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.
Do you “say grace”? Ask the blessing? Give thanks for your food before you eat? Do you do it when you go out to eat in restaurants? What is your reason for doing so? Do you feel pressured by the people with whom you are dining? Do you feel like you are denying Christ if you do not pray before you eat in a public place? Even if the server is waiting to set down your plate while your bowed head is in the way? In Matthew 6:5, Jesus warns His disciples not to be like the hypocrites who like to make a big show of their prayers.
In Matthew 6:6, He tells them that they should pray in a private place. The King James Version uses the term closet, and there are still people who talk about praying in their prayer closet. The word in the original language referred to a room that was separated or partitioned off from the living quarters. The people who were listening to Jesus would have probably thought storeroom. Some people today make themselves a prayer closet that is set aside for that purpose only, which may actually defeat the purpose of Jesus’ instruction if others know where it is and when you are in it. The point is to pray when it is just you and God involved in the conversation. Christ went to a mountain, (Mark 6:46) to the wilderness, (Luke 5:16) as well as to a quiet place in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36) when He wanted to speak to His Father. The reason He recommends this solitude is so that you won’t be distracted by others, you won’t be trying to impress others, and you won’t be inhibited about talking to God frankly and honestly. If you take the time to talk to God as your Father, rather than as a performance for other church folk, or unchurched folk, your prayers will be more sincere.
That is not to say that God is against public prayer. Other passages in the New Testament clearly show that it was accepted practice in the gatherings of Christ’s followers. (Acts 2:42, Acts 12:12, Acts 13:3, Acts 14:23, Acts 20:36) Christ Himself gave thanks for food in front of thousands of people. (John 6:11) What concerned Jesus in Matthew 6:5-6 was the condition of His disciples’ hearts. He didn’t want them to be influenced by the religious leaders whose actions may seem pious, but whose motives were less pure. Because they were the teachers of the law, the ones who were supposed to have the answers, people were apt to trust them and follow them, but their hearts were focused on the wrong things. That can just as easily happen today. I used to teach in a Christian school where the rules and dress code were strict. The students spent so much time pushing the rules to the very limit, that they completely missed the point of them. So much time was spent focusing on the external that the internal was neglected. God wants us to spend time with Him alone, so that we can know Him and learn to depend on Him, and so that we can become holy from the inside out.
You may have noticed that things don’t always turn out the way you hope they will. And they almost always take longer than you want them to. In this world of instant everything, many of us have lost our ability to wait patiently. And yet, there are times when we must wait, whether we like it or not. As I told you last week, I have been ill recently, and because of a condition that may or may not be related, and that did not resolve itself within six weeks, my doctor sent me for a medical test. I waited a month for that appointment, and the results were inconclusive. So I was sent for a different medical test. Again inconclusive. A third test has been scheduled for next Tuesday. It has now been almost three months without answers, and frankly without any information about what the problem might be. I am still waiting.
Now if I were to be honest, I would have to admit that I don’t always have the best of attitudes in situations like this. I worry, and I often complain. Unfortunately, that only proves that I’m not as good as I would like to be at trusting God with the outcome. What should I do instead? As hard as it is sometimes, I should be praising God. King David had a lot of trials and struggles in his life too, so much more serious than mine, and he concluded that he should praise God continually. Early in Psalm 86, David was pleading with God for mercy, but in Psalm 86:12 he declared that he would give God praise with his whole heart and would honour His name continually. With his whole heart meant that David would be sincere in his praise; he wouldn’t just go through the motions. He could do that, because he had established a relationship with God, and knew that He was trustworthy. God had shown David His mercy many times before. David knew that he could trust God with his life and with the outcome to the situations he found himself in. Continually is pretty self-explanatory. At all times. In every situation. Since not all situations are good ones, David would honour God even when things weren’t going the way he wanted them to.
Moira Brown has said that, “Praise is the elevator that lifts us out of the pit of despair.” If we can praise God even in the tough times, we will be able to focus more on the goodness and faithfulness of God, the One who is the same yesterday, today and forever, (Hebrews 13:8) rather than dwelling on the challenges in our circumstances. I’m still working on it. How about you?