After Jesus counsels His disciples not to make a big show of their prayers (Matthew 6:5-6) and not to babble on endlessly without actually saying anything new, (Matthew 6:7-8) He gave them an example to follow. Most of us know this example as “The Lord’s Prayer”, but it would be more accurately called “The Disciples’ Prayer” or “The Model Prayer”. It was not something that Jesus would have prayed, not completely anyway, since He had no need to ask forgiveness, and He didn’t seem too concerned about being able to find food. (Matthew 16:5-12) The prayer is an example for us to follow, so that our focus is in the right place—on God, and not only on ourselves.
Let’s take a closer look. (Matthew 6:9-13)
- First notice that the pronouns are in the first person plural form—our, us, we—indicating that this is a model for all of us to follow.
- The prayer starts by acknowledging God as our Father. (Matthew 6:9) The term that is used was much more intimate than the Jews would have commonly used before Jesus came. It establishes a loving relationship, but by adding “in heaven” it also acknowledges God’s sovereignty and majesty.
- After addressing God, the prayer gives honour to Him. (Matthew 6:9) “Honour” is the very word used in the NET version; most other versions use the word “hallowed”, which has been carried over since the time of King James. “Hallowed” means honoured as holy, revered or respected.
- Then the prayer welcomes God’s kingdom to reign on earth, so that His will would be done. In this way, we acknowledge that His ways are better than our ways, and we will put our trust in Him. (Matthew 6:10)
- We are halfway through this model prayer before we get to any petitions to meet our own needs. But God is willing to listen to our requests, and Jesus invites us to make them. Notice though, that asking for our daily bread (Matthew 6:11) focuses on our short term needs rather than on long-term provisions and desires that would tend to give us a false security in worldly possessions.
- The word “debts” (Matthew 6:12) refers to our sins against God. Yes, Jesus has already paid the price for our sins, and we accept the gift of forgiveness at the time of salvation, but to continue to ask forgiveness keeps us in a right relationship with God. It is understood that we will have already forgiven those who have sinned against us, before we ask God’s forgiveness of ours. The reason why is clarified in Matthew 6:14-15.
- We know that God does not tempt us, (James 1:13) but He knows that Satan will. Matthew 6:13 is a request for protection from the evil one. God has promised that He will provide a way out when we face trials. (I Corinthians 10:13) It would be wise for us to ask God to help us see it.
- The closing of the prayer, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” is only included in a few versions. It is almost certainly not a part of the original text of Matthew, but one shouldn’t worry about including it in a worshipful repetition of the prayer. To seek to give God the power and the glory is a worthy goal.
Considering that only two verses before this passage, Jesus told His disciples not to use vain repetitions (Matthew 6:7-8), I am sure that Jesus did not intend for us to thoughtlessly recite this model prayer by rote. Not discounting the value of repeating it as an act of thoughtful worship, I believe Jesus wanted us to use this prayer as a pattern. Follow the principles it teaches by example, but use your own words. Express your own heart. Jesus wants our worship of God our Father to be sincere, not forced. Put Him first, attempt through your life to bring Him glory, and feel confident that you can also bring Him your requests. As a holy God, He is worthy of our worship. As a loving Father, He wants to be our provider. This prayer shows us that He is both.