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This is a presentation I gave several years ago on the Lord’s prayer – reflections-on-the-lords-prayer.pdf   William

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If you were teaching a Sunday school class, or talking to your children, or if someone just came up to you and said, “teach me how to pray.” How would you respond? What would you say?

Luke 11:1-2 says, “Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say . . ..” Then he gives them the Lord’s prayer, or the prayer of Jesus. Would you have said this to your imaginary inquisitor??

They wanted to learn to pray – and Jesus’ answer was to teach them the Lord’s prayer. I think most of us want to learn to pray as well, so I want to spend some time teaching the Lord’s prayer – because, as our text indicates, the Lord’s prayer teaches us how to pray. Today I want to begin by looking at the form of this prayer and then some basic lessons on prayer that we leard from this prayer.

The form of the Lord’s prayer

1) There are two versions of the prayer of Jesus: Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4

Matthew:

Our Father in Heaven
1. Hallowed be your Name.
2. Your Kingdom come,
Your will be done on earth as it is in
heaven.

3. Give us this day our daily bread.
4. And forgive us our debts, as we also
have forgiven those indebted to us.
5. And do not lead us into testing,
but deliver us from the evil one

Luke:

Father
1. Hallowed be your Name.
2. Your Kingdom come.

3. Give us each day our daily bread
4. And forgive us our sins, for we
ourselves forgive everyone who is
indebted to us.
5. And do not lead us into testing.

You can see they are a bit different. A second observation . . .

2) There are two basic parts to this prayer (in both versions). Even without getting into the details of what these requests mean it is obvious that there are two distinct sections to this prayer. This is highlighted by the different pronouns used:

  • the first section (the first two requests) uses “your” language (or second person singular pronouns) with reference to God
  • the second section uses “we/us/our” language (or first person plural pronouns) with reference to us.

3. There are five requests in this prayer. You can see them enumerated above. But what about the two extra phrases in Matthew? They are simply parallels that occur at the end of the first and second sections that say the same thing in a different way.

  • To pray “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” is the same as to pray “your Kingdom come.”
  • To pray – “lead us not into testing” is the same as praying “deliver us from the evil one,” the one who tests us.

So both versions of the prayer of Jesus have five petitions.

4. The petitions have the same meaning. This, even though the 3rd or bread request and the 4th or forgiveness request have some different wording:

  • “each day” vs. “this day”
  • “sins” vs. “debts”
  • “for” vs. “as”, and “forgive” vs. “have forgiven.”

Certainly there are differences of nuance, which we will look at when we get to them. But this really is one and the same prayer in both versions.

5) Just a note: The doxology at the end of Matthew is probably not original. Check your bibles – Matthew 6:13. It says, “yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” Most bibles put this in the footnotes or in brackets because it is not in the earliest Greek manuscripts.

In Jewish practice, however, it was customary to add an ending like this, so something like this was probably used. And I like to use it from time to time because, even if not original, it is a very early way of ending this prayer.

Now lets look at some basic . . .

Lessons about prayer

1. We learn from the prayer of Jesus about priorities in prayer. God’s concerns come first (in the first section of the prayer). They come first because they are the most important: the glory of God’s name and the coming of God’s Kingdom to this earth. Nothing is more important than these. Our needs come second after God’s concerns.

As we look at this, I ask – “How many of us ever get to God’s concerns in our prayers?” Our own needs are so easy to remember and so pressing. But I want to challenge you on this. True, authentic prayer covers both God’s concerns and our concerns – with priority given to God concerns.

2. We learn what our most important requests are. These are:

  • Bread – God’s provision of material needs
  • Forgiveness – God’s mercy for our failings
  • Deliverance from testing – or difficult situations that test our faithfulness to God.

Jesus teaches us here what we should focus on. Although we certainly pray for other things, this keeps us focused on what we absolutely have to have.

3. It is fine to use a set prayer – that is, something written out or memorized that helps you to pray.

In our tradition we think it isn’t real prayer unless it is totally spontaneous and we are suspicious of something that’s too formal. But in Jewish tradition this was common, and various teachers would give a set prayer to their disciples. Which is why the disciples asked for one. John the Baptist had taught his disciples how to pray with a set prayer and they wanted this too.

What I have learned is that you can both use a set prayer – as a pattern – and still allow the Spirit to guide you, as you embellish it, extend it and apply it to your situation. In fact it is my testimony to you that praying the prayer of Jesus – meaningfully, from the heart, is a very powerful Spirit experience. The Spirit is definitely there and will guide you.

4. Prayer can be brief. A Jewish proverb says, “the prayers of the righteous are short.” Jesus said, “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words” – Matthew 6:7.

Indeed, in Luke’s version there are only 36 words in English (38 in Greek). Not a lot! It takes about 30 seconds to pray it meaningfully (not just reading it). So we can’t say we don’t have time to pray!

As we see from this, petitionary prayer can be direct and to the point. That’s because there is no correlation between the amount of words you use and the effectiveness of your prayers.

Now, there are other types of prayer that do require more time, for instance listening prayer. But with our requests to God, we don’t need to labor on and on unless we sense the Spirit leading us to do this. What is important is our heart and the content of the request – not the length of the prayer.

5. Prayer is communal. That is, it is to build community among us. Remember that in the second section, the pronouns are all plurals – “our,” “we, ” or “us.” So even when we pray this as individuals – we are never just praying as an individual. We always have others in mind – our brothers and sisters in our local congregation, and spread throughout the world. This breaks us out of our individualist mindset – just me and God.

It is not just, “Father give me this day the bread that I need” It is – “give us this day our daily bread.” “I need bread – and my sisters and brothers need bread, Father.” Our prayers are both petitions and intercession at the same time. And because we pray this way we are constantly reminded of our broader Christian community.

William Higgins

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