Show me any inter-denominational meeting of church folk and somewhere along the line, one of the leaders will have the crowd present recite the Lord’s Prayer — regardless of its applicability or lack thereof to the actual proceedings. Why? Because of its universality among all denominations and everyone present knows it by heart.
That’s the up-side.
The down-side is that universality came at a price. It comes from the Lord’s Prayer being twisted by Roman Catholicism as well as a host of traditional Protestant denominations into a dead religious work never intended by our Savior: mindless recitation during a church liturgy as well as — for Catholics — a tool of penance (more on that below).
The bottom line? It was never intended to be used that way!
His command was: “In this manner, therefore, pray…,” not “Pray these words exactly…” In other words, it was given by Jesus to be a model prayer establishing a completely new paradigm for how people were to approach God Almighty. Up until Jesus uttered these words, God was considered distant and unapproachable by the vast majority of those listening, including His disciples, as do many people to this day.
In chapter 6 of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus taught this prayer at the Sermon on the Mount. In Luke 11, the disciples came to Jesus, asking Him to teach them how to pray and He responded with this prayer. It is entirely possible, even likely, that Jesus taught this prayer model on yet other occasions, though we have no record of it.
Here is Matthew’s account:
And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.
Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. In this manner, therefore, pray:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. Matthew 6:7-13
The Greek word for “vain repetition” is battologeo. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines the word as follows:
- to repeat the same things over and over, to use many idle words, to babble, prate. Some suppose the word derived from Battus, a king of Cyrene, who is said to have stuttered; others from Battus, an author of tedious and wordy poems.
Why do people do this? Because they have either been mis-taught or assumed that their prayers are some sort of recipe, incantation or other dead religious work that, through the multiplicity of the repetitions, will eventually earn themselves enough brownie points with God to actually get what they hope to get from Him. As I have stated multiple times within the series — and indeed through this website — such dead religious works are the very essence of man’s religion.
The Heresy of Penance
In the case of Roman Catholicism, such vain repetition is not only used during the liturgy of a mass, but it’s also used so people can “atone” for their sins through the heretical doctrine of penance. Penance is a perfect example of the encroachment of man’s religion into Christianity.
So what is penance? It’s a series of tasks meted out by a priest as a sentence for the sins committed by a Catholic as revealed to that priest in a confessional. The award for performing penance is “absolution” or forgiveness for the sins confessed and priestly permission to take communion.
While the concept of “confessing our sins to one another so that we may be healed” is indeed scriptural (James 5:16), any mandate that such confession must be to a priest or other church official is found nowhere in Scripture. The concepts of penance and absolution equally so. Here is just a little of what the Word says on the subject:
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace…For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.Ephesians 1:7; 2:8-9
It is the blood of Jesus which washes us from our sins, not our dead religious works. We cannot add to or detract from God’s grace through our behavior, good, bad, or indifferent. This is one of the cornerstones of the Protestant Reformation.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9
Please note that nowhere in these verses are the words “priest,” “penance,” or “absolution” found. In fact, you can do a word search on the entire Bible and never find the words “penance” or “absolution” — anywhere!
We confess our sins directly to our Heavenly Father, not a priest. Forgiveness is granted directly from Him personally, not a priest — with no further action required, I might add. God does expect us to repent, that is to make a choice to turn away from the sin(s) we are confessing, but repentance is a choice to submit to His lordship, rather than a dead religious work designed to curry favor with the Almighty and earn our way back to taking communion. This concept is yet another tenet of the Protestant Reformation.
And nowhere in the NT is a single word said that can be interpreted to mean that our qualifications to receive communion is dependent upon a confession of our sins to any human being, priest or layperson.
The idea that we need to earn our forgiveness through the vain repetition of Hail, Marys (pure idolatry in and of itself) and Our Fathers (the very topic of this article) as prescribed by a so-called “man of God” is a lie from the pit of hell and I genuinely pity the millions of souls who have been deceived and held in bondage by such pernicious false doctrine.
