The Lordï¿½s Prayer, as it is often called, the so-called "Our Father," nowadays plays an important role in Christendom. It is prayed on every occasion (e.g., in connection with the Lordï¿½s supper, baptism, sermons, funerals) - at every opportunity.
But, if we have a look at the prayers which are mentioned in Acts, we notice that the first Christians never used this prayer. And further, apart from the Gospels, it is never mentioned in the New Testament. How have we to understand this? Is the Lordï¿½s Prayer not good enough? Didnï¿½t He teach it to His disciples, saying, "When ye pray, say..." (Luke 11:2)? The propitiatory work of Christ had not been fulfilled nor had the Holy Spirit come to earth. Thatï¿½s the decisive fact.
The Lord Jesus had taught His disciples about the Father, and only He, the Son, could reveal the Father (Matthew 11:27). He had introduced them into the knowledge of the Father and had made Him known to them, so that He could say to His Father before His crucifixion: "And I have declared unto them thy name and will declare it" (John 17:26). Therefore the question arose in the hearts of His disciples how they should pray. Because they had the impression that the old Jewish forms of prayer were no longer in accordance with their position as disciples of Christ, into which they had been put through the revelation of the Father, the Lord fulfilled their desire ("Lord, teach us to pray," Luke 11:1) giving them this prayer, which is not quite accurately called The Lordï¿½s Prayer or the Our Father (Matthew 6:9-13). Not quite accurately as the Lord Himself never uttered this prayer. If anything is His prayer, then it is the one in John 17, where He as the Son talks to the Father. Nevertheless I will use these terms for the sake of simplicity.
From the fact that the Lord Jesus gave His disciples this prayer we learn a very important thing. A prayer should always be in accordance with the revelation He has given of Himself. Or, in other words, the measure of revelation which God gives of Himself at a particular time is the basis of the relationship into which the believers have come and is therefore also the basis of their prayers. The kind of prayer is determined by the intimacy of the relationship which they enjoy through the grace of God.
This prayer, which starts with the words Our Father, was the suitable expression for the disciples, who surrounded the Lord as Messiah on earth and were already brought into relationship with the Father in heaven. We can be sure that they prayed it until the crucifixion of the Lord, although we have no information about that. They surely prayed this prayer each for himself, because a common prayer of the disciples is never mentioned in the Gospels. The Our Father was definitely not given as a collective prayer, even if it was in the "we-form," which only shows that others are also brought into this relationship with Him as our Father.
The Lordï¿½s teaching about prayer in Matthew 6:5-15, which is ended by the Our Father, only deals with the prayer in the closet-"But thou, when thou prayest, enter into the closet" (v. 6)-that point is usually missed. The Our Father is a personal prayer, not a collective one. But for us as Christians, who are brought into the position of sons of God, who have the Spirit of God in whom we say "Abba, Father" (Galatians 4:6; Romans 8:15), the "Our Father" is not a suitable expression for our feelings and our thoughts. It is our privilege to pray in the name of the Lord Jesus.
But we would like to point out some moral teachings of the Our Father. Even if this prayer is not intended for our actual use, it contains some important points which are of great value for us, too.
The prayer consists of six requests in which we find six divine principles. This is their order:
HONOR Hallowed be thy name
GOVERNMENT Thy kingdom come
OBEDIENCE Thy will be done in earth
DEPENDENCE Give us this day our daily bread
RESTORATION And forgive us our debts
PRESERVATION And lead us not into temptation
What an accumulation of divine truths in only a few words! What a perfect pattern of a prayer from the lips of our Lord! How could it be otherwise, when He, the great teacher, teaches us! We notice that the first three requests are connected with God, the last three with men. Letï¿½s realize this: In the Lordï¿½s Prayer the rights of God have the supreme place, the needs of men come only second.
Isnï¿½t that a moral principle, which we should remember-not only in our prayers but also in our whole life-should not the things of God have the first place in our life and consequently in our prayers, too? "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness" (Matthew 6:33). How sad to say that it is often the other way around! Apart from the moral principle which we see in this prayer may we ask ourselves, keeping in mind the first request: How important is it for us, that His Name be honored by us and by others? Is that the governing principle in our life?
The second request deals with His kingdom. Today, Satan, the prince of this world, governs this earth-and what terrible results this has for men! Have we not enough reason to be rejoicing that this will not last forever, and that God will assume His government on earth in the person of His Son? Are we longing for this moment, when His Son, our Lord, will gain His rights here on earth and will restore everything in a way God ever wanted it to be? Are we among those "that love His appearing" (2 Timothy 4:8)?
