“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:
“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.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Matthew 6:7-15 (ESV)
If you have any Christian background whatsoever, you probably recognize this prayer, or some form of it. It is included in most traditional liturgies. Many families throughout the world pray this prayer together around the dinner table. It can become a thing so ingrained in one's head, that it is often spoken without much thought about its meaning. Like Jesus' warning above, we can pray this prayer as if it is an empty phrase.
The Gentiles would pray to their various idols different incantations thinking that certain words would appease the gods. They would repeat a particular phrase over and over again, thinking that with their many words, they were sure to be heard. In some cases they would speak in ecstatic tongues. Sounds would be coming out of their mouths, but there would be no clear meaning to their words. We still see practices like this today in the different pagan religions around the world. We even see the practice of ecstatic tongues in Pentecostal and Charismatic wings of the Church. Yet Jesus tells us not to pray like this.
Jesus also tells us not to pray like the hypocrites. These were people who made a big display of their prayers, showing to the world how pious they were. They were looking for the praises of men. Yet God desires us to pray in secret. This doesn't mean that we should never pray publicly, but rather that our prayers should not be used to lift ourselves up.
After giving these warnings, Jesus then teaches us how we should pray. His prayer has five focuses.
1) Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
The first focus is on God the Father and His holy name. When we enter into prayer, we should set our minds first on God and how great and mighty He is. He resides and reigns in heaven above. He is above all things and has power over all things. His name is set apart, because He is The Creator and He establishes His good and perfect will. This requires humility on our part. We must recognize our low position so we do not lift ourselves above God. Instead, we should praise His name, because there is none higher.
2) Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
The second focus is on God's kingdom and His will. Because of who God is, we should pray for His kingdom to come to us. We live in a broken kingdom, the kingdom of this world. We live in a kingdom that follows the will of man. That is why we see evil in our world today. We should ask that God's will be done instead of man's. As Christians, we live in two kingdoms at once. While Jesus has already established His kingdom, we wait for His return for its consummation. Then we shall see all things made new and perfect. Until then, we rest in the glorious hope we find in Christ's death and resurrection.
3) Give us this day our daily bread,
Jesus wants us to rely on God for our provision. Similar to the Israelites, who in the wilderness relied on mana from heaven, we too need to realize that it is God who provides all our daily needs. No prayer is too small for God. He desires that you rely on Him for even your daily meal. While there are certain pastors out there who are proclaiming that God wants you to only pray for the big things, Jesus corrects that type of thinking by including our daily bread.
4) and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
As sinners, we have incurred a great debt of sin unto God. In fact, our debt is so great that we have no way of paying it back. Instead, we put ourselves at the mercy of God, who is willing to forgive us our sins. He can do this, because Jesus took the sin of the world upon himself and suffered the wrath of God on the cross. What a wonderful Savior we have! Notice though, that Jesus adds in the line, "as we also have forgiven our debtors." As children who have been forgiven by God the Father, we should not hold any debt against those who have sinned against us. This is a hard thing to do. Often we hold people to the wrongs they have done. Yet when we understand the gospel correctly, we see that our sins against God are so much greater than any sins that have been done against us. If God can forgive us that much, how can we not forgive others when they sin against us?
5) And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Lastly, we should ask God to help us in our times of need. In this life we will face temptation to sin in many different ways. Our sinful nature desires to succumb to temptation. Only God has the power to rescue us from our wicked appetites. He does this through His Holy Spirit, who resides in Christians. Yet temptation comes not only from ourselves, but also from the world and the devil. Jesus not only took upon our sin when He went to the cross, but He defeated Satan as well. Satan does not want us to receive forgiveness, so he throws temptations our way in order to accuse us of our sin. Yet for the Christian, his accusations fall flat, because we have a mediator who paid for our sins. Jesus delivers us from the devil's attacks by reminding us that as Christians, we have been justified before God.
So this is how Jesus would have us pray. While it can be repetitive and the meaning can get lost in the back of our minds, it can also be a prayer full of meaning and power. Each day we can come to the Father in praise of His name. We can ask for His kingdom and will to come to our fallen world. We can realize that even the bread on our table is a gift from above. Daily we can remind ourselves of what Jesus did on the cross and know that our sins are forgiven. We can seek the help of our Redeemer in desperate times of need. What a great God we have and what a great prayer to pray!