What About Confessing the Word?
On the Protestant side, there are a number of ministers from traditional denominations who think the practice of confessing the Word of God aloud is equally vain repetition.
Confessing the Word aloud is 100% scriptural. The multitude of verses proving that point are beyond the scope of this article, but if you do the legwork of studying it out, you’ll find it right there in the Bible.
What these ministers assume is that we are confessing the Word in order to manipulate God somehow into giving us whatever it is we want. In some cases, a small minority of scripturally ignorant people have indeed taken the confessing-the-Word concept and twisted it into something that God never intended, thinking that God will be swayed somehow by their words as Roman Catholicism espouses.
But the scriptural practice of confessing the Word is all about mind-renewal within ourselves and exercising the will of God and our God-given authority on this earth over the powers of darkness and never about ordering God around or trying to prove anything to Him or currying favor or earning brownie points. When it gets warped into the latter, it is of absolutely no value to us and definitely becomes the dead religious work of “vain repetition.”
But just because some people don’t do it with the right motives and attitude does not negate the principle.
The Lord’s Prayer Itself
Let’s examine these verses line by line:
Our Father in Heaven
Notice that we are addressing God as our heavenly Father, not as a distant God Almighty. This sets an intimate tone for any prayer we offer. We are coming to our Abba or in the modern vernacular: “Daddy God” (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6) as Jesus exemplified in Mark 14:36 to ask Him for one or more somethings He has already promised to His children.
The second half of the verse is a reminder of Who God is in the broader sense. We are recognizing Him as the Lord of All, Who is not bound by the space/time continuum and its physical laws and axioms nor the limitations of our sinful human nature and finite intellect.
Hallowed Be Your Name
There are a couple of aspects to this. The first is holding the name of God in reverence, as directed by Commandment #3:
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain. Exodus 20:7
The second aspect is that of worship. Worship sets our priorities by establishing at the outset of our prayers only He is worthy of honor, only He deserves glory, only He is qualified to receive our veneration, devotion, and worship. It is supposed to clarify in our own minds Who is in charge and Who we serve, reminding us that we are the servants of God, rather than Him being some sort of cosmic bellhop who we command to give us stuff or someone who can be manipulated through our dead religious works.
Your Kingdom Come,
Your Will be Done on Earth as It is in Heaven.
Most people recite this phrase as two separate thoughts or concepts: Your kingdom come (full stop) Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven (full stop). Actually, they are one continuous thought with the latter phrase explaining what is meant by the first.
This verse is cram-packed with implications. First, Jesus says that we should pray for God’s Kingdom to be established in the earth.
This completely refutes the bogus doctrine of “absolute sovereignty” as preached by Calvinist churches and Roman Catholicism. As I discussed in great depth in a previous article on this topic, God is indeed sovereign, but has limited His own sovereignty by His own choice through both His delegation of authority to men and what He has proclaimed in His Word.
We are currently soldiers of God in a war between the kingdom of darkness and the Kingdom of God over this planet and not everything that happens here is at God’s direction and causation. Here’s the logical conundrum:
If God was indeed absolute ruler of this planet, why would God-in-Sandals command us to pray for a kingdom to come that already existed?
So we are to pray for God’s reign to be established in this earth and then immediately Jesus provides a yardstick we can use to measure how much of that reign actually exists: wherever God’s will is being done on earth in the same manner and to the same degree as His will is already being done in heaven.
And where does that “will being done here on earth” start? You guessed it!
Jesus Himself said it:
Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”Luke 17:20-21
Jesus was pointing the Pharisees to a critical fact: the Kingdom of God is not a governmental entity which can be observed through the existence of an earthly king who enforces his political boundaries by force of arms. Rather, it is a spiritual kingdom located in the hearts of those who will lovingly submit to King Jesus and, dying to themselves and their own desires/ambitions, follow Him.
