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The Lord’s Prayer

In Matthew 6 and Luke 11, we find the “Lord’s Prayer.” These appear to be two separate instances in which Jesus provided a model for prayer, which has come to be called “the Lord’s Prayer.” In the Matthew account, Jesus was teaching a large crowd along with his disciples. This occurrence belongs to what we call the Sermon on the Mount. In Luke’s account, Jesus had spent some time praying. When he finished, his disciples asked him to teach them to pray also. Let’s take a closer look at the context and content of the Lord’s Prayer.

The text of the two prayers is nearly identical. The fact that they are not exactly the same demonstrates that these are two separate incidents, and that Jesus’ intention for this model has more to do with the spirit of prayer than with the repetition of static words.

The context of the prayer in Matthew’s Gospel shows that Jesus is trying to correct a hypocritical approach to prayer that was common among the religious leaders of the day. These hypocrites (Jesus calls them that!) would stand in public places and pray aloud for the benefit of being seen and heard by others. Jesus explains, “Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” (Matthew 6:5) Their prayers accomplished nothing further than perhaps impressing the simple-minded and swelling their own heads!

In contrast to the hypocrites, Jesus urges us, “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.” (Matthew 6:6)Our view of God impacts the way we pray. If we think that praying is simply a religious act with which we earn points with God and by which we can impress others, our view of God belittles and demeans him and twists our motives into something evil. But if we view prayer as a means for communion with our heavenly Father, who is awesome, loving and caring, we find great reward in him.

Jesus also explains that God is not interested in prayers full of endless babble or meaningless repetition. This was the practice among the pagans of the day and still is today. Jesus comments that these people think that God will answer because of their incessant pleading. But Jesus says, “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:8) Again, a false view of God leads to a distorted view of prayer.

Jesus then explained, “This, then, is how you should pray,” and he models what we call the “Lord’s Prayer.”

©2011 Rob Fischer