The Disciple's Prayer - #1

Dr. Brian Allison

The best known, and most frequently recited, passage in the New Testament is what has traditionally been called the Lord's Prayer. Christians in different traditions and different churches, and even non-Christians, can rehearse the Lord's Prayer from memory; it has become so entrenched in our consciousness. Jesus instructed, "Pray, then, in this way: 'Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen'" (Mt. 6:9-13). Rather than being called the Lord's Prayer, this prayer may be more appropriately called the 'Disciple's Prayer'.

It is a model prayer

The Disciple's Prayer is a model prayer; it provides us with a pattern for how we are to pray. Now, different denominations and various churches view this prayer as liturgy, believing that it should be rehearsed as it stands (which is not unacceptable), but the Lord here provides us with important guidelines concerning the main themes and structure of prayer – "Pray then in this way [i.e., this is the pattern, this is the manner, this is the form]." As you look at the parallel account in Luke, we may draw the conclusion that when the Lord gives this model prayer, He is teaching us how to pray. As we consider the recorded prayers in the New Testament, we realize that believers, including apostles, did not take Christ's words literally, but rather directively.

The prayer is divided into two main parts. The first part focuses on God; the second part focuses on us. It is interesting that this division is similar to that of the decalogue, the Ten Commandments. So, in prayer, we must first direct our hearts to God and then consider ourselves. More particularly, the model prayer first emphasizes the greatness and glory of God, and second, the needs and requirements of the prayer. Our concern in this article will be on the first part of this prayer – "Pray then in this way, 'Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.'"

Believers should address God as Father in prayer

Jesus teaches us that, for the Christian, prayer begins with God, and more particularly (and this is what I want to emphasize), it begins with God the Father (if not verbally, certainly attitudinally). The Christian sustains a special relationship with God. Let us not minimize the nature of the address that Jesus teaches us. This is not an inconsequential point. My Christian brothers and sisters, it is absolutely critical that we pray the way Jesus teaches us to pray; we begin (especially in heart) with "Father." This is a model prayer for God's spiritual children; this prayer is not given for all peoples. Non-Christians do pray this prayer, but Jesus gives this prayer specifically to His disciples, to true believers (not that when the non-Christian prays it, he or she is sinning. The point is that only true believers can truly pray this prayer; only they can enter into the reality and full meaning of it). This is a prayer for those who have been born again of the Spirit of God, those who have been regenerated by the grace of God, those who have entered in to a filial relationship with God spiritually (Note: God is the Father of all human beings creationally, that is, He is the Creator of all - see Hb. 12:9; further, He was the Father of Israel covenantally, that is, as their Deliverer and Lawgiver - see Is. 63:15ff.; but here, Jesus refers to the Fatherhood of God spiritually). The nature of the address implies that those who pray in the true spirit of this prayer know God intimately, and even affectionately.

Accordingly, this address implies that the believer's approach to God in prayer ought to be characterized by humility and dependency. We come to the Father Who cares for us and provides for us; the One Who is tenderly and affectionately disposed toward us; the One Who bears us up. Moreover, this address of God as Father suggests the language of love. Have you ever thought about that? When you come to God in prayer, and you utter, "Father," that is the language of love. There ought to be this tender affection in your heart towards God. If you are a child of God, born again of the Spirit of God, you must, and you will, address God as Father (this does not mean that we should rigidly and legalistically insist that every single time a Christian prays, or every time he or she refers to God in prayer, that he or she must actually use the name Father; but the name Father should be the primary and typical nomenclature of address). Now, that may seem self-evident to you, but I have heard many prayers in which God is not addressed as Father. What I am suggesting is this: the tendency to address God as Father ought to be a natural, instinctive disposition of everyone who is born again of the Spirit. Is that true for you? If you are God's spiritual offspring, addressing God as Father must be, will be, a necessary expression of your heart because it is the necessary expression of the Spirit Who indwells your heart. The Spirit of God not only instills and implants these filial affections, but also speaks this language and communicates these sentiments through believers toward the Father. We read in Romans 8:15, "For you have not received the spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received [the Spirit] of adoption as sons [and daughters] by which we cry out, 'Abba Father!'" That is why I say, if you are a true Christian, the main emphasis of your address in prayer to God will be that of Father – it is the language of the Spirit Whom we have received; not simply saying "God," or not simply saying, "Lord" (though these are appropriate designations), but "Father."

Maybe you are not sure if your husband is saved, or that your wife is saved, or that your children are saved, or that your friends are saved. Well, the nature and the content of their prayers will disclose whether they are saved or not (though we must be careful about judging each other's heart). The one who sincerely cries out, "Abba Father," has the Spirit of adoption. Many pray, even unbelievers pray, but they do not naturally and spontaneously address God as Father. If you do not address God as Father, most likely, you do not know Him as Saviour.

