Lord, Teach Us to Pray The Model Prayer According to Jesus
It has often been said that a Christian is only as strong as his or her prayer life. Many problems in our lives are the direct result of weak, insincere and/or misdirected prayers. Wherever we are in our prayer lives, there’s probably some room for improvement.
There are many great books that have been written throughout history on the subject of prayer. Perhaps the best might be EM Bounds on Prayer, originally published in 1920. In this article however, we’ll go to the ultimate source to examine the prayer model that Jesus gave his followers in His Sermon on the Mount.
Thus, I am drawing these comments from (in order of importance) the Holy Bible, three classic creeds (Westminster Shorter Catechism 1640s [WSC], Westminster Larger Catechism of 1647 [WLC], Heidelberg Catechism of 1563 [HC], Belgic Confession of 1561 [BC]), and finally, my own interpretations and thoughts.
Written: November 2023.
Table of Contents
- Related Commentary on Prayer
- Historical Context of the Model Prayer
- First Petition
- Second Petition
- Third Petition
- Fourth Petition
- Fifth Petition
- Sixth Petition
- Final Comments
Related Commentary on Prayer
WSC-98) states that Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, (Ps. 62:8) for things agreeable to his will, (1 Jn 5:14) in the name of Christ, (Jn 16:23) with confession of our sins, (Ps 32:5–6, Dn 9:4) and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies (Phl. 4:6).
In the addition to asking for things consistent with the will of the Father, Jesus also promised, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (Jn 14:13-14, see also Mt 7:7, Jn 15:16 and 16:23. At the same time, we find many qualifications or hindrances to answered prayer, such as having unconfessed sin in our lives (Ps 66:18, 1Pe 3:7), asking with a lack of faith (Mk 11:24, Ja 1:6-7) or with wrong motives (Ja 4:3), exhibiting a lack of persistence (Lk 11:5-8, 18:1) and finally, failing to ask according to God’s will (1Jn 4:14-15; 5:14).
[TOC] [Top of Page]
Historical Context of the Model Prayer
The overall context is that of the Sermon on the Mount given by Jesus and recorded by Matthew in chapters 5-7 of his gospel. Bible scholars disagree as to whether this was a single sermon, or a compilation of His most important sermons and prevalent teachings. The more immediate context of the model prayer is Matthew 6:1-18, in which Jesus warns against hypocrisy. Whether we are giving to the needy (6:1-4), praying (6:5-15), or fasting (6:16-18), we are to do so privately and modestly instead of making a public show for our own recognition.
In Luke 11:1-13, we find a very similar version of Jesus teaching on prayer, including a somewhat abbreviated version of the model prayer (Lk 11:2-4), along with Jesus instructing his disciple to be persistent in prayer. The Lukan version also adds the detail that one of the disciples asks Jesus “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John [the Baptist] taught his disciples” (Lk 11:1) which prompts his teaching of the model prayer. A possible scenario could be that the version in Matthew came from a sermon or teaching of Jesus, while the Lukan version was in response to His disciple’s question.
Jesus then instructs them to
“Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Mt 6:9-13 - ESV).
He then cautions them that “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (v14).
While this prayer in verses 9-13 is commonly referred to as “the Lord’s Prayer”, I believe a more descriptive title would be “the Model Prayer as taught by our Lord to be used by His disciples”. Of course, His disciples also include all the true believers throughout history. I further believe that Jesus’ High Priestly prayer of John 17, given just prior to his arrest and crucifixion, is a better candidate for the designation of “the Lord’s Prayer” since it was the exact words prayed by Jesus to His Father rather than given as a model for us. We could also include Jesus’ prayer on the Mount of Olives (Lk 22:39-46) in the category of “the Lord’s Prayer”. That said, this is merely my preference, and I certainly would not argue with anyone who refers to the model prayer as “the Lord’s Prayer” since this designation is extra-biblical.
The Model Prayer can be divided into eight parts consisting of a prolegomena (introduction), six petitions, and a doxology (praise).
