Of the Lord’s Prayer, Tertullian wrote that it “is comprised of the whole Gospel” (I).
Cyprian called it “a loving and friendly prayer to beseech God with His own word, to come up to His ears in the prayer of Christ” (3).
Augustine said that “the words our Lord Jesus Christ has taught us in his prayer give us the framework of true desires. You are not allowed to ask for anything else, but what is written here” (86).
Luther calls it “the very best prayer, even better than the psalter, which is so very dear to me” (4).
Calvin declares, “Everything which we ought and which we are fully able to ask of God is laid out and included for us in this prayer—in this rule and pattern of prayer handed down to us by our good Master Jesus Christ” (55).
Watson says it is to “be the model and pattern of all our prayers” (2).
Bonhoeffer wrote that “the Lord’s Prayer becomes the touchstone for whether we pray in the name of Jesus Christ or in our own name” (Psalms, 16).
Packer declared that “what it means to be a Christian is nowhere clearer than here” (Growing, 154).
Keller asserts that Christ gave us this prayer “as a key to unlock all the riches of prayer” (Prayer, 109).
Mohler says that through the Lord’s Prayer “Jesus rearranges our theology and breaks open our faulty misconceptions about the character of God and our deepest needs in this world” (34-35).
Why am I bombarding you with these words throughout church history about the Lord’s Prayer?
Most of us likely have the Lord’s Prayer memorized, yet I would venture a guess that few of us regularly take the time to meditate and pray from it. Our familiarity becomes our peril. We cognitively know the prayer’s contents, but it has yet to entwine itself into our DNA. As proof of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, we who have spent little time with the Lord’s Prayer believe that we’ve plumbed its depth, while the testimony of our faith’s titans is that it is “deep, very deep; who can find it out” (Ecclesiastes 7:24)? To quote Luther again, “To this day I suckle at the Lord’s Prayer like a child, and as an old man eat and drink from it and never get my fill” (4). In other words, I cite these theologians in order to make this point: if we find the Lord’s Prayer monotonous and boring, the problem lies in us, not in the prayer itself.
Before we study the Lord’s Prayer proper, three things must first frame our discourse. First, although we will study the prayer as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel as a part of the Sermon on the Mount, Luke 11 records another version. This scenario, which presumably happened before Jesus preached His most famous sermon, sees Jesus returning from private prayer to then be asked by His disciples to teach them how to pray. Like the disciples, we too must approach the Lord’s Prayer with this prayer upon our lips: Lord, teach us to pray. We must admit that our loftiest ideas of prayer are insufficient to lay before the throne of the almighty Creator of heaven and earth. We must come to Jesus’ instruction with humility, ready to submit and pattern our prayers after this prayer of prayers that He has gifted to us.
Second, Christ responded to His disciples by saying, “When you pray, say…” In Matthew, Jesus says, “Pray then like this.” These words are not to be glossed over and take as being purely advisory. Here Jesus is commanding us to use these words, this model, for how we ought to pray. To neglect the Lord’s Prayer, therefore, is not merely foolishness; it is pride and disobedience. And yet, consider when you last prayed from the Lord’s Prayer. When did you last let it guide and shape how your prayers?
Third, before presenting the Lord’s Prayer in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns how we must not pray. Specifically, He tells us not to 1) pray to be seen as holy “like the hypocrites” and 2) “heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do.” Even though our Lord then gives His prayer as a remedy to these false forms of prayer, we must beware that even our praying of the Lord’s Prayer can fall into these two categories. Luther once lamented, “What a great pity that the prayer of such a master is prattled and chattered so irreverently all over the world! How many pray the Lord’s Prayer several thousand times in the course of a year, and if they were to keep on doing so for a thousand years they would not have tasted nor prayed one iota, one dot, of it!”
Much of our present disuse of the Lord’s Prayer stems, I believe, from fear of such legalistic nothingness. Yet legalism is not to be combatted by neglecting discipline, and just because the Lord’s Prayer can be used improperly does not mean that we should ignore Jesus’ command and cease using it altogether.
This prayer is the epitome and model of all prayer, but we are clearly not limited to use only these words. The Psalms are prayers to be prayed, yet they are all perfectly summarized in the Lord’s Prayer. Likewise, we need not always recite the Lord’s Prayer word-for-word as a prayer, nor do we always need to pray through each of the six petitions. Rather, every petition that we make to the Father ought to be patterned around one of those given to us by Jesus Himself.
As Jesus’ disciples, we look to our Lord for instruction on how to pray.
He has answered.
We must now hear and obey.