English-speaking Christians around the world know the Lord’s Prayer in the wording of the King James Version (Matt. 6:9–13; Luke 11:2–4). Believers from diverse church traditions have this prayer in common and can recite it in unison. We are able to remember it because the Lord’s Prayer in the King James is memorable and poetic. In this, the King James Version captures the character of the prayer in the original Greek, which is even more poetic. There can be little doubt that the prayer was intended to be learned by heart and so be readily available to the minds of believers.
Unfortunately, the down side of the memorability of the Lord’s Prayer is that we sometimes say the words without reflection and intention. We just mumble the words that we know so well. When we do this, we rob ourselves of the riches of this prayer that Jesus taught us.
We must emphasize the word us. The Lord’s Prayer is, in the first place, the prayer of the church. It is in the form of a corporate prayer of assembled believers, not that of a secret prayer of an individual alone with God. In the Lord’s Prayer, we address God not as “my Father” but as “our Father.” We ask for “our” daily bread and the forgiveness of “our” debts. The Lord’s Prayer, therefore, shows us how we ought to pray as the people of God.
The Lord’s Prayer also is the prayer of believers in Jesus who have been reconciled to God by His sacrifice. In this prayer, we do not address God in the exalted language of royalty but in the simple language of family. We address the King of the universe, the Creator of heaven and earth, and the Judge of the living and the dead as “our Father.” We are not just forgiven sinners or reconciled enemies. We are family, children of our loving, heavenly Father. When we call God “Father,” we affirm our forgiveness, reconciliation, and adoption through His Son, Jesus our Lord. But God did not become our Father only when He adopted us. Rather, He is the eternal Father of His eternally begotten Son. As such, we might think of Jesus as God’s “natural” Son in contrast to ourselves as adopted sons. In one word, Father, we express the riches of the love and mercy of God.
Since we are His children, adopted sons in Jesus, we rightly have concern for the purposes and plans of our Father. Thus, the prayer begins not with our needs but with God’s name, kingdom, and will. In baptism, we have been named with the Father’s name. His kingdom will be given to us as an inheritance. And to do His will is truly to be His child. The Lord’s Prayer begins with the estate of our Father in heaven. It is an estate ruined by our sin, but now being restored in His “natural” Son, Jesus Christ.
In the first petition, we ask that God’s name be seen as holy (hallowed). Our request is that God’s name be set apart from all profane and vain use, that it be treated with the highest honor, praised and adored. We ask that it be made holy here on earth even as it is hallowed in heaven. The phrase “ ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ ” properly applies to all three petitions about God’s name, kingdom, and will. But let us not forget that the name we ask to be made holy is the name Father. Men can call God by the name Father with meaning, reverence, and propriety only if God is indeed their Father. And so the prayer “hallowed be Thy name” is nothing less than a request for the conversion of sinners to faith in Jesus Christ, that the redeemed from every nation might rightly call God “Father.” Thus, to ask that God’s name be sanctified is also to ask that God’s saving rule may fill the earth.
We pray, “Thy kingdom come.” This kingdom for which we pray is not just God’s sovereignty over all things, but that rule of God accomplished through the incarnation, death, and resurrection of His Son, by which sinners are made sons. It is this kingdom that Jesus proclaimed when He said, “ ‘The kingdom of God has come near you’ ” (Luke 10:11). In this petition, we ask that this kingdom of salvation would more and more come on earth. And so it has come and will continue to grow, even as a tiny mustard seed grows to be a great bush.
If God’s kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven, then those who live on earth will submit to God even as the angels do in heaven. In other words, to pray for God’s kingdom to come is to pray for God’s will to be done. It is the Father’s will that sinners be saved. To those who do come to Jesus in faith, the Father gives not harsh commands to burden His servants, but loving instructions for the good of His children. So again, we are praying for the conversion and sanctification of sinners throughout the world.
These petitions, “hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done,” are not merely nice thoughts and good intentions. Since God has chosen a great multitude for salvation and since Christ has purchased men for God from every tribe and language, we pray for what we know God assuredly will do. In the original Greek, these petitions are in the literary form of commands. Thus, we might render them as “Thy name be honored! Thy kingdom come! Thy will be done!”
Since God is our Father, He is concerned for us even as we ought to be concerned for His interests. In the second half of the Lord’s Prayer, we petition God for our needs. We ask first for our daily bread. Bread represents all our needs, so we are asking that God will provide for us. Again, we actually “command” it. Though it may seem strange, the prayer is not a wish or a hope, as if we are saying, “may He give us our daily bread.” Rather, it is a bold command: “Give us!” How can this be? This seems inappropriate to me, and it probably seems so to you, too. But it didn’t seem that way to Jesus. This is because we are of little faith, like the disciples. We have a hard time believing that our Father in heaven knows what we need before we ask. If He clothes the flowers of the field, how much more will He provide for His beloved children? In this prayer, we rush like children into our Father’s presence, assured of His love, care, and delight in us. We petition not an indifferent and aloof potentate, but a Father who knows our needs before we ask.
It is also because God is our Father that we say to Him in the next petition, “Forgive us!” Here again, the verb is a command in the original Greek. God has promised forgiveness to His adopted children through the sacrifice of His “natural” Son. His forgiveness is not in doubt; rather, it is a surety written in the blood of His only Son. But we must not deceive ourselves that His forgiveness involves merely looking the other way when we do evil. He who forgives commands us who are forgiven to be like Him. God is no respecter of persons, and He does not have hypocrites for children. So even as we claim the forgiveness of God, we affirm that we are to be forgiving others. Immediately following this prayer, Jesus said: “ ‘For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses’ ” (Matt. 6:14). God will not be made a fool. He freely forgives His children, and He expects us to be like Him in freely forgiving one another. If we refuse to forgive others, we prove that we are not His children but false professors of the faith. Justification is by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. True saving faith is always accompanied by love.
Finally we pray, “and lead us not into temptation” Here, for the first time in the prayer, we encounter a verb that is not a command. So far we have
prayed: “Thy name be hallowed! Thy kingdom come! Thy will be done! Give us our daily bread! Forgive us our debts!” But suddenly the prayer shifts to a wish: “And may you not bring us into testing.” In the Greek, the same word can mean either “testing” or “tempting.” God tempts no one in the sense of inciting them to sin, but He does put men to the test. He tested Job, and Job failed. He tested Israel in the wilderness, and Israel failed. He tested Jesus in the wilderness, and Jesus wholly succeeded.
In this “wish,” we ask our Father, if He is pleased, not to test us. Who wants to be tested? But God, for His glory and our good, still may choose to prove us. We have promises from God our Father about His name, His kingdom, His will, our needs, and our forgiveness. But God nowhere promises not to test us. In this final petition, we ask that He might spare us this.
But if He is not so pleased, we have His promise that He will not test us beyond what we can bear. He will not forsake us in the trial. And so returning to the command form of the verb, we pray “deliver us from evil!” Sin and the Devil will not triumph over us, for Jesus has defeated them. If testing comes, we have the assurance that it will not destroy us. God will deliver us from “the evil.”
Thus the prayer ends with the Gospel as surely as it began with the Gospel. For the Gospel is that God our Father delivers us from evil by His only Son. If God delivers us from the evil, His kingdom has come, His will is being done, and His name is being praised. So, too, our needs are being supplied and our sins forgiven. We have even endured and triumphed in testing. All this God has promised us.
Our Father surely will do all that we ask in this prayer. Ought we not then to praise Him? “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.”