And what does obedience to His will mean for us? Is it more important for us to obey Him than to please men? Have we learned yet that without obedience there is no blessing? Of course, the time when the will of God will be done in heaven and on earth is still future. Apart from the presence of Satan in heaven (Job 1:6-12; Revelation 12:7-12) the will of God is done in heaven, as the angels "do his commandments" (Psalm 103:20). But the earth is the scene of the self-will of men. Therefore morally speaking there is a "partition" between heaven and earth. This partition will eventually be removed in the millennium, and there will be harmony between heaven and earth, because the will of God will govern in both spheres. But today we are called "unto the obedience of Jesus Christ," called to obey God as Christ obeyed Him. The people of this world donï¿½t care about the will of God, but is His will governing at least our lives? Are we willing to say in connection with our lives "thy will be done"?
Do we in our affluent society realize day by day our dependence upon God in all questions of our daily lives? Do we still give thanks to Him that He gives us our bread daily as well as all others things we need in this world? Are we thankful that we as children of God know the principle of restoration? If we fail through sin, God in His grace restores us again and again to the practical enjoyment of fellowship with Him. That is wonderful. But do we also have a forgiving spirit towards those who have sinned against us?
Could we pass through this evil world with all its dangers for spirit, soul, and body, and reach our destination unharmed, if we did not experience the perpetual preserving of God? But are we also aware of our own inability and weakness to stand in the trials into which God brings us (that is the meaning of temptation here, because God does not tempt with evil; James 1:13)? Or are we self-confident and trust in our faithfulness and experience? These are all heart-searching questions, and so this prayer is speaking to us, too, through the principles it contains. Indeed, we have much to learn from it, morally.
I would like to add a word concerning the fifth request as it is often misunderstood, "And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." We must remember that the Lord didnï¿½t give this prayer to men in their natural, sinful state, but to His disciples, who were already believing. Unbelievers could never say "Our Father." The tax collector in Luke 18 could only say "O God" (v. 13). This request, "And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors," doesnï¿½t show the way a sinner can obtain forgiveness of sin. No, the Lord speaks of the believer and the mind he ought to have if others should have sinned against him. In His governmental ways God wouldnï¿½t answer a request in prayer from someone who has an unforgiving mind. How solemn is that also for us and our prayers!
We may utter all our faults and our daily failures confidently before our God and Father, but then we have to be in a forgiving spirit toward those who have sinned against us. We have a very similar word in the Gospel of Mark 11:25: "And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any, that your Father also, who is in heaven, may forgive you your trespasses." This passage deals with forgiveness in the governmental ways of God with His people, not with eternal forgiveness. May we therefore learn from the Lordï¿½s Prayer this as well. If we want our prayers to be answered, weï¿½ll have to have a mind of forgiving mercy and mustnï¿½t be filled with ugly feelings against our brother. The genuine Christian standard for our forgiving is, by the way, much higher than that of the "Our Father"; we should forgive one another "even as Christ forgave you" (Colossians 3:13).
I hope very much that we have learned to see the difference between a practical application and the actual use of this precious prayer. As a pattern it is of utmost moral value for us, but as a prayer we as Christians cannot possibly pray it. It was and is determined for another time and for other believers. If we take the second request as an example: "Thy Kingdom come." Apart from the moral application which I have tried to give, can we actually pray that request in our prayers? No, impossible! It would mean that we direct our view below and not above; that we were waiting for the coming for the kingdom in power and glory-and not for the coming of Christ, for the rapture of His bride. It would mean that we were waiting and longing for nothing else but the establishment of the kingdom. But that is certainly not the Christian hope. Therefore the prayer of a true Christian is not "Thy kingdom come," but "Amen; come, Lord Jesus" (Revelation 22:20).
But how suitable was the request "Thy kingdom come" for the disciples at that time, to whom the kingdom had been preached as "at hand"; first through John the Baptist and then through the Lord Jesus Himself (Matthew 3:2; 4:17)! They were rightly expecting this kingdom. They couldnï¿½t know yet that it would be postponed, because its king, their Lord and Master, would be rejected by His people. But the application of this prayer given by the Lord to His disciples is not the only meaning and application. When the assembly, which is being built today, will have left this world, there will be again a faithful remnant among the Jewish people here on earth. They will go through incomparable tribulation (Matthew 24:15), and at that time this prayer, the "Our Father," will again be prayed, and certainly the second request, "Thy kingdom come" will be uttered with special fervor.
Coming back once again to the beginning of the "Our Father," do not the introductory words "Our Father, who art in the heavens" (JND) indicate a kind of distance? The Lord had indeed tried to give His disciples an impression of who the Father was, so that they no longer knew Him only as "the Lord of all the earth" (Joshua 3:11) or as "the God of heaven" (Daniel 2:18, 37). Nevertheless the Father is seen as in the heavens and those who are approaching Him are on the earth, at rather a distance, so to speak. At that time they couldnï¿½t have that consciousness of His nearness, which is our privilege today. We are seated in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:6) and it wouldnï¿½t be appropriate in our position of nearness to the Father (Ephesians 2:18) to pray to Him as in the heavens.
We learn from all this, that this prayer, as perfect as it is in itself, canï¿½t be the appropriate expression of those who are children of God and have known the Father (1 John 3:2; 2:13). They have the marvellous privilege of praying in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Translated from German by Michael Vogelsang