[TOC] [Top of Page]
Jesus begins his instruction on the Model Prayer by stating:
Pray then like this: (v9a).
The wording of this phrase indicates that Jesus is giving us a pattern to follow, rather than a command to repeat His exact words.
Our Father in heaven (v9b).
This is an invocation, calling on the One True and Living God to hear our praise and requests. For Christians, God is “our Father” through Christ, and will much less deny us what we ask of Him in faith, than our parents refuse us earthly things (Mt 7:9-11, Gal 4:6, HC-120). The qualifier “in heaven” reminds us that He is the true and living God of heaven and earth, and creator of all things (Ac 17:24-25).
WLC-179 asks, “Are we to pray unto God only?” It then answers that only God can search our hearts (1Kg 8:39, Ac 1:24, Rm 8:27), hear our requests (Ps 65:2), pardon our sins (Mic 7:18), and fulfill our desires (Ps 145:18). He is the only One to be believed in (Rm 10:14), and worshipped (Mt 4:10) in prayer, which is also a special form of worship (1Cor 1:2). It is therefore to be made to Him alone, (Ps 50:15) and to none other (Rm 10:14).
We sometimes get questions such as “Is it acceptable to pray to Jesus or the Holy Spirit?”. Regarding prayers addressed to Jesus, we have several biblical examples of the apostles and others praying to our Lord (Ac 1:24-25, 7:59, 8:20-24; 1Cor 1:2; 2Cor 12:8-9). There are no examples in the Bible containing specific prayers offered directly to the Holy Spirit, however since the Holy Spirit is an equal member of the Trinity (three persons, one God), it is acceptable to address prayers to Him, particularly prayers for guidance (Jn 14:15-17, 25-26). Since God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are the One and only true and living God, there is no conflict with this statement and that of addressing prayers to God alone as stated in the previous paragraph.
That all said, the most common form of Trinitarian prayer is to pray to God the Father, in the name of God the Son (Jn 16:23), by the help of God the Holy Spirit (Rm 8:26-27, Eph 6:18). What does it mean to pray in the name of Jesus? This is not a casual mentioning of His name as if it was some magical incantation but assumes that He is our representative before God the Father, that we are in obedience to His commands, and that we are confidently praying according to His promises and will (Heb 4:14-16, 1Jn 5:13-15).
It is essential to pray in the name of Jesus because, in our sinful nature, we have no direct access to the Father without a mediator (Is 59:2) and the only acceptable mediator is the Lord Jesus Christ (Jn 14:6, Col 3:17, Heb 7:25, 1Tm 2:5). Not only does He allow us access to the Father, but He is also interceding (praying) for us at the right hand of God (Rm 8:34). How comforting it is to know that Jesus is praying for all his followers.
Before we move to the first petition of the model prayer, we’d like to re-emphasize the obvious about praying to the One True God in Heaven. We often hear television personalities, whenever announcing certain tragedies, state that “their thoughts and prayers are with those affected”, or that they are “sending thoughts and prayers” for them. Yet they rarely say to whom these prayers are being directed. There are many false “gods” that only exist in people’s minds, but the only True God in Heaven is the only One Who truly exists and is capable of a response.
[TOC] [Top of Page]
hallowed be your name (v9c)
This is a request that God’s name be praised (Ps 51:15, 67:2-3, 83:18, 86:10-13, 100:3-4, 103:1) and kept holy (Ex 20:7, Dt 5:11). Keeping God’s name holy means to “set it apart” for special use on certain occasions, not just to refrain from using it as a curse. We pray that God would enable us and others to praise and glorify Him in all our thoughts, attitudes and deeds. All of creation typically glorifies God, with those made in His own image (human beings, both male and female) being the exception. The animals and other living creatures glorify God by being true to their created nature. Even nature itself, that was also affected by the fall (Rm 8:22) glorifies God:
The mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands (Is 55:12),
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. (Ps 19:1-4).
