Several of my clients have asked me how to properly pray to God. The Lord’s Prayer, found in Mathew 6: 9-13, lays a solid foundation for instruction. It is intended to be a blueprint to follow; not an empty incantation mindlessly repeated or a nursery rhyme to teach to our children to lull themselves to sleep.
After rebuking the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, Jesus says, (9) “Pray like this:
Our father in heaven,
Hallowed be your name.
(10) Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as it is on heaven.
(11) Give us this day our daily bread,
(12) And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
(13) And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
The initial verse emphasizes that; first and foremost, prayer is an act of worship. It establishes his right to rule over us as Father. This term “Father” connotates his position as head of the household. He is both familial and authoritative.
The remainder of the verse asserts that he is worthy of our praise and honor as indicated in the phrase “Hallowed be thy name.” He is a holy God who dwells in heaven and created us for the purpose of his own glorification. The posture that we are exhorted to take is one of humble obedience as he sovereignly reigns over us.
The reference to a “Kingdom” (v. 10) refers to a “new heaven and earth” (Rev 21:1)
that will be inaugurated when Jesus returns to earth to judge sin and to begin to reverse the effects of the curse. As Christians we look forward to that time with great longing but already enjoy a taste of that redemption now. We tend to mainly pray for our temporal needs instead of our eternal disposition when we will come face to face with a holy god and see him in all his glory.
In verse 11, there is a request for a daily provision. Implicit in this verse is the concept that, as our Father, we can trust him to meet our needs because he is a benevolent God who cares for us. Secondly, it serves as a reminder that the object of our worship is the provider, not the provision. We have a tendency in times of abundance to become prideful and worship the provision and not the provider from whom all blessings stem from.
Next there is an admonition to forgive others out of gratitude towards God because we are recipients of his undeserved grace. (Ep 2:1-6)
In the subsequent verse, there is a plea to god to protect us from temptations. God cannot cause us to stumble because that would conflict with his character. As our protector, he can equip us to battle our own lusts and the “flaming arrows of the evil one”(Eph. 6:16
Christ intended the Lord’s Prayer to radically transform the manner in which we worship him. Our hearts need to be properly aligned with him. If we fashion him into a god of our own making, then we are committing idolatry and offending a holy God. If we worship with the wrong motives, as the Pharisees did, we fail to glorify him. A test that often reveals the state of our heart is how we respond when there is a delay between our petitions and God’s response. Another test is whether we persevere in hope when we do not receive the desired outcome of our prayers. I have counseled countless Christians who have lost children, husbands and wives to tragic accidents, injuries or illness, and suffered greatly but persevered in their faith in him. Instead of turning away from God, they turned towards him with prayer because they trust in God and he holds them in the palm of his hand preserving their faith until their final glorification.
In summary, when people ask me how to pray, I remind them that they should pray submissively, with faith and a proper view of his character as he reveals himself to us in scripture. The purpose of prayer is not for wish fulfillment, but to intimately, reverently draw near to God and glorify him through our worship.