Because of our human nature, doubtless acquired when we did not retain our esteemed position as the supreme, blameless creation of God, we have many faults and chief among them is our ability to slide towards nonchalance and complacency. You have a home located on the slopes of a rugged mountain with breath-taking views of the seriating terrain and verdant pastures in the distance with water reflecting the sunlight like a mirror as it gently flows in the river way in the distance. After living there for a time you forget all that splendour and beauty and you just see yourself living a normal humdrum life from day to day. You take no time to appreciate what you have; you do not gaze with appreciation at the vista anymore nor smell the flowers and luxuriate in the sounds and ambient scents that bombard you from every angle. You no longer hear the birds singing nor observe the interplay between the seasons and the changing of the coloration all around you as you grind out your daily living in monotonous regularity. This is what it comes down to, what pertains to all of Adam's offspring, and it does not matter where you live. The people of the Caribbean with their luscious, exotic islands of majestic sunlight surrounded by warm, blue seas and golden sands are exactly the same; we drift effortlessly and relentlessly into the sleep-inducing sphere of utter complacency.
This is true in the natural sense of our existence but it is even truer in the spiritual sense and it is here we should pause and reflect for a while. Many things within Christianity, within our spiritual lives are taken for granted with an attitude of complacency and monotonous acceptance that borders on contempt. Many great and wonderful concepts, methods, practices, traditions, doctrines and systems we fail to appreciate for their sheer grandeur and beauty and rhythm and effectiveness and none more so than the model prayer we commonly refer to as the Lord's Prayer. (In truth the real Lord's Prayer is recorded in John chapter 17 but that is another matter; just read it and see.)
This Lord's Prayer is greatly misunderstood, vastly unappreciated and in the hands of perceptive believers is a weapon so awesomely mighty that few know the extent of its powers or the depth of its significance to successful communication with Almighty God.
Let me give you the full Lord's Prayer as it is recorded by the Plain English Bible.
"And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil." (Luke 11:1-4) The words recorded in Matthew are slightly different t but here they are, "After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen." (Matthew 6:9-13)
First let me clear up an anomaly or two. The two accounts of the Lord's Prayer differ a great deal as recorded by the two evangelists and some people get all carried away by this. It is important to realize that although both accounts are called the Lord's Prayer the two evangelists were describing different occasions and not the same situation. The Lord's Prayer quoted by Luke was in response to a specific request from one of the disciples; speaking either for himself or on behalf of the other disciples. The other one quoted by Matthew was while Jesus was preaching in Judea, on the Mount of Olives to be precise and there he told the multitude how to pray.
The other important point to bear in mind is that the Lord's Prayer was never intended to be repeated in a word for word fixed format like the blessing God taught Moses. You will recall that God gave Moses a blessing that was to be repeated exactly as instructed The LORD bless you, and keep you: The LORD make his face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you: The LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace (Numbers 6:24-26) but here the Lord's Prayer was to be used as a pattern or model and so Jesus himself varied it in keeping with its intention. So do not get flummoxed when the Lord's Prayer differs between churches or assemblies for that is a good thing.
Perhaps one more anomaly needs to be addressed for complete clarity. This Lord's Prayer that Jesus taught was not completely original for not only did John the Baptist taught something similar but the Jews had the prescribed prayers of the Rabbinic tradition that addressed many of the things contained in the Lord's Prayer. What Jesus did was to conflate traditional prayers and chants and doxologies and reshape them into a meaningful and unique petition that was to be the manner of prayer for all believers. This prayer is unbelievably excellent and its excellence can be objectively observed by its wording, its structure and its compelling significance.
First let us note the excellence reflected by its Wording
The sixty-six words that constitute the Lord's Prayer (KJV) as recorded in Matthew or the thirty-nine as recorded by Luke are a marvel of divine inspiration.
Our FatherThis is not so much about God in his creative capacity but more so in his capacity as Redeemer and the believer's ultimate source of salvation.
Who art in heavenThis differentiates the Supreme God from the earth-dwelling myths that occupy Mount Olympus, the heavenly constellations and mortals' imaginations.
Hallowed be they nameThis renders God due honour and is reflective of the knowledge that God will honour those who honour him (I Samuel 2:30)
Thy kingdom comeThis is less about the coming of the Church Age (that commenced at Pentecost) but more about the eternal kingdom to come at the end of time after the Millennium has expired.
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heavenThis is the longing for and the expectation to see heaven's calm and beautiful orderliness established here and now.
Give us this day our daily breadThis is a request in acknowledgement that however much we may try our sustenance depends and comes from God.
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against usThis is about our need for forgiveness and to forgive to maintain a right relationship with God.
And lead us not into temptationThis is a request to prevent us from meeting temptations that will overwhelm us knowing that such would be our waywardness and not God's will.
But deliver us from evilThis is about never letting us be over-powered by Satan.
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever. AmenThis doxology is a celebration of praise and honour to God Almighty.
Next let us observe the excellence implied by its Structure
Structure here relates to that which is systemic and taken together with the wording tells us much about Christ's attitude to divine communication.
Note that the Lord's Prayer is Short. (Ecclesiastes 5:2) Unlike the traditional prayers of pagans and the pompous and long prayers of the Rabbinical tradition, Jesus was saying that we must keep it short. Long prayers with many repetitions are usually self-serving and futile.
Observe that it established God's pre-eminence. (Isaiah 43:11) This prayer, like all thoughtful actions of believers, is about God's glory and honour for that is essentially the reason for our existence. When God is placed highest and first then all that follows tends to be not only in accordance with God's will but rewarding to the petitioners.
Examine that it petitioned for God's control. (Psalm 72:7) Nothing can be amiss when the petitioner seeks the highest good that can only be achieved by God's control. Earth's rebelliousness and fetid morality owe much to Satanic influence that always denigrate man's spirituality.
Understand that it acknowledged our dependability, fallibility and frailty. (John 15:5) These three qualities of fallen man when acknowledged in humility and petitioned for necessary assistance will always merit divine attention.
Detect that it contained a doxology. (Ephesians 3:21) It is here established that to give thanks and render praise to God Almighty and to honour and glorify him are necessary ingredients to effective prayers. Many of David's Psalms contain chants and doxologies.
Finally let us examine the excellence of its Significance.
Here we can learn some important lessons and both appreciate and understand the significance of this most excellent form of prayer.
Lesson 1: This signifies that prayers are to be short and spontaneous. While we do not condemn set prayers in a liturgy (for example during Holy Communion service) the norm is that prayers are to be from the heart as led by the Holy Spirit.
Lesson 2: This indicates that prayers are to be to the point with no unnecessary information. It is pointless giving God reams and reams of information as if he is clueless and to keep repeating things is to suggest that God is forgetful just like any human being.
Lesson 3: This implies that prayers must be based on God's honour. No one can dishonour God and prayer effectively. For example Jesus taught that we must address God as "Our Father" and so to begin prayer by "Our Mother God" is dishonorable, self-serving and patently futile.
Lesson 4: This suggests that prayers must be made with humility for even with the right words and structure but the wrong attitude and spirit then the petition is vain as witnessed by the prayer of the Pharisee (Luke 18:10-14).
So here we have this excellent Lord's Prayer, a pattern of prayer for all time, a pattern so beautiful, so well constructed and so very significant. Isn't it about time that we begin to really appreciate and value this enormous contribution to our divine communication?
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Dr. Henderson Ward received his Doctor of Divinity in theology, with distinction, from Masters International School of Divinity, USA, where he is currently a post-doctoral fellow. Dr. Ward's career involved pastoring, evangelism, and teaching. Copyright 2013