What Does the “Lord’s Prayer” Mean to You?
FOLLOWING the United States Supreme Court decision last summer prohibiting the recital of prayers in public-school classrooms, there was much criticism of the Court for its ruling. Nevertheless, those who value the privilege of prayer continue to pray earnestly, both privately and in company with others when it is appropriate. But not only is it important to pray, it is also important to understand the meaning of prayer, for what value is there in just repeating words in a mechanical way? This calls attention to the oft-repeated “Lord’s Prayer,” or, as some call it, the Our Father Prayer. It is not a prayer that Jesus prayed, but one that he taught his disciples as a model.
How often children and adults alike pray that prayer! According to a modern translation, it reads: “Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified. Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth. Give us today our bread for this day; and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the wicked one.” (Matt. 6:9-13) What is the meaning of the prayer? If your child, or someone unacquainted with Christianity, should ask: ‘Who is our Father? What is his name? Why should we pray for his kingdom, for his will to be done, and for our daily bread?’ could you give satisfactory answers? What does this prayer mean to you? Let us examine each expression in order to ascertain what it should mean to each one of us.
“Our Father in the heavens.” With this introduction we humbly acknowledge our subjection and inferior position. God is addressed as Father, not merely on the basis of his original creation of the first man and woman, but, rather, on the basis of the ransom sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ, through which he will eventually become the Father of all obedient mankind. Are we as obedient to Him as we expect our children to be to us? When he speaks through his written Word, do we pay attention and endeavor to conform to his righteous requirements? Only if we do can we properly address God as “Our Father.”
“God is in the heavens but you are on the earth,” we are reminded by the prayer. (Eccl. 5:2) Yes, God is the superior, and he dwells in the invisible spirit realm, whereas we are earthly creatures and, as such, cannot enter there. (1 Cor. 15:50) Although men are inferior to God, they have the precious privilege of talking to him through prayer. Those that love God are proud of his name and reputation, so it is natural that they pray:
“Let your name be sanctified.” But what is God’s name that is to be sanctified, that is, set apart as holy or treated as something sacred? It is not Jesus, as some may wrongly conclude, for Jesus was speaking, and he said: “Let your name be sanctified,” not “my name.” God himself tells us his name: “I am Jehovah. That is my name; and to no one else shall I give my own glory, neither my praise to graven images.”—Isa. 42:8.
The Bible sets that name Jehovah apart from and above all other names, using it well over 7,000 times. The sentiments of those who pray the “Lord’s Prayer” with appreciation of its meaning are well expressed in the psalmist’s prayer: “That people may know that you, whose name is Jehovah, you alone are the Most High over all the earth.” (Ps. 83:18) Because they long for God’s name to be cleared of all reproach and set high above every other name, sons of God also pray for his kingdom.
“Let your kingdom come.” Did you realize that this kingdom is a real government? Yes, it is a princely rule in the hands of the Prince of Peace, Christ Jesus. And the prophecy of Isaiah promises: “To the abundance of the princely rule and to peace there will be no end.” (Isa. 9:6, 7) Christ Jesus in his exalted heavenly position will act in the name of his Father, sanctifying that holy name, by uprooting all wickedness from the earth and ushering in perfect peace.—Ps. 72:1-7.
Through the centuries and down to this day wicked earthly governments have not only proved incapable of carrying out this will of God, but they have dishonored and reproached Jehovah’s name. Therefore, Christians pray for God’s kingdom to come against them and destroy them, as Daniel prophesied it will: “And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom . . . It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, and it itself will stand to times indefinite.” (Dan. 2:44) Although God’s kingdom has already been established in heaven, it has yet to “come” against Satan’s world to wipe out all wickedness, in answer to the prayer of Christians today. By means of that kingdom the following request is also fulfilled.
“Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.” By this petition one asks that God, by means of his kingdom, accomplish here on earth, as well as in heaven, what He wants done. With the removal of Satan the Devil and his angels from heaven God’s will is now being accomplished there. But what about the earth?—Rev. 12:7-12.
