Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 6:9a “After this manner therefore pray ye:. . .”
It is useless to pray as the heathen do. Jesus “therefore” chose to teach us a better way to pray by giving us a pattern to follow. The Lord’s Prayer, though only sixty-six words long (KJV) and easily recitable in thirty seconds, is treasured by God’s people as a beautiful and precious crystal of pure devotion. Augustine and Luther, two prayer warriors, said nothing in all the Bible is more wonderful than the Lord’s Prayer. For sure, only John 3:16 and Psalm 23 are more widely known.
We often miss life’s finest blessings because we have not mastered prayer. Jesus, wanting the best for us, graciously took time to teach us this helpful prototype of prayer. The Lord’s Prayer helps us be more effective in prayer in two ways: it is a model of how to pray, and provides a synopsis of what to pray for.
First, the Lord’s Prayer is a model of how to pray. If spoken sincerely and fervently, it is always appropriate to pray this prayer. In Luke 11:2 Jesus introduced the Lord’s Prayer with, “When ye pray, say,. . .” The words themselves constitute a legitimate prayer. Obviously its exact words are not the only way to pray. Even the two forms of it in the Bible vary. Sadly, it is often our prime example of the very vain repetition and thoughtless verbosity it was given to combat. In our rituals, it is often monotonously repeated by rote. In crisis situations, it is often said repeatedly and mechanically, being used as a magical incantation. Luther complained of the way the Lord’s Prayer is murdered by the thoughtless repetition of its words. It is a viable prayer, but only if offered with fervency and sincerity.
Second, the Lord’s Prayer provides a synopsis of what to pray for. It was given more to guide thoughts than to prescribe words. Prayer is an adventure, a quest, and George Matthewson rightly said we need to know the “frontiers of prayer,” the parameters within which we need to guide our thoughts. The Lord’s Prayer blazes a trail for us, and carves out for us the best path to follow.
It provides us a good outline to expand. Speaking in broad generalities, it leaves particulars to us. We fill in the details, and flesh out the skeleton. The prayer encompasses every major category of prayer: adoration, confession, petition, intercession. One could use each phrase as a heading for a whole subset of prayers. This custom was adopted by the famous Methodist pastor, Charles Allen.
The Lord’s Prayer lets us do occasional reality checks, to see if our prayers are being offered aright. God’s will is where His heart is. Thus, to find His will we must locate His heart, and this prayer reveals what God values for Him and us.
Christians have a right, yea a responsibility, to talk to God about everything pressing on our hearts. Anything that burdens us burdens God, who wants to help us with it. Every once in a while, though, we must do serious self-examination to make sure we are spending the majority of our prayer time talking about things that are most important to God, not us. Pray about all things, but of every request, eventually seek to determine whether or not it fits under one of the statements in the Lord’s Prayer. If not, we may need to spend less time praying about it.
My generation recalls Janis Joplin screaming into a microphone, “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz.” It is okay to ask for a Mercedes Benz, but such a request fits nowhere in the Lord’s Prayer, and is thus probably not a high priority to God. “Lord, give me good grades at school, a great job, and perfect health every day of my life.” These are valid requests, but do not invest too much time praying about them, for they fall outside the parameters of the Lord’s Prayer.
Occasionally apply this litmus test to all requests. Ever be seeking to spend increasingly more time making requests which fall within the parameters of the Lord’s Prayer, for inside these limits we find prayer’s greatest power. No wonder we are often frustrated in prayer. We spend much prayer time in areas where we are not sure what God’s will is. The power is in the parameters He has set forth.
Matt. 6:9b “Our. . .”
In this prayer, the first person pronoun is always plural. We belong to a huge family, even when praying alone. We have an ingrained selfishness which threatens even our holiest acts, but we must discard this selfishness when we pray.
Praying for others is better than praying solely for ourselves. Intercessory prayer lifts us out of selfish absorption and adds nobility to our prayers. Roman law required death for approaching Caesar’s tent at night without permission. One night this law was broken by a soldier who was bringing a written request to Caesar. He was being taken away to execution when the Emperor, hearing the commotion, stepped outside his tent to investigate. Hearing the details, Caesar ruled, “If the petition be for himself, let him die; but if for another, spare his life.” The request was a plea of mercy for two of his comrades who were to be executed for falling asleep on guard duty. The Emperor, well pleased, granted clemency to all three soldiers. Making requests on behalf of others has a winsomeness about it.
Pray regularly for others. Keep a list or find another systematic method of praying for others. Otherwise, we end up praying for me, my four, and no more.
Approach Him knowing that what hurts others is hurting Him and should also be hurting us. Come before Him making requests in a spirit which says what God gives us we will share with others. We are part of a family and must talk to the Father with concern for the family, because He has concern for the family.
It was a privilege and joy on several occasions to take my Grandma Marshall back to her ancestral home in Tennessee. One might think we would be hard pressed to find new things to talk about after a few trips. However, she had twelve grown children. Thus, on every trip, starting with the eldest and then going down the list by age, I would ask Grandma about how each one and all their children were faring. We never got bored, never lost our train of thought, and never ran out of things to talk about. The family gave life to our talks. Even so intercessory prayer adds vitality to our prayers, saving us from boredom and mental wandering.
In prayer I am seeking God’s will, which means finding God’s heart, and His heart is with all His children, not only me. To take most of my prayer time for myself is to monopolize God, to say I am more important than all others. This is wrong. In prayer seek to be like Jesus, who sits in Heaven interceding for others.