Updated: Sep 17, 2022
The Lord's Prayer is a prayer found in The Gospels of Matthew and Luke. This prayer is a template or pattern that Jesus laid out for mankind to communicate with God the Father. This prayer symbolizes how a believer is to lay out his or her everyday needs, desires and wishes for others concerning God’s overshadowing love. I will attest to how The Lord’s Prayer is simple. It's a teaching prayer that is easy for even the children to remember, a prayer that provides all the words needed to ask God for everything we need, and most importantly, a prayer that praises the Lord above all else.
According to Shelia McGinn, Matthew is the only Gospel writer to use the word “ecclesia” or church, thus illustrating Matthew’s goal of creating group identity, authority, and structure or framework (McGinn, 2014, pg. 214). In the first century C.E., many of the populace was illiterate. School was a luxury, not a requirement as it is today in the United States. Many people of the first century knew only what they were told about the scriptures through teachings at local synagogues and house churches. Before the ministry of Jesus, the Jews and Gentiles did not worship together. Therefore many of the Gentiles did not know how to pray, but Jesus’ ministry brought people from all walks of life.
People need a starting point. They need a template to show them the proper way to worship the Lord, thank him for all that he has given them, and a way to ask the Lord for forgiveness for all their sins. Michael Joseph Brown describes the Lord’s Prayer as a catechetical and ritually instructional instrument designed to teach others the proper performance of prayer, a way to formulate criteria that could pass as “the appropriate worship of the gods (Brown, 2000)”. Through the gospels of Matthew, Jesus teaches the people a simple prayer that begins with the praise and worship of God flowing poetically from one sentence to another, a prayer that continues to flow into the needs of humanity. The repetition of certain words gives more emphasis and meaning to the overall ease of memorization. The repetition of words also puts emphasis on the important parts of the prayer. Jesus teaches the people to 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. (Mt 6:9-13)
Seven simple sentences that encompass everything. The first three sentences are directed solely to God, the Father in heaven, God’s Kingdom, and God’s will, not ours. The prayer begins with, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,” which is described by Henry French as being an all-powerful and praising phrase. We are acknowledging who Our Father in heaven, how he is immanent, intimate, and yet transcendent, the creator and sustainer of all life (French, 2002). The next sentence, “You’re will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.” gives the Lord control, both here on earth and up in heaven, giving God control over everything. These first three sentences put God above all humankind, relinquishing all human will to him. But The Lord’s Prayer continues to move like a poetic verse, from the most important feature, the Lord, to humanity's need. The focus is not just on the needs of one person but of all the world.
Throughout the Lord’s Prayer, the use of the word “us,” “we,” and “our” includes the world as a whole. When praying this prayer, we ask the Lord to care for everyone. We are not being selfish and asking for gifts for ourselves but for all mankind. “Give us this day our daily bread.” ask God to give “us” “our” daily bread, not give me my daily bread. Just as Jesus fed the multitudes many times throughout the gospels with just two, five, or seven loaves of bread and a few fish. If Jesus can feed thousands with so little, how will the Lord not take care of his people? Jesus instructs in both Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels, “Ask, and it will be given” (Matt 7:7), “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you” (Luke 11:9). Next is forgiveness, such a hard part of life, but Jesus includes it in the prayer.
“Forgiveness of our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors.” This must be a very important aspect, for it is the first part that Jesus discusses after the completion of the prayer. If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but you will not be forgiven if you do not forgive. (Matt 6:14-15) Jesus taught that forgiveness is paramount, for if a person cannot find it in themselves to forgive someone else, how can they look to the Lord to forgive them of their sins? The Lord is asking the people to follow in his footsteps. Even Jesus, during the most painful and agonizing time in his life on earth, asked the Lord, “Forgive them for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34)". Jesus is following his own teachings. If he can forgive the people for crucifying him and even worse for denying him, why should the people not be able to forgive each other? And lastly, Jesus instructs them to ask for deliverance.
The final sentence of the Lord’s Prayer asks the Lord for deliverance, “And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one (Matt 6:13)”. Even if the people did not know exactly who the evil one was, they know that evil was in the world. At the Mount of Olives, Jesus describes how nations will rise against each other, of famines, earthquakes, lawlessness, and even false Messiahs. The sun will darken, and the moon will no longer provide light, as the tribes of the earth mourn, “the Son of Man will be seen coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (Matt 24:3-31) Jesus knew that the time would come when he would return. He spoke of this in his teachings. Jesus describes in Matthew 13:40-43, of his return how the angels will collect all the evildoers and throw them into the furnace of fire and how the righteous will shine with their Father in heaven. By providing people with a way to ask the Lord to rescue them, he provided them with the final petition. Although the people did not know everything there was to know about the Lord, Jesus gave them everything they needed to pray.
