As time has passed, the Bible has become more difficult to read. The original writings contained no chapters or verse numbers. They certainly contained no headings and sub-headings. In one sense, these inclusions make the Bible easier to use when seeking specific phrases, but in that usage, make it harder to get the full picture.
The verses commonly known as “The Lord’s Prayer”, entitled ‘The Model Prayer’ in the New King James Version, extends only 4 verses, Luke 11:1-4 with verses 5 and 9 having their own sub-headings. Thus, the typical casual Bible researcher will read only the appropriately headed 4 verses when reading The Lord’s Prayer, and miss out on the amazing teaching, the perennial principle and magnificent theology which Jesus gives us there.
Let’s look afresh at this teaching by the Master and see it in its glorious entirety, perhaps as the original hearers understood it.
Luke 11:1 tells us that “Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’”
From this we can imagine that the disciples saw in Jesus’ prayer style, something unusual for their time. They didn’t ask him what to pray, but HOW to pray. In those days, the Rabbi would give set verses to be prayed, over and over again. Jesus warns about this in Matthew 6:5-7 where he says: “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites*. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases (or use vain repetition) as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words”. (*Here, in using the word “hypocrites”, Jesus means the Pharisees, the leaders of the Jewish community, those mover-and-shakers who held all the power in his community).
At the request of his disciples, Jesus then proceeded on to provide the Model Prayer of Luke 11:2-4 “and he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”
While many may see this as heretical, I believe this prayer was intended a model, not a set prayer to be recited again and again as a mantra, as many do. This view is supported by the Lord own words, cautioning us against vain repetitions in our prayers for, as He says in Mathew 6:8b “For the Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.”
Many, more learned than I, have written volumes on The Lord’s Prayer and I do not propose to touch on these verses here. Rather, I prefer to put these verses into a complete whole, as Jesus originally intended.
Jesus then gave them the parable of Luke 11:5-10 to explain himself further, as He said to them “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.”
Today we hear this widely interpreted as meaning for us to persist in prayer. This is an incorrect understanding of these verses; of the Jewish culture, and of the Old Testament writing style which the disciples knew. Jewish tradition relied on CONTRAST. Contrast abounds in the Old Testament, as in “A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish man despises his mother.” I’m sure you have your own examples too.
What Jesus was saying and what the disciples understood, was the God is not like that neighbour! We do not need to persevere with God in prayer, as God is not a reluctant giver! For as Jesus explains in v9-11 “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”
I’m sure the disciples got it. First, the contrast and then the confirmation of their correct understanding. Imagine how they felt, knowing, really knowing for the first time, how to pray to God, and a God who listens to them, into the bargain!
Jesus then added a major theological principle to lead them to a heart and mind changing understanding of his words in v11-13 by asking “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!“
Look at the contrast here again – if a worldly father can do right for his son, how much more can God do for his children? Surely we indeed have a God of “how much more”!! We have the God who does not sleep!!
Jesus has given us a model prayer, a parable and major theological principle all rolled up into one teaching. He is indeed the Master-Teacher.
Our emphasis in prayer therefore should be on who God is. It should not be on persevering in prayer; or praying set rote formulae, or on a public display of our prideful piety. What is important, is our faith in Him, not repetitious asking.
Now we have our theology correct; the wonderful Theology of Prayer. Martin Luther said “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance, but laying hold of His willingness.” Jesus, God’s Son, knew this and has told us how to lay hold of God’s willingness.
All praise be to the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus for His Word. Amen