“Lord, Teach Us to Pray”
“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. For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:9-15)
Volumes have been written about prayer. In fact, many volumes have been written about these few, brief words of instruction, which our Savior gave about prayer. I suppose that there are more of those silly “how to” books on prayer than on any other subject. But I fear they do more harm than good. Yet, I know that there is need for clear, biblical instruction about prayer. Every believer feels like our Lord’s disciples at times, when they cried, “Lord, teach us to pray.” In this passage our blessed Savior does just that. He teaches us how to pray.
Still, when I take it upon myself to say or write anything on the subject of prayer, I do so with great reluctance because I fully and shamefully acknowledge that I know so little about the subject. My own prayers are so sinful that they are matters of constant repentance before my God. What hypocrisy there is in my petitions, when there should be utter honesty! What arrogant seeking of my own will, when there should be complete submission to my God’s will! What vain repetitions I make, when there should be nothing but the cries of a broken heart! How little I feel the sins I confess! How little I sense my deep need for the mercies I seek!
I often say my prayers, but do I ever pray?
Or do the wishes of my flesh dictate the words I say?
I might as well kneel down and worship gods of stone,
As offer to the living God a prayer of words alone!
How I long for the “Spirit of grace and supplication” to teach me how to pray as I ought!
“After this manner therefore, pray ye.”
First, it must be stated clearly that this is not, as it is commonly called, “The Lord’s Prayer.” Our Lord Jesus did not, should not have, and could not have prayed for divine forgiveness! John17 might properly be called “The Lord’s Prayer,” though really that is a mistake. John 17 records just one of the many prayers uttered by our blessed Savior while he walked on this earth.
And this is not a prayer to be memorized and recited. Never do we find the disciples reciting this prayer. In fact, the only other reference made to it is in Luke 11. And Luke studiously avoids giving us an exact replica of it. There is nothing spiritual or worshipful in the mere repetition of words. Rather, this is a word of instruction about how we are to pray and for what we are to pray. Here our Lord Jesus, knowing that we do not know what to pray for as we ought, helps our infirmities by showing us what we are to pray for and how to do it.
In these few, short statements our Lord teaches us all the vital aspects of prayer. Our prayers should be simple, sincere, sagacious, spiritual, and short, avoiding everything like pretense, formality, and show. When our Master says, “After this manner therefore, pray ye,” he is telling us to pray like this, and proceeds to teach us to pray without the use of vain repetitions, but in brief, simple expressions, according to the pattern given in the few words that follow. He does not tell us to use the words he here uses, but the pattern he here gives.
In prayer believers simply spread before God, our heavenly Father, the great desires and needs of their hearts, trusting him to fulfil those desires and meet those needs by his grace for the glory of his name. What are the great desires of the believer’s heart? What are the great needs we have, which cause us to wait in utter helplessness before God. Let’s look at this model prayer, by which our Lord teaches us how to pray, line by line.
“Our Father, which art in heaven.”
We are not to pray to saints or angels, but to God our Father, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God of glory, who is in heaven. Our God and Father is the God and Father of all men as their Creator (Acts 17:28). Because he is the God and Father of all men by creation, it is proper for all men to praise him and pray to him. We must never forbid anyone to pray, or in any way discourage anyone. Rather, we ought to encourage all men to pray.
Many quote John 9:31, where it is written, “We know that God heareth not the prayer of sinners,” pointing to it as a reason why we ought not teach our children and others to pray. In doing so I fear they reveal their true character. The men who made that statement in John 9:31 were self-righteous Pharisees (John 9:16). The fact is, God never hears the prayers of anyone except sinners.
The God of Glory is the Father of all men as their Creator; but he is the God and Father of his elect in a very distinct and very special sense, by grace. Our Lord Jesus Christ made peace through the blood of his cross and reconciled “all things unto himself; whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight” (Col. 1:20-22). We are the children of God by adoption, by election, by redemption, by reconciliation, by regeneration, and by faith. We call God our Father by “the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15).
Do you trust the Lord Jesus Christ? If you do, it is right for you to call God almighty your Father, and to come to him as such in prayer. — “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). We pray to God in heaven as our Father. What a great privilege! And there is something especially sweet about that little word “our.” When we pray collectively in our public worship services or anytime two believers pray together, we pray as the children of God. Nothing unites hearts like mutual prayer. How can two be divided who together call the God of all grace, “Our Father”?
