A Pattern for Prayer

Foundations in Faith: A Pattern for Prayer

Take a moment and read Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:1-4.

“And it happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught His disciples’” (Luke 11:1).

Notice the different versions of this prayer found in Matthew and Luke, both of whom were writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Multiple versions indicate that Jesus taught this prayer on more than one occasion and did not intend that we memorize it and recite it back to Him. The disciple did not ask Jesus to teach him a prayer. He said, “Lord, teach us to pray.” He wanted to learn how to pray effectively.

Jesus responded, “When you pray, say …” (Luke 11:2). In Matthew’s version, Jesus said, “Pray then in this way” (Matthew 6:9). He did not mean, “Write this down on a 3 by 5 card and say it back to me.” (Not that it’s wrong to recite this prayer to the Lord but it’s so much more than that). He meant this to be a pattern for prayer, a guide for effective praying. 

Let’s examine this pattern:

1. (Matthew 6:9)  “Our Father who is in heaven.”

a. There are many names for God in the Old Testament and God is at times referred to as a Father to Israel but nowhere in the Old Testament does anyone pray to God as Father. However, Jesus consistently spoke of God and prayed to God as Father. The Greek word is Pater but Jesus taught in the common language of Aramaic and used the familiar Abba which is a very personal, informal, childlike word (the English equivalent would be Papa). Abba denotes a personal God who can be known intimately, with whom we can express our thoughts, needs and desires.

The basis of our prayer is confidence that rises out of an unshakeable relationship with the Creator of the universe, a relationship in which He calls us sons and daughters and we cry: “Abba, Father.” It’s as if God says: “I am forming a corporation, a partnership: God and daughters, God and sons and I want to partner with you in releasing My kingdom purpose on earth, redeeming that which is lost and restoring that which is broken.” 

b. He is also our Father “in heaven.”

This personal God who wants us to enjoy Him on a personal, intimate level also transcends our culture, our generation, our universe. He is greater than, other than, all that we know. He is before and beyond all time, Creator and Sustainer of all life. Though He is our Abba and though He humbles Himself to hear the prayer of the smallest child and not a sparrow falls without His knowing (Matt. 10:29), nevertheless, He is the transcendent God, unbound by time or place or religious ritual.

It is important that we grasp this balance: God is our Abba — close, personal, intimately concerned with the details of our life. But though God is present, He is also in heaven, transcending my culture, my generation, unbound by human will.

2. (Matthew 6:9)  “Hallowed be Your name.”

God’s name represents His being, His attributes. His name is the summation of His glory. To hallow God’s name means we reverence God as the Holy One. We move into our prayer time through worship, confessing our adoration, our awe at the majesty, greatness, wisdom, mercy, power and beauty of God. We are saying, “Lord I recognize your holiness, I bow in worshipful surrender before your loving, holy authority.”

God wants us to know and enjoy Him in intimate conversation and communion — our Abba.  But He will not be conned or manipulated, as if prayer or any other ritual can be a device for trapping Him, drawing Him into our control. Yes, He is our Abba but He is also the holy God who transcends all the universe, the God who is other than and beyond all that we know, Almighty, all knowing, awesome in majesty.

3. (Matthew 6:10)  “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”

a. “Your kingdom come.”

This is not a prayer for the second coming of Jesus. That prayer is, “Come Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20). This is not a prayer for salvation or a prayer that insures salvation. We are saved because we place our faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, not because of any prayer or ritual. The truth is, many pray the Lord’s prayer who may not know the Lord and may not be redeemed.

The kingdom of God is not only somewhere, someday. It is the active, present rule of God in the lives of those who have surrendered their lives to Him. The kingdom of God is wherever God is reigning as King. It is a rule of grace bringing salvation to the condemned, forgiveness to the guilty, wholeness to the broken, liberty to the captive, wisdom and strength for the living of the day. “Thy kingdom come” is an invitation to God to enter our daily circumstances, our family, our community, our church, our nation, our world. We are not just parroting a phrase back to God but praying for the entrance of God into the time and place of our daily living. We are asking God to intervene in the sphere of earth which we inhabit.

b. “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Circumstances of brokenness and fallenness don’t transform until God enters and God enters because those who have been given authority on earth exercise authority by inviting the almighty, all wise God to enter in and release His resources, His presence, His blessing. 

Daniel, the Old Testament prophet, was living in exile after the destruction of Israel by the Babylonians. As he read from the prophet Jeremiah, he realized the years were ended for Jerusalem's judgment — it was time to return and rebuild the nation. He prayed with confidence for the restoring of Israel because he understood the will of God (Daniel 9:1-19).

What happened? After he prayed, the king of Persia issued a decree that the Jews could return to their home land. They did and rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem. The cynic would say, “God would have brought that about even if Daniel had not prayed.” The truth is that God did not move, Israel was not released, the temple was not rebuilt, until Daniel prayed.

