I love listening to how others pray and what they say. The language they use reflects their understanding of God. Some refer to God as “Father,” reflecting a profound sense of intimacy. Others approach Him as “Sovereign God” or “Lord,” suggesting a healthy dose of respect.
Unfortunately, the prayers of some reveal how little they know about the God to Whom they pray. Their prayers betray an understanding of God that renders the Creator of the universe subservient to their temporal needs and concerns. Their God is often little more than the Big Guy in the Sky, the Man Upstairs. He’s the heavenly Santa Claus who’s keeping a list, checking it twice, trying to find out who’s been naughty or nice, so that He can determine the magnitude of His generosity. With such a low view of God, is it any wonder so few Christians experience the joy of having their prayers answered?
Martyn Lloyd-Jones diagnosed this weakness in the common Christian: “More and more we miss the very greatest blessings in the Christian life because we do not know how to pray aright.”
The first disciples were not prepared for prayer, either. They watched quietly in the wings as Christ prayed. Yet, they failed to learn their lesson. That is, until one of them admitted his ignorance and sought instruction: “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).
Christ did not chide the disciples for their immaturity. Instead, He provided the greatest manual on prayer ever given. He gave them the “Lord’s Prayer.”
Of this passage, Matthew 6:9-13, J.C. Ryle wrote, “No part of Scripture is so full, and so simple at the same time as this … . It contains the germ of everything which the most advanced saint can desire: here is its fullness. The more we ponder every word it contains the more we shall feel ‘this prayer is of God.’”
Such a response is fitting, for the prayer given is of God and about God.
Jesus recognized the tendency of the human heart to bring God down to our level rather than to raise ourselves up to His. Thus, when He taught His disciples how to pray, He taught them to pray with God as the central focus. This, He intimated, was to be the norm, not the exception: “Pray, then, in this way” (Matthew 5:9). The remainder of the “Lord’s Prayer” provides a guide, a model for true God-centered, God-saturated prayer.
To that great end, our Lord begins with a recognition of God’s supremacy and a concern for His glory: “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name.” Prayer, Jesus reminds us, is not about us. It’s about God. We pray to God — not a god of our creation but the God of all creation, who sits on the royal throne of heaven.
Bearing these great spiritual truths in mind, our prayer becomes a matter of worship rather than an opportunity to update God on our needs. It lifts God up. It acknowledges His rightful claim on the throne of our lives.
Jesus continued by pointing His disciples to the realization that God’s will, both on earth and in heaven, trumps our human desires and needs: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done.” What a tragedy it is that so few prayer meetings begin with a concern for God’s will and work. We offer up corporate prayers that are more church gossip than God praise.
Only after placing God’s will before man’s should the pray-er bring forth his petitions. Even then, Christ made it clear that these should be God-centered. Echoing the Exodus experience of receiving God’s daily provision of manna in the wilderness, the first request, “Give us this day our daily bread,” is yet another acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty. Such prayer recognizes God as the source of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17).
The next word of supplication follows the same pattern. The pray-er asks, “Forgive us our debts.” Here, the sinner admits his utmost dependence upon God, professing faith in the goodness of God and the sufficiency of the work of Christ. In the process, he worships the Father, placing the Creator before the created.
Likewise, the third and fourth petitions — “do not lead us into temptation” and “deliver us from evil” — reveal that the pray-er is wholly dependent upon the grace of the glorious and sovereign God rightly acknowledged at the beginning of the prayer. If the God to Whom we pray is not the God of verses 9 and 10, we have no legitimate hope of the petitions in verses 11-13 ever being answered.
The final words of this famous prayer turn attention back to God most clearly: “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.” The “Lord’s Prayer” is first and last about the Lord God.
All prayer — true prayer, Jesus teaches us — is to be God-centered, ever admitting that prayer does not change God. It should change us. The prayer that does not is not prayer at all.
— Peter Beck is professor of Christian studies at Charleston Southern University and lead pastor of Doorway Baptist Church in North Charleston.