This is part three of a study on prayer I wrote for my church. You can read part one here, and part two at this other here.
Part Three :: The Requests Concerning Us (6:11-15)
As with all things in life, prayer is primarily about God. Yet, prayer also has benefit for us. After establishing the first set of three requests concerning God, his name, kingdom, and will; Jesus gave a second set of requests concerning God’s work in our lives. In these requests we do not merely ask for things to happen or go well in vague and general terms, rather we ask God to work in our lives in particular ways.
The three requests are:
- We pray that God will provide for our daily needs.
- We pray that God will forgive our sins as we have forgiven others.
- We pray that God would lead us away from evil.
Essentially, these requests concern God’s provision for our spiritual and physical needs each day.
First, we pray that God will provide for our daily needs. Jesus told us to ask the Father to “give us this day our daily bread.” If we translate this sentence very woodenly from the Greek, it would read something like, “Today, please give to us our bread necessary for existence this day.” The phrase twice highlights the daily provision of bread.
This has a two-fold significance. First, prayer must be a daily activity. We already know from elsewhere in the Bible, we are to always have an attitude of prayer or “pray without ceasing.” And this attitude carries moments of specific prayer. As followers of Jesus, not a day should pass where we do not spend time specifically in prayer. If we do not pray “today” then we cannot pray for our needs for “today.”
Second, Jesus also foreshadowed what he will say in 6:25-34, telling us not to be anxious or overly worried about our lives and things like food, drink, and clothing. Instead, “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness” and God will provide us with the things we need. In this, Jesus also said, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow…sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Each and every day we wake up, we will have needs. We can too easily lose focus if we worry too much about what tomorrow might bring, so we focus instead on what today brings and pray for God to provide those needs.
When Jesus taught us to pray for our “daily bread,” he used a simple image to illustrate our most basic needs. In most cultures, bread or some sort of grain serves as a staple of one’s diet. It is necessary, then, to survival. This does not exclude us from praying also for our wants, but again we must keep things in proper focus. Needs are necessary, wants, while important to various degrees, are trivial in comparison. We can go without having our wants fulfilled, we cannot exist for long without having our needs met.
Therefore, this is a prayer of trust in God as the Fatherly provider. Asking God to provide for our needs stands as a recognition that God is our Father and we are his children. This is a prayer which speaks to our identity as his children.
The prayer for bread echoes Jesus’ words during his temptation. In Matthew 4:1-4, Satan tempted Jesus to question his identity as the Son of God and God’s identity as the Father. Satan said, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” In other words, instead of trusting in the Father’s provision as Jesus sought his kingdom and righteousness, Satan tempted him to forgo the Father and trust in himself.
Jesus responded, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” quoting Deuteronomy 8:3 when Moses reminded the people about God’s provision of manna in the wilderness.
God might use practical and ordinary means to provide our bread, such as work or family, but God is still the Great Provider of all things. Asking him to meet our daily needs acknowledges he is the Father who loves us, his children, and loves providing for us.
Second, we pray that God will forgive our sins as we have forgiven others. Here, our sins are compared to a debt—a moral obligation we owe to God. We owe God restitution for our sins, but in our sins even all our righteous deeds are like a “polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6). We have nothing to offer God to cover the debt of our sin.
Jesus, however, in his perfection and righteousness died in our place and gave God his blood and obedience in payment for our sins. Thus the record of debt “that stood against us with its legal demands” was canceled and set aside being nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14), and there we find forgiveness no longer needing “any offering for sin” (Hebrews 10:18).
On the cross, Jesus paid for all our sins—past, present, and future. If we trust in Jesus and follow him, we have perfect forgiveness. But if Jesus “paid it all” (as the song goes), then why a need to still pray for forgiveness of our debts? The answer is that even though sin no longer has eternal consequence for the follower of Jesus, our sins still have temporal consequences in this life.
If we are found in Jesus, then our sin can no longer separate us from God, but it can grieve the Holy Spirit within us (Ephesians 4:30), thus making our relationship with God less than it should be. Certain sins, such as a husband mistreating his wife, may even cause our prayers to be hindered (1 Peter 3:7). And though our sin no longer brings punishment from God (1 John 4:18), it may still result in discipline from God (Hebrews 12:3-11). Sin still affects our relationship to God, and at times may affect our relationship with others or have personal consequences.