Further, Jesus teaches that we are to address God as 'Our Father'. This 'our' simply underscores the fact that we are to recognize that we are members in a spiritual family. We are spiritually connected with other believers. We are brothers and sisters spiritually. Now, do you believe that, or, more importantly, do you feel that? Do you accept other believers as your brothers and your sisters? You never give up on any brother and your sister. Have you given up on any brother or sister? When Jesus instructs us to pray, "Our Father," He implies that a unity and oneness ought to characterize the fellowship of believers; peace should prevail in the Church. You cannot approach God, you cannot worship the Father, without first being reconciled to your spiritual brothers and sisters. How can you love God whom you have not seen, if you do not love your brothers and sisters whom you have seen (see 1 Jn. 4:20).

True prayer is directed toward heaven

Christians are to pray, "Our Father who art in heaven." Although God is omnipresent, heaven is God's special abode in which His glory is particularly manifested. It is in heaven that God is pleased to make His unique presence particularly known. In prayer, we must remember that God is radically separate from this fallen world. He has no necessary connection, nor any intrinsic relationship, to the created earth. He is transcendent, beyond space and time.

God is wholly unlike us. There is no comparison between God the Father and our earthly fathers. He is absolutely and totally different – He is in heaven and we are on the earth. When we entertain the notion that God is 'up there', and we direct our prayers heavenward, it helps us to nurture the right posture and position when we come to Him in prayer. God is not our 'buddy'. It should bother us when God's people enter prayer with a lack of reverence and a sense of the awesomeness of God. We should not rush into prayer, speaking without thinking, as if God were our equal. It is absolutely necessary to have the right attitude and disposition in approaching God. Ecclesiastes 5:2 reads, "Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few."

So, it is in thinking of God as 'up there', above and beyond us, that helps us to nurture the proper attitude. In fact, unless there is that proper attitude of humility and abasement, God, most likely, does not hear our prayers. Those that come to God must view Him as holy, great, awesome, worthy of honour, and deserving the best that our hearts can offer. Accordingly, God rebuked Israel, "'A son honors his father, and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect?' says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests who despise My name. But you say, 'How have we despised Thy name?' You are presenting defiled food upon My altar. But you say, 'How have we defiled Thee?' In that you say, 'The table of the LORD is to be despised.' But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil? Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly? says the Lord of hosts." How often do we pray prayers that are 'lame' or 'broken' or 'sick'. God, in effect, says, "I don't want them; give them to someone else; don't give them to Me" (Mal. 1:6-8).

When we come to God, we come to One Who is far beyond us, and we must bow in His presence in fear and in trembling. This God is our Creator and our sovereign Lord. Is that your attitude? Is that how you pray? Do you see God as your Father in heaven? That was the posture of Jesus in His high priestly prayer. The Scripture reads, "These things Jesus spoke; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, 'Father...'" (Jn. 17:1). If Jesus showed an attitude of dependency and humility in prayer, how much more should we? Thus, with this particular attitude and posture, we can proceed to express the desires and requests of our heart as captured in this model prayer.

True prayer desires that God's name be sanctified

The first part of the Disciple's Prayer consists of three holy desires or aspirations with respect to God – stressing the praise and exaltation of God; and the second part consists of three personal desires or petitions with respect to ourselves – stressing our needs and God's benefits to us. Again, the aspirations with respect to God is our chief concentration here. The first aspiration concerns the Lord's name, that is, His person, the revelation of His nature and His character. The second aspiration concerns His reign, that is, His sovereignty and His activity. The third aspiration concerns His will, that is, His spiritual expectations and moral demands. These three aspirations, which ought to be the natural outflow of the believer's heart, highlight and promote the glory of God. Prayer should begin with the glory of God. If true prayer begins with God, then true prayer begins with the glory of God; and we have failed to pray aright, if we fail to give Him the glory due to His name.

A number of weeks ago, my wife and I went to a Church service in another city (and I would not stand in judgement, I simply share an observation). From the time this pastor started to pray, until the time he finished, he simply prayed petitions. That is how many Christians pray. They come to prayer focusing only on their own needs, concerns, problems, and difficulties, rather than being preoccupied with God. I suggest that, normally, the bulk of our prayer ought to focus on promoting the glory of God, on exalting Him, on praising Him; and then after that, we may bring our petitions.

The first aspiration concerns God's name – "Hallowed [holy] be Thy name." God's name is already holy, in virtue of it being God's name, Who by nature is holy. Holiness is not simply an attribute of God, it is that which characterizes all of God's attributes. God is intrinsically and essentially holy. We do not wish God to be holy, or to become other than what He naturally is; but when our Lord teaches us to pray this way – "Let Your name be holy [sanctified]" – He is revealing what should be the desire of our hearts. The aspiration of our hearts ought to be this: "Lord, may Your name be recognized and considered holy, not only in my heart, but in the hearts of others." With this aspiration, there is not simply a popular aspect (i.e., concerning people) in view, but also a personal one. That is, when we come to God as our Father, we are to pray, "Lord, let Your name be set apart as special in me, that I might see You as supremely and only pure. Grant me that attitude that causes me to shrink in Your presence out of reverence and fear because I am in the presence of Holiness itself."

