Although the prayer many of us memorized has been stylized a little bit over the centuries, it’s very close to the original, which we find in Matthew 6:
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
“This, then, is how you should pray:
“ ‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one. ’
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:5-15)
If we can remove ourselves for a moment from the constraints of our childhood memories and church-based traditions, this is actually an astonishing moment in the development of Christianity. Right here, in these few verses, we have God Himself giving very clear directions about the manner in which we should pray. This is not pastoral advice given in a sermon, nor is it a suggested action plan from a learned teacher. Jesus, the Word made flesh, the image of the invisible God, the author and sustainer of life, the Alpha and Omega, is laying out for us in no uncertain terms exactly how we should be approaching God in prayer. That’s amazing!
Now, of course there are still many ways to pray, and many other examples of prayer throughout the Bible. Jesus’ own prayer in John 17 is hard to line up directly with the Lord’s Prayer as we have it here. However, we should be very careful not to ignore or rush past the fact that Jesus Himself says, “This, then, is how you should pray.”
How often do you actually pray (as opposed to merely thinking about things)? How do you go about praying? What difference does it make to know that this model was given to us by God Himself as a pattern He wants us to follow?