Years later, though the temple had been rebuilt, the city of Jerusalem was still in ruins. Nehemiah prayed for the purpose of God to be realized and God moved through Nehemiah for the rebuilding of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:4-11). 

The kingdom of God is breaking into history. Our praying is part of this inbreaking. God wants our prayers to be broader than our own circumstances. He wants us to embrace His kingdom purpose in history. This keeps us from being near-sighted, self consumed. Prayer is not just about me but me in relation to the eternal purpose of God.

“Your Kingdom come, your will be done” is a revolutionary request: in a world in violent rebellion against God, we are asking God to express His will and establish His rule in and through our lives. It is a way of saying: “Lord, I invite and welcome your rule of grace into my circumstances today. As you direct my life, I thank you that I will be empowered and enabled to accomplish your will.”  We are not saying, “There’s nothing we can do to change anything so thy will be done.” That is a pagan notion, that God is some whimsical, arbitrary, uncaring deity manipulating everything or doing nothing and we are just passive bystanders. 

The power to change our world lies with God, but the responsibility to partner with God lies with us. The kingdom of God is breaking into history through the lives of people who receive and submit to the Lordship of the true King. God releases kingdom purpose and promise through people who, having opened their lives to His kingdom, His rule of grace, then commit their lives to the accomplishing of His will. 

4. (Matthew 6:11)  “Give us this day our daily bread.”

a. We have the right to pray about common, ordinary needs. God wants us to lift up every concern. Yes, Jesus said, “Do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat …” (Matt. 6:25). But that doesn’t mean don’t pray. It means pray without anxiety.

b. How can I pray over daily needs without becoming selfish or petty in my praying?

We pray for personal needs while maintaining the perspective that we are active participants in the Kingdom of God. We pray for daily bread with the wide-lens perspective that my life is part of the Kingdom breaking into history. As we pray and lift up our needs and God responds, this is another sign of the presence of the Kingdom.

c. God already knows my needs, why say anything?

When I pray about the needs of my family, my friends, my church, the world around me, I am not telling God what He does not know. I am agreeing with what He shows me, taking accountability for the problems and for the resources needed to accomplish His purpose in my life, in my world and I am inviting God to enter in.

5. (Matthew 6:12)  “And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

In order to partner with God in kingdom work, to receive daily bread and to fellowship with God, there can be no unconfessed sin separating us from God. The Psalmist reminds us, “If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear” (Ps. 66:18). We need daily to confess sin, asking and receiving forgiveness. But we also need to be willing to grant that same forgiveness to others. In fact, in Matthew 6:14,15, we read that our forgiveness of others impacts our experience of God’s forgiveness to us. 

It’s not that God’s forgiveness is dependent on our forgiveness of others. God’s grace is available because of what Jesus did on the cross as the holy Lamb who died for sinners. But as we ask the Father for grace and mercy regarding our failures and sins, we need to release that same grace and mercy toward others. 

If I want to stand in the flow of Kingdom blessing then I must live and pray like a Kingdom person — blessing as God blesses, forgiving as God forgives. The right to come before God and speak to Him in personal fellowship, in intimate communion, belongs to those who are in right relation with God and with their brothers and sisters in the Kingdom community.  

In refusing to forgive others, we are deliberately sinning against God because forgiveness is a command. Unforgiveness, bitterness, resentment and all unconfessed sin can hold up answers to prayer, thereby preventing us from experiencing the blessings God wants to release to us and through us. Unconfessed sin short-circuits our ability to hear God and sense His presence, grieves God and interrupts our fellowship with Him.

The sin of unforgiveness closes a door to the mercy which God has already released. We open the door by letting go of that which has closed the door. Refusing to forgive is costly, has a binding effect on our lives, shutting off avenues of blessing, closing doors of opportunity.  Sometimes God’s best for us is bound, not by outward circumstances, but by the inner reality of our unforgiveness. Forgiveness is an act of loosing someone from their sin against us and in doing so, loosing our own heart from the binding reality of bitterness.  As we are released in our spirit, there is a release of God’s purpose and promise toward us.

The Apostle Paul exhorted the church, “Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32). This attitude breaks the cycle of hate which breeds more hate and releases kingdom possibilities.  

This teaching on forgiveness is given by the Lord who washed the feet of Judas on the night Judas betrayed Him; who forgave those who crucified Him during the agony of the cross. That’s what God’s forgiveness looks like and it was released to all of us. I cannot possibly repay to God what I owe and God does not ask that I do. He asks that I be willing to respond to others as He has responded to me. 

6. (Matthew 6:13)  “And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”

The New Testament word peirasmos may be translated temptation, trial, or test. It does not carry a negative connotation — the word is neutral. The context determines the translation.