Therefore, I often pray that God will be glorified among man as He is throughout the rest of creation. This first petition will ultimately be fulfilled at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
[TOC] [Top of Page]
Your kingdom come (v10a)
In this petition, we pray that the kingdom of Satan and of this fallen world (Eph 2:2-3) be destroyed (Ps 68:1,18, Rev 12:10-11), the Gospel spread throughout the world (2Th 3:1), that corruption be purged from the people (Zph 3:9) that Christ would rule in our hearts (Eph 3:14-20), and that God would rule over all the world as His kingdom with His power (Is 64:1-2, 1Cor 15:24, Rev 4:8-11, 11:15).
The Kingdom of God has already been inaugurated at the First Coming of Christ (Lk 11:20), but its full consummation awaits Christ’s return.
[TOC] [Top of Page]
Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (v10b)
In this petition, we request that God, by His grace, would make us willing and able to know, obey, and submit to his will in all things (Ps 67, Mt 26:39, Heb 13:21, WSC-103).
This third petition is very closely related to the second petition and describes what will happen when the Kingdom of God is fully consummated at the Second Coming of Christ. While we are called to pray (and work) for the advance of God’s kingdom on earth as Christ reigns in our hearts, we are also to pray for the final fulfillment.
[TOC] [Top of Page]
Give us today our daily bread. (v11)
With the fourth petition, we transition from the broader corporate kingdom realm to the more personal requests; although of course, the two are obviously related. Asking for our daily bread means that we ask that God supply all our physical and monetary needs as required per His ultimate knowledge and wisdom.
We acknowledge that, in Adam and by our own sins, we have forfeited the rights to any outward blessing in this life (Dt 28:15-17, Jer 5:25). By the free gift of God however, we may ask and receive an adequate portion of the good and necessary things of this life (Gen 28:20, Ps 145:15-16, Prv 30:8-9, Jn 6:1-15, Php 4:6, 1Tm 4:4-5, Ja 1:17).
The Greek word translated as “our daily” (επιούσιος, transliterated to English letters as “epiousios”) is found only in two locations in the Scripture. As you may have guessed, the locations are in our subject verse (Mt 6:11) and in the Lukan version of the same (Lk 11:3). Various lexicons give the full meaning of this word as “the bread of our necessary”, “bread that sustains life”, “food sufficing from one day to the next” etc. Jesus used this particular phrase to instruct us to pray for our “daily” bread, not our “monthly” bread, or bread for a season. He wants us to be praying continuously (1Th 5:16-17).
[TOC] [Top of Page]
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (v12)
The first part of this request, to forgive our debts, is relatively easy for us to make. The second part however, is often much more difficult in that, it makes the forgiveness of our debts contingent upon our willingness to forgive others (Mt 6:14-15, 18:21-35). Since by an act of His free grace, we can be (and have been) forgiven of a multitude of sins against an infinitely Holy God, how much more should we be willing to forgive others who have sinned against us.
For believers, this petition to forgive our debts is not a matter of salvation, since believers are justified (declared not guilty in a legal sense) from the moment of their regeneration by initial saving faith (Rm 3:24-26, 5:1,9, 8:1; Col 2:14). It is instead a request for forgiveness in order to restore our daily fellowship with the Triune God (Eph 4:30).
[TOC] [Top of Page]
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (v13). Some manuscripts read “from the evil one”.
In this final petition, we pray that God would either keep us from being tempted (Ps 9:13, Mt 26:41), or that He would preserve, support and deliver us by the power of the Holy Spirit when we are tempted by Satan the evil one (Ps 51:10, 119:133; 1Cor 10:12-13, Jude 24). God does not entice anyone to sin (Ja 1:13-14) and we also have His promise that we will not be tempted beyond our ability to resist (1Co 10:13). He also warns us to be vigilant in spiritual warfare (1Pe 5:8) and has not left us unarmed when Satan attacks (Eph 6:10-20). Yet, because our old sinful nature still exists, we will often fail, but our loving God is always willing to restore us (Ps 51:12). We may lose some spiritual battles, but we can take heart that our God will restore us (1Pe 5:8-10, Lk 22:31-32), and in His own perfect timing, will crush and banish Satan forever (Rm 16:20, 1Th 5:23).
