Recently, I put together a study for my church covering the Lord’s Prayer. It is something we will we doing this spring at Wednesday night prayer meeting and Bible study. I figure if we’re going to have prayer meeting, it is probably good to talk about prayer!
This is the introduction and part one…
In Scripture, we have two accounts of Jesus teaching what we call “The Lord’s Prayer.” The first, and most well-known, we find in Matthew 6 where Jesus taught on prayer during the Sermon on the Mount. The second, Luke recorded in 11:1-4 of his Gospel.
Luke tells us Jesus was praying in a certain place, then after he finished one of his disciples (presumably one of the 12) asked, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” Jesus responded with a slightly shortened form of the prayer from the Sermon.
In Romans 8, Paul taught about the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives as children of God. In a very humbling statement, Paul said, “Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought” (8:26). Paul included himself in that group saying “our weakness” and “we do not know.” Of all people who we think should know how to pray it would be Paul, and yet he is the very one who said prayer is a weakness for all of us.
As humbling of a statement as that is, instead of discouraging us it should encourage us. God still desires to hear the prayers of his children. Through Jesus, he gives us the Spirit to help us in prayer. And just as Jesus taught his disciples from 2000 years ago to pray, so with the same prayer he teaches us to pray today.
This study is about learning to pray and strengthening our prayer lives, both individually and corporately as a church, through the Lord’s Prayer.
5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done,on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Part One :: The Commands of Prayer (6:5-9)
To put the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew into context, Jesus spent much of the first part of the Sermon on the Mount teaching about true righteousness in regards to anger, purity, marriage, love, etc. Then in 6:1 he gave a warning, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people.” Jesus wants his followers to practice righteousness, but he desires we do it for the right reasons—because we love and obey him, not to put on a spectacle for other people.
Jesus followed with three examples of what he meant concerning a poor practice of righteousness and a good practice. These examples include giving to the poor (6:2-4), fasting (6:16-18), and, of course, prayer (6:5-15).
So under the umbrella of a proper practice of righteousness, Jesus taught his followers how to pray. Yet before providing the model prayer itself, he gave four main commands concerning prayer.
First, Jesus commands us not to pray like the hypocrites. The term “hypocrite” [Greek: hupokritas] was used in culture to designate an actor or role-player. Spiritually, then, this is one who pretends to be something they are not. They pretend to be godly yet at the core they are anything but.
A hypocrite in prayer is one not truly interested in making their requests known to God, but rather likes to use their prayers to make themselves look better than the people around them. This is why Jesus said “they love” to stand and pray in the synagogues and street corners, they love to be seen by others. These are people like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14 who went to the temple and said, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”
Jesus said, such “have received their reward”—a statement meant to take our minds back to 6:1 where Jesus warned if we practice our righteousness for the purpose of show we “will have no reward” from our Father! The praise of men stands as the fullness of such reward, and that carries us nowhere before God.
Second, Jesus commands us to pray in secret. If we are not to be like the hypocrites who love to pray being seen by people, then logically it follows we should concern ourselves with only being seen by God.
In 6:6, Jesus made a strong statement: “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door.” The term “room” indicates an inner room, even away from windows where we may be tempted to pray so our neighbors can still see us. As we pray in secret, we also pray to the Father who is both “in secret” and who “sees in secret.” The Bible teaches that we cannot behold the glory (or face) of God and live, and that no one has seen the Father at any time.
Because of our sin, God remains mostly hidden from us so as to not consume us or destroy us. He is the invisible, the unseen God. Hebrews defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1). So prayer done is secret is truly prayer of faith—we are praying to the God that our eyes cannot behold in this life, and we do it not to be seen by others but because we believe he is there and he answers prayers!
Hebrews also says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (11:6). Thus, prayer done in secret—prayer of faith—receives a reward (Matthew 6:6).
Of course, this command to pray in secret begs the question: is it proper, then, for us to pray together as a church? After all, such prayer is not done in secret. The answer is “yes, it is proper,” assuming our motives are still right. When we gather as a church body to pray we gather amongst ourselves and not truly in public. If we were to stand on the street corners during our gatherings and as a group shout our prayer so the passerby can hear, then we violate the command of Jesus. But when we gather together and offer prayers together, whether done by one or a multitude, we do not gather to showcase our prayers but still pray “in secret” as a body.
Third, Jesus commands us not to pray like a babbler, multiplying words thinking they will ensure we are heard. In 1 Kings 18:20-40, Elijah faced-off against 450 prophets of the false god Baal. Elijah challenged the people, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him” (18:21). He then challenged the prophets to prepare a sacrifice for Baal, as he would prepare one for Yahweh, and said the true God would answer through fire.
The prophets cried out, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no answer. So Elijah mocked them and said, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing or he is relieving himself or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” The prophets continued to cry out and cut themselves for hours, yet still received no answer. When Elijah prayed a brief prayer, however, God answered by sending fire to consume the sacrifice.
The prophets of Baal are an example of those Jesus warned about—they “heap up empty phrases,” repeating the same words and mantras over and over and over, thinking surely they will be heard.
Jesus simply said, “Do not be like them.” And the reason? “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” God is not some distant God who possesses a failing attention span or is off on some journey. He is not a God who needs sleep and must be awakened. Instead, he is a God who knows all things, and indeed even knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows our needs.
This raises its own question: if God knows our needs, why do we need to pray? A simple answer could be, “Because God commands it.” But that’s kind of like an adult telling a child, “Because I told you so.” While it is true, God does command it, he commands it for a specific reason—faith and worship.
God does not need to hear our prayers, but he delights in hearing our prayers. He desires that we believe and trust in him. He desires that we worship him. After all, faith and worship benefit us as they draw us closer to God and shape our hearts and our wills to be more in line with his heart and his will.
God never promises to answer prayers we don’t pray. He does promise to answer when we do pray (John 15:7)—though the answer might not always be what we expect! Therefore, even though God knows our prayers he still expects us to pray to him and build our relationship with him.
Fourth, Jesus commands us to pray according to a particular pattern. Before the prayer begins with “Our Father” in 6:9, Matthew records (in Greek) four words of Jesus. One is simply the word “then” or “therefore,” and a second addresses his listeners as the subject of his command, “You.” The third word is the verb for “pray” given as an imperative or a command. Such a command means that Jesus taught we must pray, prayer is not an option in Christian life. The fourth word houtos means “in this manner” or “in this way.” Another way to translate what Jesus said is, “Therefore (based on what I just said about hypocrites and the Gentiles), you must pray in this manner…”
What follows is a prayer with six request—the first three are directed towards God and about God, the second three are also directed towards God but concern his physical and spiritual provisions for us as his followers.
When Jesus said, “You must pray in this manner,” we know from other prayers offered in Scripture he did not mean we must say these words and only these words. Nor did he mean we must make all six of these requests in a single prayer. The Bible also tells us we must “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)—we are always to be with an attitude of prayer and dependence upon God. Practically, during our day we should spend various moments specifically in prayer as the occasion or need arises. Then as we pray throughout, we use the six requests Jesus mentioned as our guide for what we pray to God.