Prayer – The Lord’s Prayer

In our survey of prayer, we have touched upon the variety of prayers throughout the Old Testament, from the earliest prayers in Genesis and Exodus to the prayers of the prophets, as well as the Psalms. We then looked at the importance of the church’s contribution to our understanding of prayer. Our reading of Scripture, however, never happens in a vacuum and is always informed by the historic and catholic reading of the Church. This prompted a dash through the writings of the Fathers of the church. From the early church, looking at Tertullian, Origen, and Augustine, to the creeds and confessions of the 16th and 17th century to the Puritans and even to 20th century writers, like CS Lewis, we looked at what the Church has historically said about prayer. With centuries of wisdom and reflection upon the Scriptures, the Church has consistently affirmed prayer to be a vital and necessary means of grace in the life of the Christian. Prayer takes many forms and shapes but is always a way in which we are able to “offer up our desires to God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies” (WSC #98).

One of the remarkable consistencies in looking through the history of the church’s writing on prayer is the special place of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13, Luke 11:2-4). Nearly every work written on prayer ends up coming back to the Lord’s Prayer. The early church fathers wrote to define prayer, broadly, and then came back around to the Lord’s Prayer. The vast majority of Reformed Confessions, for example, explain prayer broadly and then give an exposition on the Lord’s Prayer. The general pattern in writing on prayer seems to be 1) explain what prayer is, 2) expound on the Lord’s Prayer. We will follow suit.

The Lord’s Prayer is the pattern of prayer given by Jesus for his disciples. Luke records that the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” Apparently, the disciples had been watching Jesus pray. And they had been watching John’s disciples pray. And there was something that seemed to be lacking in their prayer practices. The noticed a certain deficiency. We have much to learn here if we are willing to see it. We should examine our prayer practices and see where we are deficient. I’ve never met a Christian who said their prayer life is more than it ought to be. I’ve never met a faithful Christian who says they pray too much, or too long, or with too much fervor. But I have met plenty of Christians who will quietly admit the opposite (and even more who won’t admit that, though it is true).

These disciples, after acknowledging their deficiencies, did what any Christian should do in a similar circumstance. They asked Jesus to help. Matthew Henry notes that this simple request “is itself a good prayer, and a very needful one, for it is a hard thing to pray well and it is Jesus Christ only that can teach us, by his word and Spirit, how to pray.”[1] What a comfort it should be to us that faithful saints like the disciples and Matthew Henry are no different from you and I in finding prayer difficult, and that Jesus Christ hears our pleas for help in prayer and answers them.

Jesus answers their request by telling them, “Pray then like this:

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed by your name.

Your kingdom come,

Your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

And forgive us our debts,

As we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:9-13, ESV).

This answer to the disciples’ question about prayer has become known as The Lord’s Prayer. Perhaps this form looks a little different than what you may have grown up with (assuming you grew up reciting the Lord’s Prayer in English). The 1928 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer is the most standard Protestant form, using “trespasses” instead of “debts,” and is identical to the Roman Catholic form, except the RC version excludes the final doxology. The differences in the wording is no major issue, though, because there are differences between how Matthew and Luke record this prayer. While it can be prayed verbatim, the Gospels seem to affirm that it is a pattern of prayer. We should not get tied up in words but rather understand the content. And that is what countless church fathers have done in expounding on the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer.

Over the next several weeks, we will go through the Lord’s Prayer petition by petition and examine the content of this prayer. My hope is that this will serve as an encouragement and a prompt in your personal prayers. Our prayers need help and Jesus has answered our need.

[1] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 1860.