What if Jesus’ example of prayer was in the form of questions? I’m not talking Jeopardy® here, as in, “Who is ‘our Father in heaven’?” but something more…versatile.
Maybe Jesus didn’t
expect us to recite
the Model Prayer.
There’s nothing wrong with reciting the Model Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) verbatim. I’ve done it many times and found it meaningful sometimes. But I wonder if such recitation was Jesus’ intention when He gave it to the disciples and other followers. Maybe He didn’t expect us to memorize it and repeat it all together. After all, He says, “This, then, is how you should pray” (6:9, italics added) not “This is what you should pray.”
In Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (2014, pg. 118), Timothy Keller shares how Calvin insisted that “the Lord’s prayer does not bind us to its particular form of words but rather to its content and basic pattern. … The Lord’s Prayer is a summary of all other prayers, providing essential guidance on emphasis and topics, on purpose and even spirit.” Furthermore, Martin Luther paraphrased and personalized the Model Prayer every morning and evening as a starting point for his own, more personal prayers.
If we use the Model Prayer as a template, we can create probing questions from it. These questions will help us pray more personally and effectively. Let’s give it a try. Feel free to formulate your own questions based on what you know of Jesus’ teaching and God’s Will then reflect on the questions to supplement your prayer time.
v.9b Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
God is the Father of all who believe in Jesus, and He reigns as King from heaven. “Hallowed” means valuable or precious, and His name represents His reputation, the respect others attribute to Him.
How can I honor You today, Lord? How can I boost God’s reputation in my circles of influence?
v. 10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
In heaven, everyone does exactly what God wants them to do. The kingdom…well, that’s a hard one to define, but it has to do with God’s reign. Therefore, when we talk about the kingdom coming, we’re looking at God’s reign expanding here on earth.
How do I want earth to be more like heaven? This might be in your personal spiritual growth, in a specific relationship, or in the nation/world at large.
v. 11 Give us today our daily bread.
Maybe you have a gluten allergy, so the last thing you want to pray is that God will give you bread! I get that. If I was praying for bread, I’d pray for a good, crusty whole-grain French baguette. Just saying…
The bread, as you’ve probably heard before, represents our daily needs. When we pray this, we’re asking God to meet our physical needs for today, which is also an expression of trust that He will again meet our physical needs tomorrow. Think manna (Exodus 16).
Most of us, however, don’t lack for tangible things on a daily basis. So while we thank God for food, shelter, etc., we can ask Him to meet daily personal needs for things like reconciliation or self-control or wisdom.
What personal needs do I have today that can I present to Him?
v. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Our debts to God are our sins: all the times we’ve failed Him. Just as we ask Him for forgiveness, we’re reminded to forgive people who have offended or failed us.
What sin(s) do I need to confess today? Who do I need to forgive?
v. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
We know God doesn’t tempt people (James 1:13), and that testing will never exceed what we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). We do, however, find ourselves in tempting situations, often due to our own negligence. Satan takes advantage of those situations to entice us toward sin.
Where do I need help not to sin and/or not to give in to Satan?
I could have written so much more on each of these verses! There’s so much theology here, and so much for us to learn, but I wanted to get the questions to you. If you’re struggling with organization in your prayer life, try this for a day or two. I pray it helps you connect with God.
If there’s a section here that doesn’t make sense or something you want to suggest, please leave a comment below. Also, if there’s one question that’s particularly meaningful/helpful for you today, I’d love to hear about that, too!