Should Christians say the Lord’s Prayer?

“Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is 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 do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’”

Matthew 6:9–13

In high school, I played basketball. Well, technically, I watched basketball, but that’s a different story. Before every game we would say the Lord’s prayer. Me and my friends, though, wouldn’t say it quite like everyone else.

“Thy kingdom came. Thy will be done…”

We were taught that the kingdom of God had already arrived with power, so it was unscriptural to pray the Lord’s prayer.

Now, I believe that the kingdom has come as Jesus promised it would within that generation (Luke 21:31-32). But I also believe that praying the Lord’s Prayer is fine, and even good, for Christians to do.

This article is all about why! Feel free to skip to the last section.

Why do we pray?

And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.

Matthew 6:7–8

If God knows what we need before we even ask Him, what is the purpose of prayer? Birds don’t pray, as far as we know, and God provides for them. The lilies of the field don’t pray, and God provides for them. So, what is the purpose of prayer?

Before this question is answered, we have to see how it is coming from an incorrect presupposition concerning prayer. The presupposition is that prayer is a shopping list that we give God to fulfill, but a shopping list is for someone who is forgetful and needs some sort of direction. I don’t believe that God needs anything like that to know what our needs are.

James said, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:3). A lot of prayer can be very selfish, even if we don’t realize it automatically. Here’s an example: let’s say a hurricane is coming for your state. You pray and pray for it to miss, and it does. In fact, it goes right around Florida and slams into New Orleans, Louisiana and 1,833 people die and 850,000 homes are destroyed.

Meteorological history of Hurricane Katrina - Wikipedia

Are we conscious of what would happen if God answered every prayer we had or if prayer worked like that? It would be like that one scene in Bruce Almighty where there is mass chaos in the streets.

So, if that isn’t the purpose of prayer, then what is it?

Prayer is beneficial in that it teaches us to rely on God, it is a way to thank God and praise Him for what He has done in our lives, it is a way for believers to come together as a community and support one another, and it is a call to action on our part. There are other reasons, and some traditions would take or add a lot to this list, but these have been the most helpful to me in my life.

The Lord’s Prayer Line by Line

“Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is 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 do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’”

Matthew 6:9–13

Before we begin, read the prayer again. Notice that it starts and ends with praise for God. Pay attention to need for action on part of the one praying. And notice the peculiar absence of a shopping list style section of the prayer.

This is not going to be exhaustive, but I just want to point out some of the parts that stand out to me.

Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.

Notice the pronoun “our.” Praying this prayer in the first century church would dissolve any divisions based on race and nationality. Regardless of where one is from, the pronoun “our” reminds those who are praying that all come from one God (Acts 17:28-29).

Your kingdom come.

Objectively speaking, the kingdom of God did come in the first century before some of Jesus’ disciples died (Matthew 16:27-28). Jesus and John the Baptist had both preached that the kingdom of God was at hand (Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:15). So, I believe that it was at hand and that it did arrive on time, but I believe also that the kingdom of God is heavenly and has more to do with the way that one lives than an institution that has a mailing address.

Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.

In this instance, God’s will is related to the arrival of the kingdom. The expression “on earth as it is in heaven” is found later in the gospel account in Matthew 16:17-19. In that passage, Peter is told that he was given the keys of the kingdom of Heaven and “whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” So, God’s will would be brought about through Peter and the apostles, the key bearers.

Give us this day our daily bread.

While this has the appearance of the shopping-list style prayer, it is actually a statement of trust in God. The idea of daily bread comes from the Exodus story in which God would literally give the people bread from Heaven, called manna, on a daily basis. On Friday, they would be given a double helping to hold them over so that they didn’t have to work on the Sabbath.

The expression daily bread also indicates the income of the people to whom Jesus taught this prayer. We don’t have daily bread in many of our cultures; we buy bread for the whole week. This prayer suggests that they didn’t know exactly where they would get their next meal, but it would be a gift from God.

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Forgiving debts is another Old Testament reference. Debts were forgiven every seven years in Israel.

At the end of every seven years you shall grant a remission of debts. This is the manner of remission: every creditor shall release what he has loaned to his neighbor; he shall not exact it of his neighbor and his brother, because the LORD’S remission has been proclaimed. From a foreigner you may exact it, but your hand shall release whatever of yours is with your brother.

