Lord, what am I praying for?

Dave Moore | May 6th, 2010

Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.

Since the time Jesus was teaching his disciples, Christians have prayed these words. They've been repeated in churches and meetings throughout the centuries. But have you ever stopped to think just what it is you're praying for? Hallowed names? Wills being done on earth? Today's bread? Not into temptation? Have you wondered why Jesus wanted his disciples to pray these things? Or more than that, I expect that many of us have hesitated praying this prayer simply because we don't really know what we're praying for. It seems simple enough at one level, but very abstract on another level. How does our Lord Jesus want us to pray?[1]

We pray to our Father - that he would be 'hallowed'

Though it feels almost stupid saying it, we must begin with the simple fact that Jesus wants us to direct our prayer to our Father. Not to our earthly father, but to God, our heavenly Father (Matt 23:9). As we approach the God of the universe, we can only do so as his adopted children.

We have no place—and no right—talking to God unless we are his sons. We need to come trusting in God's eternal Son to grant us access. Only by faith in Christ have we 'received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!"' (Rom 8:15). This is our foundation in praying. But having stated the simplest phrase in the prayer, we hit what is sometimes thought as the weirdest phrase: 'hallowed be your name'. What do we mean when we pray that?

Firstly, 'hallowed' is just an old English word used to translate the word for 'holy' or 'sanctify' (see the same word in Matt 23:17; 19; Eph 5:26 and 1 Pet 3:15). Therefore, Jesus wants us to pray that our Father's name would be made holy. Now that seems strange; since God already is 'holy, holy, holy' (Rev 4:8) surely he doesn't need us to pray that he would be more holy? Does he? Well, ask yourself this: is God holy to you? Is God 'holy, holy, holy' in your life? Is he the absolute centre and purpose and reason for every single thing you do? No? Well ask God to make himself the holy one in your heart!

I take it that we are to ask God to help us see how holy and completely different he is to us. Jesus is telling us to ask God to change us so that we would 'in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy' (1 Pet 3:15). Praying 'hallowed be your name' is praying that God would establish himself as our 'holy, holy, holy' heavenly Father—the centre and purpose of our lives. But it is not just our own lives we pray for, because the prayer is more general that that. Just think, is God considered ‘holy’ by those around you? Does our world think that the God of the Bible is the most important holy one? Simply, no. The hope of this prayer is that all creation would consider God as holy, and this idea is picked up in the second section of the prayer.

We pray with a future hope in mind

Jesus wants us to pray that God's 'kingdom' would come. But what does that mean exactly? Are we praying for a quick return of Jesus? Are we praying that judgement day would come upon on us all? I actually think the answer is yes.

The fundamental hope of Christians in the New Testament is that this world would finally end and the next world would appear. We are not to love this world (1 Jn 2:15), we are to look forward to that heaven which we cannot see (2 Cor 4:17-18; Heb 11:38-40; Phil 3:13-14). In fact, the promise of heaven is the source of our joy (1 Pet 1:3-8) and our encouragement (1 Thes 4:18). So John prays 'Come Lord Jesus!' (Rev 22:20), and Paul says 'For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain ... I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better' (Phil 1:22-23). Praying that God's kingdom would come simply means asking God to finally fulfill the gospel we believe—sooner rather than later.

One aspect of praying for God's kingdom to come is that God's will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. The ultimate goal of this prayer is that great day when all things in heaven and earth are united under Christ (Eph 1:10). But in the meantime, it is a prayer that has a direct impact on us. We are to pray that God's will is done in our lives here on earth. Praying for God's will to be done is essentially to subject our own desires and wills to God's desire and will. It is similar to Jesus' prayer in the garden, 'not my will, but yours, be done' (Luke 22:42).

Jesus wants us to ask God that he would come soon and, in the meantime, that God's will would be done in our lives here and now.

We pray for God to be undeservedly generous to us

Asking God to 'give us today our daily bread' can sometimes feel foolish and we can wonder why we're doing it. We live in such a well-fed country that we can mentally smirk as we pray this, unable to believe that today we might not get three meals, let alone bread! We live off the shops, not off the land. If a hurricane hits our bananas, we can just get some more imported to our local supermarket (if the government wants to). But this shows how little we understand of God's world. Every day we are totally dependant on God's mercy to feed us, even though it doesn't feel like it. We must never think that God couldn't wipe out our supermarkets overnight, and then our daily bread would be gone. Jesus wants us to pray depending on God’s amazing mercies, which are new every day.

The height of depending on God's mercy is asking for forgiveness. The moment we ask for forgiveness we are admitting our sin against God. Jesus wants us to acknowledge our sin to our heavenly Father rather than ignore it. We should come to our Father in heaven both acknowledging our sin and asking for forgiveness. When we do this we are completely depending on God. We are depending on his character of unlimited love. Asking for forgiveness declares God to be a forgiving God, so therefore, if we are to repent of our godlessness, then we must begin by being godly and 'forgiving those who sin against us'. To do otherwise is to depend on God's goodness in forgiving us sinners, and then to consider that type of goodness beneath us.

Therefore, Jesus wants us to depend on God for everything we take for granted, and most of all to plead for God’s forgiveness, forgiving as God forgives.

We pray that God would control what we can't

It always seemed strange to me that Jesus teaches us to ask God NOT to do something bad. Why would we pray for God to NOT lead us into temptation? As if God is just about to lead us into temptation, but hears our prayer and says, 'Oh ... okay then, I'll stop leading you into sin now.' But we need to see this part of the prayer in the context of the second clause: 'but deliver us from evil'. That is, the big thing we are asking God to do is to lead us away from temptation, not into it.

At one level we are simply asking God to remove the stumbling blocks that hold us back (Heb 12:1). Those stumbling blocks such as the invitations to get smashed with friends; the opportunities to sin in secret; the annoying person who makes us be so awful and mean, etc. But this is just one aspect of asking God to not lead us into temptation. Ultimately we are asking God to change what goes on in our hearts, which we have no control over: the desire to sin.

Remember what James says:

Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God', for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:13-15)

The temptation we are praying about in the Lord's Prayer is the temptation that comes from within our own sinful hearts. These are the temptations that God gives people over to in Romans 1:24, 26, 28. God allows people the freedom to follow their sinful desires. He does not give them their temptations, but he gives them over to their temptations. You could say he lets them be led into temptation. And that is what we pray he will NOT do to us. When we pray as Jesus taught us, we plead with God to stop us from following the sinful desires of our own hearts. Without God, we would do nothing but be led into temptation and sin. Only with God’s help can we be held back from being swamped and drowned in sin. We can't control our temptation, but God can. So pray as Jesus taught us, 'Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.'

[1] Special thanks to Gerald Bray for his thoughtful insights on the Lord’s Prayer in the recent Moore College Annual Lectures, since they have been much of the inspiration for this article.

First published in the Autumn 2007 edition of SALT magazine.