One of my greatest concerns in reference to God's people is that there is a lack of a healthy fear of God in the heart's of many of God's people. You say, "How do you know that?" By how people respond to God, by how people live. Many are not constrained to obey His Word, which is the power of a healthy fear. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; the fear of the Lord is to turn away from evil. If Christians believed that God is the sovereign Lord and Judge, and that His wrath burns against sin, then they would not be as cocky, or as arrogant, or as proud, or as self-centred, or as self-reliant, or as self-serving as they so often are. They would be more disciplined. They would seek Christ more. Isn't that true?

Is your aspiration that God's name be honoured and revered, not only in your life, but in the lives of everyone? Do you have a high view of God? For instance, does it bother you when the Lord Jesus' name is taken in vain, when the Lord's name is despised and dishonoured? Do you take the Lord's name in vain? What is your view towards His name? The other night, we sat down as a family to watch a movie. I was looking forward to watching it because it was my style of movie; and the movie had run no more than a minute when the Lord Jesus' name was taken in vain. I turned the channel. When you watch a movie or video where the Lord's name is taken in vain, do you shut it off or turn the channel? Does it bother you? I really am encouraging you to be jealous for the honour of God and to desire that everyone honour His name. I suggest to you that this ought to be your desire because you love Him. Do you love God?

True prayer desires that God reigns

The second aspiration, with God's glory in view, concerns God's reign – "Thy kingdom come." The child of God should pray, "Lord, may You reign, without rival, not simply over the world, but also in my heart." When Jesus instructs us to pray this way, He is not simply referring to His eschatological kingdom which will come with His return, but is also talking about His spiritual kingdom – His reign in our hearts. Again, this aspiration is not only popular, but intensely personal: "May I experience Your rule and control in my heart in its fullness, and absolutely yield to that rule and control; and fully acknowledge, both by action and in attitude, that You are my King."

Now, God does in fact reign over all, but not everyone recognizes or accepts it. Now, when we pray, "Lord may Your reign be evidenced in me in full measure, and may Your reign be evidenced in everyone else who is on this earth," do you see what is implied here? This aspiration implies an evangelistic interest and concern. If our aspiration is that He reign over everybody, then we should be concerned about the salvation of souls. We should be concerned that people come to acknowledge Christ as Lord and Saviour, which means that we are concerned that they be saved. Is this one of your concerns? Could you also pray, "Lord, I want You to reveal Your glory. Lord, I want You to save this person so that Your reign might be more fully displayed." Do you have a desire for souls to be saved? Maybe you do not have a desire for souls to be saved because you are personally concerned about their lost condition; but you ought to have a desire for souls to be saved because you are concerned about God's glory. If not for their deliverance from eternal destruction, my Christian brothers and sisters, then surely desire their salvation for His glory. I think God is displeased with our apathy and our indifference towards the spiritual condition and ultimate end of those who fail to believe in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. Don't you?

God's children should have a sincere desire that creaturely rebellion and resistance cease. Let me ask you, what does God's reign mean to you? How did it work itself out in your life this past week? How did His kingdom come in your experience?

True prayer desires conformity to God's will

The third aspiration, with God's glory in view, concerns God's will – "Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." Notice, how each aspiration logically flows out of the previous one. God's name is to be practically set apart and elevated; and as holy deity, He is worthy of obeisance, and He should reign supremely over His creatures; and as the sovereign Lord, He requires the absolute submission and obedience of His creatures. As God's children, we should desire that His will to be accepted, realized, and performed by everyone. We are not looking at God's eternal decrees here, nor even His heart desires, but rather His commandments and laws – His moral will. In effect, we should pray, "May Your commandments be willingly performed by everyone. May Your purposes in the lives of people be recognized and accepted."

God is worthy of the absolute obedience of His creatures, for He is the Creator God; but this absolute obedience is particularly required of His children, for He is the heavenly Father. Absolute obedience! We should desire an obedience which parallels that which is evidenced in heaven itself where God's will is perfectly carried out. As the Psalmist writes, "Bless the LORD, you His angels, mighty in strength, who perform His word, obeying the voice of His word! Bless the LORD, all you His hosts, you who serve Him, doing His will" (Ps. 103:20,21). Our aspiration should be that God be honoured and glorified perfectly. Are you concerned about God's glory?

Jesus teaches us how to pray acceptably to God the Father. The Father desires that we pray, and pray often. He desires that we seek Him with all our hearts; and He shows us the manner in which this should be done. There is much to learn about prayer, but in the Disciple's Prayer we discover some essential aspects of prayer that is pleasing to God, always having before our faith and in our hearts, the revelation of His glory. Let us ask God to teach us through His Spirit to help us pray aright that indeed the Father's name may be glorified.