Does God tempt people? No, in James 1:13 we read, “Let no one say when he is tempted (peirazo), ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted by evil and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” But in the previous verse, James said, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial (peirasmos); for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12). The word trial is the better translation, but we could also agree with the King James, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under temptation (peirasmos)” as long as we understand that the peirasmos, the temptation, is not from God. That’s why it’s better to translate peirasmos as trial, in this case.

Remember, how you picture God will determine how you pray to Him.  If you picture God as the source of the tragedy, hardship and temptation that comes your way, that will produce one kind of prayer. If you understand God as the Lord your Deliverer, the Lord your Provider and Savior, then that will produce another kind of prayer. So we need to understand that God is not the source of temptation. There are three sources and we know what they are:

a. The devil: “Your adversary the devil prowls about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8).

b. Our own unredeemed human nature: “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust” (James 1:14).

c. The world around us, in which the values and priorities are at variance with the Kingdom of God: “Do not love the world nor the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life is not from the Father but is from the world” (I John 2:15,16).

We know Jesus is not teaching us to pray, “God don’t tempt me,” because God does not tempt anyone. There are temptations and we know their source.

However, we know that God will allow tests and trials and the word peirasmos may also be translated test, proof, or trial. We may ask the Lord not to lead us into particular trials, even as Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). However, it is often God's will that we do encounter tests and trials.

Why does God test us?

a. Tests reveal areas of weakness or immaturity in our personality, areas where we are vulnerable to temptations. The Lord wants to reveal those areas so we can confront them. He is not looking at our weaknesses or immaturity in a condemning way but in love, wanting to deliver us, to make a way for us to mature. 

b. Tests cause us to call on the Lord who strengthens us. This glorifies God, as He shows Himself strong on our behalf. When we are willing to be accountable for our weaknesses, God will enable us to grow beyond our weaknesses. 

c. Tests and trials also are necessary to fulfill the kingdom purpose of God. Jesus said to the church at Smyrna, “Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested (tried, peirazo), and you will have tribulation for ten days” (Revelation 2:10). Tested or tried is the proper translation — they were not being tempted. They were being persecuted for their faith. 

The word tribulation can be translated weight or pressure. The weight of persecution was about to fall on the church. The Lord could have prevented that test or trial by removing the church from the city. But He wanted a witness in Smyrna, light shining in that darkness. God allowed the trial, the pressure, so that He would be glorified in that city through the witness of those saints.

God allows the trial of persecution because He wants us to be His witness in our generation. As we stand faithfully, the Lord will shine the light of His glory through us. He also allows tests and trials because they motivate us to call on Him and as we do, we grow in faith and in character.

So Jesus was not teaching us to pray, “Lord, don’t tempt me,” because He won’t. And though we have the right to pray, “Lord, deliver me from this test”, He often does allow tests. Then what was Jesus teaching us to pray? 

A better way to understand this principle of prayer is to hear it like this: “Father, I thank you that You will not lead me into temptation today but You will deliver me from evil. I pray that there would be no tests today but if there are, I thank You for the grace to endure them and I thank You that you are the God who enables me to overcome so that You may be glorified in my life.”

We are reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul who said, “No temptation (trial, peirasmos) has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted (tried, peirazo) beyond what you are able, but with the temptation (trial, peirasmos) will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (I Cor. 10:13).

When we pray, we may do so with confidence that God is not the source of tragedy or temptation but He is the source of every grace, every good and perfect gift that will allow us to grow, to endure and to glorify His name on earth.  There will be situations that challenge and test us but our Father allows them for our benefit and for His glory.

There may be circumstances that will seek to destroy us, God will always meet us there to bring us through. Whatever challenging temptation or hardship, whatever test or trial we encounter, we pray with confidence that God is always our Deliverer.

7. (Matthew 6:13)  “For thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever, Amen.”

Putting all of verse 13 together, we hear a confident confession of thanksgiving: “I thank you, Father, that You will never lead me into any situation that violates Your love for me but You will deliver me from the evil that comes against me and You will sustain me in every trial, by Your power and for Your glory.”

This concluding phrase is such a wonderful way to end every prayer, confessing that in every circumstance, God is in control.  His Kingdom is breaking into history, His power is being released into our circumstances, His glory is and shall be revealed in all the earth.

Our concept of God profoundly shapes our relationship with God and the way we communicate with Him. If we conceive of God as distant, uncaring, cold or cruel, why would we draw near to that God in prayer? If we think of God as deaf to our voice, why would we pray at all?  If we know God to be perfectly wise, just, holy and loving, wanting us to draw near to Him as He has drawn near to us, why would we not pray?

Study Questions

1. Do you believe that God really is in sovereign control of this universe and of your life?  If so, does that influence your prayer?

2. Do you invite the Lord to extend His kingdom through you?

3. Do you believe that God is interested in your daily bread?

4. Do you give God the glory for the good blessing you have received?