What if Jesus was serious when he said, “I want you to pray like this”?
Sometimes we struggle with prayer because we are unsure of what to say or we feel like we’ve run out of things to say. But Jesus taught his disciples exactly what to say, and he wanted them to say it regularly.
Over the past few weeks, I have been studying the Lord’s Prayer which I actually think should be called a Disciple’s Prayer instead. I don’t say that in order to criticize tradition or to be cute with words; I say that because it is a prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, and one that he expected them to memorize and pray regularly. As I’ve studied this prayer over the last few weeks, I feel like I am rediscovering something that has been hidden in plain sight, and it all started by me finally asking a basic question:
Why did Jesus actually teach his disciples a very specific prayer, and why did he choose the particular words and phrases that he chose?
I am learning that this prayer that Jesus taught his disciples is so much more profound than we often realize, and that it was given for a specific purpose that we often miss. Part of the problem is that we have to really understand what Jesus saw himself accomplishing in order to understand his motives for giving his disciples this specific prayer.
Jesus saw himself as the one who had come to inaugurate the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is not simply the way to go to heaven when you die but rather the way to participate in God’s mission of reconciling heaven and earth. And it’s in the context of this mission that Jesus saw himself accomplishing that we are to understand this specific prayer that he teaches his disciples. This is a prayer that is meant to keep us focused on participating in the kingdom-movement that Jesus inaugurated.
As N.T. Wright puts it:
“The prayer says: I want to be part of his kingdom-movement. I find myself drawn into his heaven-on-earth way of living.”
This prayer sums up Jesus’ own life and ministry, and it keeps us focused on the new way of life and the new way of seeing the world that ought to define every disciple of Jesus. We can better understand this prayer by looking at its five big areas focus: The Father, The Kingdom, Daily Bread, Forgiveness, and Deliverance.
“Our Father in heaven, may your name be holy and treated with honor”
Jesus wants us to remember who it is that we are praying to. We are not praying to a general God who is distant and difficult to know on a meaningful level. We are praying to the God who has made himself known through the life and work of Jesus. Jesus even went as far to say that if you have seen him then you have seen the Father.
Jesus also wants us to remember that it is our responsibility as his disciples to represent the Father to the rest of the world and to honor him in the presence of others. The tragic story of humanity is that we have misrepresented God and dishonored his name. But Jesus came on a mission declaring that it’s time for the Father to receive the honor that he deserves. Therefore, praying this prayer keeps us aware of the fact that we are representing the name of God everywhere that we go and in everything that we say. This prayer helps us stay concerned about the Father’s reputation and committed to honoring him in the presence of others.
“May your kingdom come and your will be done here on earth as it is in heaven.”
Jesus wants us to remember the very thing that his life and work was all about — the inauguration of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is God’s plan for reconciling heaven and earth, and we have been called to repent and to participate in that mission.
The kingdom comes as more and more people swear their allegiance to the Father as King, and his will is done as his people obey him and do the kinds of things that he desires for us to do. Therefore, praying this prayer keeps us focused on doing what God wants us to do in everyday life, and it sets our sights back on actively participating in God’s kingdom-movement that is reconciling heaven and earth.
“Please give us today our daily bread”
Jesus intentionally uses the phrase “daily bread” to remind his people of God’s provision for his people in the wilderness in-between their former life in Egypt and their future life in the Promised Land. God’s people had to learn how to depend on God for everything that they needed.
Jesus wants us to see that we too are in a “wilderness period” where we have been set free from our former life, but we are still on the way to life in the eternal Promised Land. And so, Jesus wants us to learn how to depend on God for everything that we need. This prayer helps us cultivate a mindset that views each day’s basic provisions as a gift that shouldn’t be taken for granted. It’s a regular reminder of our neediness and helps us remain aware of the neediness of others.
“Forgive us of our sin as we also have forgiven those who wrong us.”
Jesus wants us to remember the radical forgiveness that God has granted us and the radical forgiveness that we must grant to others. Forgiveness is an essential element of a disciple of Jesus and the kingdom of God. The natural way of life in this world is to get even with those who wrong us, but Jesus wants us to embrace a new way of life where we give up our right to retaliate and choose to extend unconditional and unmerited forgiveness instead.
This is so important to Jesus that he actually adds an additional footnote after the prayer in Matthew 6:14-15 where he strongly but straightforwardly declares that if you outright refuse to forgive someone then you are showing that you have not truly internalized and understood the grace of God and the heart of the gospel. This prayer reminds us of the radical forgiveness that God has granted us, and it is a regular reminder that we must forgive everyone who betrays us or hurts us no matter how hard that might be.
“Please don’t lead us into a time of testing but deliver us from evil”
Lastly, Jesus ends with this sober reminder that if we embrace this new way of life, then we can expect opposition, temptation and times of testing. Each time we pray, Jesus wants us to remember that being his disciple means that we are willing to be led by the Father and that sometimes we may be led towards situations that we do not like or that we do not want.
We can ask God to not lead us into places that we don’t want to go, but then we must let it go and trust him. It’s essentially like saying, “Please don’t lead me into a time of testing and struggle, but if you do then please strengthen me and deliver me from being overcome by it or subjected to any powers of evil.”
Praying this prayer helps us remember that the Father is the great Savior and Deliverer of his people. He always has been, and he always will be. This prayer helps us to remember the presence, the power and the goodness of God no matter what situation or circumstance might be heading our way.
And so, that is a disciple’s prayer as taught by Jesus himself. This is a prayer that is meant to keep us focused on participating in the kingdom-movement that Jesus inaugurated. Jesus was serious when he told his disciples, “I want you to pray like this.”
We should never be at a lost for words when it comes to prayer. Jesus has told us what to say, and he wants us to say it often. Jesus expected his disciples to memorize this prayer and to pray it regularly. And so, let’s rediscover this treasure that’s been hidden in plain sight and let’s start each day with the prayer of a disciple.