However, the title is a misnomer. It was not really a literal prayer that Jesus said rather, it was a teaching tool He passed on to His disciples when they inquired about the supplications a believer should bring before God the Father. Many recite this prayer on a daily basis; others once a week. Its recitation is a treasured Christian tradition. But when we say it, do we really listen to the words and mean what we say? And what was Jesus teaching us about prayer when He used this prayer as a model for His disciples?
So, if I could be so bold as to rename it, The Disciple's Prayer can be divided into 2 sections. The first contains 2 declarations about God and His glory. The second contains 4 requests that have to do with our daily necessities. In other words, God is first given His supreme place in our lives, and then we turn our attention to our needs and desires. Sadly, we often approach God with a list of things we'd like Him to attend to without first acknowledging Him above all else. Our prayers are a shopping list of things we want God to stock in the pantry we call “my life”. But, according to Jesus’ model, is not what prayer should be like. William Barclay wrote, "Prayer must never be an attempt to bend the will of God to our desires; instead prayer ought to always to be an attempt to submit our wills to the will of God."
A quick walk through this prayer reveals first that it is a corporate prayer. That is, when Jesus says, "When you pray," He uses the plural form of you, meaning the community of believers (first the disciples, and now us). This is underscored by the first two words recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, “OUR Father” (Mt. 6:9 and implied in Lk. 11:2). Secondly as a community and as individuals, we are to declare several great truths about God. He is our Father (11:2). His Name is holy (11:2). And we desire to see the fulfillment of His kingdom (11:2). In other words, we have a relationship with Him (Father) although He is “different” in character than ourselves (holy) and He is not only our Authority, He is sovereign over heaven and earth (the extent of His kingdom). Thirdly, in asking for our daily bread, we recognize that God is the Provider of it, not ourselves (11:3). Fourth, forgiveness has two sides; a side that gives and a side that receives. The Disciple's Prayer includes both a request for forgiveness and a call for forgiveness (11:4). And lastly, God is recognized as our Protector in that only He can keep us from succumbing to temptation. The prayer emphasizes the desire to follow God and not to be overwhelmed or destroyed by sin (11:4).
Another commentator wrote, "It was the regular custom for a Rabbi to teach his disciples a simple prayer which they might habitually use. John (the Baptist) had done that for his disciples, and now Jesus' disciples came asking Him to do the same for them. Luke's version is shorter than Matthew's, but it will teach us all we need to know about how to pray and what to pray for." The "Disciple's Prayer" is one of the most thorough passages in all of Scripture dealing with the great subject of prayer and yet it is surprisingly short reminding us that prayer does not have to be lofty and verbose to be effective (Js. 5:16) but rather heartfelt and focused on the things that are most important in life. It is a passage that should be studied and remembered time and again. Whenever it is spoken we should keep in mind that Jesus Himself gave us these words to pray signifying these are the things He felt would be most significant for us to bring to the Lord in prayer. Although many centuries have come since the initial 12 disciples asked Him to teach "us" to pray, the lesson He gave to them is also meant for us today. Let's not say them lightly.
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
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