Understanding the Lord’s Prayer

Many people can recite the Lord’s Prayer without being able to explain what it means or answer basic questions about it.  I’d like to break it down very simply to help us all better understand what Jesus was teaching about prayer.

It’s a Pattern, Not a Chant. Jesus said, “This, then is HOW (not what) you should pray…”  Jesus gave it as a pattern for his followers to copy.  He did not intend for them to recite it as if they were chanting a magical incantation that would force God to do what they want him to do.  The different parts of the Lord’s Prayer are meant to teach us something about God, prayer, and about our need.

“Our Father in Heaven.” First, we should start our prayers by recognizing that we are praying to God Almighty who is in Heaven.  But at the same time, we approach him as a child approaches his loving father.  God is “in Heaven,” but He is our loving Heavenly Father.  Just as a respectful child approaches his father with humility and love, we also should approach praying to our Heavenly Father with humility and love rather than praying as if God is a “Cosmic Vending-Machine” who is there to give us whatever we ask for.  We should start our prayers by humbly recognizing who we are and who God is.

“Hallowed be your name.” We barely ever hear the word “hallowed” today, and most of us couldn’t give a good dictionary definition for it… and yet many recite it in the Lord’s Prayer without giving much thought to what we’re saying in this line.  “Hallowed” literally means “to make holy” or “to demonstrate as holy.”  So when we say “hallowed by your name,” what we are praying is, “show us how holy and perfect and ‘different from us’ you are!”  This line really is an extension of the opening acknowledgement that God is our Father in Heaven: First we recognize that God loves us and listens to us (“Our father in heaven”) and then we move on to recognize his holiness (“hallowed be your name).  God is not our buddy whom we should carelessly address, but neither is He is distant and uncaring God whom we should be terrified to pray to.

“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” God is the King.  When we say that God is “Sovereign,” what we are declaring is that God really is in charge of everything.  Even some atheists pray when their loved ones are in a terrible life-threatening accident.  That’s because there’s just ‘something’ inside of us that tells us God is in control, and Scripture time and again affirms that idea.  The word “will” means the same as “desire,” so by praying for God’s will to be done we are praying for all that God desires to be done.  If we pray but refuse to submit to God’s authority (“your will be done…”), then we are only deceiving ourselves and we’re not really praying the way Jesus taught his followers to pray.  As Jesus’ people pray and obey God’s will for them, his kingdom is made increasingly evident to the unbelieving world around them.

“Give us today our daily bread.” God provides.  He does not give us everything we ask for, but He gives us everything we need.  This doesn’t mean that people who are dying of starvation aren’t praying enough (but it does mean that others aren’t praying “your will be done” enough!).  God provides everything we truly need. This line points back to when God was leading Israel out of Egypt and provided the Manna from heaven each morning for them to eat.  God did not give them enough to last any more than a day so that they would have to continue relying on Him to provide.  Likewise, we are are following Jesus each day can trust that He will provide everything I need for today; and tomorrow he will provide for everything I need tomorrow.  God cares for his children and takes care of them.

“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” God is the only one who can forgive sin, I think most people agree about that.  In Matthew 6:12 the Lord’s Prayer says “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” while Luke 2:4 says “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.”  Scholars agree that the reason these lines are different is because Jesus probably taught them this prayer in Aramaic (which was the commonly spoken language of the day), so when they wrote the prayer in Greek they used different words to communicate what Jesus said.  This line in the prayer is significant, because we we pray we confess our sins to God and admit our need to be forgiven.  You cannot receive forgiveness if you don’t admit that you need it!

“And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Confessing sin to God in prayer is really important, but so is repenting from your sin.  I like to think about “Repentance” as doing an “About-Face” – imagine you’re walking one way, then you stop, turn around, and start walking in the opposite direction that you were walking in before – that’s what repentance is like.  When we confess our sin to God we are admitting our need to be forgiven and that we have dishonored God.  Confession is great, but if we do not repent of our sin then we are doomed to repeat it.  Praying this part of the Lord’s Prayer might sound like this: “God, I know that I have sinned by gossiping about my coworker.  This does not honor you and isn’t what you want from me.  I want to speak well of people and not be known as a gossip or slanderer.  When I am tempted to gossip, remind me of your desire for me to to speak well of people and make me a blessing rather than a discouragement.”  It’s important for us to realize that we cannot escape temptation on our own, no matter how “good” we are or how much self-control we have.  We are fully dependent upon the Holy Spirit who lives in Christians to give us eyes that see temptation coming and feet to escape it.

