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Catechism Class: The Purpose and Structure of the Lord’s Prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer – Overview

Text. Matthew 6:9

Heidelberg Catechism: Lord’s Day 45C2 – Q119 

The catechist has introduced us to the Lord’s Prayer, which is the model prayer for all our prayers.  So we move on now to look at the model prayer itself, and before we begin to examine the petitions in the prayer, let’s make a few important general observations about it.

Listen to this lesson as a PODCAST CLICK THIS LINK.

* The Purpose of the Prayer.  Matt 6:9 After this manner therefore pray ye:

Firstly, this a prayer for the disciples of Christ.  I’ve always had problems with saying this prayer in open meetings, where unbelievers are present, for the only people who can address God as their Father are those who truly are his children.  There is no point in encouraging people to address God as Father, when in reality they are children of their father the devil.  In John 8;44 Jesus said, Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do.”  It was the disciples who asked the Lord to teach them to pray, and it is the disciples whom he instructs in the passage, and the prayer is for his disciples alone.  

Secondly, it is a prayer for praying.  Despite the reluctance of some evangelicals to use the words of the prayer in public worship, in case they might be guilty of vain repetition, I firmly believe that this prayer is also intended for us to use as a form of prayer.  In Luke, Jesus actually tells his disciples that when they pray they are to say, ‘Our Father… Luke 11:1-2, Now 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.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say:

Thirdly, this is a prayer to TEACH us to pray.   It is a model prayer for Christians.  It is interesting that the prayer teaches us to address the needs of the Kingdom of Heaven before we address our own needs.  It follows Jesus’ own pattern of life for the true disciple in the Sermon on the Mount.  Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to youThe prayer properly instructs us to put the things of God first.

Before we ask God for anything for any of us, we must address Him in praise, and pray for his glory and his purpose to be accomplished.  Nevertheless…

Fourthly, it is a prayer focused on community.  There cannot be such a thing as a solitary Christian.  We are saved from our sins as individuals, Christ died for us as individuals, but salvation and conversion place us in God’s Kingdom, and within God’s Church, the Body of Christ.  We can never separate our prayer life from that understanding, and so Jesus’ model prayer is couched in plural language throughout.  

 Now, let’s see…

* The Structure of the Prayer.

There is an amazingly precise structure to this prayer.  Matthew Henry notes that the prayer falls into three sections, – the Preface (in which we address God in opening and say, ‘Our Father’). The Petitions (there are six) and the Conclusion.    The six petitions are a complex fabric of intensive instruction, and they fall into two groups of three.

Petition group 1.  Petitions about God and his kingdom.  

Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.  It’s important that we address God and his will first, – this is a model prayer, we heed to learn that in our lives, God comes first – that our will but always be surrendered to his will.

Petition group 2. Petitions about our needs.  

Give us this day our daily bread. 12And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:

Notice that this petition group deals with our most basic human needs, and addresses our human past, present and future.  Bread is ‘the staff of life.’ It is the most basic food. We need it to live and we need it in the present.  The promise of bread in the future won’t feed us now, and living on the harvests of the past won’t nourish us in the present.  When we pray this we bring our present need to sustenance to God.  Forgiveness is needed if we are to deal with our past.  Help when temptation comes along is a prayer for God’s preserving grace for the future.  So when we pray this prayer, we bring our past, present and future needs before God, our Father and our needs are addressed right throughout life and into eternity.

There is another aspect to the three petitions about our needs – for the prayer is Trinitarian in nature. 

  • The Father. In asking for bread, we are forced to consider that God is our Creator, Sustainer and Provider.  We are acknowledging that everything that we have is His, and that every breath we take is a gift from God.  In 1st Corinthians 10, Paul reminds us that even foods which appear to belong to some other ‘deity’ actually belong to God and are given by him.  We may not believe in the Corinthian false gods, but how many of really believe that we are ‘self made’ men and women? – That everything we have we have earned ourselves?  Instead we are reminded when we pray this prayer that the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.
  • The Son. When we pray for forgiveness in the prayer, we are again acknowledging God our Saviour, and specifically remembering that forgiveness only comes to us through Christ, who died at Calvary, so that our sins could be forgiven.  Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
  • The Holy Spirit. When we pray for God to help us in times of temptation, we are acknowledging the work of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter and Sanctifier, who indwells the believer and who strengthens him in times of need. The Shorter Catechism, Q. 35. What is sanctification?  A. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

1 Thessalonians 5:23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for all of our lives to be surrendered to God, and we pray for God in all His Trinitarian fulness to be in charge of our lives.  

In our next Catechism Lesson we will begin to look in detail at the different clauses of the Lord’s Prayer. 

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