Living the disciples' prayer

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, Jesus gave them a prayer. We call it the Lord’s Prayer, because it came from Jesus. Perhaps we mis-hear that name, thinking that perhaps this is a prayer that Jesus prayed. But this is not so. This prayer is one designed by Jesus for his disciples. Perhaps we should call it the Disciples’ Prayer, for it is a model prayer intended to be prayed by anyone who considers themselves to be Jesus’ disciple, including you and me.

“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 lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil”
(Matthew 6:9–13).

Today though, we’re not going to examine this as a prayer, but we’re going to examine it as pointer to a way of life. For while Jesus gave this prayer for us to pray; in praying, He always intended for us to put this prayer into action. By praying this prayer, Jesus intended for us to recognise his will for us, and thus draw on God’s power to do His will.

Let’s examine this prayer line by line.

Our Father

“Our Father” points to the fact that this prayer is designed for praying together. Jesus did not intend for his disciples to live as islands, but to live within a supportive, encouraging, faithful, praying, community of faith. We come to worship together, rejoice together, live together, pray together. 

“Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24, 25).

Our Father in heaven

Many of us have built the wrong mental model of heaven. Many of us consider heaven to be a place far away from us. But the concept of heaven described in scripture is that it is a spiritual dimension intimately connected with the physical dimension we inhabit. Take the story of the Syrian army attempting to capture the prophet Elisha. Elisha asked that God open his servant’s eyes, so that he could see the armies of God surrounding, out numbering, and out powering the Syrian armies (2 Kings 6:17). Or, take the example of Jesus, who said he could command twelve legions of angels (Matthew 26:53). Look closely throughout scripture, and you will find that the model of heaven that emerges is one that is closely connected with our physical reality. Heaven is not far removed from earth, but is here with us.

Because the heavenly, spiritual dimension is near, is intimately connected with our reality, it means that the God who resides in that spiritual dimension is also close. It means God is intimately involved with our world. He is intimately involved in world history, in shaping the direction of nations. And he is intimately involved with you. Moses described God’s care for Israel like this.

“He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye” (Deuteronomy 32:10).

God has no less care for you today. You are the apple of his eye. He is our Father, our Daddy, in heaven. He knows and cares for us intimately.

Hallowed Be Your Name

Hallowed is an old word meaning “sanctify.” This line literally reads, “Sanctify Your Name.” 

How are we to sanctify our Father? We sanctify our Father in heaven by reverencing His Name. We sanctify our Father in heaven by setting Him apart in our heart.

“Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts” (1 Peter 3:15).

By knowing that God is above and beyond all we can imagine. That while God promises to be with us, and know us intimately, that He is also distinct from us. God is far beyond us in majesty, power, scope and scale. God is the Source of Power, the Source of Life. God is the Uncaused Causer of the universe. He is the Creator. He is unique. He is pure. He is just.

The core declaration about God in scripture is known as the Shema.

“Hear, O Israel: YHWH our God, YHWH is alone” (Deuteronomy 6:4).

Alone. Unique. Separate. Sanctified. 

Remember the sentence immediately after the Shema.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5).

So setting God apart in our hearts is not only to ensure we know that He is unique in the universe, but also that we love Him with our entire being. Jesus means us to recall all this meaning when we pray, “Hallowed be your Name”.

Your kingdom come

The coming of the kingdom of heaven represents the major portion of Jesus’ preaching and teaching. Jesus was very concrete that the kingdom of God (the kingdom of heaven) was ready to break into the reality of His world (Luke 10:9, Matthew 11:9; 13:31, 32). Jesus said,

“The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed … the kingdom of God is within you [all]” (Luke 17:20, 21). 

The kingdom of God comes to this earth through the willing submission of the hearts of men and women of faith. As we believe on the name of Jesus, and pass from death to life (John 5:24), we enter the kingdom of God, submitting ourselves to his rule and his reign. When Jesus prayed “your kingdom come,” he was talking about the submission of his disciples to the power and authority of God. Jesus said,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).

And if all authority in heaven and on earth is given Him, then it is our duty to willingly, lovingly submit to his authority, enthroning Him in our hearts, as Lord of our lives. This is how God’s kingdom has been growing and spreading across this world.

Your will be done on earth

How is God’s will done on earth? Primarily through the obedient actions of his followers. We have the joy of obediently doing God’s will on earth as it is in heaven. And what is God’s will? God’s will is that none should perish (2 Peter 3:9). God’s will is that we proclaim the gospel of the kingdom of God in all nations (Matthew 24:14). God’s will is that we teach all nations to obey everything Jesus commanded us (Matthew 28:20).

