Don’t Over-Complicate It

1 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:

“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.” – Luke 11:1-4 ESV

This is the second time in the gospels that we find a record of Jesus delivering to His disciples what has come to be known as The Lord’s Prayer. The other occasion is found in the book of Matthew. But the significant differences in the two accounts seem to indicate that Luke and Matthew were recording two different incidents. This should not be surprising because Jesus often repeated key lessons to His disciples. And since prayer was such a vital part of His own earthly ministry, He must have discussed this topic on more than one occasion. 

Jesus knew there was a lot about the practice of prayer that was misunderstood by His disciples and causing them to misuse and abuse it. Like so many other Jews, they had turned prayer into little more than an outward display of their own apparent righteousness. They prayed to impress and to gain the approval of men. That was the basis of Jesus’ discussion of prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13. He had just covered how not to pray. They were not to pray hypocritically, pretending to be concerned with God, while actually trying to impress those around them with their prayerful piety. And He told them not to pray lengthy, repetitive prayers, in the hopes that God might see them as more holy and, therefore, answer their prayers more readily.

In Luke’s account, he reveals that the topic of prayer was raised by one of Jesus’ disciples. This unnamed individual came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1 ESV). It could be that this man expected Jesus to further elaborate on His original discussion regarding prayer. As the disciples observed Jesus day after day, they were eyewitnesses to His own prayerful disposition. He often spent entire evenings in prayer to His Heavenly Father, and Luke indicates that it was after just such an occasion that this disciple approached Jesus with his request.

It seems likely that this disciple remembered what Jesus had said about prayer when He had discussed the topic earlier. But the man was looking for more. He specifically asked that Jesus teach them as John taught his disciples. It would appear that the disciple was looking for the key to a more effective and powerful prayer life. If you recall, when the disciples had failed to cast the demon out of a young boy, Jesus had told them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29 ESV). Their lack of success in casting out the demon coupled with this insight from Jesus might have prompted a discussion among the disciples regarding their need for more prayer instruction. It wasn’t that they didn’t pray, it was that they must not be praying in the wrong way. Or so they thought.

So, much to their surprise and disappointment, Jesus simply repeats what He had taught them earlier.

And he said to them, “When you pray, say…” – Luke 11:2 ESV

As in the case of Jesus’ teaching found in Matthew’s gospel, what follows is a model for prayer. It was not intended to be a stand-in for the disciples’ own prayers or to become some kind of daily recitation that they were to pray routinely and mechanically. In these verses, Jesus provides a model to be followed, not a mantra to be recited. It contains the key elements that should be found in every conversation between a child of God and their Heavenly Father. And it provides a simple, easy-to-follow outline for proper prayer.

First of all, Jesus would have us remember that prayer is not about us. It is, first and foremost, about God and our relationship with Him as His child. We are more than free to come to God with our needs, wants, and even our desires. But we must attempt to bring those needs, wants, and desires within His will. So, Jesus begins His model prayer by addressing the Father.

The term “father” communicates intimacy. We are to come before God as a child, recognizing that He loves and cares for us. Realizing that He is our provider and protector. He loves and cares for us, and He is also responsible for us. He is holy, while we are marred by sin and yet, we can come before Him and talk with Him. In fact, the author of Hebrews tells us to “come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most” (Hebrews 4:16 NLT).

But we must always remember that God is both good and great. He is approachable, but we must never come into His presence flippantly or disrespectfully. One of the problems that can develop from the father/child relationship is a spirit of over-familiarity. Children can become too comfortable with their parents and begin to treat them as peers. A parent who refuses to maintain their proper position of authority may end up with a child who becomes demanding toward them, even demeaning. The old phrase, “familiarity breeds contempt,” can become true of the parent/child relationship. It can produce an attitude of flippancy and disrespect. And the same thing can happen in our relationship with God the Father. We are His children, but that relationship should not cause us to forget about His sovereignty over us. We are never to forget that it is Christ who provides us with access to God. Jesus would later say, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV).

Next, Jesus provides an interesting way to address our Father God.

