Prayer: Boldly Approaching God's Throne

Is the 'Lord's Prayer' to be prayed?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
We find the answer to this question in Jesus' own preamble to the familiar prayer given in Matthew 6.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

We find the answer to this question in Jesus' own preamble to the familiar prayer given in Matthew 6.

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. (Matthew 6:9-13)

Not "The Lord's Prayer"

First of all, we need to state that this model prayer given by Jesus (and also in a slightly different form on a different occasion in Luke 11) is not "the Lord's Prayer." It is unfortunate that this prayer has become generally known by that title. If there is any prayer in Scripture that merits such a title, it is the high priestly prayer of the Lord Jesus in John chapter 17.

Jesus' Preamble to the Prayer

It would be far more accurate to call this "the believer's model prayer." This is the pattern given by Christ to believers for their own prayer to the Father. As we study the preamble by which Jesus introduces this model prayer in Matthew 6:5-9, the nature of prayer in general, and of this prayer in particular, becomes clear:

5. And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.

6. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

7. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.

8. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.

9. In this manner, therefore, pray...

Four Points in Jesus' Preamble

The main theme of Jesus' preamble is that our praying is to be different from the futile praying of unbelievers. And for that reason, in the preamble He makes four points about what prayer is - and just as importantly, what it is not.

First, Jesus tells us that prayer is primarily a private matter (verses 5-6) - the believer with God the Father, one to one. This is not to say there is no place for public prayer or corporate prayer; Scripture gives us many examples of both. But the primary focus of prayer is the individual Christian meeting with his God.

Second, Jesus tells us that the kind of prayer that God desires from us is extemporaneous (verse 7). Nowhere in the Bible are we told to repeat "set prayers". This was one of the things that many of the Protestant Reformers opposed, and we should do likewise. We are commanded here not to use "vain repetitions." We have those kinds of "vain repetitions" in the present day - for example, the Roman Catholics use the rosary, and the Buddhists use prayer wheels. Both of these devices are used to repeat the same prayers over, and over, and over, and over again - as though this repetition of set prayers earns some merit with God.

In fact Roman Catholicism makes the repetition of set prayers, and this prayer in particular, a matter of penance. They make it a saving work. In the confessional booth the priest tells the Catholic, "Because you have committed this kind of sin, you need to say this many 'Hail Marys' and this many 'Our Fathers' in order to pay for your sin." The number of repetitions varies according to the supposed severity of the sin. True Christians, trusting in the full sufficiency of Christ's atonement for sin, must thoroughly reject such things.

Third, Jesus tells us that quality in prayer is more important than quantity (verse 7). This is not to say that we should not spend adequate time in prayer, but how we pray is the important thing. And as we pray properly, we will want to make more and more of a priority of prayer, and devote more time to it.

And fourth, Jesus tells us that we need to keep one thing at the forefront of our thoughts: Remember to whom you are praying (verse 8). You are not praying, as the pagans believed and as the Pharisees and Sadducees had come to believe, to an arbitrary or even despotic deity, or to someone without perfect knowledge. You are praying to the omniscient Father who has perfect knowledge of your needs. He has your best interests at heart.

Not a Prayer to be Prayed, But a Model for Prayer

With these things in mind as a preamble, the Lord Jesus then instructs us how we are to pray, beginning in verse 9: "In this manner, therefore, pray..." The force of the Greek is, "pray after this pattern." In other words, "in your own extemporaneous praying, be sure to approach God in this way." The force of the Greek is not, "repeat these words" - and verse 7 reinforces that thought. Praying is not a matter of repeating certain words.

Instead, Jesus says, "in this manner, therefore, pray." Jesus is saying that in light of the points He has just taught about the nature of proper prayer, and about the God to whom we pray, this is how we are to pray.

How Do You Pray?

Christian, how do you pray? Do you make a priority of prayer? Do you have a way, and do you make a time and a place, to get alone with your heavenly Father to spend regular, uninterrupted time in prayer? Scripture mentions prayer over 400 times. God's Word places a priority on prayer. We need to place a priority on prayer.

Do you pray from the heart? Do you pray extemporaneously? It is easy for us to unthinkingly fall into ruts in prayer. We may not pray a set prayer day after day, and clearly we should avoid it. But we can so easily fall into the same patterns in our own words day after day. Prayer can become almost a robotic, thoughtless kind of activity. We can easily get to the point where we're not thinking very much about how or what we are praying - or to Whom. We need to take the time to express our own heart's reverence and worship for God through prayer. We need to take the time, and use our own words, guided by the Holy Spirit, to express our innermost thoughts and desires to our loving Father.

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