“He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).

God’s will is that we protect the fatherless, we clothe the poor, we feed the hungry (Isaiah 1:17). Whatever we do to the weakest member of our society, we do to Jesus (Matthew 25:40). God’s will is that we stop sinning (Romans 8:13). God’s will is that we love one another as He has loved us (1 John 4:11, 12). God’s will is that we be productive in our knowledge of Him.

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 

“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:3–8).

Let us fulfil God’s will on earth just as it is in heaven: with rejoicing, and praise, and honour and glory. Let us be attuned to God’s will, and willingly, joyfully and productively do God’s will, every day.

Give us this day our daily bread

Now we come to the part of the prayer where we acknowledge our dependence on God. We can only do God’s will on earth as we imbibe the Bread of Life.

In the history of Israel, God fed the Israelites through a daily miracle, by giving them manna (Exodus 16). The manna was given them every day, to represent Israel’s daily dependence on God. This idea of being continuously dependent on God is repeated throughout scripture. For example, the writer of wisdom prays for daily dependence on God. 

“Give me neither poverty nor riches;
    feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you
    and say, 'Who is the Lord?'
or lest I be poor and steal
    and profane the name of my God” (Proverbs 30:8, 9).

While passing from death to life is presented as a once-in-a-lifetime event, living with God, under His rule, is characterised as one where we humbly depend on Him for continuing life, power, nourishment and guidance. Jesus says,

“I am the bread of life” (John 6:35).

We must acknowledge our complete and on-going dependence on Jesus for life, for forgiveness, and for deliverance from evil.

Forgive us our debts

The forgiveness of “our debts” (Matthew 6:12) or “our sins” (Luke 11:4) is here represented as something for which we have an on-going dependence on God. 

In scripture, Jesus is named as the solution for sin.

“You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

And this solution occurred through his death and resurrection.

“Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3).

Jesus died for our sins, as well as the sins of the entire world.

“He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2).

And when we pass from death to life, we no longer come under judgment, because all our sins are forgiven.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24).

And this being set free from sin is presented as a once-in-a-lifetime event.

“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin” (Romans 6:4–7).

So, if it is a once-in-a-lifetime event, why is Jesus here presenting the forgiveness of sins as something for which we have continuing dependence on God? There are probably many reasons. Here are two.

Firstly, God’s forgiveness of sin is provided in the person and body of Jesus Christ. Whomever is intimately connected with Jesus Christ has access to that forgiveness (John 15:5). Anyone separate from Jesus Christ does not benefit from that forgiveness (John 15:6). Therefore, forgiveness of sin is not something that accrues to us outside of Jesus, but is completely tied to our on-going participation in the life of Jesus.

“God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:11–12).

Secondly, God wants to remind us of our release from the debt of sin so that we will have the humility to forgive others when they do wrong to us. Which leads us to the next section of the prayer. 

As we have forgiven our debtors

Perhaps the greatest characteristic that Jesus wants of us, is for us to share the grace which we have received from God, reflecting that grace to those around us. The forgiven servant is the servant who is forgiving. For forgiveness is one of the identifying marks of God, and it is an identifying mark of those who are His disciples. If we have understood the grace God extended towards us, it changes our heart, allowing us to extend that same grace to those around us. This too is God’s will on earth.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil

This line is also a classic expression of our dependence on God. It pictures us faithfully walking the path that God has set out for us. It acknowledges that God has the capacity to lead us where He wills. It acknowledges that God has the right to lead us into evil; and that He has the right to lead us into good. It acknowledges that we are clay in God’s hand, willing to be shaped by Him however He wishes to shape us.

“But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:8).

“Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honourable use and another for dishonourable use?” (Romans 9:21).

This acknowledgment exudes absolute trust in the goodness of God towards us. It is a fitting summary of the prayer, for it encapsulates all the thoughts of the prayer given thus far. 

For this dependence is given to One with whom we are intimate, and Who is intimate toward us. He is set apart in our hearts, acknowledging that He is unique and special and Lord of all of our lives. We acknowledge that we come under His rule and authority, and stand ready to productively and joyfully execute His will wherever we find ourselves. We are thoroughly dependent on Him for daily sustenance, and acknowledge our complete dependence on Him for Life. Our ultimate destiny is in His hand. And we trust Him completely, to the uttermost, with that destiny. This is what it means to live the Lord’s Prayer.