…hallowed be your name…

Now, why would Jesus insert this line in His model prayer? Think about what this statement is saying. The word translated “hallowed” is from the Greek word hagiazo, which means “to separate from profane things and dedicate to God.” The English word “hallow” means “to honor as holy; consider sacred; venerate.” But why would we need to tell God that His name should be treated as holy? Isn’t His name always holy? One of the things we must understand is the extreme importance a man’s name held in the Hebrew culture. It was tied to his character. So, to say to God, “hallowed be your name” was a statement of desire. We are not asking God to keep His name holy, but as His children, we are expressing our desire to live in such a way that nothing we do might profane His name. To say, “hallowed be your name” is to express to him our desire and intention to live in such a way that we bring honor and glory to Him. We are pledging to treat His name as holy through our actions. God will never do anything that will discredit or dishonor His own name. But as His children, we can do immeasurable harm to the character of God by the manner in which we conduct our lives on this planet.

The next part of Jesus’ model prayer states, “your kingdom come.” Notice the emphasis: His kingdom. Not ours. Prayer is to be focused on God, not us. Prayer is not primarily a time to tell God about all the things we think He doesn’t know or to give Him the lengthy list of things we think we need. In His earlier lesson on prayer, Jesus had stated, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8 ESV). Prayer is an opportunity to align our will with His. It is a chance to remind ourselves that we exist for the good of His kingdom, not the other way around. And to ask that His kingdom come is to say to God that we want His rule and reign to permeate every area of our life. It is a willful submission to His authority over us.

One of the things Jesus seems to want us to know is that prayer is about sharing our hearts, not information. Prayer allows us to…

…realign our perspective

…refocus our attention

…reveal our sin

…refresh our commitment

…request His assistance

Prayer should focus on His kingdom, not ours. It should stress His will, not ours. That does not mean we are forbidden to ask for things from God. But Jesus provides us with a sobering reminder of just what we should focus on when we do make requests of God.

Give us this day our daily bread…

Here is the interesting thing about Jesus’ model prayer. A sincere desire for God’s kingdom to come should change the nature of our requests. If we truly believe that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving, and fully capable of providing for us what we need for life, we will trust Him to do so. He is King and knows what is best for us. So, as we pray to Him, our priorities should change. Rather than seeking significance and satisfaction from those things the world offers, we will be content to trust God to meet our daily needs. Thomas L. Constable describes our daily bread as:

“…the necessities of life, not its luxuries. This is a prayer for our needs, not our greeds. The request is for God to supply our needs day by day.” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Matthew, 2008 Edition

The next request Jesus makes in His prayer is that of forgiveness.

forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us

But weren’t all our sins paid for on the cross? Why do we need forgiveness? Because we still have sinful natures. Because we still sin. And sin creates a barrier between God and us. The forgiveness Jesus is talking about has nothing to do with salvation, but with restoring fellowship with God. Sin indebts us to God. When we confess those sins, it brings forgiveness.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgives us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9 ESV

Confession restores fellowship. Fellowship with God should mean more to us than anything else. But is Jesus teaching that our forgiveness from God is tied to our willingness to forgive others? To refuse to forgive others shows open disregard for the forgiveness of God. To refuse to forgive is a sin. It is against the will of God for His children. That is why the apostle Paul had such strong words regarding our need to forgive others.

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. – Colossians 3:12-13 NLT

The next part of His prayer is intriguing.

…and lead us not into temptation…

Is Jesus suggesting that we ask God not to tempt us? If so, He would be contradicting what James would later write, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13 ESV). Paul seems to muddy the waters even more:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. – 1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV

The Greek word for “temptation” is peirasmos and it can mean a trial or testing. It can refer to an inner temptation to sin, but also to a trial that tests the character. So what is Jesus suggesting? Based on the context, it would appear that He wanted us to have an awareness of our dependence upon God. We must recognize that God’s way never leads us to sin. That doesn’t mean we won’t sin, but we must ask God to protect us from falling into sin along the way. We need His help not to sin as He leads us. Following God’s leadership will not be easy. There will be trials along the way. And Jesus wanted His followers to know that they could come to God for assistance and deliverance.

The disciple who made this request of Jesus was well-intentioned, but he was overcomplicating the issue. He was looking for a methodology that might result in a more powerful prayer life. We have no way of knowing what John the Baptist had taught his disciples regarding prayer, but this man was wanting Jesus to provide more in-depth instruction on the topic. And yet, Jesus simply reiterated what He had taught them before. Pray humbly to your Heavenly Father. Make it your priority to protect the holiness of His name. Keep your focus on the eternal rather than the temporal. Remain completely dependent upon God for all your needs, including food and forgiveness. And never forget your complete reliance upon Him for surviving the trials and temptations of this life.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson