How to Live the Bible — Pray Like This
This is the one-hundred-fifty-third 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.
How should we pray? In a teaching as clear and fresh as the blue Sea of Galilee, Jesus said: “This, then, is how you should pray,” and then he just laid it out:
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.
This 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, a pattern. If you follow this, you’ll have prayed well. Your attitude will be right; you’ll have asked for the right things; you’ll be changed in the praying.
Sometimes we should just pray the exact words of the Lord’s Prayer. It’s neither childish nor ritualistic to do so. We may have learned the alphabet and simple arithmetic when we were very small children, but that does not make those patterns a weaker reality–they’re 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 cherish the actual words of the Lord’s Prayer, but then 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, the Lord Jesus, and the Holy Spirit–and so we should. 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 flip or disingenuous makes praying useless, or even destructive. Jesus warned against the “babbling” of pagans who think they’ll 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…
When we add to our prayers phrases like “if it be your will,” sometimes we’re just adding a disclaimer for the sake of politeness. But Jesus’ prayer pattern suggests that where we should start is with an expressed desire to know God’s will in the process. “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’s good to ask the Father for life and health so that, when we have them, our eyes are open to the flow of God’s common grace and we live in a consistent state of gratitude.
Forgive us our sins 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’s still good to ask–and to ask every day–because it makes us realize that we’re flawed creatures in constant need of repair. The “as we also have forgiven” is a great challenge. By inviting us to pray this way, Jesus was saying: don’t ask to receive what you are unwilling to give. We’ll only comprehend the forgiveness of God if we embrace forgiveness by granting it to others.
And lead us not into temptation…
Jesus is saying that it’s crucial for us to be vigilant about the many possibilities of failures we face by praying that God would protect us as we go through the strongest forms of temptation. 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 inspire 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 pattern of prayer 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. What it does is to set us as mere mortals into a God-ward frame of mind.
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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 teaching pastor. He has a PhD in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel’s many books include Spiritual Leadership Today: Having Deep Influence in Every Walk of Life (Zondervan, 2016). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.
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May 14, 2021