How to Pray the Lord’s Way

Matthew 6:5-14

January 25, 2014 | Brian Bill

During the month of January we’ve been learning that while there’s nothing wrong with wanting a happy new year, it’s better to have a holy new you!  Here’s a summary of what we’ve discovered:

  • Since our time on earth is limited let’s make the most of the time we have left.
  • Where you end up tomorrow depends on where you’re headed today.
  • Because the preborn are people they must be protected.

Our focus today is on learning how to pray the Lord’s way, using the prayer that Jesus taught His disciples as a guideline.  People have had all sorts of experiences with the Lord’s Prayer.  Here are some that I came across.

  • When my twin daughters were young, I taught them to say this prayer before going to bed.  As I listened outside their door, I could hear them say, “Give us this steak and daily bread, and forgive us our mattresses.”
  • When I was a child, I learned this prayer as “Our Father, who are in Heaven, Howard be thy name.” I always thought that was God’s real name.
  • When I was younger, I believed the line was “Lead a snot into temptation.” I thought I was praying for my little sister to get into trouble.
  • My son, who is in nursery school, once prayed, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, how didja know my name?”
  • One mother was teaching her three-year-old this prayer at bedtime and after several nights, her daughter was ready to go solo.  She was doing a great job, getting every word right until she got to the end: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us some email.”

This week I posted a question on our Facebook page and asked people what comes to their mind when they think of the Lord’s Prayer.  One woman wrote this: “I love the Lord’s Prayer.  I pray it as a part of my prayer life almost daily.  It isn’t a ritual.  I feel a special sacredness…”

Most of us are familiar with this prayer, and some of us have attended churches where it was recited every Sunday.  I knew it as the “Our Father” and grew up reciting it so much that it just became rote for me.  I could recite it mindlessly from memory.  I was even instructed to repeat this prayer as penance way too many times to count.  [Demonstrate by quickly quoting prayer].  Since I often associated this prayer with punishment, I know I missed its magnitude for many years.  But that changed once I took a deeper look.

In our passage for today, we will look at how not to pray and then at how to pray.  This prayer is poetic and beautiful and yet profound and brief.  Jesus had a great deal to say about prayer, mentioning the topic 42 times in his teaching.  Amazingly, the gospels show him praying 28 times!  

How Not to Pray

In verses 5-8 we see how easy it is to slip into the mechanics and miss the majesty of prayer.  Before we look at the content, let’s notice the context.  Jesus gives us two ways to not pray.

1. Don’t pray for recognition. 

Let’s read verse 5: “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites.  For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men.  Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.” Notice that Jesus assumes that we will pray: “and when you pray.”  The religious people were all about praying to be recognized.  A hypocrite is literally “one who wears a mask,” assuming a character which does not belong to him.   Mask-wearers “loved” to receive religious recognition.  It’s easy to equate man’s applause with God’s approval but those who pray to impress others will have no further hope of reward from God.

On Tuesday Beth and I were invited over to a neighbor’s house for a dinner party with four other couples.  Dorothy had called me earlier and asked if I would say a prayer before the meal.  I considered this a great opportunity so I eagerly agreed to do so.  When I finished praying, the other guests applauded and said, “Great prayer.  Great job.  Way to go.”  The person next to me said, “That Baptist can pray!”  That made me a bit uncomfortable because I wasn’t praying to be recognized so I joked that I only knew one prayer and just recycled it.  One reason I think they praised the prayer is because I made it very personal by focusing on our new friendships and ended by centering on a relationship with Jesus Christ.

In verse 6, we’re told to find a private place to pray: “But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”  This Greek word for “room” was a storeroom where treasures were kept.  How appropriate since we have precious treasures available to us when we pray!  This word can also refer to a den or a closet or a private chamber. Are you taking time in your day to pray?  Do you have a special spot where you can intercede without interruption?

2. Don’t pray with meaningless repetition. 

We must also resist the urge to blabber and babble when we pray.  Notice verses 7-8: “And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do.  For they think that they will be heard for their many words.  Therefore do not be like them.  For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.”

Prayer is not an effort to overcome God’s unwillingness to respond by wearying Him with our words.

I like that last sentence.  We don’t pray to tell God what’s going on…He already knows.  Prayer is not an effort to overcome God’s unwillingness to respond by wearying Him with our words.  That’s exactly how the pagans prayed in 1 Kings 18:26 when Baal wasn’t answering them: “…and called on the name of Baal from morning even till noon, saying, ‘O Baal, hear us!’  But there was no voice; no one answered.  Then they leaped about the altar which they had made.” This also happened in Acts 19:34 where we read that the pagans shouted in unison for two hours: “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!”  Let’s make sure we’re not praying like pagans.

