THE DISCIPLE’S PRAYER
So, then, pray in this way: Our Father in heaven, let your name be held holy: Let your Kingdom come: Let your will be done, as in heaven, so upon earth: Give us to-day bread for the coming day: Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors: And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One. For, if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will forgive you too; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Before we begin to think about the Lord’s Prayer in detail there are certain general facts which we will do well to remember about it.
We must note, first of all, that this is a prayer which taught his disciples to pray. Both Matthew and Luke are clear about that. Matthew sets the whole Sermon on the Mount in the context of the disciples (Matt. 5:1); and Luke tells us that Jesus taught this prayer in response to the request of one of his disciples (Lk.11:1). The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer which only a disciple can pray; it is a prayer which only one who is committed to Jesus Christ can take upon his lips with any meaning.
The Lord’s Prayer is not a child’s prayer, as it is so often regarded; it is, in fact, not meaningful for a child. The Lord’s Prayer is not the Family Prayer as it is sometimes called, unless by the word family we mean the family of the Church. The Lord’s Prayer is specifically and definitely stated to be the disciple’s prayer; and only on the lips of a disciple has the prayer its full meaning. To put it in another way, the Lord’s Prayer can only really be prayed when the man who prays it knows what he is saying, and he cannot know that until he has entered into discipleship.
We must note the order of the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer. The first three petitions have to do with God and with the glory of God; the second three petitions have to do with our needs and our necessities. That is to say, God is first given his supreme place, and then, and only then, we turn to ourselves and our needs and desires. It is only when God is given his proper place that all other things fall into their proper places. Prayer must never be an attempt to bend the will of God to our desires; prayer ought always to be an attempt to submit our wills to the will of God.
The second part of the prayer, the part which deals with our needs and our necessities, is a marvellously wrought unity. It deals with the three essential needs of man, and the three spheres of time within which man moves. First, it asks for bread, for that which is necessary for the maintenance of life, and thereby brings the needs of the present to the throne of God. Second, it asks for forgiveness and thereby brings the past into the presence of God. Third, it asks for help in temptation and thereby commits all the future into the hands of God. In these three brief petitions, we are taught to lay the present, the past, and the future before the footstool of the grace of God.
But not only is this a prayer which brings the whole of life to the presence of God; it is also a prayer which brings the whole of God to our lives. When we ask for bread to sustain our earthly lives, that request immediately directs our thoughts to God the Father, the Creator and the Sustainer of all life. When we ask for forgiveness, that request immediately directs our thoughts to God the Son, Jesus Christ our Saviour and Redeemer. When we ask for help for future temptation, that request immediately directs our thoughts to God the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Strengthener, the Illuminator, the Guide and the Guardian of our way.
In the most amazing way this brief second part of the Lord’s Prayer takes the present, the past, and the future, the whole of man’s life, and presents them to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, to God in all his fulness. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus teaches us to bring the whole of life to the whole of God, and to bring the whole of God to the whole of life.
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