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3. The Paternoster - A Model Prayer (Matthew 6:9-15)

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Kingdom Worship

Last week, as we continued our study of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, we began talking about prayer. We learned two things about prayer:

First, we don’t pray to show off our spirituality to other people.

We pray to talk to God and when we pray we really are talking to God.

The clip you just saw from The Fiddler on the Roof is a great example. When this guy prays, it doesn’t sound fancy or pretentious or ecclesiastical.

It just sounds like he’s talking to someone who’s right there beside him.

It sounds like a real conversation, because it IS a real conversation.

That’s the way our prayers are supposed to be, too. Real. Natural.

Second, we learned that Jesus wants our prayers to be meaningful.

That means the words we use and the way we begin and the way we end and the posture we’re in. These things shouldn’t be automatic or rote.

They should be filled with meaning, with conscious significance.

After listening to the message last week, did any of you feel self conscious about how to pray? Did you wonder if you should close your eyes or say “Amen” at the end of your prayer? Remember it isn’t that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s that when we do that, let’s do it for a reason and do it with meaning, and not just do it on auto-pilot.

Using “Amen” at the end of a prayer is a great example. Usually we just say it out of habit. But do you know what it means? No, it doesn’t mean, “Dig in!” It means, “Yes!” Saying “Amen” is like shouting out “OK. I’m with you. I agree.” Or as Austin Powers would put it: “Yeah, baby!”

So if you say “Amen”, say it with meaning. Or if you say, “Yeah, baby”, just make sure that you’re with someone who will understand what on earth you’re talking about.

Tom Parker was telling me last week about a missionary in China that was praying one day in Chinese in front of a large group at church. Apparently there is a certain formula that you’re supposed to use when you’re finishing a prayer in Chinese and unfortunately this poor guy just couldn’t for the life of him remember what it was. And so he had no alternative. He had to just keep praying and praying while he was racking his brain, trying to remember what it was that you were supposed to say at the end of a Chinese prayer. Finally, after an unusually long prayer, just as the service was about to go into extra innings, he ran out of things to pray for and he gave up. He finished with the only words he could remember that seemed even partially like an ending. He’d heard them somewhere on TV the week before. And so he wrapped up his prayer by saying in perfect Chinese, “That’s all, folks!” Not very religious—but full of meaning. You know what? If you want to end your prayers that way, you go right ahead.

So anyway, that’s what we learned about prayer last week. We pray not to impress people, but to talk to God. And the words and actions of our prayers should be meaningful, not routine. As Jesus spoke to his disciples about prayer, he didn’t stop there. He went on to give them an example of how to pray. He gave them a model, a template. It’s very well known. You probably know it as “The Lord’s Prayer.”

The Paternoster

In Latin, it’s called “The Paternoster” from the Latin words for “Our Father”. Millions of people know it by heart. And many of them recite this prayer as a paragraph of empty words almost without any personal meaning at all. Many of them don’t even understand it.

Isn’t it amazing, that Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer in the middle of a lesson about praying with meaning, and yet the prayer he gave us has become the most common, most frequently-repeated rote prayer in human history?

For some, the Lord’s Prayer is a punishment instead of a prayer, as in, “For your penance, say 30 ‘Our Fathers’”. I imagine that the original intention of that kind of assignment was to get people to meditate on the truths expressed in the Lord’s Prayer. But I think more often people get just about as much out of that as Bart Simpson gets out of writing sentences on the chalkboard.

But Jesus intended it to be so much more. He didn’t give it to us as a script of what we should pray, but rather as an example of how we should pray. Let’s look together at Matthew 6:9.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

The Lord’s Prayer is widely used in liturgical worship (and it was used even very early in the church’s history as part of the liturgy). But originally it was intended as a model for all our prayers. Mainly, it gives us an outline for the content and priorities of our prayers.

Who are you talking to?

It begins with an address and reminds us who we’re talking to when we pray:

"'Our Father in heaven,

In these few words, there are actually three important observations.

First, notice the word, “our”. This is not the prayer of an individual. It is a corporate prayer, a group prayer.

This short phrase also tells us two important things about our audience, about God.

First, He is our Father. In the Old Testament, there is very little reference to God as our Father. But when Jesus shows up on earth, that’s the way he consistently refers to God. God the Father is basically a new concept introduced by Jesus. He calls God the Father 195 times. Not only that, but here he uses the word “Abba”, an intimate, sitting-around-the-kitchen-table family word that’s more like saying, “Our Daddy”. By saying that, Jesus is emphasizing the close intimate relationship with God that only those who follow Jesus can claim. There is a sense in which all men are God’s children. But this is a special intimacy with God that only believers enjoy. We’re speaking with Daddy.

