Believers are to pray according to how God commands, and one of the ways that we know what He has commanded us to pray for is to consider the things mentioned “in the prayer Christ our Lord himself taught us” (The Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 118). This prayer, of course, is the Lord’s Prayer (Q&A 119).
Without a doubt, the Lord’s Prayer is one of the most well-known and beloved portions of Scripture. The text that gives this prayer to us, Luke 11:1–4 (see also Matt. 6:9–13), is one of the first passages that most believers memorize, and the prayer itself has been an essential part of Christian piety since it was first given to the church by her Lord. No one can honestly doubt the prayer’s importance, so it is easy to see why the Heidelberg Catechism and the major creeds, confessions, and catechisms of the church devote so much time to it.
In considering the Lord’s Prayer, we need to recognize the purpose for which it was given. While it is certainly proper to pray the prayer as it is given to us in the New Testament, especially when we think carefully about what we are saying, it does not seem that Jesus gave us this prayer, first and foremost, as words to recite verbatim. Instead, the primary intent that our Savior seems to have had in revealing the Lord’s Prayer to us was to give us a model for how we are to structure all of our prayers. We draw this conclusion from what prompted Christ to give this prayer to His disciples in the first place.
As we read in Luke 11:1, one of the disciples came to Jesus asking Him, essentially, how to pray and not what to pray. The distinction between asking how to pray and asking what to pray is not merely a semantical one. It shows us that the disciple who brought his request to our Lord was looking more for an outline of the kind of prayer that is pleasing to God than a precise set of words to be offered every time he went before His Creator in prayer. Being a good Jew, the disciple would have known that praying for his needs was approved by God; what he needed to know was the context in which he should ask for such needs to be supplied. So, Jesus gave Him this context in the Lord’s Prayer, providing His church with a model for structuring our prayers that will help us in every generation.