[TOC] [Top of Page]
for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. (v13)
This doxology teaches us to take our encouragement in prayers from God alone (Dn 9:4-19), attributing all power and glory to him. The word “amen” comes from a Hebrew word that basically means “so be it” and appears about 30 times in the Scriptures. I often end prayers with “Amen, may it be according to Your perfect will”.
There is disagreement among bible scholars as to whether or not this phrase was included in the original manuscripts. Some modern Bible translations include it as part of the text (KJB, NKJV), while others only note it in brackets or as a footnote (NIV, NLT, ESV, NASB, CSB, NRSV). The phrase is absent from most of the writings of the church fathers in the first five centuries, but it obtained rapid and widespread acceptance in later manuscripts. This prevents us from dismissing the phrase altogether, since most copying or editing errors are quickly discarded when discovered in a Greek manuscript. Our opinion is that it was not likely in the original manuscripts but was a later statement of praise that was added by an editor. That said, it is certainly true and doesn’t contradict with any other statements in the Scriptures.
Perhaps the phrase comes from an old hymn, or maybe David’s prayer of blessing recorded in 1st Chronicles 29:10-13:
David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly, saying, “Praise be to you, Lord, the God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the splendor and the majesty, for everything in heaven and on earth belongs to You. Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom, and You are exalted as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You are the ruler over all. In Your hands are power and might to exalt and give strength to all. Now therefore, our God, we give You thanks, and we praise Your glorious name.
There are so many great prayers recorded in the Bible. One of my favorites is Paul’s prayer for the church members at Ephesus (Eph 3:14-20). The last two versus of this prayer are also consistent with the concluding doxology of the model prayer:
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Eph 3:20-21)
[TOC] [Top of Page]
Although the model prayer ends with the sixth petition, Jesus then continues His teaching on prayer by emphasizing the need to forgive others as found in the fifth petition. “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Mt 14-15).
Returning to the historical context of prayer that we began earlier, we point back to the Lukan version (Lk 11:1-4). Just after Jesus finished giving his disciples (and ultimately us) the model prayer, He then urges them to be persistent in prayer (Lk 11:5-13). This also includes an encouraging word from Jesus on the power of prayer, “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Lk 9-10). This is the source of a popular acronym associated with prayer:: “ASK” for “Ask”, Seek” and “Knock”.
Finally, we should also note that prayer should be a two-way conversation. While we are asking of Him, we should also be listening for His answer, which can be yes, now, or even wait for the right moment. Although God certainly could answer in a loud and clear audible voice, as many of the celebrity false preachers often claim, the Scriptures state that God speaks in a “still small voice” (Hebrew qō-wld-mā-māh daq·qāh) (1Kg 19:12 – ASV, KJB, NKJV). Other modern Bible versions translate the Hebrew phrase as “a gentle whisper” (NIV, NLT, ISV), “a soft whisper” (CSB, HCSB, NET), “a low whisper” (ESV), and “a gentle blowing” (NASB). Similar language is also used in Job chapter 4.
In conversations with God, we must be highly cautious that we’re listening to the One True God. He will never reveal anything that is contrary to what is recorded in His Holy Word. In addition, we must remember that the Faith has been delivered “once for all” to the people of God (Jude 4), so there will be no additional authoritative canonical revelation prior to Christ’s second advent. This is also contrary to the claims of the false teachers today, who often teach that they have received a “special revelation” from God, and they’ll be happy to reveal it for a donation. We must always be like the Bereans in Acts 17, who daily subjected all preachings and teachings to the Holy Scriptures.
I hope this article will provide as many blessings and encouragement to our readers as it did for this writer, so that we may say with the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:4-7:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
[TOC] [Top of Page]