Scripture tells us that believers are to “pray without ceasing.” Yet many Christians recognize that their prayer lives are not what they would like them to be.
So how are we to pray?
Thankfully we aren’t left without an answer to that vital question. Jesus taught His disciples how they were to pray, and this model prayer — commonly known as the Lord’s Prayer — provides guidance to improve our prayer lives.
In this sermon on Matthew 6:9-13 we’ll examine and apply each element of the Lord’s Prayer and see how we can use it as a model for our own prayers.
This passage is commonly referred to as “the Lord’s Prayer” – it likely even says that in bold print above this passage in your Bible.
But I agree with a number of commentators when they say that it would be more helpful to speak of this as “the disciple’s prayer,” because the Lord Jesus Christ is teaching His followers how they ought to pray and giving them a model to use. He does not say “pray this” but rather “pray then like this.”
We want a robust prayer life, and who better to look to than to Jesus Himself to learn how to have one? By following the pattern set forth in Matthew 6:9-13 we can give greater attention to the content of our prayers and ensure that we are not falling into the rut of going to the Lord in prayer with a list of wants and needs and nothing else.
You’ll notice that I will use the words like “model” and “pattern” in talking about this passage. I do not believe that Jesus gave us this prayer to repeat unthinkingly or to be recited word-for-word without variation. He’s more so teaching us how to pray than what to pray.
We aren’t to simply repeat these verses and be done with them; rather, as Puritan Thomas Brooks rightly said, “The Lord’s prayer is given us as a directory for prayer, a pattern and an example, by which we are to regulate our petitions, and make other prayers.”
And so as we go through this prayer together we will consider what each portion of it means and see how they ought to shape and inform our own prayers.
As Christians, viewing God as our heavenly Father is something that we are very familiar with and say often – perhaps so familiar that the full weight of this is sometimes lost on us.
In the Old Testament God is rarely referred to as Father – It only happens 14 times in all of the OT, and in each case it is in reference to Him being the Father of the nation of Israel; it is not used in reference to individuals having God as their Father.
But “Father” is almost exclusively how Jesus addresses God – 60 times in the Gospels. With maybe one exception all of Jesus’ prayers begin this way. And this is how He instructs us to address God as well!
Think of how remarkable this is. The way in which we should approach the thrice-holy Creator of the universe is as a Father. Rather than being under His wrath as our judge, we can, as the Westminster Larger Catechism teaches, “to draw near to God with confidence of his fatherly goodness.”
That is a wonderful summary of our relationship with God.
To have God as your Father you must have Christ as your Savior, of whom the apostle John wrote “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
When you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you have the unmatchable privilege of approaching God not as a fierce judge, but as a loving Father. Never forget that, Christian.
And it is this fact that shapes all that is to follow in this pattern of prayer – the desire for His glory, the pursuit of obedience, the confidence in bringing requests, the confession, and seeking His guidance and rescue from temptation.
So go to God in prayer. Approach Him as He is – a loving, gracious, and kind Father.
Having established that we are able to approach God as our Father, we are reminded He is our Father in heaven – As we read in Psalm 109, “The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.”
This reminder serves to prevent us from seeing the intimate relationship we enjoy with God as a license to approach Him flippantly without the reverence due His name. He is our heavenly Father – He is God.
Since God is our heavenly Father, perfectly sovereign over all things, with all the resources of heaven and earth at His disposal, we can be confident that He not only cares about us and the things that we need but that He is able to provide what we need.
(Of course what we think we need and what God knows we need are not always synonymous, but we can be sure that He will always give us what is needed, when it is needed, in order for Him to do His work in and through us.)
So as you begin your prayers it is important that you rightly understand who it is that you are addressing. With God as your Father, you can approach Him with confidence that you will be warmly received and attended to, as an earthly father delights in speaking with his child.
And so we take our requests to Him directly. Let’s look at these 5 requests, or petitions, that Jesus gives to serve as a model for our own:
Al Mohler pointed out something interesting here in his sermon on this passage. Many of us in reciting the Lord’s prayer naturally revert to the 1600s English of the King James: “Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed by thy name.”
Our modern translations swap which for who and art for is and the thy’s for your’s but nearly all of them retain the word “hallowed.”
Why? Because there really isn’t another word in the English language that means quite the same thing as “hallowed.” Hallowed means to be revered, to be set apart, to be magnified as holy.
Note that this is not simply an acknowledgement of fact; It is not saying “Our Father in heaven, your name is holy.”
No; it is a request! “Our Father in heaven, make your name great!” This is a constant theme of Scripture:
- Psalm 34:3 “Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!”
- 1 Chronicles 16:28-29 “Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name”
- Psalm 69:30-31 “I will praise the name of God with song and magnify Him with thanksgiving.”
- Paul wrote in Romans 1:5 “whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations”
To hallow the name of God is to revere it, to declare His holy perfection, and to make His name known among the nations. It is to ascribe to Him the glory due Him, for He is God.
It is, of course, quite unreasonable to think that we can pray such a thing only with the hope that others go about the work of magnifying the name of the Lord in word and deed.
