Many years ago, I read a short article on the Lord’s Prayer. The reading shaped my understanding of the basic outline of the Lord’s prayer greatly. The Lord’s Prayer can actually be understood and remembered – and prayed! – in the form of six “Ps.”
The Person of the Prayer
Firstly, we look at the PERSON of the prayer. “Our Father in heaven.” In prayer, it is always reassuring to know and remember that we are praying to the God of heaven and earth, who has now become our Father.
Jesus is the first person in the history of the world who dared to call God “Father,” and taught people to call God “Father” too. Because God is our Father, we can confidently and freely come before Him in prayer. He loves us, cares for us, and provides for us because He is our Father.
Secondly, we understand the PURPOSE of the prayer. Although – or perhaps because – God is our Father, we must revere Him – “hallowed be your name.” The purpose of prayer is that God and His name would be honoured as holy – both by us and the world. The purpose of prayer is also that God’s kingdom will come and that His will would be done on earth as it is in heaven.
If we listen carefully to our prayers, many times they amount to praying “My kingdom come, my will be done in heaven as it is on earth.” But the true purpose of prayer is that it will be God’s kingdom and God’s will that would be done on earth – in us, on us, through us, by us, by all, by God Himself.
The third facet of prayer is the PROVISION of the prayer. “Give us this day our daily bread.” We ask God for things. And rightly so. But many times we are unable to distinguish between `our needs and our wants.‘ Jesus tells us to pray for bread; not for bread . . . and butter and jam, as it were. Jesus tells us to pray for the needs of our subsistence. It is also for “our needs” not just “my needs” that we need to learn to pray more.
Fourthly, there is the PARDON of the prayer. Often because of our sin, we don’t pray. But it is precisely because of our sin that we must pray. If there is one thing that we all need from God continually, it is forgiveness. And thank God, Jesus tells us to pray for our sins. And it is most reassuring that we can come to God for pardon continually.
But the pardon of God also makes demands on us to be forgiving of others. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive.” This is a very serious aspect of prayer, and if we learned to pray this prayer seriously, we would be a reconciled people. Living without good relations with others reflects living without prayer before God.
Fifthly, there is the PROTECTION of the prayer. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Often people are perplexed by this: Does God really lead us into temptation such that we need to pray that he does not do so? Does this not conflict with other parts of Scripture that teach that God does not tempt?
In my opinion, the most appropriate way of understanding the clause, “Lead us not into temptation,” is to understand it as a figure of speech commonly known as “litotes.” Litotes is a figure of speech in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative. For example, if you said to someone, “How are you?” and the person responded, “Not too bad, thank you,” what that person actually means is, “Fine, thank you.” That’s a litotes.
Litotes is also common in the Bible: In Isaiah, when God says, “My word shall not return to me empty,” it actually means, “My word shall return to me fruitfully.” Or when Jesus says, “Whoever comes to me I shall never drive away,” he means, “Whoever comes to me I shall surely receive.” Similarly, when Jesus tells us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” it means “Protect us from temptation.”
He also tells us to pray for deliverance from evil. “But deliver us from evil.” These evils are many – disease, death, destitution, depravity, deception, destruction, demons, and the devil. And we are to continually pray for protection and deliverance from them.
Finally, there is the PRAISE of the prayer. “For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever.” Our prayers must always include the element of praise for God, His goodness, His glory, and His greatness. To truly pray is to truly praise.
And so we pray:
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those
who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
Photo by Jeevarakshaka Prayer House, Bangalore