Lord's Prayer Topical Study

Preaching and Worship Resources about Lord's Prayer

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The Lord's Prayer is the large umbrella under which all other prayers are offered. In his Institutes, John Calvin writes that God "prescribed a form for us in which is set forth as in a table all that he allows us to seek of him, all that is of benefit to us, all that we need to ask" (3.20.34).

In Scripture

From Matthew: "Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one" (Matt. 6:9-13).

From Luke: ["]He said to them, `When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial'" (Luke 11:2-4).

Points to Ponder

Pay attention to the pronouns. What holds understated importance in The Lord's Prayer is the pronouns, beginning with "Our Father." God belongs to the Christian community together. God is the One who draws us toward one another as children of the same Heavenly Parent. Similarly, when we pray "Your kingdom come" and "Your will be done," we are distinctly not praying for our own kingdoms of power or our own desires to be the most important things. The prayer continues in the communal language of "our" rather than "my," and that matters immensely because this prayer does not simply help us to become more Christian. It teaches us how to be Christian together, in community.

The will of God. This is a topic of endless fascination, especially for people in transition. We often hear people say things like "What job does God want me to take?" or "Who does God want me to marry?" Without denying that God is immanent and benevolently invested in our lives, perhaps the request in this prayer is to align our lives to clear biblical, moral injunctions and to align our desires and imagination to the overarching narrative of God's presence in the world. Thus, "Your will be done" is followed up with "on earth as it is heaven." In heaven, God's will isn't stymied by human rebellion, ignorance, or carelessness. On earth, well, we tend to get in the way. So to pray "Your will be done" is to follow John's summation of God's will, "God must increase; I must decrease."

Daily . . . everything? With a rising awareness of gluten allergies and intolerance, has the petition "Give us this day our daily bread" become obsolete? How does it translate into the Asian countries of my growing-up years, "Give us this day our daily rice?" John Calvin broadens the parameters of this petition so that this request covers everything we need to sustain us through a given 24-hour day. The insomniac might pray, "Give us this day our daily sleep." The lonely soul might pray, "Give us this day our daily human connection and affection." Give to each person what we stand in need of this day. Amen.

Praying with the hungry. Although the parameters of "Give us this day our daily bread" can be expanded to include each of our daily needs, perhaps the greater challenge is for those of us with easily filled bellies to expand our compassion and imagination to embrace those who are haunted by hunger. So when we pray "give us this day our daily bread" we are also asking how we can help to make "daily bread" available to those who are hungry, homeless, or hopeless.

Forgiveness. Nowhere else does the Lord's Prayer falter on our lips as it does when we get to this petition: "Forgive us our sin as we forgive those who sin against us." It is a dangerous prayer for those of us aware of pockets of resentment, unresolved conflict, or the fact that we've abandoned hope that "that person" will ever change. The Heidelberg Catechism tells us that this petition means "Because of Christ’s blood, do not hold against us, poor sinners that we are, any of the sins we door the evil that constantly clings to us." Though we might recite this line, by rote or on auto-pilot, it is not the intention of God that this petition is easy in practice. "Rather, in commanding us to forgive, Jesus is inviting us to take charge, to turn the world around, to throw a monkey wrench in the eternal wheel of retribution and vengeance." As it has been done for us, may we be "fully determined" to demonstrate our gratitude to God in ways that will surprise and benefit those in need of our forgiveness.

Doxology. If you are a Protestant who has the Lord's Prayer memorized, you might notice that the biblical text is missing something: "For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen." This line was not added to the prayer until the early church tried using the prayer in liturgy and found that "lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil" didn't have quite the gusto that a proclamation of a risen Savior and reigning Lord requires. The last word isn't temptation or sin. It isn't suffering or evil. The prayer required a truthful last word, God's great last word of triumph, of resurrection, of life and hope and victory and celebration and peace. The prayer needs to end the way we believe the story will end, with saints gathered around a throne proclaiming the glory of God.

That "other" Lord's Prayer. In Matthew and in Luke, Jesus taught his disciples to pray. But in John, Jesus prayed. John 17 is the recorded content of Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. The story is told in Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, and Luke 22:39-46. In this prayer, Jesus adapts many of the themes of his instructional prayer to his own circumstance and need. Perhaps his is the model of how we ought to use that Matthew 6 and Luke 11 prayer! He addresses God as Father, he speaks of God's glory. He asks that the realities of heaven would be real and applied to his disciples, knowing that they will soon face a great temptation to abandon him. And Jesus' prayer widens the definition of God's people to include those who will believe. A crucial theme in this prayer is that Jesus would be aligned and united to the Father and that those who are with him would be able to remain faithful and aligned with him so that they, too, might share in his union with the Father.

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Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.