The pattern Jesus offers is traditionally called The Lord’s Prayer. Jesus does not commanded his disciples to repeat these words; rather he gives this as a pattern for prayer. The words are your own, but typically these are the sorts of things part of regular prayer. It cannot be emphasized enough: this is a pattern for prayer, not a list to be memorized and repeated. Nor is the Lord’s Prayer a complete “theology of prayer.” This pattern differs somewhat from the Psalms and it differs from other prayers of Jesus in the Gospels. Paul’s letters almost always begin with prayers which do not follow the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus is simply offering his disciples direction to avoid the babbling of the hypocrites (whether Pharisees or pagans).
The first line of the prayer focuses the prayer on God and God alone. “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” To address God as father is both consistent with Jewish prayers of the first century and radical at the same time. There are many of examples of Jewish prayers which address God as father, although for the most part they are prayers which describe God as father of Israel, or the creator, “Father of All,” not a personal, yet divine “father” figure.
The basis for this in the prayer of Jesus is that Jesus creates a new family consisting of his disciples, a family which persists into the present age as well. Paul uses family language to describe our new relationship in faith, we are brothers and sisters to each other, we are co-heirs with Christ, sharing the same father who is in heaven (Romans 8).
For Paul, this means that regardless of our real family (or lack thereof), we have a new family which has bonds running deeper than a physical family. This is the radical element in Jesus’ prayer – the sovereign God of heaven can be addressed as father, we are within our rights to call him father, and it is something which we are expected to do.
This prayer is God-centered, beginning with worshiping God for who he is. Hallowed means “holy, revered” or perhaps even “blessed.” This is quite consistent with the Psalms which often “bless the name of God” and the Jewish expression after referring to God, “may his name be blessed.” This is a brief adoration of God and a statement that we revere his name – this can and ought to be expanded! A prayer intentionally focused on God will begin by worshiping God for who he is.
This is where good theology enhances prayer and worship. The more one studies the attributes of God, for example, the more one can worship God in prayer because of his holiness, his justice, or his mercy. What we learn in a class room or Bible study ought to inform our prayer life and our worship. I have occasionally joked about this, but I am quite serious about it here. It may not be the case that after lecturing on the arguments for God’s existence, I lead the class in worship, perhaps raising our hands in worship and reciting the ontological argument for God’s existence. But the more we come to know God, the more we are able to focus out prayer on who is actually is (as opposed to our immature mental image of who he is).
Unlike this clear focus on God in prayer, popular Christian prayers tend to pray focus on the needs of the person praying. Anyone who has gone to an evangelical “prayer meeting” can attest to the self-centeredness of the “prayer request time.” This is not wrong; Paul tells his readers to bring their requests to God (Phil 4:6-7).
The opening to the Lord’s Prayer focuses prayer on God’s will to be done in this world. For many Christians tagging “if it be your will” on to a prayer allows some wiggle room in case their prayer goes unanswered. But that is not Jesus’s point here. Since the prayer calls for God’s kingdom to come,
Does Jesus say we are to pray for God’s will as if it is the complete opposite of “our will”? It is possible to think that God’s will is for us to all be missionaries in Africa, and that to not be a missionary is somehow out of God’s will. This is absolutely not the case.
God’s will is for us to respond properly as his dearly loved children, with obedience and respect, to love him and to live out our lives as a dearly loved child of God. Jesus is the ultimate model of submission to the Father’s will. Even at the time of the crucifixion, he prayed “not my will but thine” (Matt 26:39). This prayer does not imply that Jesus will was to not die on the cross, and that he was grudgingly submitting to the will of the Father. The will of Jesus and the will of the Father are the exact same thing in this case.
If we are praying for the will of God to be done, then we will want to know what God’s will is and we commit ourselves to doing that will. Knowing and committing are really two different things, since knowing God’s will is fairly easy; doing God’s will is much more difficult. Beginning our prayer with a clear focus on who God is and what God’s will is a daily commitment (or re-commitment) to being what we are, children of God.
For some Christians, there is a serious problem using father terminology. It may appear patriarchal, implying Gods is a “big man in heaven” everyone must obey. Not everyone particularly likes their human father and in far too many cases the metaphor of “God as Father” evokes horrible images for people who have been hurt by their earthly father. How do we make this work in the modern world?