Teach Us to Pray

“Lord, teach us to pray.” —Luke 11:1

THE servants of God in every age have been men of prayer. This was particularly true of Jesus, who was in the habit of communing often and long with his Heavenly Father. The Old Testament record discloses that the prophets and other outstanding servants of God during past ages had also learned the value and necessity of prayer. Jesus’ disciples seemed to be greatly impressed with the prayer life of their Master. They probably noted to some extent the strength and encouragement which he received through prayer, and for this reason felt that they too would benefit if they were able to follow his example. Hence the request, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

It was in response to this request that Jesus gave that well-known and much repeated petition which is so familiarly known as “The Lord’s Prayer.” We are not to suppose that he expected his followers always to use the exact words of this prayer. It is, rather, a compilation of the essential elements of acceptable Christian prayer. It deals with fundamentals which should be taken to the throne of heavenly grace, and presents them in the order of their importance.

On another occasion Jesus said to his disciples that those who abide in him and in whom his words abide, may ask what they will of the Father, and it shall be granted to them. (John 15:7) It is reasonable to believe that his words include this outline of prayer, which means that only if our petitions are in keeping with the fundamentals of prayer suggested by him may we expect them to be answered favorably.

“Our Father”

The opening salutation of the prayer expresses a thought which was new to the disciples. It addresses God as Father—“Our Father which art in heaven.” To the natural house of Israel the Creator was the great Jehovah God, the “I Am” of the universe, and they were merely his servants. Christians also are servants, but in addition to this they have received the spirit of sonship, and are privileged to address the Creator as “Abba, Father.”—Rom. 8:15

Truly this is an intimate relationship, and when in prayer we come to God as “our Father,” it conjures up before our minds assuring thoughts of God’s tender love and genuine interest in us as children—members of the divine family. But we are not to presume upon the dignity of God simply because we have been invited to become members of his family. His name is to be cherished and reverenced at all times, especially in prayer. We are reminded of this in the Lord’s prayer by the further words of salutation, “Hallowed be thy name.”

The glory of God’s name should be the uppermost thought in connection with all of our petitions. Whether in prayer, or in word, or in deed, the Christian’s first consideration always should be the glory of God. If in our prayers we are seeking chiefly our own interests rather than the glory of God, there is little likelihood that our praying will receive serious consideration in heaven.

We find examples of prayer in the Old Testament in which the glory of God was made the point of chief consideration. In one of Moses’ appeals on behalf of Israel—a prayer in which he pleaded with God not to blot this rebellious people out of existence, but to preserve them—his chief consideration was not so much the salvation of Israel as it was the glory of God. His words were, “Lest the land whence thou broughtest us out say, Because the Lord was not able to bring them into the land which he promised them, and because he hated them, he hath brought them out to slay them in the wilderness.” (Deut. 9:28) As Moses viewed the matter, if God destroyed the Israelites after bringing them out of Egypt, it would reflect against the divine character and name. Thus in this prayer we find an application of the same principle later set forth in the words, “Hallowed be thy name.”

Another interesting example of considering the glory of God in prayer is in Joshua’s plea in connection with the defeat of the Israelites who attempted to capture the city of Ai. Joshua asked God for direction and assistance in order that this defeat might in some way be turned into a victory. The important issue was the glory of God—“What wilt thou do unto thy great name?” (Josh. 7:9) To Joshua, it seemed inevitable that if God permitted the Israelites to be defeated after having brought them miraculously across Jordan into the Promised Land, it would be a serious reflection against the honor of his name—that he would lose prestige not only with the Israelites, but also with the Canaanites. Thus we see that in effect the spirit of Joshua’s whole petition to God on this occasion could well be summed up by the Master’s words, “Hallowed by thy name.”

For Others

After teaching us that the first essential of prayer is the glory of God’s name, Jesus then indicates that the next consideration in our supplications should be, not our own interests, but the welfare and blessing of others. This is set forth comprehensively in the expression, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:10) When we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” we are asking God to bless all mankind. The very thought of this expression is calculated to enlarge our hearts, and cause us to be deeply concerned for the welfare of others.

When from the heart we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” we may know for a certainty that our desires, our thoughts, our longings, are in tune with the mind and will of our Heavenly Father. God has promised his kingdom of blessing not only once or twice, but by the mouth of all his holy prophets, by Jesus, and by the apostles. His kingdom and the blessings of life and joy it will bring to all mankind is the theme song of the Word of God. Hence, when we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” we are praying for that which is close to the heart of God, that which he has planned and promised to do, that which is the center of his interest in connection with his human creation.

When we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” we are not only asking God to bestow the restitution blessings of his kingdom upon a benighted and dying world, but we are also petitioning him to vouchsafe to the heirs of the kingdom—those who are to reign with Christ—the necessary spiritual guidance and strength which will enable them to make their calling and election sure. In short, the request, “Thy kingdom come,” should be an expression of our acquiescence in the whole plan of God, and an evidence of our interest in that plan and our desire to cooperate in it. It means, also, that in praying for his kingdom to come and his will to be done on earth, we are endeavoring now to have his will done in our own hearts and lives.

