The Lord’s Prayer is recorded in the gospels of both Matthew and Luke.
According to Luke’s account, the disciples had been with Jesus for many months. They had heard him speak and seen him heal the sick and set men free. They had also seen their Lord rise a great while before daybreak to be quiet; to spend time alone with his heavenly Father.
Luke tells us that Jesus had just returned from such a time of prayer, and so it was natural for them to ask, ‘Lord, teach us to pray.’ As a result of that request we have what we call ‘The Lord’s Prayer’. The prayer is our Lord’s teaching and our Lord’s pattern concerning prayer. It is how we should pray.
The Lord’s Prayer was not given as a literary masterpiece to be viewed and admired. Nor is it a beautiful set piece to be recited morning by morning as if the lovely words themselves would infuse a beauty into our lives but had no practical meaning or bearing on the way we live. It was given to be a pattern and a basis of prayer for real people in the real world. It is the pattern our Lord has given his disciples. Even then it is not simply a recitation or set prayer but truly a whole house of prayer with many rooms to explore. Each room opens to us a different aspect of God’s world, the world for which we are called to pray.
Beware then, of rushing around the house from room to room simply ‘checking them off’. But rather, take time to walk from room to room and bring before our heavenly Father, the people, the contents and the views, both near and far, of each room in turn.
We begin with just the first phrase, ‘Our Father in heaven,’ or, ‘Father,’ as it is in the earliest copies of Luke’s gospel. Here is the grand entrance hall in which we are introduced to the King. Our Lord teaches us straight away to whom we should pray and, indeed, who may pray in this way.
To Whom Should We pray?
Our Lord was teaching his Hebrew disciples to pray, and the Hebrew people were very proud of their father, Abraham. Abraham was the friend of God. Abraham was successful in pleading with God to spare cities. It would have been quite natural, from our point of view at least, for our Lord to have taught them to pray: ‘Father Abraham, friend of God, plead for us, pray for us.’ But he did not do that.
There were other great spiritual leaders, for example Moses. When God spoke with ordinary men, he spoke with them from a distance, but when God spoke with Moses he spoke with him face to face. And so it would have been natural, again from our point of view, if our Lord had said, ‘Pray like this: “Father Moses to whom has been given the privilege of speaking with God face to face, pray for us, intercede for us, pray on our behalf.”‘ But again, he did not. The same of Elijah, that great man of God by whose passionate prayers came drought, fire and rain: ‘Elijah pray for us, intercede on our behalf.’
Our Lord nowhere teaches us to pray in this way and neither do his chosen apostles, and there is an enormous lesson here straight away. If we would be disciples of our Lord Jesus, and are willing to submit to his teaching, we will not offer our prayers to those Old Testament saints or to their New Testament counterparts.
In this prayer our Lord offers us a privilege far, far greater. We are not invited to come to a mere servant of God, no matter how great a spiritual giant he or she may have been. We are invited to come with boldness into the very presence of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; invited into the presence Almighty God himself.
The invitation is absolutely overwhelming. How dare we? We certainly may not by any merit or right of our own. But, through his Son, the Lord God invites us, as we pray, to come into his awesome and royal presence; indeed, we are called to do so with boldness, and by express invitation.
Once we have understood the greatness and amazing privilege of such an invitation, to refuse would be as unthinkably rude as receiving an invitation to a royal reception or garden party but, on the occasion, actively choosing to speak only with the servants.
How Should We Address Almighty God?
We are taught to approach Almighty God as ‘our Father in heaven’. This again is something absolutely wonderful; that we, mere mortals, are invited to address the sovereign Lord of all the universe as ‘Father’. The Hebrew people of our Lord’s day knew almost nothing of this intimate knowledge of God. And in our own day and culture, for a variety of reasons, many people find it very difficult. We think more easily of God as an impersonal cosmic force or as the great architect, or maybe the pattern set by our own father is a great stumbling block. However, the privilege of Christ’s disciples is that we may know God, the Sovereign Lord, as our heavenly Father; the best and greatest of Fathers, who loves us and cares for us.
