The Lord’s Prayer is found in Matthew 6:9–13. Luke also included a somewhat abbreviated part of it in his Gospel (11:2–4). Actually the Lord’s Prayer is the Lord’s prayer only in the sense that He gave it to His disciples as a sample prayer; He could not pray this prayer Himself, as He is the Sinless One—the prayer includes such petitions as “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Therefore, the prayer might more appropriately be called the “Disciples’ Prayer.”
As we look at the context we see two important things: First, Jesus had just warned against show in praying. He said, “Do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may glory of men” (v. 2). Second, He warned against vain repetition in praying: “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking” (v. 7). We must consider these warnings when we look at the use of the Lord’s Prayer.
We must also consider what Jesus said in verse 9: “After this manner therefore pray ye.” Notice that He did not say, “Pray ye these very words.” Jesus’ emphasis was not so much the exact prayer He gave as it was the elements in the prayer that should also be present in our praying. These elements are worship, praise, and adoration (vv. 9, 10); asking God to supply our needs (v 11); confessing our sins (v. 12); and acknowledging our need of God’s divine protection against the world, the flesh, and the Devil (v. 13).
Note, too, the first two words of the prayer: “Our Father.” This shows us that only true believers can pray this prayer. Many—perhaps almost all—of the churches using this prayer as a part of their liturgy do not believe in a “saved only” membership. Thus there are unsaved as well as saved who are repeating this Sunday after Sunday. This is wrong. Unbelievers cannot pray, “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”
In the light of these considerations, can, or should, we pray the Lord’s Prayer? The answer is that there is nothing in the Lord’s Prayer that would keep us as individual believers from doing so if we sincerely did it from the heart. In other words, there is a difference between saying the Lord’s Prayer and praying the Lord’s Prayer. But why stop with that particular prayer? This prayer was given to the disciples in response to their request, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1). The idea is that we go beyond this prayer and truly learn to communicate with God. It is sad when Christians don’t get beyond the Lord’s Prayer or “Now I lay me down to sleep. . . .“ The Lord’s Prayer was to be just the beginning. It was a pattern rather than a substitute. It had all the elements needed in prayer, but the intent of the Lord was to give a model to begin from.
I spent the first ten years of my life in a liturgical church where the Lord’s Prayer was recited every Sunday. I had the impression that this was the closest many of the people got to anything that resembled praying. They knew the Lord’s Prayer in their heads from early childhood; but genuine prayer must come from the heart. Of course, many fundamentalist Christians have much to learn in their prayer experience as well. But we must not put this prayer, or any other written prayer, up on a pedestal and reverence it beyond what God intended. There is nothing magical or holy in itself about the act of reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Mere recitation is what Jesus had just been warning about in the context. Prayer, if it is to be prayer at all, has to come genuinely from the heart. True prayer is original and sincere.
With regard to collective use of the Lord’s Prayer, it might not be wrong on occasion. At the college I attended—a fundamental Baptist college—the president appropriately led students in praying the Lord’s Prayer prior to artists’ recitals and other formal assemblies. But again we must be careful that these things not become mere repetition. As far as its use in the local church is concerned, we have no record of it being used in the book of Acts or in the early church. This doesn’t mean it cannot be used; it just means that it doesn’t have to be used.
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