“For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, Amen.” Technically, this isn’t in the Lord’s Prayer in Scripture and therefore some traditions don’t say this when they recite the Lord’s Prayer.  This simply is a way of closing out the prayer while again declaring God’s holiness and sovereignty.  We pray for God’s kingdom and power and glory to be lifted up and made more beautiful in the eyes of all people.  “Amen” is an expression that means “So be it” or “Make it so.”  By closing our prayers with “Amen,” we are declaring that we truly believe that God has heard everything we have said and that He will do it.

I hope this has been a helpful look into the Lord’s Prayer.  Please feel free to ask any questions as a comment below and I’ll do my best to reply with an answer.  Martin Luther’s “Small Catechism” has a section on the Lord’s Prayer which is really good, I highly recommend it for those of you who might be looking to read a bit more.

50 thoughts on “Understanding the Lord’s Prayer

  1. Pingback: LWAYG: Prayer – What is it & Why do it? « CrossWalk Student Ministry

  2. I have said the Lord’s prayer as I fall asleep at night for years, but I appreciate your teaching that the Lord was telling us HOW to pray … that is even more meaningful. it adds a new dimension to the prayer.

  3. Thank you so very much for taking the time to explain the Lord’s Prayer.

    You made it easy to ins understand.

    God Be with you always and forever in your heart!

    Sincerely yours,

    Beth Ann Elizabeth Hummel

  4. Thank you for the explaination of the LORD’s prayer. i have been thinking how i can explain and understand this this prayer to young children. And I found the one in your message.

  5. Thank you for this, I will be able to use this with my young daughter, who likes saying this prayer before going to sleep every night.

  6. Thank You so much! I was looking for a way to break this down to it’s simplest form to my young children and you have helped greatly. Thanks again.

  7. Most of the time we recite we do not know, that is why it is written that ~my people perish because of lack of knowledge’. Am glad and thankful because one curtain has been removed through your teachings. May God open our spiritual eyes and our understanding.

  8. the memorized prayer is not good why? because some humans didn’t pray through their heart,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    • There’s absolutely nothing wrong with memorized prayers so long as you understand what you’re praying. My intention in this post was to help people understand what they are praying when they pray the Lord’s Prayer. I hope this helps clarify your question.

  9. The lecture on the Lords prayer is exhaustive enough but I will like to have more exposition on the mind of the Lord concerning “FORGIVENESS”.

  10. Pingback: Lord's Prayer - The Internal Light

  11. Great explanation! I have repeated the Lord’s prayer slowly reflecting on the meaning like you have presented and it is an amazing comfort and feeling of peace especially during times of trouble and turmoil. It brings things in perspective by knowing God is in control and His will be done.

  12. Pingback: Understanding the Lord’s Prayer | Living Theologically

  13. I did understand the Lord’s Prayer but this is a very good explaination,
    Although Jesus was telling us HOW to pray with an example to follow…I still love the Lord’s prayer in itself & say it every night along with my other prayers in Jesus name, Thy will be done. Thank you.

  14. There has always been one word in The Lord’s Prayer that disturbs me. It is the word “lead”. Perhaps the concept had a different meaning when Jesus was showing an example of how to pray. I hope you can help me. Here is my dilemma. “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”. The latter part is of true significance, and I understand it. However, my confusion lies in “And lead us not into temptation.” I don’t believe that God would ever “lead” us anywhere that might cause us to sin against Him, as well as, others (depending on the situation). I hope you have insight into what I consider confusing; my reaction is one of great frustration. Any insight you have to offer will be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    • Hi Diane, I’m so sorry it’s taken me so long to reply to your comment here, please forgive me.

      I’m not entirely sure I understand your question, so if I’ve misunderstood please correct me. What I hear is you asking, “Would God ever lead us into temptation? If not, then why pray that he wouldn’t?”