“Our Daily Bread”

Only after having first ascribed glory to God, and then evinced our interest in the blessing of others, both the church and the world, may we properly think of prayer from the standpoint of seeking blessings for ourselves. And even in this respect our petitions should not be for more than the necessities of life—our “daily bread.” The request, “Give us this day our daily bread,” suggests a childlike dependence upon the Heavenly Father for the needs of each day. (Matt. 6:11) It does not ask for the building up of reserves that will make us independent of God tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow. It is an expression of faith in God’s ability and willingness to care for us today and in all the days as they come.

The question may be raised as to whether “our daily bread” of this prayer refers to material or spiritual food. There seems to be no scriptural reason why it should not include both. As long as we, as new creatures, tabernacle in the flesh, all matters pertaining to the body are related to our spiritual interests, and should have a place in our prayers; but, of course, our spiritual “daily bread” is vastly more important than material food.

The expression, “daily bread,” might properly be thought of as including not only things we eat, but all of our needs, the daily portion which God allots to us, including our experiences of joy and sorrow, ease and pain, blessings and trials. All of these are in the “cup” which the Father pours for us, and it is well to have them all in mind when we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

When we take this broader view of our daily needs we should have no difficulty in discerning that God always answers our prayers. Remembering that we have entered into a covenant of sacrifice which calls for the death of our humanity, we have no right to expect that God will necessarily preserve our health, or supply all the material food that may be essential for maintaining our bodies in a healthy, robust condition. The Apostle Paul tells us that he had learned how to “suffer need,” and if God, in his wisdom, permitted such a faithful one thus to “suffer,” we have no right to expect that he will deal differently with us.—Phil. 4:12

“Bread and water” for the faithful of Israel under the Law Covenant was sure. (Isa. 33:16) In fact, God promised to bless them abundantly in basket and in store. (Deut. 28:5) But Christians are not under that covenant. We are under a covenant which calls for the sacrifice of earthly interests and material blessings, so if God deems it to be for our highest spiritual interests to accept our sacrifice by means of malnutrition due to faulty digestion or meager food allowance, we can rejoice to know that this is our “need” which he is supplying.

Spiritual Food

“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4) This great truth was first given to natural Israel. Jesus used it when declining Satan’s suggestion to turn stones into bread. It was true concerning Israel under the Law Covenant, and it will be true of mankind under the New Covenant in the next age. Material food could not be plentiful enough and wholesome enough to provide everlasting life apart from obedience to the will of God, to “every word” of God.

And it is especially true of new creatures in Christ Jesus. The new creature’s food is the Word of God. This is his manna from heaven. By feeding upon it he grows in stature and strength, from a spiritual babe to a full-grown man in Christ. Hence when we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we are asking for that upon which our very existence depends. Furthermore, we are asking for that which God promised to furnish. Jesus went on record to assure us that God would give the Holy Spirit of truth to Christians who asked him for it.—Luke 11:13

The Spirit or mind of God reaches us through his Word. When we pray for it our prayers imply that we are willing to give up our own plans, our own desires, our own thoughts, and be filled with and controlled by the plan and will of God. If our lives are in harmony with our prayers, we may confidently expect that our “daily bread” will be supplied; that God’s table will be laden with rich spiritual food of which it will be our happy privilege to partake.

As We Forgive

The next point in our Lord’s prayer has to do with our relationship to God in connection with our transgressions; making his forgiveness of us dependent upon our forgiveness of others—“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” (Matt. 6:12,14,15) Here again we are asking for that which God has promised to do. We are invited to come boldly to the throne of grace to obtain mercy. (Heb. 4:16) We are assured that God is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:9) He has promised to remove our transgressions as far from us as the east is from the west.

But we cannot expect God to forgive us if we are harboring resentment and bitterness in our hearts toward others. Inadvertently we may attach a wrong meaning to this part of the Master’s model prayer. We may think of the trespasses as being merely misunderstandings. Some incident occurs which we decide is a trespass against us, but upon investigation we find that we were misinformed, or that the supposed trespasser did not intend the matter as we thought he had. On account of this we are glad to forgive.

But in such a case there is no need for forgiveness, for there has been no trespass. Our trespasses against God are not just misunderstandings. Daily we come short of glorifying his name as we should, in thought, word, and deed we offend him. And it is, likewise, genuine trespasses which we need to forgive in others. However, God does not forgive willful trespasses. If we are willfully opposing him and misrepresenting his character, we will have no desire to ask forgiveness.