So, even though we are eternally forgiven our sin, we are still in temporal need of forgiveness for the sins we continue to commit. James tells us that by confessing our sins to one another and praying for one another we may be healed (James 5:16), and First John tells us, “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
But there is something else to note about this request. Jesus mentioned it in the verse itself when he said, “As we also have forgiven our debtors” and then he explained it further in 6:14-15. If we forgive others then the Father will forgive us, if we don’t forgive others then the Father will not forgive us.
Some people try to twist these words to get them to mean something less than they say, but Jesus repeats this very teaching elsewhere. In Mark 11:25, he said, “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” And in Luke 6:37, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Then in Luke 17:3-4, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day and turns to you seven times saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
Over and over, Jesus was clear on this issue—we must be forgiving people. If we do not forgive others we will not be forgiven. In fact, from how Jesus worded the prayer in Matthew 6:12, we don’t even have the right to ask for forgiveness unless we forgive others.
A heart changed by the grace of God realizes how much we have been forgiven in Christ, and as that grace transforms us we will become more forgiving and show forgiveness towards others. If we harbor an unforgiving attitude, it is a sin from which we must repent by both confessing it and turning to forgive those who sinned against us.
Third, we pray that God would lead us away from evil. This final request of our prayers also has to do with sin, but in this case sin before it happens. James says a person is tempted, “when he is lured and enticed by his own desire,” and left unchecked this desire “gives birth to sin” (James 1:14-15).
In this context, James also says that temptation does not come from God (1:13), but rather, “Every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (1:17). And let us not forget the great promise we find in 1 Corinthians 10:13:
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
The Father may allow certain temptations to come into our lives to test us, as he allowed Jesus to be tempted in the wilderness by Satan. But, God will always provide a way out of temptation and will never let any temptation come into our lives that is too strong for us to bear.
The prayer asking God to “lead us not into temptation” is a prayer asking him to be faithful to his word in this regard. It is a prayer asking for wisdom that we might see the “way of escape” and it is a prayer asking for strength to “endure.” Battling temptation is rarely easy, but as Christians who are no longer enslaved to sin, we are no longer held captive by temptation. God can, will, and does provide a way out, but we must trust him to lead and guide us, and in trust we must follow. This prayer is a part of that.
The prayer also asks God to deliver us from evil or the evil one. In fact, according to the grammar of Greek, this phrase provides the heart of this request. “Lead us not into temptation” is an aspect of “deliver us from evil.” Evil here is Satan, his minions, and his schemes. Jesus prayed this same prayer on our behalf in John 17:15.
But aside from help to escape temptation, what does “deliver us from evil” entail? Obviously it cannot mean freedom from all suffering, for Jesus commanded us to take up our cross (an instrument of suffering and death) as we follow him (Luke 9:23). Perhaps then, a good picture comes from the end of Paul’s life as we find in 2 Timothy 4:6-18. He was in prison, suffering, and about to be martyred. Read the last half of Acts and you will see how much Paul suffered in life at the hands of evil men (he also provided his own summary in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29).
Yet, even knowing his impending death with the memory of these things, Paul still said, “I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:17-18). Or as Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28).
Ultimate protection and deliverance from evil is not about what happens to us physically, but rather spiritually. God delivers us by walking with us through the dark valleys of suffering and even death (Psalm 23:4), and then bring us safely home into his kingdom.
In this life, at least, prayer will always remain an important part of our daily lives as Christians. We must pray, and we cannot afford to go a day without prayer. Prayer serves as a means to show our dependence upon God.
But as prayer honors God and shows trust in him, Jesus gave us a particular pattern to follow throughout our day. We are not to be like the hypocrites who pray to look good, or like babblers who do not trust in a God that is all-knowing, all-powerful, and everywhere-present. Nor are we to pray for show, that others might see us and speak highly of our prayer life.
Instead we are to pray the way Jesus taught.
We pray to a personal God, our Father. We pray in reverence of him as the Great King in heaven. And we pray selflessly and corporately, with the needs of others in mind and not just our own needs.
We pray for God’s name to be honored;
We pray for God’s kingdom to come;
We pray for God’s will to be accomplished;
We pray that God will provide for our daily needs;
We pray that God will forgive our sins as we have forgiven others;
We pray that God would lead us away from evil;