Jesus leads us in prayer to our Father
Prayer is such an important part of our relationship with God. But is there a right way to pray? Can prayer be misguided? If so, what can we use as a guide? Let’s look at how Jesus taught his disciples to pray to our Father.
One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1)
Jesus’ disciples heard that John the Baptist taught his own disciples about prayer. They now wanted to know if Jesus had anything to say about this.
Jesus’ model prayer
And Jesus didn’t disappoint them. His answer was this most familiar and famous prayer of all time:
This, then, is how you should pray: ‘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. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen’ (Matthew 6:9-13)
Sometimes called the “Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father,” Jesus intended to use this prayer as a model, a guide. Some people want a formula, words they can repeat. But Jesus taught us how we should pray and what we should pray about.
The prayer is divided into two parts. First, he taught us how to how to approach the Creator and what things are important to him. He then taught us how to make our requests, and what we should focus on. So, Jesus was teaching us to pray, not just for what we want, but what God wants. Let’s look at the prayer phrase by phrase.
In all his prayers, Jesus addresses God as Father. This isn’t just a title of respect or a theological title. It’s acknowledging who God really is: the Creator, the Sustainer, the beginning of all things and Father of all beings. He’s our Provider and the One to whom we owe our very existence.
Jesus also addresses him as “our Father.” As our Lord, Jesus wants us to consider God in this way, as our Father. He’s our Creator, Sustainer, and Provider.
As believers in Christ, we have been born from above, from God’s Spirit. We have a new life that comes from the Father. So, God is spiritual Father of all true believers: they are truly his sons and daughters.
… the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:15-16)
Our Father lives “in heaven”—an existence totally apart from the physical universe he created. This means he is transcendent, completely beyond our physical world. So, we can’t envision him as a physical being like us in any way. Though he made us in his image, he’s infinitely greater, wiser, more powerful, and intelligent than we are. In fact, God is infinitely greater than us in all his attributes. Because of his transcendence, we can’t physically approach him. Paul wrote about God:
…who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:16)
But we can approach the Father personally through the prayer of faith.
Hallowed be thy name
Hallowed means holy and highly respected. Jesus’s prayer to the Father shows how God wants us to address him—with respect, reverence and awe. Because God’s name is holy, we are to keep God’s name as sacred and undefiled in our speech and lives.
You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God… (Exodus 20:7, Ten Commandments)
There’s a popular belief in some churches that the only important thing in prayer is that we’re honest with God, and that since God always hears us, we should just tell God whatever we want. It’s true that telling God about our feelings is a good thing, as he promises to listen to our complaints, disappointments, and failures. We are to “pour out our hearts before him” (Psalm 62:8). But it’s also possible for prayer to be misguided and for God to be disrespected.
Here are some ways people disrespect the holy name of our Father:
- Using prayer to impress other people and be seen by them. Jesus warned us about this in Matthew 6:5.
- Ranting at God, wildly going on at length about our problems.
- Coming before God with a demanding attitude.
- Exaggerating our condition before God as leverage to get what we want, as if he doesn’t already know our true condition.
- Blaming or accusing God, as if we have any sort of moral superiority over him.
In his most desperate hour in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus still addressed the Father with the utmost respect. So, we also should bring to him our requests, anxieties, hurts, and disappointments with reverence.
Your kingdom come
Jesus spoke to his disciples frequently about God’s kingdom. And he taught that in one sense it was already here.
“…the kingdom of God is in your midst.” (Luke 17:21)
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)
Certainly, God’s kingdom has already begun spiritually. It has begun in the hearts of those who believe the good news and accept God’s rule in their lives. But it’s still expanding, and we should be working with God to expand his kingdom to the greatest possible extent.
And God has also set a time when his kingdom—his reign over all his creatures and all creation—will be completed or fulfilled. He will make all things new, and then he will reign supreme over all his creatures. But that time hasn’t come yet. There’s still evil and rebellion amongst us.
In praying for God’s kingdom to come, we are longing for that time described in the Bible when Messiah will rule in justice and righteousness. There will be no more evil, tears, sickness, or death. Sin will be punished and removed from the world, God will be our God, and we will be his people. We are longing for that day to arrive and for God to fulfill his promises of blessing. But if we don’t long for this day, it may show we prefer the way things are now and not what God has promised for the future. It may even show we don’t belong to God’s kingdom at all.
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven
In the heavenly realm before God’s presence, his will is always done. But on earth, God’s will is not a priority. And for those who live apart from God, it means nothing. Jesus’ prayer means that as citizens of God’s kingdom, we desire his will here on earth—for our own lives, for others, and for the whole world.
People experience much grief and loss in this world because of sin: their own and that of others. But we long for things to be put right again and for all to welcome God’s rule. We want God’s will to be done and his rule to spread here on earth.
We earnestly look for the future fulfillment of God’s promises. But in the meantime, we obey God to accomplish his will today—in our lives, and to the degree possible, in the society we live in. This means our prayers align with God’s Word, and the Father’s will always has priority over our own.
