At two places in the Gospels we are given Jesus’ instruction on prayer. We call this the Lord’s Prayer, even though, as many have noted, Jesus himself wouldn’t need to pray every line of this prayer since he doesn’t need forgiveness. But he knew us, and he knew the guidance that we needed. So when the disciples asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1), he gave to all who would ever follow him the prayer that we all need to pray.
This prayer is famous, and rightly so. It’s been written and spoken about at great length by almost every significant theologian or pastor who has ever lived. Many churches pray this prayer word-for-word every Sunday morning (usually following the words of Matthew 6:9-13). There is warrant for this recitation in the words with which he began his instruction in Luke 11:2: “When you pray, say…” And, following Matthew’s account of Jesus’ prayer-teaching (“This, then, is how you should pray”), countless Christians have taken this prayer as a model of praying, not just something to be repeated. “Here,” we might imagine Jesus saying, “are the main things that ought to be part of your praying.” C.S. Lewis took this approach in his Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, where he wrote about his various prayer concerns as “festoonings”—words and thoughts that he hangs, like a garland of flowers, around the petitions of prayer given by Jesus.
To help in this second use of the prayer—as a model of the types of concerns we bring to God through Jesus—I gave some guidance this past Sunday about what we might see in each line of the prayer as it appears in the gospel of Luke:
Hallowed be your name: Pray the truths you come to know about God, and turn God’s truths into prayer. This petition is dense. It concerns the character and name of God and the idea of his holiness. These are the realm of what we often think of as theology. But theology and prayer should never be strangers.
Your kingdom come: Pray the hurts of the world together with the intentions of God. We seek God’s kingdom because we know the world to be something short of the ideal—often painfully so. We hear God’s promises, and ask for them.
Give us each day our daily bread: Ask for your needs. It’s a simple line, but it requires honesty and humility.
Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us: Pray your own hurts, and seek forgiveness for your own capacity to hurt others and to disobey/dishonour God. Praying for the kingdom to come to a hurt world without acknowledging our part in the problem is dangerous. Here is the beginning of the remedy.
And lead us not into temptation: Pray your sanctification, and be specific. This part of the prayer should not be forgotten or thought of too narrowly. This is a prayer for the fruit and gifts of the Spirit to grow in us.
Jesus’ instruction on prayer seems short and sweet, but within it are the talking points for a lifelong conversation with God, a conversation that invites us to place our whole life into his wise and loving care.