We are to call upon God as our Father in heaven, both expressing our reverence for him and our complete liberty to speak to him, as sons would speak to their father on earth. We ought to always approach our great and glorious God, our Father in heaven, with complete confidence and freedom. Oh, that he might, by his blessed Spirit, teach us to do so!
The fact that he is here described as “our Father which art in heaven,” may well be intended to teach us that we are to set our hearts on things above, not on things on the earth. This earth is not our homeland. Heaven is. Let us set our hearts upon it.
“Ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-24).
“Hallowed be thy name.”
The name of God represents all his attributes by which he reveals himself to us. His name represents his Being, all that he is! When we say, “Hallowed be thy name,” we are simply praying, like the Lord Jesus did, “Father, glorify thy name” (John 12:28). The word “hallowed” simply means “sanctified.” God created the world for his glory (Rev. 4:11; Pro. 16:4). All providence tends toward his glory (Rom. 11:36). God’s object in saving sinners is his glory (Ps. 106:8). The object of Christ in his death was, above all else, the glory of God (John 12:28). And it is the heart desire of every believer, above all else, that God’s name be honored, magnified, and glorified (Ps. 35:27; 40:16; Ps. 70:4; 1 Pet. 4:11). Therefore, this is set before us as the first thing we are to seek in prayer.
We pray as children to a Father, and we pray as brothers and sisters in Christ to “Our Father.” “Our Father” is a family term. The words, “which art in heaven”, suggest our Father’s majesty and the reverence with which we are to approach him. The God of Glory is “our Father,” though he is “in heaven.” And though he is “in heaven,” he is “our Father.” His name is ever to be treated with reverence. Indeed, all that concerns him is to be treated with reverence. His Word, his gospel, his church, and his ordinances should always be regarded with the utmost awe! Let us walk humbly before him, seeking his honor in all things and above all things, praying, “Hallowed be thy name,” as we hallow it ourselves. Our heart’s highest wish is for God’s honor, dominion, and glory.
“Thy kingdom come.”
Our first concern is and must be the glory of God himself. Our second concern is for the kingdom of God. We seek in all our prayers that the Lord God will be pleased to establish and enlarge his church and kingdom in this world (Ps. 122:6-7). To pray “thy kingdom come” is simply to pray, “Lord, save your people, establish your kingdom in this world.” Our concern is for the kingdom of God, his sheep, his people, his elect, and his church. We pray for the kingdom of grace to be filled (Rom. 11:26). We pray for the kingdom of glory to be established (2 Pet. 3:13).
Our hearts ought not be consumed with care for the kingdoms of this world, but with concern for the kingdom of God. Our Lord Jesus here teaches us to ever seek the mighty operations of his grace in the hearts of sinners, causing them to be willing servants to him in the day of his power (Ps. 110:3), subduing the hearts of chosen, redeemed sinners before him in willing, loyal obedience. We long for the coming of Christ our King. Until he comes we pray to our Father, “Thy kingdom come.”
“Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.”
Prayer is not us trying to get God to do our will. Rather it is a voluntary leaving of our will to his will. “Our truest happiness.” Wrote J.C. Ryle, “is perfect submission to God’s will.” We want to obey God’s revealed will. We want all men everywhere to surrender to and obey God’s revealed will. But here, our Lord is teaching us to sincerely and heartily surrender everything to and earnestly desire that God’s will be done in this world exactly as it is in heaven, knowing that it is (Eph. 1:11).
Our Lord teaches us always to pray, “Thy will be done.” No matter what our circumstances are, no matter what we think needs to be done, no matter how much we think we want something, wisdom and faith bows to the throne of God and says, “Thy will be done.” We are so sinful and ignorant that we simply do not know, we never know, what is best. Our Father does. Let us, therefore, gladly bow our will to his will. — “The Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8:26).
“Who knoweth what is good for man in this life?” (Ecc. 6:12) — “We know not what we should pray for as we ought.” — Do we really believe that? Generally, going by what they say, people think they know exactly what to pray for. Yet, the Book says, “We know not what we should pray for as we ought.” What a flesh-humbling declaration! — “We know not what we should pray for as we ought.” — “If we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us” (1 John 5:14). But to ask something which is not according to God’s will is not praying, but presuming. We have reason, then, to cry with the disciples, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). And this is how he teaches us to pray, “Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.”
