How to Live the Bible — Life and Prayer
This is the fifty-first lesson in author and pastor Mel Lawrenz’ How to Live the Bible series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.
In a teaching as clear and fresh as the blue Sea of Galilee, Jesus said this 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. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:9–13).
This prayer is a clear, straightforward pattern for developing a God-filled life. Jesus did not say, “Pray this.” He said, “This is how you should pray.” In other words: Here is the model, a plan. If you follow this, you will have prayed well. Your attitude will be right, you will have asked for the right things, and you will be changed in the praying. Sometimes we should simply pray the exact words of the Lord’s Prayer. It is neither childish nor ritualistic to do so.
We may have learned the alphabet and simple arithmetic when we were small children, but these fundamentals are not thereby a weaker reality; they are the core of linguistic and mathematic reality. So it is with the pattern called the Lord’s Prayer. The best thing we can do is to cherish the actual words of the Lord’s Prayer but also let its ideas form our basic instincts as we approach God. One by one, each petition of the Lord’s Prayer tells us how and what to pray.
Our Father in heaven…
Whenever we pray we should address God in personal terms. We’ve been invited to speak to the Father, to the Lord Jesus, and to the Holy Spirit—and so we should do so. Prayers that address a vague, unknown deity are artificial and uncertain. We’ve got God’s own permission to talk to him as Abba—our loving Father.
Hallowed be your name…
Respect for God is the doorway to genuine prayer. An attitude that is flippant or disingenuous makes praying useless or even destructive. Jesus warned against the “babbling” of pagans who think they will be heard for their many words. He also had stern words for those who wanted to show off in front of others with their prayers, calling them “hypocrites.” God doesn’t ask us to impress him but to honor him. So when we pray, we should tell God in as many ways as come to mind what we appreciate about him.
Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…
We sometimes add to our prayers phrases like “If it be your will” as a polite disclaimer or as an expression of agnosticism. But Jesus’ prayer suggests that we should start by expressing our desire to know God’s will. “Your kingdom come, your will be done” is our way of saying, “Lord, I really need to understand your heart and mind. Let my own heart and mind, like soft metal impressed by a die, understand and imitate what you call right and good.”
Give us today our daily bread…
God invites us to pray to him about the basic provisions of life. Even when there is little doubt in our minds that there will be food on the table, it is good to ask the Father for life and health so that when we have these things our eyes are open to the flow of God’s common grace and we live in a consistent state of gratitude.
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…
God does not forgive us because we ask him for forgiveness but because of his sacrificial love turned to action in Christ. But it is still good to ask for forgiveness—and to ask every day—because it makes us realize that we are flawed creatures in constant need of repair. The phrase “as we also have forgiven our debtors” is a great challenge. By inviting us to pray this way, Jesus was telling us not to ask to receive what we are unwilling to give. We will only comprehend the forgiveness of God if we embrace forgiveness by granting it to others.
And lead us not into temptation…
By telling us to pray that God would protect us as we go through the strongest forms of temptation, Jesus is saying that it is crucial for us to be vigilant about the many possibilities of failure we face. We can’t really ask God to isolate us from all temptation; the Bible tells us that we will be tempted. But we can and must ask God to protect us from the terrible temptation-failure combination. Martin Luther said, “You may not be able to prevent the birds from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from making nests in your hair.”
But deliver us from the evil one…
We can and should pray, every day in our own way, “Father, I know that evil is real. I know there are malevolent forces that seek to bring about injury, deception, and perversion. I know you are infinitely stronger than those forces. Please help me to continually trust in your absolute protection.”
This, then, was the prayer form Jesus set out for us. Every word is gold. It says exactly what any person of any age living anywhere in the world at any time needs to pray. Each petition can be prayed a thousand different ways. Each can be customized to the specifics of our lives.[See more about prayer, printable prayers, and audio prayers] ___________ [If you believe this series will be helpful, this is the perfect time to forward this to a friend, a group, or a congregation, and tell them they too may sign up for the weekly emails here]
Mel Lawrenz (@MelLawrenz) trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s minister at large. He has a PhD in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel is the author of 18 books, including How to Understand the Bible—A Simple Guide and Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership (Zondervan, 2012). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.
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