5

7“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. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11Give us this day our daily bread, 12and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. ESV

In this excerpt from the Sermon on The Mount, Jesus exhorts his listeners to pray in a certain way. His words have been variously interpreted as an instruction to pray the particular words of the "Lord's Prayer" or to use it as a template. Which was Jesus intention for his listeners?

If neither is perfectly right then what exactly did he mean?

  • John 14:13 Jesus said "ask in my name" but in Lord's Prayer does not have Jesus name at all, So i would say it is just a template which we need to follow when praying. But on it own it is perfect becuase it encompass all things. – shakAttack Sep 21 '14 at 21:38
  • Is "Our Father in heaven" not asking in Jesus name? – James Shewey Sep 24 '14 at 20:17
  • @JamesShewey How would that be asking in Jesus' name? – user10231 Apr 19 '16 at 23:37
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  1. The Heart

    Any understanding of this instruction must take account of the logic of Matthew 5:1-6:6 - which is all about the heart.

    For example when Jesus speaks about adultery in Matthew 5:

    27“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. ESV

    ... he is not replacing one law ("You shall not commit adultery") with another ("You shall not look at a woman with lustful intent"), but correcting a legalistic, external interpretation of the law against adultery. He insists it must be applied to the heart - it is the lustful intent that breaks the law, not the adulterous action.

    Jesus has already decried the "hypocrites" (a word commonly used of actors on the Greek stage - the defining characteristic is that the outside behaviour is not an accurate reflection of the internal heart attitude). He has condemned false motives behind giving:

    6:1“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

    2“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. ESV

    ... and behind praying:

    5“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. ESV

    The condemnation here is not limited specifically to those who do 'good' in order to 'be seen by others' - all false motives are in view. We are being directed into a correct understanding of the entire law of God by means of a representative selection of examples in the sermon. In each case the listener is directed inwards, to the inclination of the heart, and away from the external form or behaviour.

  2. Praying correctly

    • It would therefore be perverse to interpret this command about the manner of praying to be a formula or template of any sort about the actual words or external manner of praying
    • Instead we must interpret the command "Pray then like this:" to be applied to the heart
    • Therefore the words of the prayer and the verses about prayer preceding (Matthew 6:5-8) must mean something like this:

      • 5“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. 6But 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. ESV

        The intention should be to receive from God not to receive from man.

      • 7“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. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. ESV

        The intention should be neither to persuade God to listen, nor to tell God something He does not already know, ...

      • 9Pray then like this:

        “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11Give us this day our daily bread, 12and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

        14For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. ESV

        ... but to pray with understanding of who is being addressed, the extent of His control, the debt owed to Him and the heart He desires in His followers.

  3. Conclusion

    If your heart is right then your prayer is righteous - no matter the words or external form of your prayer, or even if there are no words at all.

    The form and words of prayer will inevitably follow from heart-righteous understanding of the law, but it is vital not to let the cart go before the horse. The heart is what matters - the form merely evidences what lies beneath it can be a mask.

  • 1
    Great answer, Jack. Jesus' model prayer for his disciples is more of a paradigm than a pattern or template. From its first word, OUR, which indicates that prayer is a link to God for ALL Christians in the community of faith, to the last word, amen, which says in effect "according to Your will, not ours" (AMEN meaning "so be it," or "may it be thus"). A frequently heard expression in Christian circles today is "It's not about you." It's all about GOD: His character, His will, His word, His forgiveness, His enabling power, and His inherent right to reign and to rule, now and forever. Don – rhetorician Sep 22 '14 at 12:17
  • I think this great answer also helps to dispel shakAttack's criticism. Pray in my name means not to say Jesus name specifically, but rather not to pray in the name of another. Therefore the INTENT is to pray to Jesus, not an Idol or false god. – James Shewey Sep 24 '14 at 20:16
2

Rather than the difference arising from Matthew 6:9 alone, I think the difference in understanding is the result of people being familiar with Matthew's version over Luke's or vice versa.

Matt 6:9 (KJV) After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven...

Luke 11:2 (KJV) And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven...

Going just by Matthew you would take it to be a template or model.

Going just by Luke you would take it to be a form to be prayed in those exact words.

Combining the two together, you would take it that both are allowable and advisable.

There's no reason to suppose that Jesus meant one over the other rather than both. After all, Jesus himself is found praying in the gospels using different words than those.

Yet he apparently taught this same prayer on two different occasions: In Luke it is in response to the disciples asking him to teach them how to pray. In Matthew it is part of the Sermon on the Mount. It is quite likely, therefore, that on one occasion he said "Pray like this" and on the other "When you pray, say." And if the giving of the prayer to the disciples in response to their request to learn to pray were the earlier occasion, it would make sense that he might have them pray those exact words (since they were novices in prayer). But later, when they were more familiar with prayer, he might teach "pray like this" meaning that they should now begin to compose their own prayers on this model.

And the disciples are found praying in different words in Acts. So obviously they didn't interpret it as meaning that one must always use those exact words. But it would be absurd to suggest that one should never use those exact words. Just because something is a model or template doesn't mean you always have to deviate from the template and can never use the template as is.

As to the prayer being a model, it can be interpreted that Jesus is trying to get them to use chiastic structure in their prayers (at least in those manuscripts of Matthew that include the doxology). Since it follow the structure:

(1) Praise of God (Our father in heaven, hallowed be thy name)

(2) Spiritual requests (thy kingdom come, thy will be done...)

(3) Physical requests (give us this day our daily bread)

(2) Spiritual requests (forgive us our sins...lead us not into temptation...)

(1) Praise of God (For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.)

  • Good answers, both your's and Jack's. The heart condition of prayer is the main concern, but Jesus also offers them a 'template'(in this manner) to assist them. – Tau Sep 26 '14 at 8:25

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