To pray this in earnest is to request that God do His work through us to make His name great, to draw others to Himself, with the ultimate goal of furthering His kingdom. Which is exactly what we see in the next petition.
While God is on His throne and Christ has defeated sin and death, there is a sense in which we still long for His kingdom to come – we live in a fallen world, are not yet removed from the presence and effects of sin, and Satan is not yet fully defeated as he will be in the last day.
To pray that God’s kingdom would come includes a number of important aspects.
One, the coming of God’s kingdom is to seek the advancement of His “kingdom of grace,” as the Westminster confession puts it. It is to seek the expansion of the Gospel and pray that more and more people would be brought into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
Jesus, in teaching His followers about the end of all things, said “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
This end comes at Christ’s return. This is the 2nd aspect we pray for – we pray that Christ would hasten His return, when He will set all things right, destroy Satan, and bring all of His followers into eternal, glorified fellowship with Himself.
When we pray “your kingdom come” the third aspect is that we pray that Satan’s reign over this fallen world would come to an end. 1 John 3:8 makes plain that this is what Christ ultimately came to do: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”
We pray that this destruction would come.
As Christians we recognize that redemptive history culminates in Christ’s triumphal return and in His final defeat of sin and Satan, and we as Christians are to pray to that end.
That God would perform all His holy will on earth as He does in heaven is to pray that we would be as eager to perform what pleases God as the angels in heaven are to eternally proclaim “Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty, the whole earth is full of His glory!”
J C Ryle explains that…
We here pray that God’s laws may be obeyed by men as perfectly, readily and unceasingly as they are by angels in heaven. We ask that those who do not obey his laws now may be taught to obey them, and that those who do obey them may obey them better. Our truest happiness is perfect submission to God’s will, and it is the purest love to pray that all mankind may know it, obey it and submit to it.
Again, we dare not be so foolish as to pray that others would do the will of God our Father without first praying earnestly that we ourselves would do so.
Do we desire this in all the world? Yes, absolutely. But we pray first and foremost that this would be true in us.
This is a difficult thing to pray. A humbling thing to pray. For we know how often we attempt to hide areas of secret sins, ambitions, and desires in the corners of our souls hoping that God will allow us to keep them from Him.
Let us take the correction from this passage and be reminded that we are to be seeking to conform God’s will in every area of life. This will greatly impact how we pray.
As we pray that our chief aim is not to convince God to do our will, but that God would bring about His will through us.
Do you approach the throne of grace with such a heart attitude? If you desire for your prayers to become more than merely a wish list that you bring to your maker, reorient your petitions to focus on God’s will and not your own.
To pray rightly that God would accomplish His will means we need to know what the will of God is. The will of God is revealed in the Word of God. So we pray that God would make known His will to us as we study Scripture; that He would by His Spirit overcome the weakness and sinfulness which remains in us; that He would give us what is needed to accomplish what He has called us to do in this life.
But does this mean that we should not bring “small” requests before God? That we should not make the desires of our heart known to Him? By no means; let’s look to the 2nd petition.
To go to God with our prayer requests is to acknowledge the truth that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.”
Can we be confident in bringing our petitions before God? Yes! Remember, He is our Father. As Jesus reminded His followers:
…which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11)
It is very significant that the example here is for daily bread. This is asking God for what is needed, when it is needed. Just as God provided manna in the wilderness for Israel each day, so too do we rely on God for our sustenance each and every day.
Living in a place of abundance and prosperity can cause us to forget that we are completely dependent on God for every breath, much more for every meal.
So does this mean that we dare not pray for something that we cannot point to chapter and verse for to know for certain that it is within God’s will? No, I don’t think this means that at all.
Philippians 4:6: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
So if something is weighing on your heart, you are anxious about anything, pray about it!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!
The key to growing in your prayers and ensuring that you do not ask for things “wrongly, to spend it on your passions,” as James 4 says, is to be in the Word of God so you are continually being conformed to the will of God.
So yes, pray for your studying before a test to pay off, for a job interview to go well, for your sick child to be able to sleep through the night, for God to give you wisdom for a big decision, or just about anything else.
As finite creatures we do not always know what the Creator’s will is on a matter, and so we make our requests known to God. And, knowing that He is a good and gracious Father, we are content that whatever He provides for us is exactly what is most needed.
In bringing our needs before God we acknowledge that everything we have comes from Him, that we are dependent on His grace each and every day, and our hearts are more inclined to respond in thanksgiving for all that we have.
And we recognize that we have many needs that are not material. Let’s look at the 3rd petition:
When we are instructed to pray that God would forgive us our debts, we are of course referring to our debt of sin. We cannot satisfy this great debt on our own; it must be forgiven.
So let me make clear that, yes, when you are in Christ all of your past, present, and future sins have been forgiven and you are declared righteous in God’s sight. “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).
And if after we responded to the Gospel in repentance and faith we were immediately called up to be with Him in glory that would be the end of it. However, as we remain here in this fallen world we will continue to struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. We will sin.
Thankfully our salvation in Christ is secure; we did not earn it and so we cannot lose it. Jesus is holding onto us and not the other way around – which is great news! As John MacArthur has said, “If you could lose your salvation, you would.”
