“This, then, is how you should pray:” ‘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.
Jesus now gives His disciples a model of what real prayer should be in Matthew 6 verses 9-13. We call it the Lord’s Prayer, but it is actually the disciples’ prayer, since Jesus could never have prayed for the forgiveness of sins as He instructs us to do in verse 12. The true “Lord’s Prayer” is in John 17.
This is called a model prayer, for that is what it is. It is not a prayer to be memorized and repeated mechanically, though it is not wrong to repeat these words thoughtfully in a liturgical service. Jesus did not say, “This is what you should pray.” He said, “This is how you should pray,” meaning that our requests should be along these lines. The prayer is a brief prayer; Jesus has told us to avoid vain repetitions, after all. But more than this, it is a pointed summary of what we should pray for.
There are six petitions, following the initial address to God as Father. The first three concern God’s honor, God’s kingdom, and God’s will; the last three concern human needs. This places God’s concerns first, just as with the Ten Commandments the first table concerns the duties we owe to God and the second table concerns the duties we owe to our neighbors. In our day the order is usually reversed. We begin with human needs and unfortunately often never even get around to God and God’s glory at all. Request based (seeking God’s hand) praying versus worship based (seeking God’s face) praying.
“Hallowed be your name.” The first petition of the Lord’s Prayer is that the name of God might be honored. God’s name (actually names) stands for God Himself, as He is revealed in nature and Scripture. Hence, to honor the name is to honor God, to hold Him in the highest reverence and exalt Him above all others.
What is the “name” of God we should honor? There are many names for God. He is Elohim, the creator of the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1.1). He is El Elyon, the Most High God (Ge.14.18–19). He is Jehovah, “I am who I am,” the name by which He revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3.14). He is Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides (Ge.22.14). He is Adonai, the Lord. In this prayer, Jesus introduces God as “Our Father in heaven” (v.9).
It is a nearly unbelievable privilege for us to call God Father. Before the coming of Jesus Christ, this was an unknown name in most prayers. Pagans did not pray this way. Even in the Old Testament the word father appears in reference to God only fourteen times, and never once does any individual Israelite address God directly as “my Father.” It would have been considered much too intimate. In fact, the Jews of Jesus’ day did not even like to use the name “God.” They spoke of “heaven” or “the Most High” or merely “Lord” instead. All this was completely overturned by Jesus. Jesus always referred to God as His Father, and here in the Sermon on the Mount He authorizes His followers to do likewise.
But what a delicate balance of truth. On the one hand, we are permitted to call God Father, even using the most personal of all words, abba, the best translation of which is “daddy.” It is the word Jesus seemed to have used in all His prayers (e,g, Matthew 11.25; 26.39, 42; Mark 14.36; Luke 23.34; John 11.41; 12.27; 17.1, 5, 11, 21, 24, 25). The God to whom we pray is personal (no mere being) and caring (“our Father”). But He is also the holy and sovereign God, who is “in heaven.” Moreover, His name must be honored by everyone (“hallowed be your name”) and his rule acknowledged (“your kingdom come”). The God to whom we pray must never be treated lightly.
“Your kingdom come.” We have already given some thought to the meaning of God’s kingdom in studying Matthew 3, and we will come back to it again particularly in the parables of the kingdom in chapter 13. It has to do with God’s reign or rule, which, in one sense, involves God’s sovereign ordering of all things at all times, but, in another sense, concerns His direction of the lives of His people. Here the prayer is for God’s rule in two senses. First, may you rule increasingly in the lives of your people; and second, may your final messianic kingdom come soon.
“Your will be done.” In this petition, much like the previous one, the disciple asks that he and others might live in growing obedience to God’s declared desires as they are found in Scripture, and that the day may quickly come when sin will be judged and the whole universe be willingly subject to God’s will, even as believers desire to be subject now (Romans 12.2). This should be our desire, and we should always be careful to examine the attitudes of our hearts and our day-by-day actions in accordance with it. As D. A. Carson says, “These first three petitions, though they focus on God’s name, God’s kingdom, and God’s will, are nevertheless prayers that He may act in such a way that His people will hallow His name, submit to His reign, and do His will. It is therefore impossible to pray this prayer in sincerity without humbly committing oneself to such a course.”
Live for the Kingdom!