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“Lord, Teach us How to Pray”

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Matthew 6:7–15

Only when we understand and acknowledge God’s character and priorities can we properly pray for our own needs. The Lord’s model for us gives the right perspective and balance for our prayers.


As we have been sailing on our Wisdom Journey through the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord has just exposed the Pharisees’ hypocrisy in the areas of giving, fasting, and praying. Frankly, they were religious actors in a theater, performing this three-ring circus. And Jesus told them that prayer is not a performance.

Now having told His disciples how not to pray, Jesus begins to teach them how to pray. This passage in Matthew 6 is traditionally called the Lord’s Prayer, but it is not really the Lord’s prayer, for Jesus would never need to pray for forgiveness of sin. This is better called the Disciples’ Prayer.

The Lord introduces His teaching with these words in verses 7-8:

“When you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

“Empty phrases” refers to thoughtless repetition. The Pharisees had been impacted “by pagan prayer practices and felt that endless repetition endeared them to God.”[1] Listen, beloved, God does not keep count. He does not say to the angel Gabriel, “If that man or woman down there prays that prayer fifty times, go answer them.”

We already have God’s attention.

Later in Luke 11 Jesus presents this same prayer in response to His disciples’ request, “Lord, teach us to pray.” That is the only recorded time the disciples ever asked Jesus to teach them how to do something.

This prayer, then, is not necessarily a prayer they had to memorize but rather a pattern to model. He does not say here in Matthew 6:9, “Pray this” but “Pray then like this.” And here is how you can begin: “Our Father.”

In Greek this is pater. The equivalent in Aramaic, spoken by many at that time, was abba. The point is clear that you are talking to a family member.

When you asked His Son to become your Savior, God became your heavenly Father. John’s Gospel tells us, “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). So, prayer is not a ritual; it’s a relationship.

Then to “Our Father” He adds, “in heaven.” You might have learned it, “Our Father who art in heaven.” I love the way a little boy said it: “Our Father who does art in heaven.” And God certainly does.

Our Father is in heaven, but this phrase is not so much about God’s address, as it is about His attributes. He is the heavenly, majestic, sovereign, creator God.

And that is why we are taught to pray here at the end of verse 9, “hallowed be your name.” To hallow means to make holy—to set it apart as sacred, to honor it.

Listen, if we are followers of Christ, we bear His name—we are Christians. Are we protecting that name?

Many times as a young person, before my three brothers and I left the house to go to school or to a ball game or some other event, just before we got out the door, our mother would say those familiar words, “Don’t forget your last name.” It was a warning, but it also gave us a sense of belonging. We had our father’s name, and we needed to be careful with it.

Now with that, Jesus gives us the first prayer request here in verse 10: “Your kingdom come.” There are two aspects here. This is a prayer for the coming kingdom when Christ returns and reigns upon the earth, as He promised. But we are also asking, “Lord, make my heart your palace grounds where you rule and reign today.”

The next prayer request in verse 10 is even more convicting: “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We can pray about His coming kingdom, but what about our cooperation here and now?

Too often, we pray to get our will done in heaven rather than God’s will done on earth. So here is the right pattern of prayer: “Lord, I want Your will to be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Have you ever wondered how the will of God is accomplished in heaven? I will tell you that it is done immediately. Angels never ask God, “Why me?” They just obey.

So, we should pray, “Lord, let me live down here like they do up there; let me respond to Your will on earth like they respond to Your will in heaven.”

Here is another prayer request in verse 11: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Early church fathers spiritualized the bread here to refer to communion bread.[2]  They just could not believe that Jesus would have us start praying about the groceries.

Archaeologists discovered a small papyrus fragment that happened to be someone’s shopping list. Beside a few items was written this word here for daily. This discovery brought new light to the meaning of this word. “Daily” means just enough for one day; so, praying for daily bread really represents the daily needs of life—and that includes groceries. That means we are depending on the Lord, one day at a time.

The Lord moves on in verse 12 to say, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” He adds this down in verses 14-15:

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Now let’s be very careful here. This is a prayer for disciples, not unbelievers. No matter how many people you forgive, that is not going to get you into heaven; only faith in Christ alone gets you into heaven. This is not a prayer for salvation; this is a prayer to protect our relationships with people who do us wrong.

It is not your salvation but your fellowship with God that is lost when you withhold forgiveness from others. You cannot go to God’s throne of grace and at the same time refuse to give grace to others. You cannot be bitter and resentful toward others and experience the joy of Christ in your heart.

Perhaps what you need to do today to experience fellowship with God is to restore fellowship with someone else. This prayer reminds us that we have been forgiven, so we ought to be forgiving.

One little girl was trying to repeat this prayer in verse 12 but ended up using the word trespasses, which appears down in verses 14-15. That was a word she was not exactly familiar with. She confused the quote a bit, but actually got the idea right when she prayed, “And forgive us our trash baskets as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets.” That is exactly the idea here!

In verse 13, is another request: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” That sounds like God might at times tempt us to sin, but that would contradict God’s Word. Over in the book of James we read, “God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13).

Jesus is simply teaching us here to acknowledge that we need God’s help in steering us away from temptation. We effectively pray, “Father, protect us from the tempting power of sin.”[3]

We cannot even handle temptation, so, we pray, “Lead us away from it, please.” You see, this a daily admission of weakness.

Some Bible translations end this prayer with some additional words, which I personally think ought to be included. As we read it in the King James Version, the prayer ends with these wonderful words: “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.”

We declare the power and the permanence and the priority of God’s kingdom. It is as if Jesus teaches us to end this prayer by declaring, “Long live the King!”

[1] J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words and Work of Jesus Christ (Zondervan, 1981), 183.

[2] David E. Garland, Luke, Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Zondervan, 2011), 463.

[3] Garland, 419.

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