It was actually a shocking question that the disciples asked of Jesus – “teach us to pray” (Luke 11:2). These guys had been around prayer all their lives. They sat every week in synagogue hearing prayers offered. But there was something about the way Jesus prayed that was compelling. There was something that went beyond the robotic recitation of words that stirred them to ask such a question. Jesus’ prayers seemed personal and intimate. They wanted to know that same kind of intimacy. So they asked. Jesus’ answer has come to be known as “The Lord’s Prayer,” recited weekly in many churches throughout the world for centuries. But I don’t believe that is what Jesus intended – another rote memorization of words – when He told His disciples:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:9-10, ESV)
Yes, I know there is more but I wanted to focus on this first part of the prayer because it provides for us a glimpse into Jesus’ prayer priorities and serves as a model for ours.
There are three significant aspects to the way Jesus begins this prayer. First, He starts by addressing “our Father.” It was a relationship name. It was a way of connecting personally and intimately with this great God we worship. It makes Him approachable and welcoming. Jesus does not call Him “God”, “Almighty” or “Big Guy in the sky.” Jesus speaks to the one He knows as Father and in that moment transforms what could be a formal and cold prayer into a conversation with a loved one. So also for us, do we consider our prayers as addressing a cold deity, an impersonal wish giver or a loving parent who loves to converse with us?
And yet in the same breath, Jesus says, “hallowed.” This word means “separate.” It comes from the root word for holy. While Jesus invokes a close, intimate relationship with the Father, He also acknowledges that He is addressing someone who is totally separate from the world and us. He is, in fact, beyond us, different from us, exalted above… He is both a God who is close at hand and yet a God who lofty and glorious. While we approach Him as little children, we also approach Him with reverence and awe. We should not be so cozy with Him that we become discourteous or impolite.
Finally, before He asks for any needs, He asks that the Father’s will be done. He shifts the focus from us to the Father and to His priorities. Jesus said that He only does what He sees the Father doing. So here is where we start our petition. “Father, what are you doing, what do want to do with me?” “What is happening in heaven right now that You want to bring down to earth?” This line of thinking could radically change the scope of our prayers from a laundry list of needs to a powerful fulfillment of God’s will in our lives and the lives of those around us. Jesus was encouraging us to actively participate in the establishment of God’s supremacy here on earth to the same extent it exists in heaven. His kingship revealed in our lives.
So, I have two simple suggestions. First, the next time you are asked to recite the “Lord’s Prayer,” stop and think about what you are really saying and who you are addressing. Second, when you consider your own prayer life, start the same way Jesus did – with His priorities, not just the words. Remember you are talking to a real, caring, close person – some who wants to have a conversation with you, not someone who wants to hear you rattle off a list. Remember that He is still God and approach Him with awe. And that sets us up to spend some time focusing on what He wants to do, what is He saying to you, what is His will. Instead of a one way monologue, we are actually calling down heaven – His sovereignty – to show up here in our lives. These three priorities – intimacy, reverence and kingdom-focus form the basis of Jesus’ prayer model for us. As we center our prayer life on these same priorities, our Christian walk will be transformed and our relationship with our Father will be enriched.