      God does not tempt us, we are tempted by our own sinful desires (James 1:13-14). Following God means we follow by faith.We will be tempted, and we will sin, because we still live with sinful hearts. But we do not live in fear of temptation, instead our focus is in Christ and in the cleansing power of his death and resurrection.

      So God does not tempt us, but God does lead us. And I know that my heart can turn even a good thing (“Pastor, good sermon”) into a sinful thing (thinking “I know, I’m God’s gift to the church”). It’s also helpful to remember that being tempted is not a sin, only giving in to that temptation is. Jesus was tempted, but was without sin because he resisted temptation. We don’t want to live in constant fear of sin/temptation; we want to live in freedom because God has overcome sin.

      I hope this helps.

    • What is it about the jewish peoples messiah having to be an acendent of king david and that is why they dont believe in jesus because he had no father?

  15. This is wonderful. When i was a child i was only thought to recite the Lord’s prayers but now i am an adult you just made me to understand the meaning of the Lord’s prayers. It is very helpful to me.

  16. Very good teachings however ““For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, Amen.” ” is a part of the Lord’s Prayer according to :
    Matthew 6:9-13
    King James Version (KJV)
    9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
    10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
    11 Give us this day our daily bread.
    12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
    13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
    You might would want to revise that part of your commentary God Bless and keep teaching the Glorious Word of God

  17. Not attempting to be disrespectful but Luke 2:4 (KJV) says: And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

    and not “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” according to your commentary re; Luke 2:4

  18. the Lord’s prayer that you quoted is found in Luke 11th chapter verses 1-4 King James Version

    Luke 11: 1-4
    1 And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.

    2 And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.

    3 Give us day by day our daily bread.

    4 And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.

    God Bless

  19. Thank you for your explanation, it is appreciated. I do have one question though. Why is it “And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. ” Instead of “And lead us not into temptation; and deliver us from evil.” But means exception, no? Wouldn’t we want not to lead us into temptation AND deliver us for evil? Thank you for any insight.

    • Great question. The Greek conjunction translated as “but” could also be translated as “and” depending on context. The biblical scholars who did the translation determined to translate it as a cobras tic conjunction (“but”), but that’s not to exclude the additional meaning that you’re pointing out. Does that make sense?

  20. I’m studying prayer and came across your blog. I’m confused by this statement: “This doesn’t mean that people who are dying of starvation aren’t praying enough (but it does mean that others aren’t praying “your will be done” enough!).” I think you are trying to say that bad things that happen to people are not necessarily due to a lack of faith or problem with the prayers of the people they happen to. But it seems even more wrong that bad circumstances are due to lack of faithfulness in others, who aren’t affected by those circumstances! Then by that logic, I guess good things that happen (like having enough to eat, for example) shouldn’t be a reward for the faithfulness or prayers of the people who receive them either. So if God already knows your heart, and the good or bad circumstances of your life are not connected to your prayer, what would be your motivation for praying for things you need or want to happen? Also, does prayer affect the world or events in any way, or does God already have a plan in motion? Is prayer primarily a way to worship and relate with God? Thanks

    • Hi Emily, thanks for your great questions. What I was getting at with that quote is simply the reality that we have a responsibility to care for each other. If more of us prayed “your will be done” and lived accordingly then the world would look much different and there would be much less suffering. That’s not to say that all suffering would end, but issues like world hunger would be drastically reduced if world leaders all worked to ensure everyone had what they need. Instead, much of the Western world keeps working to amass more and more while the Third World suffers. If we as Western Christians together prayed and lived out “your will be done” then I think our eyes would be more fixed on others’ needs rather than our own wants. In that way, there would be much less suffering. Obviously, this wouldn’t eliminate sicknesses and cancer and other issues like that, but I think this should clarify what I meant.

      Regarding prayer & God’s sovereignty and foreknowledge… volumes of books have been written about this so I don’t think a comment on this blog post will “solve” the mystery, but here’s my two cents. We pray because God is sovereign in an control. If He wasn’t, then prayer is futile and is only for mental peace, but it wouldn’t actually do anything. We do not bend God’s arm in prayer, as if we’re manipulating him or forcing him to do what we ask; but he does call us to pray and he does promise to act when we pray. Sometimes he says “yes,” sometimes, “no,” sometimes “not yet.” Every prayer is an act of submission and trust, not a command we are giving God… a “commanding prayer” is not a prayer at all, but an attempt to take God’s throne rather than a recognition that we live under his authority.