So the key to this point is found in the word “as.” God will forgive us “as,” or upon the same conditions to the same degree, and in the same manner, as we forgive others. This means that if others ask our forgiveness, as we ask for God’s forgiveness, we will forgive. It means, nevertheless, that we will have the spirit of forgiveness in our hearts even before they ask. We are not justified in harboring bitterness in our hearts, even against our worst enemies. We are not to malign them, nor do them harm. We are to be ready and anxious at all times to extend forgiveness to them as soon as they ask, for this is God’s attitude toward us. God wants us to be like him.

God Tempteth No Man

The next request in the Lord’s Prayer is, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matt. 6:13; Luke 11:4) The Emphatic Diaglott arranged translation of this request reads, “Abandon us not to trial.” But the interlinear, word-for-word translation and the Revised Version give the word ‘bring,’ and Prof. Strong defines the meaning of the Greek, ‘to carry inward.’ The same Greek word, eisphero, is sometimes translated ‘bring’ in the King James Version. It would seem, therefore, that our Common Version translation, “Lead us not into temptation,” is essentially correct.

Our first reaction to this thought is that surely God would not lead his people into temptation, so why should we imply such a possibility in our prayer? But God will not abandon us in temptation, either! We can be sure that God will neither lead us into temptation, nor abandon us in temptation. The principle involved in this part of the prayer is easily understood when we remember that the entire petition is an expression of what God has promised to do and promised not to do; and in offering it from our hearts we are but claiming God’s promises.

We do not pray, “Thy kingdom come,” with the thought that there is any possibility it won’t come; nor are we in this asking God to do something he has not already planned and promised to do. Prayer is not for this purpose. If we pray with the thought that we will thereby induce God to change his plans, either for us or for the world, we do not have the proper conception of what constitutes acceptable prayer. If our supplications are to be heard and answered, it will be because we are abiding in Christ and his words are abiding in us to direct our prayers in harmony with the will and plan of God.

So we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” and we know that it will come because God has promised it. We pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” and we know that all our needs will be supplied because this is what God has promised us he will do. We pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” and we know that God will forgive us in the same proportion that we forgive others, because he has promised to do so.

These are the blessings God has promised to bestow upon us as new creatures; but there are also things which he has promised not to do. He has promised not to permit us to be tempted above that which we are able to bear. (I Cor. 10:13) We are assured by his Word that God “tempteth no man,” meaning that he does not lead his people into temptations. (James 1:13) It is therefore just as proper for us to claim these promises in our prayers as it is to claim the promises of God concerning the kingdom, our daily bread, and his forgiveness.

Prayer, in other words, is an expression to God of our interest in the fulfillment of his promises. God knows all that we have need of before we ask him, but he wants us to ask just the same. He is ready to forgive us before we ask, but he wants us to appreciate his forgiveness the more by asking for it. We know that he will not lead us into temptation, but he wants us to be the more keenly aware of it by including the thought in our prayers, for this will help us to realize that when we are tempted it is because we have permitted ourselves to be drawn away by our own lusts, or have yielded to the influences of Satan.—James 1:14

Thine Is the Kingdom

The concluding sentence of the prayer is not in the original manuscripts. It reads, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.” (Matt. 6:13) These words are quoted from I Chronicles 29:11, and evidently, on this account, whoever it was that added them to the Lord’s prayer felt justified in so doing. However, when David said, “Thine is the kingdom,” he was referring to the Lord’s kingdom then operating in Israel. David was the king of Israel, but he sat upon “the throne of the Lord,” hence in this expression of praise to God he acknowledged that he was not the real ruler of Israel in his own right, but merely as a representative of God—that the kingdom was the Lord’s.

This typical kingdom of the Lord came to an end in 606 B.C., when it was overthrown by the king of Babylon. At that time the prophetic declaration was, “It shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it to him.” (Ezek. 21:27) Jesus is the rightful King, and while he came more than nineteen centuries ago, it was not as a reigning king. He came then in his humiliation. The exercise of his kingly power was not due until his second advent. Even then, until his kingdom is set up and manifested to the world, we should continue to pray, “Thy kingdom come.”

And as long as we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” it would be inconsistent to say, “Thine is the kingdom.” True, God is the Supreme Ruler of the whole universe, and if we think of the expression, “Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory” from this standpoint, there is nothing particularly out of place with the expression. Nevertheless, these words are an interpolation. They are words which originally referred to a kingdom which perished before the first advent of Jesus, so we think it more fitting for Christians not to use them in prayer today. Moreover, they are omitted in Luke’s Gospel.

Briefly, then, the model prayer which Jesus gave to his church in response to the request, “Teach us to pray,” embodies the recognition of God as “our Father”; ascribes glory to his name; petitions him to fulfill his promises to bless all the families of the earth; asks that he care for our daily material and spiritual needs; requests that he forgive our sins; and asks him not to lead us into nor to abandon us in temptation. It can be truthfully said that there is nothing which a Christian can properly make a matter of prayer which does not fall within these general principles. If we are guided by them it should not be true of us that we “ask, and receive not, because we ask amiss.”—James 4:3

Dawn Bible Students Association
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