But Jesus also adds, “in heaven”, words which emphasize not the closeness of God, but rather his distance. He does not belong to this earth which is limited and corrupt. He belongs to a wholly other place and he himself is wholly other. He is transcendent—beyond our experience, even beyond our categories and our understanding.

We are speaking to a God who is the omnipotent King of the Universe whom we fear, and at the same time is the loving Daddy who we know in an intimate, personal relationship. That is the wonder of prayer,

that anytime at all we can have a personal conversation with God

who is both far away and near at the same time.

What do you want?

The Lord’s Prayer actually contains six requests. Six things we want.

The first three requests relate to God.

hallowed be your name, [10] your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Notice the repetition of the word “your”: your name, your kingdom, your will. These are three exactly parallel sentences. Each one of them is a longing, a desire, a request that God be glorified. In most of our prayers we start off immediately asking for something we need.

But in Jesus’ example, he begins by praying to advance God’s glory.

These are three things that we want to see happen here on earth among the people of this world in their relationship with God. First,

We want people to honor God’s name

The word “hallow” means to treat as holy, to hold in reverence, to give a unique place. The word “holy” actually means something like “reserved”.

When we speak of God’s name, what we really mean is God himself. So this first request is a longing to see God treated as special, to see him recognized as God and treated as only God deserves to be treated.

There are two separate aspects to this request: one in the present and one in the future. There will be a time when God is finally treated as holy by all of creation. That’s way in the future. Partly this prayer is longing for that day to come when everyone in the world recognizes and honors God. But there is also a present aspect. This is a prayer that right now, among us, more and more people would recognize who God is and begin to treat him the way only God deserves to be treated.

Our Father, hallowed be your name.

May people come to respect you and honor you as God.

The second request is that

We want people to submit to God’s reign

Once again there are two separate aspects to this request: one in the present and one in the future. There will be a time when the Kingdom of God is finally established in full form and Jesus will rule over the world as the King of all kings. This prayer is asking for God to speed his coming, just as John prayed in Revelation, “Come quickly Lord Jesus.” This prayer is longing for Christ to return and establish his Kingdom.

But there is also a present aspect. There is a sense in which the Kingdom of God has already come. That is what Jesus announced. God’s Kingdom is at work in each person who has accepted Jesus as their King. And this prayer is a longing to see many other people also accept God’s sovereignty and submit to his rule over their lives.

Our Father, your kingdom come. May we quickly see you return and rule the earth just as you already rule in our hearts at this moment.

The third request is that

We want people to do God’s will

Here also we find two separate aspects to this request: one in the present and one in the future. There will be a time when God’s plan is ultimately accomplished and when everyone will do God’s will. The Bible says that in heaven there will be no sin. No one will violate God’s will and all his purposes will be accomplished. This prayer longs for that day.

But in the present, this prayer is a request that individuals will do God’s will. In other words, it is a request that God help us to obey his orders.

It is a longing that God’s purposes be accomplished in our own lives and that our lives carry out God’s directions. It is asking God to do what he wants. Isn’t it funny? So often people think that prayer is about getting God to do things our way. But really, prayer is about God getting us to do things his way.

Our Father, your will be done.

May your purpose be accomplished. May we do what you want us to do.

The first three requests end with the phrase,

On earth as it is in heaven

And that phrase refers back to all three requests.

In heaven, God is honored. He is the sovereign ruler. All his creatures carry out his will. Oh, that it would be so on earth! That is the first half of the Lord’s Prayer.

We want people (here on earth):

to honor God’s name

to submit to God’s reign

and to do God’s will

just as all of heaven already does. 2

When we pray, Jesus says that it’s not about our names, our plans, and our desires. It’s about God’s name, God’s plan, and God’s desires.

So all these first three requests all have to do with advancing God’s glory.

The next three requests have to do with meeting our needs. Notice the repetition of the word “our” through the next few verses.

The fourth request in the Lord’s Prayer is that

We want God to provide for us

[11] Give us today our daily bread.

Bread here is probably representative of all food. It might even suggest all our material needs, whatever is necessary for daily life. Notice that it asks God for our bread. In other words, I’m asking God not just to meet my needs, but also my brother’s needs. We’re in this together.

The word “daily” probably means “food for the coming day”. So if this prayer was prayed in the morning, it meant today’s food. And if it was prayed in the evening, it meant tomorrow’s food.

In Jesus’ day, workers were commonly paid each day at the end of the day. They were used to living one day at a time. And this is the attitude that Jesus wants us to have too, no matter how often we get paid.

We trust God for the immediate future, for our daily provision. This is about my needs, not my greeds.