In all that we have seen thus far, the concern of true prayer is altogether spiritual. Our Lord Jesus teaches us to pray for the glory of God, the people of God, and the will of God. He teaches us to submit all things to those things!
“Give us this day our daily bread.”
What an instructive word this is! J. C. Ryle wrote, “We are here taught to acknowledge our entire dependence on God, for the supply of our daily necessities. As Israel required daily manna, so we require daily ‘bread.’ We confess that we are poor, weak, needy creatures, and beseech him who is our Maker to take care of us. We ask for ‘bread,’ as the simplest of our needs, and in that word we include all that our bodies require.”
We are to seek God’s providential supplies for ourselves and our brethren – “Give us.” We seek our daily food as a gift from God knowing, that if we have bread to eat, we are fed by the hand of God. Here we are taught to seek no more than is needful for us. ¾ “Bread,” not gold, just bread. And we are taught to seek no more than our daily provision of bread, “Give us this day,” or as Luke phrases it, “day by day our bread.” It is no less spiritual to look to our Father in heaven for the daily provision of our daily needs than it is to pray, “Hallowed be thy name.” Faith looks to the hand of God for all things, and seeks only that which it is the will of God, for the glory of God, and needed by us.
Yet, as we saw in the previous chapter, just as we look to God to provide the needs of our bodies, we must also look to him to give us daily bread for our souls. That bread is Christ. He is truly the Bread we need, the Bread upon which we must feed day by day. Yet, we are such sinful wretches that we cannot feed upon this Bread from heave, except the Father give us our Bread. Only he can cause our souls to hunger for Christ; and only he can satisfy our hungry souls. — “Lord, evermore give us this bread” (John 6:34).
“Forgive us our debts.”
We must especially remember this. Our Lord here teaches us to constantly acknowledge our sinfulness, and to constantly seek forgiveness through his blood. We are to confess our sins continually, not in the ear of an earthly priest, or in the ear of a counsellor, or in the ear of a preacher, but in the ear of our Father in heaven, seeking forgiveness by the merit of our great High Priest, who is in heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ. — “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Our sins are here described as debts, which we have incurred. They have made us debtors to God, who demands of us both righteousness and satisfaction. The Lord Jesus Christ fully paid our debt. He brought in righteousness for us by his obedience in life. And he satisfied divine justice for us by his obedience in death, putting away or debts forever by the sacrifice of himself.
Our great God, holy and just, freely forgives our debts through the merits of Christ. He has forgiven them; and he forgives them. He forgave our debts before they were ever incurred, in eternity, accepting us in Christ our Surety (Rom. 8:28-30; Eph. 1:3-6). He forgave our debts when Christ, by his blood, washed them away at Calvary (Heb. 9:12). And he is faithful and just to forgive us our debts, our sins, day by day and moment by moment, as we confess them before his throne of grace.
We constantly need forgiveness because we constantly sin; and we constantly have it through the infinite, perpetual merit of Christ’s blood. No, our confession of sin does not, in any way, cause God to forgive our sin. Yet, as we confess sin, he speaks forgiveness in our souls through Jesus Christ the righteous One, our blessed Substitute, who is “the propitiation for our sins.”
We must never forget the next part of this sentence. – “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” This is the only part of this prayer that our Lord expands and explains. He does so because this is the part we are most apt to overlook. The explanation is given in verses 14-15. — “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Our Lord here teaches us that if we are unforgiving, we are yet unforgiven. If we are not gracious, it is because we have not yet experienced grace. C. H. Spurgeon wrote…
“This yoke is easy. This burden is light. It may be a blessing to be wronged, since it affords us an opportunity of judging whether we are indeed the recipients of the pardon that comes from the throne of God. Very sweet it is to pass by other men’s offences against ourselves; for thus we learn how sweet it is to the Lord to pardon us.”
Ephesians 4:32-5:2 contains one of the sweetest and most important admonitions given to the children of God in this world. May God the Holy Spirit, whose words these are, give us grace to heed them.
“Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.”
Without forgiveness, forbearance, and brotherly love our prayers are nothing but noise, the hollow echoes of empty hearts! If we cannot forgive, we have not been forgiven.
“Lead us not into temptation.”
As long as we are in this world, we are liable to temptation. As long as we are in this body of flesh, we may be drawn away of our own lust, enticed by our own nature, tempted and overcome by the snare of Satan. Here our Savior says, “You need to be constantly aware of your weakness and Satan’s strength. You need to be constantly aware of your helplessness, so that you will constantly look to me for help.” Prayer, in its essence, is the conscious spreading out of my helplessness before God!