But just because our salvation is secure does not mean that we respond to sin with a shrug. No! Out of a heart of obedience and a love for God we seek to live for Him all the more, and when we fall short we do not think of our sin lightly.
Since we have God as our Father we do not want anything to distance us from Him – and so when we sin (and we all sin), we repent; we ask God to forgive us our debts.
1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Moreover, we see that we are to forgive our debtors, those who have done some sort of offense against us. To be clear, we do not gain God’s forgiveness because we are forgiving people.
Rather, as followers of Jesus Christ and as sons and daughters of the most high God, we are to show towards others the same grace that we have been shown.
Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
John Stott helps us to make this relationship clear:
Once our eyes have been opened to see the enormity of our offense against God, the injuries which others have done to us appear by comparison extremely trifling. If, on the other hand, we have an exaggerated view of the offenses of others, it proves that we have minimized our own
When we pray we start with a recognition of who God is. This in turn sets us to see ourselves rightly, as undeserving recipients of His grace. And so we come to Him in confession daily, acknowledging our failure to live by His commands, seeking forgiveness, and praying for the Spirit to work in and through us to develop a heart of steadfast obedience.
And of course there are times when we need to seek forgiveness from God and when we need to seek it from others. So often we are weak and fail to fight against sin as we ought. And so we have a 5th petition that we are to bring regularly before God:
Your first question here might be this: Does God ever lead us into temptation? Does it make sense that we would pray that He would refrain from doing so?
James 1:13 is quite clear on this: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.”
The prayer here is not, “Lord, do not tempt me.” Rather, it is that we would not be allowed to get into situations where we would be unable to overcome the temptations that we face.
The fact that God Himself does not tempt us does not mean that He always keeps us out of any and every situation where we may have to test the strength of our faith and our commitment to Jesus Christ by saying “no” to temptations in this life.
Temptation in this sense speaks more to the tests and trials of life which God allows us to experience, where we have to actively resist desires – either internal or external – to sin. Such victory over temptation is often what strengthens us in our walk with Christ.
So the meaning of this prayer is more in line with “let us not succumb to temptation.” Guide us away from situations where we are too weak to resist the temptations of this life.
Such a prayer lines up with what we read in 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
We face temptations each and every day – multiple times a day. God allows us to be in situations that test our faith, whereby we are strengthened, while Satan tempts us to sin by presenting desirable bait and hiding the hook.
The line “deliver us from evil” is said by many commentators to indicate “the evil one” – as in Satan – rather than just evil in a general sense. We know that the devil prowls around as a roaring line, seeking whom he may devour. And so, alert to our danger and our need for divine protection, we go to God in prayer.
We pray that God, who guides all our steps, would keep us from places and situations where we would face great temptation. We pray also that He would deliver us from evil, so that we would not give in to what our flesh so often desires.
So we pray that God would keep us from situations where we would encounter temptation and, when temptations do come, that He would enable us to flee from evil – that we would be delivered from it – and not fall into victim to the snares of the devil.
As Christians we must recognize that to have God as your Father is to have Satan as your enemy. We dare not walk through this life unaware of the spiritual danger that we are in. We need to be in continuous prayer, seeking God’s help to avoid and withstand temptation.
Many modern translations the prayer ends here in verse 13 with “deliver us from evil.” Meanwhile, many of your are familiar with the more traditional ending “for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.”
Well, no, we aren’t saving that part for next week’s sermon. The simple reason why the Bible you might have in your lap right now does not have that part of the verse is that the oldest and best manuscripts – the ones closest to the original writings – don’t include this phrase.
There is certainly nothing in that closing statement that is untrue. Some early texts of the church do include this ending – such as the Didache which comes to us from about the first or second century.
The reason you may not find it in your Bible is that the translators saw the wisest approach was to keep this part of the verse retained in a footnote and not in the main text.
Despite this textual issue I am confident that we can certainly affirm that the kingdom, power, and glory do indeed belong to God now and for all eternity – even if these truths come to us from other passages.
So having seen the importance of each of these elements of this prayer, I suggest to you again that we are to use this as a model for our own prayers. However, we should memorize the “Lord’s Prayer,” not to be merely repeated without variation, but so that we can readily utilize it as a framework for our own prayers.
When we do so we will find that our prayer lives become richer, deeper, and more meaningful. No longer will we feel that we go to God in prayer only when we have an urgent need, but rather we will spend time communing with Him – declaring His worthiness, seeking His glory, desiring His will, confessing our sin, making our requests known to Him, and expressing our neediness for His constant provision and protection.
Let me encourage you to use this model of prayer – take intentional time this week to walk through each verse or phrase and rework it into your own prayer, specific to your own needs.
When we do anything in the manner that Jesus prescribes we can be sure that we will not be disappointed with the results.
Praying the Bible
By Don Whitney
Offering readers hope, encouragement, and the practical advice they’re looking for, this concise book by professor Donald Whitney outlines a simple, time-tested method that can help transform our prayer lives: praying the words of the Bible.