Our society teaches us the value of self sufficiency, always being prepared for the future by having more than we need today. There’s nothing wrong with working hard, with saving money or preparing for the future. But the Bible warns us not to trust those things. We’re not going to be all right because we have savings or insurance. It’s because we can ask God to give us what we will need each day. That’s why we will be all right.

In September, we’re going to talk about this idea again, because Jesus has a lot more to say about trust and savings. But when we learn to trust God day by day, it makes anxiety unnecessary.

Our Father, give us our daily bread.

Provide for us each day just exactly what we need for that day.

The fifth request is that

We want God to pardon us

[12] Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Jesus probably spoke Aramaic when he was teaching. It was the common language for his people in his day. In Aramaic, the word for debt is regularly used to mean “sin”.3 And that’s what this verse is talking about: not financial debts, but spiritual debts, sins.

This verse is a request for God’s pardon, for his forgiveness.

You might be wondering, “Hey, wait a minute. When I trusted Christ, I thought all my sins were forgiven. If that’s true, then why do I need to pray to ask for God’s forgiveness?”

It’s true that when we put our trust in Jesus, God forgives everything we have done and everything we will do. He erases our punishment. He removes our obligation to pay the penalty. We are declared innocent before the judge.

But there’s also another aspect of forgiveness. That is the restoration of our relationship with God. When you trusted Jesus to save you, you enjoyed a perfect relationship with God. But as soon as you first sinned again (which might have been less than five minutes into the new relationship) your sin became an obstacle between you and God. It blocked your complete fellowship with God.

That’s why 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Our confession restores our complete fellowship with God. It isn’t that God stops loving us when we sin or that he’s angry with us when we sin. It doesn’t mean that we’re going to hell. It means that we’re out of whack. We have “unfinished business” between us and God, until we fess up and admit that we’ve sinned and claim his forgiveness.

Being forgiven should be accompanied by being forgiving. This verse says, God forgives us as we forgive others. That doesn’t mean that we are forgiven because we forgive others. We are forgiven as we forgive others.4 It’s even possible to translate this phrase, “God, forgive our sins, as we, just this moment, hereby forgive those who have wronged us.” 5

Refusing to forgive someone who’s wronged you is a sin. And that sin blocks your ability to enjoy a clean relationship with God and unfettered fellowship with God. You can’t experience God’s forgiveness as long as you won’t forgive those who have wronged you. Jesus has already paid for it. In a sense, you already are forgiven. From God’s side, you are clean and acceptable to him because of Jesus. But on your side, there is this sin standing between you and God. And you cannot experience forgiveness, know it, and enjoy it while you remain unforgiving.

That’s the idea behind verses 14-15. In fact, let’s jump ahead for a minute while we’re on the topic of forgiveness. This isn’t part of the Lord’s Prayer; it’s kind of a footnote that Jesus adds immediately after the prayer.

[14] For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
[15] But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

As long as we harbor an unforgiving spirit toward those who sin against us, we will never be able to experience and enjoy the forgiveness that Jesus has already purchased for us. We cannot walk in fellowship with God because, on our side of the relationship, sin is in the way.

Genuine repentance means that we understand the enormity of our sin against God. And that makes everyone else’s sins against us miniscule. If we aren’t forgiving other people, it shows that we don’t understand our own sin and our hearts aren’t yet prepared to receive God’s forgiveness.

An unforgiving spirit means that we are out of touch with God, because God is forgiving.7

Our Father, forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

Let us experience the fullness of the innocence you have given us. Help us to forgive others just as you have forgiven us of so much more.

The sixth and final request of the Lord’s Prayer is that

We want God to protect us

[13] And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.'

The word “temptation” in the Bible can mean either, 1) a trial, a test, persecution or 2) enticement to sin.8 But since we know from James 1:13-149 that God never entices anyone to sin,10 this must be referring to a test or trial. This is a prayer that God won’t put us through experiences designed to test us, strengthen us, and prove our character. God, please don’t test us.11

Now one problem with that kind of prayer is that we’re praying for God to protect us from something that he says will definitely happen to us.12 (The Bible says we’re even supposed to rejoice when it happens!)13

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t ask God to spare us from something we don’t want to do. Even Jesus asked God to spare him from suffering on the cross, which he knew was part of God’s purpose for his life and an inevitable part of his immediate future. So if he can ask God for that, can’t we ask God to spare us from trials and tests, especially from those that might be too hard for us to bear? I think we can.

In Mark 14:38, Jesus tells his disciples to “pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” In other words, into a temptation that is bigger than you can handle.14

That is a very reasonable thing to pray for. But if we pray that prayer, we also need to be ready for God to say “no”. Jesus asked God to spare him from suffering on the cross, but he also said, “God, the bottom line is that I’ll do whatever it is that you want me to do.” We can and should ask God to spare us from testing, but we need to be ready to go through it anyway.

