Jesus has been talking about using prayer hypocritically for show, impressing people to gain respect or influence. He tells his followers, however, to conduct their prayers in secret. He continues in Matthew 6:9 “Pray, then, in this way…”
In this way. Everything Jesus has said in this sermon on the mount constitutes a way of living, a kingdom way; a journey in which we are made his disciples. The way we love, the way we give, the way we talk, the way we overlook an offense, the way we interact—these are all ways we are formed into his followers. Thus Jesus’ words here provide another way that is formatively foundational for following. This “Lord’s prayer” is a framework for all prayer; it espouses a substance on which all prayer is nurtured. All our prayers should mature and grow into the redemptive reality in which Jesus’ prayer is rooted. Praying the substance of his prayer shapes in us the mindset of Jesus which, to begin with, is centered in the Father.
“Our Father who is in heaven…” Jesus is the perfect image of the Father; in John 14:9 he says if we’ve seen him, we’ve seen the Father. Following Jesus is ultimately about abiding in the Father. Jesus casts our prayerful imaginations beyond our selves and surroundings to perceive the Father whose mighty and majestic sovereign presence permeates the heavens, consequently permeating our minds with his magnificence, captivating our attention. In this way, prayer humbles our hearts by lifting our minds.
“Hallowed be Your name…” Once our minds have been elevated and stretched to perceive the Father reigning over us, we are now able to find satisfaction in his sovereignty and delight in his magnificence by letting our minds ponder the vastness of his splendor, awed in his mystery. Holy, set apart, unique, hallowed; his is a name regarded with reverence, treasured and cherished above any other. A name that holds all the hope for the present and the future. With our minds lifted heavenward, perceiving this heavenly holy one, Jesus opens our mouths to pray…
“Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The Father might abide a ways beyond us, but he refuses to abide away from us. He is not content to remain isolated from us but must make his dwelling with us. His salvation work consists of taking his kingdom, that redemptive reality being shaped in his celestial realm, and establishing it amongst our earthly existence so we in this world may participate in the work of heaven. In Jesus, the Father chooses to abide in our neighborhoods of flesh and blood, working his will within us. Seeing salvation at work through incarnation, we see we are not alone, not abandoned; that this is all according to plan. What was a promised redemption is becoming a redeemed reality, full of a restfulness in which we can now pray…
“Give us this day our daily bread…” The Father’s sovereignty and salvation work show us we need not fear the future. We can hope in him here and now and know we are being provided for, protected; we now have the blessed rest-filled assurance to ask for daily bread. Bread—it’s a very physical, earthy request; moments before, we’re thinking lofty, heavenly, spiritual thoughts about a Father who is hallowed, sacred, above us, beyond us, but now we’re talking about physical, crummy bread.
Asking for bread in a conversation with God connects the physical with the spiritual, a critical aspect for understanding Christian spirituality. It shows us the Father is as much concerned with physical realities as with spiritual realities. Christian spirituality is not merely about mystical niceties or pious idealizations, but how these wonderful spiritual realities are lived and worked out within our fleshly limitations and physical boundaries, the preservation and perseverance of which requires bread. The Father knows we need physical provision, and in providing it, the truth of his salvation is unfolded and revealed, reverberating redemptive reality through our spirits, enabling us to respond to his mercy.
“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…” Forgiveness is God’s grace-filled act of balance. It is a blessed dynamic that brings us into holy harmony with God, each other, and ourselves. Whereas daily bread preserves the flesh, forgiveness perseveres our spirit, and not just for ourselves. Forgiveness is not exclusively static, but inclusively vibrant. It reverberates through the disciple’s relationships, echoing grace all over the place. The forgiveness graced upon us by the Father flows out from us onto those around us. Its cyclical nature shows forgiveness is the impetus of kingdom community. As prayer forms in us a forgiveness-nature, we are cultivated into a God-aware community whose physical and spiritual needs are given provision and preservation from a Father whose salvation work encompasses the whole of our being.
“And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil…” The way in which we follow Jesus to the Father will always involve trials, but he teaches us to pray discerningly here that those trials never give way to temptations, potentially corrupting the holy character he is forming in us through prayer. It’s a request that the Father keep us in this way he started, not turning to the left or the right of this salvation way being paved and furthered in the footsteps of Jesus.
Jesus’ prayer frames the path of our own prayers. It’s a formational journey for the soul, beginning with a wondrous visual of the sovereign Father, finding satisfaction in his infinite holiness, submitting to the redemptive reality he is establishing amongst us, trusting in his daily provision, resting in his graceful preservation, responding mercifully to others, and persevering in this walk upon his holy way. As we pray our Lord’s words, they immerse our character into his, forming and navigating life upon his way.