A brief look at the prayer that changed the world
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 sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:9-13)
It’s the most important, precious prayer ever uttered – a lesson in prayer from the master, an intimate guide from the perfect Son on praying to the perfect Father. Just 57 simple words,* but words that have changed the world in untold ways.
What can be said about the Lord’s Prayer that hasn’t been said already? Let’s be honest – nothing. But when it comes to Jesus’ model prayer, what we need is not brand new insights, but something far more important: lives and prayers that are shaped by this prayer.
What would that look like? What would our lives and prayers be like if they were shaped by this prayer? Put simply, we would enjoy and delight in God above all else. Our hearts would be filled with an abiding passion for God’s glory, not just our own earthly comfort. We would be obsessed with God’s plans and desires. We would live for – and pray for – the kingdom of God, centred on his Son. We’d pray (and act in other ways) that people everywhere would live for the glory of God.
The Lord’s Prayer has, rightly, been treasured by Christians since the first century. It’s among the first words that many children learn. Around the world at this very moment, countless people are praying with these words. Yet it’s fascinating to note that Jesus taught this prayer as part of a warning against monotonous, repetitive prayer – yet in an incredible irony, this is exactly how it’s so often used today. In the Australian Parliament, for example, it’s in grave danger of becoming ‘a piece of historical theatre’. Pray this prayer, memorise it, teach it to your children. But don’t fall into the ultimate irony of using this prayer in exactly the way Jesus condemns.
But there’s something else about this prayer that I find fascinating: Jesus commands us to pray for something that is absolutely certain to happen. Is there anything more certain than God’s kingdom coming and God’s name being hallowed? The Bible is crystal clear – God WILL triumph. Yet this is precisely how Jesus teaches us to pray.
I used to assume that once God had promised something, there was no need to pray for it anymore. After all, what’s more fundamental to God’s character than that he always keeps his promises? But that’s not the Bible’s view of prayer (for another example, see 2 Samuel 7:18-29). Praying for the fulfillment of God’s promises is exactly what Jesus teaches.
“This implies that prayer is not only a duty of man but a gift of God. Jesus will awaken in his people the spirit of prayer that asks for everything it will take to accomplish God’s purposes in the world. The prayers of Jesus’ followers and the purposes of God will not fail.” (John Piper, What Jesus Demands from the World, page 112).
A Prayer (what else?)
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 sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
* 57 Greek words (the original language), as recorded in Matthew 6.