      I know there are may more related questions and clarifications that could be addressed here, but they’ll need to wait for another time since it’s such a vast and complex question you’re asking.

  21. I would like to give you a different slant on the information that is always and forever the same. Jesus Christ was simply a man who was enlightened , this is the reason why he often referred to himself as the “Son of Man” to show us that he was just like you and I. O.k,, let me break it down to the best of my ability.
    ~Our father which art in heaven:
    Jesus referred to the power that he discovered within him as the “Father”, the one creative force that inhabits all things, also referred to as the Infinite Creator. Keep in mind that within a creator that is infinite, it cannot harbor “one” or “many” because these are finite concepts. The only way to quantify an Infinite Creator is “all that is” or “unity”. , Jesus went on to explain that heaven is not a place that you go when you die, but it is within you. Not only is it within, it is at hand!
    ~Hallowed be thy name:
    The name of the Creator is “I AM”! I AM, is the center of every being on the planet. The only way to refer to yourself, is to refer to the Creator. As a matter of fact, every time that you introduce yourself, unknowingly you announce yourself as the Creator or I AM first. Example, I am Billy, nice to meet you. Remember, you were made in the image of the Creator. An image is a reproduction of the original. God said ” I will make me another me”. Furthermore, an omnipresent being is at all places at all times.
    ~Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven:
    We are in a level of existence where thoughts become physical things. “so a man thinkith, so a man is”, is the way that Jesus expressed it. This is the reason why you should never use the lords name in vain, “I am sad”, “I am sick:, “I am tired” ect. It will become part of your physical experience on earth because it was confirmed in heaven, or within you.
    ~Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us:
    This is very difficult to explain. The Infinite Creator is actually a singularity that shines through individuals as being separate, but its actually one being interacting with itself. Jesus uses the analogy of the vine and branch, the whole tree is the Creator. All things are one thing, and one thing is actually all things. When you hurt another person, you have done it to yourself. When you judge another person, you have judged yourself. When you forgive another person, you have forgiven yourself.
    More to come later.

    • Hi Billy,

      I don’t think this is much of a surprise, but we pretty strongly disagree. I appreciate that you read this explanation and that you contributed your perspective, but we’re to Jesus in completely different ways. Your description of Jesus is very Hindu and makes him seem like a guru, and that’s simply not who the biblical Jesus is. I doubt it would be helpful for me to share my point-for-point response to what you wrote (if you’d like to have that dialogue then let me know and I’d be happy to correspond with you via email).

      My biggest question would be: What do you do with Jesus’ death and resurrection? Is it a historical fact, or mere fiction?

      • Pastor Mike,
        Thank you for your response, and I figured that you would have a different interpretation of the lords prayer. I would love to hear your point for point response. Please keep in mind that there is no right or wrong in dealing with a topic that is infinite in nature, only deeper levels of understanding. Actually, infinite levels of understanding.

        As to your question, the death and resurrection is a fact. However, that topic is even more complex and would require a much deeper insight.

    • Here’s my fairly quick, point-for-point breakdown, as requested. I don’t have tons of time today to reply, but here’s my best (quick) shot… :)

      1. I am not the Father, and I am not in Heaven. You wrote that heaven is like a state of being that we can experience now. You also wrote that “I AM is the center of every being on the planet.” These are patently unChristian statements, and, in fact, are very Hindu (or Buddhist, depending on which branch of Buddhism you’re talking about). The Creator is distinct from the created, just I am different from the sandwich I ate for lunch, and my children are different-yet-similar to me and my wife.

      2. Jesus referred to himself as the “Son of Man” to point to himself as the promised-Messiah. Daniel 7:13-14 were well known prophecies in Jesus’ day, which were hundreds of years old by then, and Jesus identified himself as this “Son of Man” who was sent as the promised King and Savior. If Jesus is, as you say, “simply a man who was enlightened” then all Christians are greatly to be pitied and openly mocked as stupid fools who have totally misunderstood the very essence of their faith for the last 2000 years.