Deuteronomy 15:1–3

They were to pray for God to forgive them of their debts (in terms of sin) as they forgave others that wronged them. At the same time, however, this would relate to their practice of debt forgiveness on the seventh year. In the Old Testament, Israel had gone 490 years without practicing the land sabbath and Chronicles says that it was the reason for their seventy-year exile (2 Chronicles 36:20-21). Being part of the new community that Jesus was forming prior to the fulfillment of the Law meant keeping “the least of these commandments” (Matthew 5:19-20).

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

The word temptation here can also be translated trial or test. This part of the prayer is a recognition on the disciples behalf of their own vulnerability. You could reword it, “Lord, spare me from any trials, but if I enter them, please be with me through them.”

For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

We end again with a passage of praise. The entire prayer begins and ends with praise for God. It is not a self-centered prayer at all like many of ours can be.

One More Point…

Notice how most lines are a call to action. Saying “our Father” calls you to look at the world differently. Praying for God’s kingdom to come would mean that they needed to seek it (Matthew 6:33). Asking for God’s will to be done leads us to finding ways to bring God’s will about in our own lives. Our debts being forgiven is contingent upon our willingness to forgive debts.

Our prayers should always be this way. If you pray for someone, try to take it a step further and see what ways you can fulfill the request. If you pray that someone gets a hot meal, get in the kitchen!

Is Praying the Lord’s Prayer Vain Repetition?

No, but it can be. I have told Laura I love her thousands upon thousand of times, but none of those were said in vain. Any prayer or line we use in prayer can be said insincerely, but just because we use certain lines in all of our prayers doesn’t make it bad. There are some people who use the same phrases in every prayer they give, but they say the prayers in full sincerity.

Should We Pray this Prayer Today?

There are two lines in the prayer that may cause one to hesitate praying this prayer: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” If you are uncomfortable with this, then change the words or don’t pray the prayer at all. After all, Jesus did say, “Pray, then, in this way…” indicating that this prayer is simply a model.

Allow me, however, to offer a reason or two why this prayer is okay to pray today. When the kingdom came, were Native Americans aware of its arrival? Have you always been aware that the kingdom has already come, and have you always understood what that means? Probably not, right? So, while it has arrived objectively, it has not arrived subjectively for everyone. In other words, they are not aware that the kingdom of God is now present, so they will not be able to live as if the kingdom of God is present. So, praying for God’s kingdom to come could be looked at as a desire for more people to become aware that God is reigning. It could also be seen as a prayer that the blessings of the kingdom become more obvious to you in your own life.

Furthermore, what is God’s will? “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3–4). Would you like to see that happen in your lifetime? What if everyone accepted the gospel? Sure, it probably won’t happen, but what if it did? What would the world look like? So, why wouldn’t I pray for God’s will to be done?

Matthew 6:33 also says that we are to seek God’s reign and God’s justice. Most Old Testament prophets were concerned with how the widows, the fatherless, and the poor were taken care of. Amos, for instance, spoke of great judgments that were coming upon those who “turn justice into wormwood and cast righteousness down to the earth” (Amos 5:7)

Therefore because you impose heavy rent on the poor And exact a tribute of grain from them, Though you have built houses of well-hewn stone, Yet you will not live in them; You have planted pleasant vineyards, yet you will not drink their wine. For I know your transgressions are many and your sins are great, You who distress the righteous and accept bribes And turn aside the poor in the gate.

Amos 5:11-12

Didn’t these people “earn” these things? Didn’t they “deserve” their houses and pleasant vineyards? NO. Because after taking care of their immediate needs, they should have taken care of those who didn’t have the opportunities they had. James, too, cried out against the rich who were not being fair with wages:

Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.

James 5:4

Good thing nothing like that happens today since the kingdom has already come!

Christians should still seek that more come to know God’s reign, that the poor and unfortunate are take care of (God’s justice,) and that we come to know more about the kingdom which is already present. So we pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven” with the understanding that God is still the God of the oppressed and that He still hears those that call out to Him for justice. We pray this because the arrival of the kingdom was an end, but it was also a beginning, and the leaves of the tree of life were given for the healing of the nations!

I understand that this is not the original intention of the prayer. I get it. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t pray the prayer with a different meaning in mind. The majority of the prayer should be prayed. Saying “our Father” or “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” are good things to pray. Who doesn’t need to be reminded that God is our father regardless of our race or that we should forgive as God forgives? Again, I get it if you can’t pray this prayer, but I don’t think it is inherently bad, and hopefully you will be less judgmental towards those who find saying this prayer helpful to themselves.

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