Wise people seek to avoid danger. And we ask God who rules all things to keep us from the danger of temptation. May he who orders our steps order them away from temptation.
“Deliver us from evil.”
Let us ever pray that our God will graciously deliver us from all the evil present in the world. — The evil that is in the world. — Satan, the evil one, who seeks to destroy our souls. — All the evil that is the result of sin. — And the greatest evil there is in the world, the evil that is in our hearts!
Blessed be his name, our God will deliver us from evil (Jude 24-25). He will deliver us from every evil temptation we face in this world (1 Cor. 10:13), giving us grace sufficient in the time of trial. He will deliver us from sin and all the evil of this world in the moment we drop our robe of flesh (John 14:1-3; 2 Cor. 5:1-9). And he will deliver us from all the evil consequences of sin in resurrection glory at the last day (Eph. 5:25-27). — “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
“For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.”
Here our Savior teaches us that all prayer is to be an ascription of praise to God – “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.” All the kingdoms of the world belong to God. All power belongs to God. And all glory belongs to God alone. These are the words David used to ascribe praise to our Father in heaven, by which he “Hallowed” his holy name. — “Thine, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art exalted as head above all” (1 Chron. 29:11).
What an encouragement this is for us to walk before our God in confident faith, trusting him in all things and for all things! What an encouragement to prayer! He who is our Father in heaven, the God of all grace, omnipotent and omniscient, ever wise and ever-good, will hallow his own great name, save all his elect, perform all his will, give us our daily bread, forgive all our sins, preserve us from all harm by our temptations, support us in them, deliver us from them, and deliver us from all evil. Should he fail to do all that is implied in these words of instruction about prayer, how could his name be hallowed, sanctified, and glorified?
“Amen” is a word of assent, expressing confident faith. It means, “so be it,” or “so it shall be.” John Gill wrote, “This word being retained, and kept the same in all languages, signifies the unity of the spirit, and faith in prayer, in all the saints, in all ages.” And, as we have seen before, “Amen” is one of our Savior’s names.
When our Lord Jesus teaches us to pray, “after this manner”, he is teaching us to pray in his name. To use the word “Amen” when we pray, if we pray as we ought, in the spirit and with understanding, is to pray in Christ’s name. When we gather to worship with God’s saints, we are to gather in Christ’s name. If we do so, we are assured of his presence (Matt. 18:20). And if we pray in his name, we are assured that we have what we desire of God. — “Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it” (John 14:13-14). — “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you” (John 16:23). — “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us: and if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him” (1 John 5:14-15).
But what is it to worship and pray in Christ’s name? It is not simply tacking the word “Amen,” or the words “in Jesus’ name” onto the end of our prayers, as if they were magical words like “abracadabra.” It is coming to God, as needy sinners, trusting the merits of Christ’s blood, righteousness, and mediation alone for acceptance with him. To pray in Christ’s name is to come to God in faith, trusting Christ, bowing before his throne, bowing to his will, and seeking his glory.
If, when we pray, we truly bow to and seek the will of God, we have what we desire of him. God will do his will! Contrary to popular opinion, prayer is not a mighty instrument for getting God to do our will, but a mighty instrument by which God performs his will in this world. As A. W. Pink put it, “To ask in the name of Christ is to set aside our own will and bow to the perfect will of God.” To pray in Christ’s name and according to the will of God is to want what God wills for his glory. Prayer is not, as so many vainly imagine, a blank check made out to us, waiting for us to fill in the amount. Prayer is the cry of broken spirits to our Father in heaven, saying, “Thy will be done.” — “Lord, teach us to pray.”
I bend my knees and bow my head,
And shut my eyes to all without;
But still my heart, so cold and dead,
Is full of sin and fear and doubt.
I say the words I ought to say,
Confess my sin, and long for Thee;
But still, I fear, I seldom pray:
Teach me to pray, O Lord, teach me.
Cause me to know Your grace and power,
Spirit of God, awake my heart,
Within my soul create a prayer:
Give me, O Lord, a fervent heart.
Here at Your throne of grace I lie,
Trusting the merits of Your Son;
“Father, Abba, Father,” I cry,
And hope that I am heaven born.
“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,”
These things, with earnest heart, I say:
My only hope is in Your Son:
But still, I ask, “Teach me to pray.”