Tim Keller’s notable book on Prayer, experiencing awe and intimacy with God offers the following treasured notes on praying the Lord’s Prayer explaining that…
- None of our three master teachers of prayer, Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, developed their instruction primarily based on their own experiences. In each case, what they believed and practiced regarding prayer grew mainly out of their understanding of the ultimate master class in prayer—the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9–13, in the heart of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
- The Lord’s Prayer may be the single set of words spoken more often than any other in the history of the world. Jesus Christ gave it to us as the key to unlock all the riches of prayer. Yet it is an untapped resource, partially because it is so very familiar.
- Jesus is saying, as it were, “Wouldn’t you like to be able to come face-to-face with the Father and King of the universe every day, to pour out your heart to him, and to sense him listening to and loving you?” We say, of course, yes. Jesus responds, “It’s all in the Lord’s Prayer.”
- How do we overcome the deadly peril of familiarity? One of the best ways is to listen to these three great mentors, who plumbed the depths of the prayer through years of reflection and practice.
“Our Father Who Art in Heaven”
- Calvin explains that to call God “Father” is to pray in Jesus’ name. “Who would break forth into such rashness as to claim for himself the honor of a son of God unless we had been adopted as children of grace in Christ?”
- Luther also believed the address was a call to not plunge right into talking to God but to first recollect our situation and realize our standing in Christ before we proceed into prayer.
- Calvin agrees that “by the great sweetness of this name [Father] he frees us from all distrust.”
“Hallowed Be Thy Name”
- A seeming problem of logic, expressed by Luther. “What are we praying for when we ask that His name become holy?
- Luther, who joins Augustine when he says it is a prayer that God “be glorified among all nations as you are glorified among us.”
- To “hallow” God’s name is not merely to live righteous lives but to have a heart of grateful joy toward God—and even more, a wondrous sense of his beauty. We do not revere his name unless he “captivate[s] us with wonderment for him.”
“Thy Kingdom Come”
- This is the cause of all our human problems, since we were created to serve him, and when we serve other things in God’s place, all spiritual, psychological, cultural, and even material problems ensue. Therefore, we need his kingdom to “come.” Calvin believed there were two ways God’s kingdom comes—through the Spirit, who “corrects our desires,” and through the Word of God, which “shapes our thoughts.”
- This, then, is a “Lordship” petition: It is asking God to extend his royal power over every part of our lives—emotions, desires, thoughts, and commitments.
- We are asking God to so fully rule us that we want to obey him with all our hearts and with joy.
- To pray “thy kingdom come” is to “yearn for that future life” of justice and peace.
“Thy Will Be Done”
- Unless we are profoundly certain God is our Father, we will never be able to say “Thy will be done.”
- Only if we trust God as Father can we ask for grace to bear our troubles with patience and grace.
- This is the one part of the Lord’s Prayer Jesus himself prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, under circumstances far more crushing than any of us will ever face. He submitted to his Father’s will rather than following his own desires, and it saved us. That’s why we can trust him.
- Calvin adds that to pray “thy will be done” is to submit not only our wills to God but even our feelings, so that we do not become despondent, bitter, and hardened by the things that befall us.
- The beginning of prayer is all about God. We are not to let our own needs and issues dominate prayer; rather, we are to give pride of place to praising and honoring him, to yearning to see his greatness and to see it acknowledged everywhere, and to aspiring to full love and obedience.
- First, because it heals the heart of its self-centeredness.
“Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread”
- Augustine reminds us that “daily bread” is a metaphor for necessities rather than luxuries.
- For Luther, then, to pray for our daily bread is to pray for a prosperous and just social order.
“Forgive Us Our Debts as We Forgive Our Debtors”
- The fifth petition concerns our relationships, both with God and others.
- In the presence of God everyone must duck his head and come into the joy of forgiveness only through the low door of humility.
- If regular confession does not produce an increased confidence and joy in your life, then you do not understand the salvation by grace, the essence of the faith.
- Jesus tightly links our relationship with God to our relationship with others.
- Unresolved bitterness is a sign that we are not right with God.
- It also means that if we are holding a grudge, we should see the hypocrisy of seeking forgiveness from God for sins of our own.
“Lead Us Not into Temptation”
- Temptation in the sense of being tried and tested is not only inevitable but desirable. The Bible talks of suffering and difficulty as a furnace in which many impurities of soul are “burned off” and we come to greater self-knowledge, humility, durability, faith, and love. However, to “enter into temptation,” as Jesus termed it (Matt 26:41), is to entertain and consider the prospect of giving in to sin.
“Deliver Us from Evil”
- Calvin combined this phrase with “lead us not into temptation” and called it the sixth and last petition. Augustine and Luther, however, viewed “deliver us from evil” as a separate, seventh petition.
- This seventh petition is for protection from evil outside us, from malignant forces in the world, especially our enemies who wish to do us harm.
“For Thine Is the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory Forever”
- Augustine does not mention it because it was not in most earlier manuscripts of the Bible or in the Latin Vulgate. Luther does not treat it.
- Calvin, while noting that “this is not extant in the Latin versions,” believes that “it is so appropriate to this place that it ought not to be omitted.”
- After descending into our needs, troubles, and limitations, we return to the truth of God’s complete sufficiency.
Like Luther in A Simple Way to Pray, Calvin insists that the Lord’s Prayer does not bind us to its particular form of words but rather to its content and basic pattern.
The Lord’s Prayer is a summary of all other prayers, providing essential guidance on emphasis and topics, on purpose and even spirit.
Prayer is therefore not a strictly private thing. As much as we can, we should pray with others both formally in gathered worship and informally. Why? If the substance of prayer is to continue a conversation with God, and if the purpose of it is to know God better, then this can happen best in community. By praying with friends, you will be able to hear and see facets of Jesus that you have not yet perceived.
Links for further reading include: (see “Prayer, Breathing God” page for more resources)