The apostle Paul puts it even more strongly when he says that those who have the Spirit of our Lord Jesus can address God the creator as ‘Abba’, ‘Father, my Father’. That is the privilege of disciples of our Lord Jesus. We can, in a real sense, be sons and daughters with the freedom of approach seen in a little child with a loving parent.
Who May Pray Like This?
Here is a prayer for disciples of our Lord Jesus. He came to his own people, writes the apostle John, and they did not receive him. They rejected him. But to those among them who received him he gave the power, the right, the authority to be the sons and daughters of God.
Those in our own day who are given this right and privilege, are also those who receive the Lord Jesus; those who are willing to trust him for who he is and for what he has done for us; willing to learn what he commands and willing to do it. These, and only these, are true disciples of Christ and to them is given this great and glorious privilege . . . to be the sons and daughters of God.
The Family Prayer
Finally, do notice that the prayer begins with the little word our, not just my Father but our Father. The one who hears equally the cries of the strong man or the little child, the prince in his palace or the poor man cast out. He, our Father, hears the cry of the prisoner as clearly as the cry of the free, the prayers of the despised as gladly as the prayers of those held in high public esteem.
True disciples of the Lord Jesus, no matter what their earthly circumstances are, are no more, and no less, than sons and daughters of the living God and are invited to come with equal boldness, and with equal humility, as brothers and sisters into the very presence of God. The squire and the stable hand, the president and the plumber, the carpenter and the king, disciples met behind cottage doors or cathedral doors – ‘our Father’.
Here truly is common prayer, a prayer common to disciples from every nation, tongue and tribe, a prayer for the smallest child and a prayer for the strongest leader, a prayer for those who have the responsibility of great power and wealth and for fellow disciples who do not even know whether there will be a next meal.
When we truly begin to grasp that our fellow disciples, no matter what their earthly circumstances may be, are our brothers and sisters in Christ, it will begin to move our hearts with God-like compassion as it challenges us to give and forgive, to share and to care for those around us.
In beginning to pray the Lord’s Prayer, pray just this first line, ‘Our Father in heaven,’ and then, before moving on, pause and reflect into whose presence we are invited to come with such boldness. Step back and in wonder reflect that we may speak with the Lord God himself. Recall at what cost that privilege was bought; reflect with the apostle Paul that, ‘The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me.’
If you pause and consider these things you may well be moved to worship, and moved in wonder and love for God who gave his only Son for you. Filled with awe and wonder, prayer begins to come alive; prayer to our Father in heaven who cares passionately about this world and its people; who cares enough about us to make us his children.
‘Father, give us a due sense of awe and wonder at the greatness of this your invitation. Set our hearts ablaze in wonder and thanksgiving that in your unchanging love and mercy you gave your Son, your only Son, that we, together, might be sons and daughters of the living God.’
Given in the order in which they occur in the chapter.
- The Lord’s Prayer – Matthew 6:5-14
- The Lord’s Prayer – Luke 11:1-4
- Abraham pleading – Genesis 18:22-33
- Moses speaking face to face – Exodus 33:9-11
- Elijah, passionate prayer – James 5:17&18
- God as ‘Abba’ – Romans 8:14-17
- The right to be the sons and daughters of God – John 1:11&12
- We love him, because he first loved us – 1 John 4:19
These questions are offered simply as an optional help to personal study and group discussion.
- How do you respond to the suggestion that the Lord’s Prayer is more than a prayer to recite; it is also a prayer to explore and apply phrase by phrase?
- Do you find it rather surprising that our Lord did not teach us to pray to or through the great servants of God?
- Can you sense the wonder of the privilege of addressing almighty God as ‘Father’?
- Who can rightly do so?
- How can this move us to worship and bring our prayers to life?
- What is the significance of the little word our?