Even small children could pray this prayer without knowing all there was to know. They could memorize it, be taught what each sentence means, how to say it with meaning, and have faith. The blind, the lame, the poor, and the weak could ask the Lord for all they needed to help them in this life and the life in heaven. With the repetition of words throughout the prayer, the poetic rhythm made it almost like a song. The Lord could be praised and glorified, help up above all. At the same time, people could ask for what they needed in the simplest of terms. They did not have to pray like the hypocrites in the synagogues and street corners babbling on and on just to be seen by others. Jesus even instructs them not to pray as the Gentiles do, correcting the people, Jews and Gentiles alike, concerning the use of too many words during prayer, for “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Mt 6:5-8) Jesus tells them not to worry about what they will eat and what they will wear, even the birds of the air are fed, and they don’t even plant gardens, harvest the bounty, or store up food. The birds of the air depend on the Father for everything. (Mt 6:25-33) Simplicity, praise, and love are all in a simple prayer.
But for such a simple prayer, there is controversy over its use, whether it should be recited for recital alone or if this prayer should be used as part of a church and community recall the experience. Henry French argues that the Lord’s Prayer should not be said, for recital alone, that the Lord’s Prayer is a missionary act and thus a subversive one and should not be taken lightly. He claims it is not a prayer for a church in captivity to its culture and should not be repeated Sunday after Sunday just for the prayer routine (French, 2002). But others disagree with French, arguing that the audience needs repetition.
Warren Carter argues that The Lord’s prayer is part of the audience’s recall, part of the experience with prayer in the community’s worship. Carter states that the act of prayer provides a means of centering and direction, helping the people become part of the “meaning of the prayer” (Carter, 1995). With such a simple prayer, people can recall it during worship services and private prayer, providing them with a connection to the Lord that they may not otherwise feel. During times of worry and trials, people need simplicity, a starting point.
With so much to think about, knowing what was coming, how the angels would return to throw the evildoers in a furnace of fire, worrying about how they would feed their families if they would be able to stay warm during the winter and all the other tribulations of life, people then and now, need a way to pray, to know that the Lord is going to answer their prayers. With all the worries of the day, many times, we forget that the Lord already knows what we are going through. We forget that he has already taken care of us. All we need to do when we feel lost, lonely, distraught, scared, and alone is remember such a simple prayer that includes everything, beginning with praises of the Lord, acknowledging his mightiness, asking for what we need, even though we do not know what we need, asking for forgiveness, and asking for rescue from evil. Seven simple sentences can provide so much meaning. We praise the Lord, his will, and his kingdom while asking for everything humanity needs. Jesus prayed many prayers throughout his ministry. But he still gave the people a
simple framework, a starting place, just like the grain of a mustard seed, so small to begin with, but as it grows into such a large tree. The same happens with people. Their faith starts out small, and their prayers start out small, unsure, and tentative, but soon, that fearful, unsure prayer grows in strength and meaning, becoming clearer to the believer. Every word, so simple, so easy to remember, that framework that began with so little, has grown to be something strong and confident in the Lord. The Lord’s Prayer can be passed to others who are unsure, who do not know how to pray, continuing to build that framework, making such a simple prayer stronger every time someone learns the words, and slowly the meaning and powerful Lord behind it all.
Brown, M. J. "' Panem Nostrum': The Problem of Petition and the Lord's Prayer." Journal of Religion 80, no. 4 (2000): 595-614. New Testament Abstracts, EBSCOhost (accessed June 27, 2017).
Carter, Warren. "Recalling the Lord's Prayer: The Authorial Audience and Matthew's Prayer as Familiar Liturgical Experience." The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 57, no. 3 (July 1995): 514-530. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed June 27, 2017).
Coogan, Michael D., The New Oxford Annotated Bible. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.
French, H. "The Lord's Prayer: A Primer on Mission in the Way of Jesus." Word & World 22, no. 1 (2002): 18-26. New Testament Abstracts, EBSCOhost (accessed June 26, 2017).
Hinkle, M. E. 2002. "The Lord's Prayer: Empowerment for Living the Sermon on the Mount." Word & World 22, no. 1: 9-17. New Testament Abstracts, EBSCOhost (accessed June 27, 2017).
McGinn, Shelia E. The Jesus Movement and the World of the Early Church. Winona: Christian Brothers Publications, 2014.