One pastor summarized this section by saying that in our prayers we shouldn’t be hazy, crazy or lazy.  I like what D.L. Moody once said: “Some men’s prayers need to be cut short at both ends and set on fire in the middle.”  It’s easy to pray without paying attention.  John Bunyan commented: “When thou prayest, rather let thy heart be without words than thy words without heart.”

Prayer Pointers

It’s ironic that in the context which forbids rote repetition in prayer, in verses 9-13, we come to what is commonly called “The Lord’s Prayer,” a prayer that has been repeated possibly more than any other.  Actually, it’s probably better to call it “The Disciples’ Prayer” or “The Model Prayer” because in Luke 11:1, these words come as an answer to the disciple who said: “Lord, teach us to pray.”  His answer could be translated as “pray along these lines.”  The real Lord’s Prayer is actually found in John 17 where we read of Jesus crying out to His Father as He prays for unity among his followers.  

The model for prayer that Jesus gave to His followers can be divided into two parts.  The first three (hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done) deal with God’s glory.  The second four (give us our daily bread, forgive us our debts, lead us not into temptation, deliver us from the evil one) deal with our good.  Prayer is to begin with the character of God.  And, the reason we pray and the reason God answers is to put Himself and His glory on display.  Psalm 115:1: “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to your name give glory.”  Incidentally, about half of the words in this prayer are devoted to who God is; the second half focuses on our needs.  That’s a good ratio to keep in mind as we first pray for God’s glory and then for our good.

Incidentally, I don’t know of anywhere in the Gospels where the disciples were characterized as men of prayer.  They often watched Jesus pray but they didn’t enter into intercession themselves.  In fact, in the hour of Jesus’ greatest need they dropped their eyelids instead of dropping to their knees.  We’re the same way, aren’t we?  We know prayer is important, we know Jesus modeled it, but most of us fall far short.  

If we want to pray like Jesus prayed, let’s learn along with his disciples as we read the first part of Matthew 6:9: “In this manner, therefore, pray: ‘Our Father in heaven…’”  If we get these first four words right, then we get everything right.  We’re given a couple guidelines for prayer before the praying begins.

  • Pray in context of community.  Most of us come to the Lord with a lot of “I, me, and my” in our prayers.  When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he used no singular personal pronouns.  Nowhere do we find the words me, myself or I.  Listen: Our Father…give usour daily bread… forgive us our debts…we also have forgiven…lead us not into temptation…but deliver us…”
  • Pray with relational reverence.  Prayers should be directed to “Our Father in heaven.”  Jesus addressed His prayers to His Father, using this title more than 70 different times.  This alone was unique because the religious people of the day didn’t use this term.  Rather, they used exalted titles like, “King of the Universe” or “Sovereign Lord.”  As far as I can tell, the only prayer Jesus ever prayed without the word Father was when He was on the cross and cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  

When we become believers, Romans 8:15 says that we receive the Holy Spirit who makes us children of God, “and by Him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”  The new birth is required in order to have this kind of relationship.  This word “Abba” means “daddy” or “papa” and communicates the intimacy and nearness of God.  

Our ‘daddy’ God is attentive; unlike I am many times with our daughters.  Several years ago, one of our girls was wearing pajama pants and walked through the kitchen holding up a pair of jeans. She stopped and asked what I thought she should wear to a Sports Banquet.  I told her that I liked both options.  She just rolled her eyes because it was obvious I wasn’t paying attention…once again.  She tracked down her mom for the answer.  Our ‘daddy’ God is never distracted.

Our Father is in heaven. Don Carson points out that this is a good corrective for evangelicals who often show way too much irreverence, shallow theology and experience-oriented worship: “When believers pray ‘Our Father in heaven,’ they cannot but be hushed and humbled.”  

3 Requests for God’s Glory

After acknowledging God as our Father, Jesus gives us three God-centered requests that have to do with His glory.

1. Adoration: “Hallowed be your name.”


To hallow means, “to make holy” or to set apart.  We are to treat His name differently from all other names.  He is intimate like a Father and He is infinite in holiness.  God’s nature is like a daddy but His name is holy.  Our open access to Him should not destroy our esteem for Him.  He is not the “big guy in the sky” or “our best buddy.”  He is the holy and awesome God of Israel, before whom we should tremble like Isaiah did in Isaiah 6.   

He is personal and He is powerful. 

While we have a relationship with Him we must also revere Him.  He is our friend but He is also a consuming fire as Hebrews 12:29 says.  He is other than us and yet He is ours.  He is personal and He is powerful.  He is mine and He is majestic.  He is immanent and transcendent.  Do you praise and prize God’s name?  Are you committed to spread the fame of His name?  One way we hallow His name is by not being shallow!