In fact, that’s the meaning of the second part of this verse, “but deliver us from the evil one.”15 In other words, this request is saying, “God, please don’t make me go through this test, because I could fail. But if in your wisdom, you decide that I must be tested, then please save me from Satan. Don’t let him overpower me. Rescue me from the devil, who is always looking for a way to trap us.” This is a request to be excused from testing and for deliverance from Satan if the testing is necessary.

Our Father, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

Protect us from difficult experiences, but if we must face them, then protect us from our enemy.

The Lord’s Prayer often ends with these words:

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

You might be surprised that this final phrase doesn’t appear in the NIV. In fact, Jesus’ prayer ends rather abruptly. But this phrase (which appears in the King James) was not part of the original text. It was probably added later by people who were making copies of Matthew’s gospel.

You know how uncomfortable you feel when someone finishes a prayer, but doesn’t say “Amen”? Well apparently that’s not a new problem. Because Jesus didn’t end his prayer here with the customary ending and some scribe copying the manuscript just couldn’t stand to see the prayer end without an ending. So he added one. There’s nothing wrong with what he wrote. It just isn’t a genuine part of the Bible. And that’s why NIV leaves it out and NAS puts it in brackets. But if you’d like an ending, there it is. That’s all folks!

That’s the essence of the way we ought to pray.

We tell God that we want people:

to honor his name

to submit to his reign

and to do his will

We tell God that we want him:

to provide for us

to pardon us

and to protect us


Kingdom Worship

This is the kind of prayer that Jesus wants us, his followers, to pray.

[Run video on The Lord’s Prayer.]

As we close in prayer, I’m going to ask you to stand with me and let’s say together the words of the Lord’s Prayer. You can keep your eyes open if you need to see the words up on the screen. But as we pray, I’d like you to really think about the meaning of each phrase. We’re going to say this slowly. And as you think about each phrase, make it your own prayer to God. Don’t just repeat the words. Say them with personal conviction. This is you, having a real conversation with a real God. So let’s say each word from us to God with meaning.

Let’s stand and pray together:

The Paternoster

Our Father in heaven,
may your name be honored,
may your kingdom come,
may your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors.

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

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

1 Copyright © 2004 by Lewis B. Bell III. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 3 in the Kingdom Worship series delivered by Chip Bell at Fellowship Bible Church Arapaho in Dallas, TX on August 22, 2004. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with credit.

2 Next time, you should outline it like this:

Honor God’s person
Submit to God’s program
Obey God’s purpose
Ask for God’s provision
Seek God’s pardon
Plead for God’s protection

3 France, p. 136; Bruce, Hard Sayings, p. 79; Expositor’s.

4 Compare Eph 4:32.

5 That would be a fair translation of the Aramaic present perfect which could lie behind the aorist in this verse: “as we herewith forgive…” The aorist emphasizes the accomplished fact regardless of time. See France, p. 136; Expositor’s. Contrast Bruce, p. 79: “This wording implies that the person praying has already forgiven any injury received; otherwise it would be impossible honestly to ask God’s forgiveness for one’s own sins.”

6 See also, Mark 11:25 (NIV) And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."

7 “The point is not that forgiving is a condition of being forgiven, but that forgiveness cannot be a one-way process.” France, p. 137. Compare Bruce and UBS who both take this to mean that our being forgiven depends on being forgiving. Expositor’s says the community of disciples must be forgiving if their prayers are to be effective!

8 OR…Deliver us from The Tribulation (so Toussaint, p. 111). Revelation 7:14, 2 Peter 2:9. But, there is no definite article here. (See UBS Handbook and Expositor’s.)

9 James 1:13-14 (NIV) When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; [14] but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.

10 Expositor’s.

11 Compare Bruce, p. 82 “It is highly unlikely that it means ‘Do not let our faith be tested.’” and Expositor’s, “To pray for grace and endurance in trial is understandable; but to pray not to be brought to testings is strange.”

vs. France, p. 136. “But disciples, aware of their weakness, should not desire such testing, and should pray to be spared exposure to situations in which they are vulnerable.”

12 UBS Handbook, “According to the Old Testament, God does put people to the test to find out if they will obey him (Gen 22:1-2; Exo 16:4).

13 James 1:2 (NIV) Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds. James 1:12 (NIV) Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

1 Peter 1:6-7 (NIV) In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. [7] These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

14 Compare Galatians 6:1 (NIV) Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. and

1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV) No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

15 See Expositor’s. “Deliver” after “apo” is predominantly used of persons instead of things (which “ek” introduces exclusively).

Related Topics: Theology Proper (God), Prayer, Worship

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