presuppose and include one another. When we seek the glory
of God and the manifestation of His praise among men, we are also, obviously,
seeking that which is best for man, that which brings to men the highest
blessings conceivable. What could bring greater blessing to the whole
human race than God's will being done on earth as it is in heaven?
At the same time, when we ask for our daily bread -- not, by the way,
for riches, luxury, or ease -- we are not asking simply to have our
stomachs filled, but seeking the sustenance we need to live for His
name and kingdom. Unless He sustains our lives, we cannot work in history
for the glory of His name to be manifested.
Thus, when we seek the things of God, we are also seeking the blessing
of man, and when we seek the blessing of man, we are seeking the kingdom
of God. Such is covenantal prayer. It transgresses the philosophers'
wicked dictums and it exposes the pagans' selfish folly. On the one
hand, the philosophers demand that true morality be utterly disinterested.
The good man does what is good for the sake of the good and not for
the sake of any reward, nor for any other interest outside of the good
itself. This may appear to be noble, but it is, in fact, simply a subtle
form of man seeking to make himself God, for if man is a creature of
God, created in His image and for His glory, then in his prayer and
in all of his life, he should do what is good, including prayer, in
order to please God. Christian ethics is not the ethics of the abstract
good, but the ethics of personal relationship.
On the other hand, we must not pray like pagans who simply use God
for their own good. True prayer seeks Him because it is the expression
of covenantal love.
The covenantal nature of this prayer is seen also in the fact that
it follows the structure of the ten commandments and the summary of
the law revealed by Christ. In the ten commandments, the first five
commandments primarily concern God, the next five, man. In our Lord's
summary of the law (Mat. 22:37ff.), the first and great command, is
the command to love God with all of our heart, mind, and strength (Dt.
6:5). The second command is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Lev.
19:18). Just as the ten commandments of Moses and the two commands of
Christ are interrelated, so too, the petitions of the Lord's prayer
mutually involve one another. To truly seek God's kingdom is to seek
the blessing of our neighbor.
When the Jews came before God to offer sacrifices, they offered what
is called in most translations a "whole burnt offering" as
one of the five basic sacrifices. The whole burnt offering, which is
better called an "ascension offering," symbolized the total
surrender of the worshipper to God. This is the very essence of true
worship and the beginning of the Lord's prayer, for when we say, "Hallowed
be Thy name" we are offering up ourselves unto our Creator and
Lord to seek His glory and praise. We are not saying "let everyone
else honor You" but, first of all, "enable me to devote myself
to Your glory."
Seeking God Himself in prayer touches the deepest truth of who and
what we are as God's image. Solomon taught us that God "set eternity"
in men's hearts (Ecc. 3:11). He has made us, in other words, for Himself.
He has given us infinite longings that can only be satisfied in a relationship
with Himself. Prayer and worship in which we seek His praise and honor
are the very heart of that relationship.
Man was created to become hungry in body and spirit. God put Adam in
a Garden and surrounded him with food and animals. But the first hunger
that he felt was hunger for human companionship, someone like himself
with whom he could share his life of fellowship with God. We can see
in the Genesis narrative how man's hunger for another person and his
hunger for food are related, but both of these are expressions of the
most fundamental hunger, man's hunger for God Himself.
It is this hunger that finds expression in David's prayer: "O
God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for
thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no
water is; To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in
the sanctuary. Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips
shall praise thee. Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift
up my hands in thy name." (Ps. 63:1-3).
We are taught in the Lord's prayer to seek God Himself, to seek His
praise, His kingdom and will, first and foremost, before and above all
other things. This is only right because God is God, the Creator and
Lord of all. But this is also right for us psychologically. It is only
when we seek Him and rest in Him that we find ourselves. It is only
when we devote ourselves to His glory and praise that we find transcendent
meaning in our own lives. By seeking first the kingdom of God and His
glory, we become what God created us to be. Contrary to what some say,
it is when we seek Him that our individuality, creativity, and personhood
are most fully developed. In the true worship of God we grow into mature
persons, we become our true selves.
The Lord's prayer, then, begins with God and teaches us to seek Him.
When we learn to pray this prayer truly, we will know what it means
to feed on the living bread. God has made us to be hungry but He also
offers Himself to us to satisfy the hunger of our souls. As our Lord
said: "I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never
hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst." (Jn. 6:35).
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