I came across Isaiah 29:13 this week.  Listen to it in the NASB: “Because this people draw near with their words and honor me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for me consists of tradition learned by rote.”

Praying, “hallowed by your name” is a safeguard against self-seeking prayer.  Before we can move on to the other petitions in this prayer, we must avoid using His name irreverently.  For some of us, that means that we need to stop using His name as a cuss word.  For others it means that we need to avoid saying God’s name tritely or using the Christian equivalent of a swear word.  The phrase “OMG” should be thrown out.  Let the hallowing of God’s name be the supreme aim of your life as you honor Him with respect, adoration and reverence.

2. Affirmation: “Your kingdom come.”

The word “kingdom” in the Greek means “rule” or “reign.”  To pray, “Your kingdom come” is to pray that God may take up reigning residence in the hearts and lives of those who are in rebellion.  It is a prayer for salvation, for kingdom citizenship.  In Luke 17:21 Jesus says that the “kingdom of God is within you.”  

Can you imagine what would happen if we were preoccupied with the coming of God’s kingdom?  Just think about what would take place in this community if we were determined to pray that God’s kingdom rule would make itself known in the lives of our neighbors and co-workers!  Can you imagine how our church would be different if each of us was concerned more about God’s kingdom than our own?  Martin Luther once said that if most Christians really understood what they were saying when they prayed for God’s kingdom to come, they’d shudder with fear.

3. Acceptance: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

When we pray this part we are really saying, “Almighty Father God, take control of my life and do what you will for your glory.”  Prayer is not asking God to do my will.  It is bringing me into conformity with His ways.  How is God’s will done in heaven?  It’s done joyfully, instinctively, immediately, and constantly.  To pray this request is to say that we want it to be the same here.  By praying this, I’m saying that by God’s grace, I will do His will!  I like what John Wesley said: “I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.”

Henry Blackaby says that instead of asking God to bless our plans we need to commit ourselves to His.  Figure out where God is moving and join Him in that.  Or, we could say it like this: “God show me your plans and bless me as I make them mine.”

3 Requests for our Good

Did you notice that we’re half-way through the prayer before Jesus allows us to ask for anything for ourselves?  The first half of this model prayer is God-ward – adoration, affirmation and acceptance.  The second half focuses on the believer.  We move from God’s glory to our good.  Once God is given His rightful place, then we have the proper perspective toward ourselves.  

Two young brothers were spending the night at their grandparents.  At bedtime, they knelt beside their beds to say their prayers.  The youngest one began praying at the top of his lungs: “For my birthday, I pray for a new bike, an iPad, and a new Playstation.”  His older brother leaned over and said, “Why are you shouting your prayers? God isn’t hard of hearing.” His little brother replied, “No, but Grandma is.”  Friends, you don’t have to yell out these four requests because God is not hard of hearing.  

1. Provision: “Give us this day our daily bread.”

This request has more to do with the totality of our physical life.  The word bread is really a broad term representing all of our physical needs. Would you notice that we are to pray for our needs, and not our greeds? 

When I was in the Dominican Republic in November, one of the young girls at the care center led in prayer before lunch.  After she was finished I asked Emily to translate.  The is what she prayed, “May the food fall well in our stomachs.”  For these kids, many of whom only get one meal a day, their prayer is for the food to last for 24 hours in their stomachs.  One sad note is that Emily told me that for some of the kids, when they come on Monday to the care center and have lunch, that this will often be the first meal they will have eaten since Friday.

Notice that this request for bread is for this day.  In the first century, bread had to be made on a daily basis.  They couldn’t just buy a couple loaves and put them in the freezer or pop over to Panera.  Like manna that came once a day, God provides one day at a time.  I like Proverbs 30:8: “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.”  The point of the prayer is not for us to get what we want, but to receive what we need.

2. Pardon: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” 

The first request is physical but forgiveness of sin is the greatest need of the human heart.  Only God can grant us pardon from punishment and guilt.  A debt is something owed that must be paid back.  Sin is a debt that only God can free us from.  Notice that Jesus immediately gives us a caveat – we are to also release others from debt.  This verse teaches us that it is wrong to ask from God what we are not willing to give to other people.  This is the only prayer petition in the Disciple’s Prayer that is emphasized with additional challenging words.  Drop down to verses 14-15: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

An unforgiving spirit will eat you alive and choke off your prayers.  As Hebrews 12:15 says, make sure that you don’t have a root of bitterness that is defiling those closest to you.  Let me ask a few questions.  Is there anyone who comes to mind right now who is in need of your forgiveness?  Have you been holding someone captive?  Is there someone in need of some grace?  