      3. Your quote “so a man thinketh, so a man is” is actually from Proverbs 23:7 (not from Jesus), and that translation is even a marginal reading. Most Bible translators do not translate the original Hebrew the way the King James Bible (which you quoted) does. The passage’s context simply points to the truth that what we believe about ourselves will impact how we live. This does not mean that my thoughts themselves actually create reality. If I think “I am rich, I am rich, etc.” that doesn’t mean I can go out and buy all sorts of things and trust that the money will be there to pay for them. If I get cancer and I want to think in my heart that it will go away without any medical treatment at all, then I am only deceiving myself. God answers prayer, and God still does miracles… but they are “miracles” because they are abnormalities from the created design of things.

      4. Sin is real, I am not you, and you are not me. You write, “All things are one thing, and one thing is actually all things.” This reflects the Hindu, “tat twam asi” teaching (“thou art that”). We are not all the same atman, we are not the same. We are all created in the image of God, which has been broken (not completely lost, but broken and twisted and warped) because of sin. When we sin against each other it is a real offense against a real other person and against a real God who will really judge me for my sin. These offenses are not merely perceived-offenses, but actual transgressions against someone else who has dignity as a man/woman created in the image of God. When someone hurts me, it is not enough for them to simply forgive himself without coming to me to apologize and make things right; and it is not enough to only come to me, but they must also be forgiven against the Creator they have sinned against by wounding and offending what He has created. Sin is real. This is why God entered the created world through Jesus Christ: in order to bear our guilt upon himself so that those who would believe on him and receive forgiveness might be given new hearts and new life.

      Unless we realize we are under God’s judgement because of sin then we cannot receive his grace through Jesus Christ. I pray that this is helpful to show just how much we disagree over these absolutely essential truths.

  22. The “I am’s” coming out of your mouth will either bring success or failure. All through the day the power of “I am” is at work. We make a mistake…”I am so clumsy”, we look in the mirror…”I am so old”, we someone who is talented…”I am so average”, we get caught in traffic…”I am so unlucky”, many times we use the power of “I am” against us. We don’t realize we are building our future. Principle: “what follows the I AM will always come looking for you”. When you say “I am so clumsy” clumsiness comes looking for you, when you say “I am so old” wrinkles comes looking for you. Whatever you follow the I AM with you are handing it an invitation, you are opening the door giving it permission to be in your life. ~JOEL OSTEEN

    I AM JUST TRYING TO SHOW YOU MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS THE POWER THAT IS WITHIN YOU. THE TRUE IDENTITY OF THE CREATOR, AND COMMONALITY THAT HUMANITY SHARES. I ASK YOU PASTOR MIKE, IF YOU HAD AMNESIA AND HAD NO RECOLLECTION OF YOUR LIFE…IF I ASKED YOU…WHO ARE YOU, WHAT WOULD YOUR ANSWER BE?

    I AM

    THIS IS THE GOD IN HEAVEN THAT WE ALL SEEK TO KNOW.

    • We’ll have to agree to disagree…

      Additionally, if I had amnesia and asked me that question I think I’d answer, “I don’t know!” :)

  23. Mike, I am an Episcopalian and we, at least I prefer to address my priest, even Bishop by their name. I say this so as to show I mean you no disrespect. I have enjoyed the repartee between you and Billy. In actuality I agree a bit with Billy. Jesus was an enlightened man, not in the sense that Buddhists seek enlightenment but was enlightened by God. This is because He is God in the Trinity. Enough of that before opening a new can of worms… To my question; do you think that Christians actually know what we are saying when we pray, “forgive us our trespasses (sins) AS we forgive others?” How many times have I heard someone say I will never forgive you (them?) Are we not setting ourselves up for failure? As to “lead us not into temptation” lead means to guide or go with showing the way. To me this passage says to God, “you are always with me, do not allow me to go down the wrong path with you by my side.” Just some thoughts.
    JohnB

  24. Sorry, one question. Constantine convened the Council of Nicea (resulting in our Nicene Creed) partly because of the colntroversy of whether Jesus was born man and became God or was boern God and became man. What are your thoughts?

  25. Thank you so very much , God has heard my prayers and after a long time, now is the right time for me to accidentally come across your email address . This is exactly what I was looking for, you have given me a reason to open my laptop everyday, all I wanted to learn about the Lord is right before me now. thank you, eve

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