Give us today our daily bread
This begins the second part of Jesus’ prayer: how to make requests to the Father. First, Jesus wants us to know who we are before God: created beings, wholly dependent on him and owing everything to him. We depend on God for our basic needs, since he’s our heavenly Father.
All our legitimate physical needs fall under the “daily bread” category: clothes, shelter, food, and health. Jesus teaches later in the Sermon on the Mount that the Father is fully aware of our physical needs (Matthew 6:25-32). But if we seek God and his kingdom first, God will provide us with everything we need (Matthew 6:33). And we are to pray for God’s daily provision, enough to meet the needs of each day—not too much or too little.
We can’t take this for granted. We should thank the Father in prayer for every good thing we have, because it all comes from him. He is gracious and loves to provide for his children. He is also kind to the ungrateful and the wicked (Luke 6:35). And he’s especially pleased when people sincerely thank him for what they receive from his hand.
Forgive us our debts
Debt here means the debt we owe to God because of our sins. Our debt to God was great and overwhelming, too great to pay back. We were dead in our sins and didn’t deserve to be forgiven. But the Father’s provision was abundant: Christ came and died for us that we might have life.
Of course, Jesus himself didn’t need forgiveness when he prayed this—he was sinless. But he was teaching us about forgiveness, since we all need it.
By definition forgiveness can’t be earned—it’s a gift. But God’s promise assures us that those who come to him for forgiveness will be forgiven:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9)
That’s because God is kind and loving and has graciously provided for our forgiveness through Jesus Christ his Son.
Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. (Micah 7:18)
As we also have forgiven our debtors
Jesus includes this in his prayer to the Father because if God has forgiven us, then we are obligated to forgive others. If we don’t, it shows we don’t know the forgiveness of God, and we are still unrepentant. One of Jesus’ concluding statements to this prayer was:
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. (Matthew 6:14)
Jesus confirms that the Father’s way is forgiveness, and this should be our way also. Forgiving those who have hurt us and overcoming bitterness and hate is possible through the power of the Holy Spirit.
And lead us not into temptation
What does Jesus mean by “Lead us not into temptation?” How could a good God ever lead anyone into temptation? The apostle James wrote:
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. (James 1:13-14).
God does not tempt us, but we are tempted through our own evil desires. So, what did Jesus mean? He just means that we should ask God to guide us away from situations where we would be tempted. We’re agreeing with God that sin is wrong, and we want to be on God’s side when temptation comes. We’re aligning our will with God’s, so our lives are pleasing to him. But if we hold on to our desire to sin, then we encounter temptation more readily and we fall more easily.
But deliver us from the evil one
Life is full of real danger and temptation. Our spiritual enemy, the devil, is looking for opportunities to make us fall. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told his disciples to watch and pray, that temptation didn’t overtake them (Matthew 26:41). As believers, we don’t just ask God to protect us from evil, but we play our part by watching out for evil, avoiding it, and praying for strength to resist Satan’s attacks.
In our hearts, as God’s people, we don’t want evil to overcome us. We want to be fighting on God’s side against evil and not for it. To be free from the power of evil, God’s power and protection is our only hope.
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith…. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. (1 Peter 5:8-10)
For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever
This last sentence is found only in some manuscripts. But it’s a fitting end for Jesus’ prayer to the Father—to focus on God’s rule and kingdom. God is the sovereign ruler over all the created universe. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, one that will never be diminished, and will someday be preeminent over all people.
We should always be reminded that God is the rightful owner and Lord of all creation, and that we forever owe him our praise.
Drawing near to the Father
So, this is how we should be praying. The elements of Jesus’ prayer all reflect the Father’s will. These are the priorities that God would have us focus on. Although Jesus gave this prayer as a guide, his desire was that we understand what we are praying, and that the prayer comes from our hearts.
One of the main themes of Jesus’ prayer is that God is our heavenly Father. As our Father, we are to address him respectfully as an intelligent person, like children should address their earthly fathers. If we have faith, then we can trust that God hears us when we pray. That means we don’t have to demand, shout, or repeat ourselves to make sure he hears. He loves us and wants us to know that he’s listening, just like a father hears his own children’s cries and requests.
Praying with faith and understanding
In Matthew’s account, Jesus prefaces his prayer to the Father with this teaching:
And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:7-8)
Many pagan people in the ancient world thought they could sway their gods by long repetitive prayers—the longer the better. But Jesus forbade prayer of this type. Why? Because our heavenly Father is a person, not a thing we can manipulate. And he wants us to treat him as a person, not a vending machine. And just reciting the words of a prayer doesn’t bring us to God. He desires to be addressed with love and respect, and he’s just waiting for us to ask in faith, as a young child would ask his father.
So, Jesus never intended that his prayer be repeated mechanically without any understanding. Repeating it more doesn’t make God listen more. He knows what we need—even before we ask. What he desires is our faith and love.
Do you know the Father?
Do you have a secure relationship with God? If not, you can access him through faith in Jesus Christ. Trust in Christ and turn to him in faith and he will forgive your sins and restore you to a relationship with the Father.
When you approach God through Christ, you can pray to him confidently. You can then let Jesus’ prayer to the Father guide you in your prayers, and God will begin to transform your desires and goals to those of Christ.
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