It’s the height of hypocrisy to expect God to forgive us if we are unwilling to forgive others.  And, when we fail to forgive someone, we set ourselves up as a higher judge than God himself.  Another way to say it is that our relationship with the Lord cannot be right until our relationship with others is made right.  I love how a four-year-old prayed this part of the prayer: “And forgive us our trash baskets as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets.” Is there someone you’ve been trashing?  Or, have you been trashed?  Go and be reconciled so you can get rid of the garbage that has been piling up between you and that other person.

3. Protection: “And do not lead us into temptation.”

Will God answer a prayer like this?  Absolutely.  1 Corinthians 10:13 gives us a wonderful promise: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; He will not allow you to 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.” When you’re faced with an enticement, look for the way out and don’t put yourself in situations to sin.  Psalm 19:13 is a practical prayer: “Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.”  

Let’s be honest.  Some of us aren’t all that terrified of temptation.  But we need to be because we never know when sin is coming to enslave us.  Genesis 4:7: “…sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”

4. Power: “But deliver us from the evil one.” 

Satan is a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour so we must continually be on the alert so that we don’t fall into evil.  Paul put His confidence in the Lord’s power in 2 Timothy 4:18: “The Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His kingdom.”

Prayer Practices

Some people think of prayer like a parachute – they’re glad it’s there but hope they never have to use it.  Let me suggest some practical ways to put this prayer into practice.

  1. Pray this prayer everyday.  The main reason to prayer this prayer is that it’s Scripture!  The prayer is not magic but when the heart is engaged, it is mighty, as long as we do so with reverence and with expectancy that God will answer it.  It’s only about 65 words and can be prayed in under a minute.
  2. Use this prayer as a pattern for prayer.  It’s good to recite this prayer and it’s also good to use it as a pattern for prayer, much like we did earlier in the service.  One friend sent me this note about she uses this pattern for praying within her ministry leadership team: “One person will start by praising God, then the next person asks for His will to be done, then the next person prays and opens up the time for confession…the next person praises God for forgiveness and asks that we won’t fall into temptation and that we’ll be delivered from evil and the evil one, then the last person opens it up to bring our needs before him.”  

An unknown author put together a great summary of the Disciples’ Prayer.

  • I cannot say “our” if I live only for myself.
  • I cannot say, “Father” if I do not endeavor each day to act like His child.
  • I cannot say, “hallowed be your name” if I am playing around with sin.
  • I cannot say, “Your kingdom come” if I am not allowing God to reign in my life.
  • I cannot say, “ your will be done” if I want my way all the time.
  • I cannot say, “Give us this day our daily bread” if I am trusting in myself instead of in God’s provision.
  • I cannot say, “Forgive us our debts” if I am nursing a grudge or withholding forgiveness from someone else.
  • I cannot say, “lead us not into temptation” if I deliberately place myself in its path.

If you have special need for prayer related to a health issue, an emotional situation, a habit you can’t break, a relational difficulty, or any other need, I invite you to come up front while we sing “Come to the Cross.”  After we’re done singing, I will pray for you using the prayer Jesus taught His disciples to pray.

“Our holy heavenly Father, we bow before your majestic presence, recognizing that as we come before you, our sins threaten to consume us.  You are holy, holy, holy and the whole earth is full of your glory.  We praise you and prize you because of your transcendent holy name.  We hallow your name because you are high and lifted up and we hallow your name by striving to live holy lives.  Help us to always treat you as holy.  We pray that your kingdom, not ours, would come through conversions, through our commitment to your kingship, and we look forward to the glorious day of your appearing as you consummate history and usher in your eternal kingdom.  Help us to be kingdom oriented in the way we live so that we will honor you with our lives, and fire us up to do your will always, for what we want is your will to be done and your glory to be on full display.  

We desire to have you triumph as King in our lives and we lean on you to provide for our physical needs.  We pray for healing right now for those pummeled by pain, filled with fear and discouraged by disease.  If it weren’t for your provision, we would have nothing.  What we do have is a gift from you.  And so we choose to trust you for our daily bread, every day so that we might grow in our relationship with you as we see you provide in ways we never thought possible.  Thank you that we live as forgiven sinners without any fear of condemnation.  Give us the courage and humility to make things right with others by owning our sins and by cutting others some slack so we can give them the same gift of mercy that you’ve given to us.  And when we’re faced with the temptation to trample your holiness in our thoughts, words, and actions, lead us on right paths and deliver us from the evil one.  We ask this for you glory and for our good.  Amen.”

I’d like each of you now to simply reach over to the person next to you or in front of you and your hand on his or her shoulder.  And now I’m going to pray the exact words from Matthew 6 for each of us.

“Our Father in heaven, 

hallowed be your name, 

your kingdom come,

 your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  

Give us this day our daily bread.  

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive 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.”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?