Certainly it is not God’s will that men fight and kill one another in bloody wars. Neither is it his will that they suffer and eventually die from painful, crippling diseases. The fulfillment of the petition for God’s will to be done on earth will therefore mean that eventually all earth’s inhabitants “will have to beat their swords into plowshares” and never “learn war any more.” And God “will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be any more.” Of what a glorious hope Christians are reminded by this prayer!—Isa. 2:4; Rev. 21:4.
After three petitions that deal directly with God’s interests, the prayer next makes four requests in behalf of the individual personally. In this the prayer shows proper arrangement. It reminds one that God should always come first, and that a person’s highest happiness comes in seeking His interests.
“Give us today our bread for this day.” Notice that this personal request is not selfish, since it includes others, petitioning for “us,” and it asks only for the material provisions for “this day.” Luke rendered Jesus’ expression: “Give us our bread for the day according to the day’s requirement.” (Luke 11:3) Thus a Christian is guarded against materialistic tendencies that cause so many of today’s anxieties. In harmony with his prayer, he can in faith look to God to provide for his daily necessities. This does not mean, however, that one can sit back and expect God miraculously to supply his material needs. In keeping with his prayer, one must work for his food, drink and clothing, but, then, if he has ‘sought first the kingdom and God’s righteousness,’ he can be confident that ‘these other things will be added to him.’—Matt. 6:19-34; 1 Tim. 6:6-8.
“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Jesus leaves us in no doubt as to how this is to work, for immediately following this model prayer, he explains: “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; whereas if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt. 6:14, 15) One does well to ask himself, Could it be that the Father does not answer my prayers because I have not met the requirement of being forgiving toward others? How essential the understanding of this prayer is if we are to use it with benefit to ourselves and others!
“Do not bring us into temptation.” This expression has puzzled many people. Does it mean God brings his people into temptation? That could not be, for James wrote: “When under trial, let no one say: ‘I am being tried by God.’ No; for with evil things God cannot be tried nor does he himself try anyone.” (Jas. 1:13) Jehovah, however, does allow Satan the Devil to tempt his servants. Why does God allow this? Because of the Devil’s boast that, if given the opportunity, he could turn all mankind away from God. How is it, then, that, in answer to this prayer, God does not bring his people into temptation?
Primarily it is in two ways: first, by strengthening them to endure the temptation. God does this by means of his Word of truth the Bible, his holy spirit and his organization of faithful servants. And, secondly, by forewarning them of the temptations and trials that lie ahead. Early Christians were thus forewarned, so that one of them could say: “We are not ignorant of [Satan’s] designs.” (2 Cor. 2:11) If a person acts in harmony with this prayer by availing himself of the above-mentioned provisions of God, he will not be led into temptation. The temptation will not affect him detrimentally, but the Scriptural assurance will apply in his case: God “will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, but along with the temptation he will also make the way out in order for you to be able to endure it.”—1 Cor. 10:13.
“But deliver us from the wicked one.” Where a child proves himself loyal under trial, will not a loving earthly father rescue the child from a wicked assailant and oppressor? Yes; and so will the heavenly Father. He will deliver his children from the attacks of the wicked one, Satan the Devil. He will make the way out for them, leading them through the end of this system of things, when he will destroy Satan and his entire wicked organization, into a new world. There they will enjoy forever the blessings of God’s long-prayed-for kingdom.—2 Pet. 3:13.
In the Authorized Version the words, “for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen,” are added at the end of Jesus’ model prayer. These words, however, are not found in old manuscripts such as the Sinaiticus, Vatican 1209, Codex Bezae and the sixth-century Codex Palimpsestus Dublinensis. They are, therefore, evidently spurious and are left out of modern translations.
Jesus did not give this prayer to his followers for them to repeat it mechanically, without thought as to its meaning. He gave it to them for the purpose of centering their attentions on the most important things of life—God’s name and kingdom. It was to serve as a deterrent to materialism, to encourage a loving, forgiving spirit and to be a protection against the temptations of the Devil. What a wealth of meaning is contained in the words of the “Lord’s Prayer”!