If we are going to do God’s will on the earth the same way it’s being done in heaven, we need to take a long, hard look at how His will is actually being done in heaven so we’ll how we are doing regarding that standard.
So when God orders His angels to do something:
- How rapidly do they respond?
- How thoroughly do they carry out His instructions?
- How accurately do they do what is commanded of them?
- How often is He obeyed?
- With what attitude do the angels respond?
- Does God have to cajole, persuade or argue with them to obtain their obedience?
- so it is, so be it, may it be fulfilled
So here’s our complete definition of the Kindgom of God:
The Kingdom of God is located in the human hearts of those who do His will on earth instantly, thoroughly, precisely, constantly, enthusiastically, and without argument or resistance.
Now can we as Christ-followers ever do this perfectly?
Not a chance!
All we can do is aspire to it and allow God’s Word to change us by His grace into looking, acting, and reacting progressively more and more like Jesus, the only human Who ever walked this planet Who perfectly obeyed the Heavenly Father instantly, thoroughly, precisely, constantly, enthusiastically, and without argument or resistance. The $10 theological word for that process is “sanctification.”
So this isn’t just about God’s kingdom coming to others. When we pray for God’s reign to come to this earth, we are in fact submitting ourselves to His lordship and asking for it to extend from ourselves to others as we obey Him.
Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread
This is a simple request for God’s daily provision. God doesn’t promise us we will “arrive” at some level of financial provision where we don’t need to depend upon Him. What He promises throughout His Word is that, if we will put Him first and operate in His wisdom and generosity, we will always have enough to meet our own needs and be generous to others.
And He expects us to ask Him for it, not simply assume it will happen automagically.
And Forgive Us Our Debts, As We Forgive Our Debtors.
Or more accurately: “And forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us.”
Here’s Jesus once again calling us to forgive those who have selfishly violated our boundaries and harmed us physically, emotionally, or professionally. Here again we see the word “as,” meaning “to the same extent and in the same manner.” This is the law of sowing and reaping in action: to the extent and with the same manner that we forgive, we reap forgiveness from our Heavenly Father. You can read more of what I’ve written about forgiveness here and here
And Lead Us Not Into Temptation, But Deliver Us From Evil
Here is this same verse in a few other translations:
Keep us from being tempted and protect us from evil. (CEV)
And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. (NLT)
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. (MSG)
So in this verse, we are praying for God to lead us away from temptation and for Him to rescue us from evil or the Evil One. It is absolutely not asking God to refrain from tempting us because He has stated clearly never does that anyway.
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God;” for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.James 1:13
This verse places a submissive demand upon His freely given and limitless grace because it is only by His grace that we are able to resist temptations and endure trials. It also recognizes how we cannot successfully defeat the devil on our own and in our own strength; divine intervention and assistance is required for us to emerge victorious.
For Yours is the Kingdom and
the Power and the Glory Forever.
Some translations leave this verse out because of differences in the original manuscripts. Regardless, it is yet another affirmation that God is in charge, God is all-powerful, and that He deserves all the glory.
This is yet another word used in our prayers with the vast majority of believers having no clue as to what it actually means. Most people consider the word “amen” to be part of what I jokingly refer to as The Holy Sign-off: “In Jesus’ name, amen.”
The Greek word actually is a direct carry-over of the Hebrew word amen.
My Greek lexicon further states:
It was a custom, which passed over from the synagogues to the Christian assemblies, that when he who had read or discoursed, had offered up solemn prayer to God, the others responded “amen,” and thus made the substance of what was uttered their own.” Thayer’s Greek Lexicon (emphasis mine).
I feel Thayer’s definition needs no further explanation.
I hope I’ve succeeded in unpacking the Lord’s Prayer for you a bit and that you will never again — if you ever did as I did while I was growing up as a Lutheran — repeat it as a religious tradition, but expressing the full meaning of it whenever it crosses your lips.
Thanks for reading!