How To PrayPosted: September 17, 2012
Jesus was called “Teacher” more than any other title, and he was (and is) the greatest teacher of all time. Literally millions (if not billions) of people have contemplated his words, applying this interpretative method or that, trying to understand exactly what he meant by what he said. No question about it, sometimes it takes a huge amount effort to decipher the mysterious words of Jesus. The Bible does not yield its fruit to the lazy.
That’s why we should be extra-thankful when Jesus does choose to speak directly rather than enigmatically, in open principle rather than in parable. And you can’t get much more clear than what Jesus says about prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 (the Lord’s Prayer). There’s no story, no illustration, no parable, no mystery, no enigma. Jesus looks right at the disciples and goes straight at them. Here’s the text of the Lord’s Prayer:
“This, then, is how you should pray:
‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.'”
Don’t you love that? “Hey guys, here’s how to pray.” Can’t get much more clear than that. And since these words are inconceivably famous (and important), I want to make sure that Jesus’ words are understood the way they were spoken – clearly. So here’s a simple commentary on Matthew 6:9-13. (Notes are compiled from the ESV Study Bible, NIV Life Application Study Bible, and Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary. That’s it. You’re like, “Hey, I could have learned all this stuff and compiled it on my own!” Exactly, so go do it. Learning firsthand will thrill you, and the Bible does not yield its fruit to the lazy. Oh wait I already said that.)
The prayer consists of an introductory address followed by six petitions (or requests). The first three petitions involve the preeminence of God, and the last three involve personal needs within the community. The order of these priorities should be noted.
v.9 – This, then, is how you should pray does not mean to pray using only these words, but to pray like this, to pray with this kind of attitude and these kinds of priorities. Repeating this prayer from the heart is a great idea, but people often reduce it to empty, mechanical recitation of these exact words. Interestingly, that’s exactly what Jesus had just warned against doing (v.7)! Jesus himself repeated a different version of this prayer in Luke 11:2-4. The motivation of the one praying is more important than the words themselves (although the words are important).
v.9 – The word for Father is “Abba” in Aramaic (not Greek. Jesus mostly spoke Aramaic and the gospels were translated to Greek as they were written by the apostles). To say that the term means, “Daddy”, might be going a bit far since Greek and Aramaic-speaking adults also used this term of their parents in a respectful way (“Dad” might be a better fit?). However, the word definitely carries the connotation of familiarity and fatherly affection. We can be comfortable calling God “Father,” because he himself has invited us to do so.
v.9 – Hallowed be your name is one of the most important phrases to understand. It is not a description of God’s name, and it is not an ascription of praise to God. It is not another way of saying, “God’s name is hallowed.” It is actually a petition, or request. The verb form in Greek is in the imperative form. An accurate rephrasing would be, “Let your name be hallowed” or “Cause your name to be treasured”. The Lord ’s Prayer starts by asking God to act in such a way that would make his name great.
v.10 – Your kingdom refers to the kingdom of Jesus Christ that is present in the hearts of believers right this moment. This same kingdom is the one that will ultimately be fulfilled when Christ returns to earth to set up his eternal kingdom. Your will refers to the “revealed will” or “moral will” of God, which involves conduct that is pleasing to him as described in Scripture. In heaven, the moral will of God is followed perfectly; therefore we pray that we will do likewise on earth.
v.11 – The prayer involves praying only for daily bread. These words would have clearly been understood by Jesus’ audience to refer to the daily supply of manna that Israel had collected in the desert 1400 years before. During this time the Israelites were not permitted to try to gather more than one day’s supply of bread, but only to depend daily on the Lord’s provision (the only exception was gathering two days’ worth of manna on the day prior to the Sabbath).
v.12 – Forgive us our debts does not refer to a request for justification (salvation), since we are once and for all justified at the first moment of saving faith. It refers to a request for the restoration of day-to-day fellowship between the believer and God, fellowship that gets broken when we sin and do not follow God’s will in our lives “as it is followed in heaven” (see v.10). Note the immediate result of the restoration of this fellowship – we also have forgiven our debtors. True gratitude for forgiveness will inevitably carry over to our relationships with others. Vertical grace leads to horizontal grace.
v.13 – Lead us not into temptation does not imply that God would ever directly cause us to sin or to do evil. However, he does allow us to be tempted and tested, situations which we should face with joy (James 1:2). Even so, it makes sense to pray to avoid these times of trial if possible (Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane). An accurate rephrasing of this petition would be, “Spare us from situations that would cause us to be tempted/tried”.
The words, “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” were a later scribal addition, not part of the original Bible text. However, they are theologically accurate and there is no harm in concluding the prayer with these words.
There it is. Now go get prayed up.