Unlocking the Meaning of the Lord’s Prayer

Steppes of Faith
10 min readOct 4, 2023
SteppesofFaith.com

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.” (Matthew 6:9; Luke 11:2)

The New Testament books of Matthew (6:9–13) and Luke (11:2–4) both record the Lord’s Prayer. Some people pray it word for word, and others use it as a model or example for proper structure. To be sure, either is acceptable to the Lord, though Jesus primarily intends it to be an outline of sorts.

But what really matters is Jesus’ message. We can better understand His teaching by examining His words and intent by looking at His famous prayer verse by verse.

For context, Matthew records Jesus teaching the prayer as part of His Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5–7). Luke does not. He records the Lord’s Prayer as occurring sometime later (see Luke 6:20–49). Luke only records that one of His disciples saw Jesus praying and then asked Him how he, too, should pray.

The discrepancy is because Jesus repeated His teaching (the Prayer) at two different times and locations. We can compare it to telling a story to one friend, then encountering a second friend several days later and repeating the story.

Staying in the book of Matthew, we see that Jesus had just finished teaching the crowd how to pray (6:5–7) and be generous to others (acts of charity, v1–4). He then followed with a similar message about fasting (v16–18). In each point Jesus makes — giving, praying, fasting — He is teaching us how to live daily and the importance of humility in direct opposition to the “hypocrites (Pharisees).”

On the heels of such instruction, Jesus illustrates how we should pray to the Father. Notice that both Matthew and Luke’s accounts of the Lord’s Prayer begin the same way, but the rest is slightly different. To simplify, we will look at the similarities collectively and then address the remaining verses separately.

Notice the Lord’s Prayer is plural in nature (us, we, ours, etc.), not singular (I, me, my, etc.) in any way. The purpose of the Prayer is to honor God first, followed by loving people. It is community-focused on the body of Christ (the church) and not solely on us. We can pray for our personal needs, of course. But Jesus teaches that we should put the needs of other believers before our own.

Direct Praise and Prayer

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.” (Matthew 6:9–10; Luke 11:2)

Jesus begins by giving the Father the praise He is due. We should do the same. Instead of jumping straight into asking for what we want or need, it is essential to take a moment to recognize God for who He is — the Creator of all things, full of glory, honor, majesty, and blessing. He is holy (“hallow”), faithful, gracious, good, and loving. He alone is worthy of praise, so we begin our prayers to Him by petitioning for His name to be honored.

“Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Because God is so worthy, it should be our utmost desire for His kingdom to come and His will to be done in the church. We should pray that God’s final rule and authority will be established on the earth just as it is in heaven and that all will submit to His purposes, plans, and glory.

This portion of the Lord’s Prayer is taken from the Qaddish (or Kaddish), an ancient Jewish prayer usually recited in Aramaic.

“Exalted and hallow be His great name in the world which He created according to His will. May He let His kingdom rule in your lifetime and in your days in the lifetime of the whole house of Israel, speedily and soon. Praised be His great name from eternity to eternity. And to this, we say: Amen.”

Notice the Qaddish does not address the Father by name. To do so would be considered offensive, according to the Jewish faith, which is why the prayer skips the address and launches immediately into praise. But Jesus instructs us it is okay to address the Father. It is okay to speak to Him directly with the assurance that He hears you.

Spiritual Nourishment

“Give us this day our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11; Luke 11:3)

This verse found in both Matthew and Luke has two meanings.

First, by praying for God’s provision, we acknowledge our humility and dependence on Him. We also acknowledge His faithfulness and kept promises. For example, God provided for the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness. He sent a pillar of fire by night (for warmth and light) and a pillar of clouds by day (for guidance and shade from the sun) in Exodus 13:20–21, water to drink from rocks (Exodus 17:6), and safe passage across the Jordan River (Joshua 3:14–17). He sent manna from heaven in Exodus 16 and flocks of quail in Numbers 11. For forty years, God provided everything they needed.

Such faithfulness is why Jesus tells us not to worry about what we should eat, drink, or wear (Matthew 6:31–34). God already knows what we need.

So why should we pray for our daily bread? God is all-powerful and all-knowing! God is inviting us to invest in our relationship with Him so we may mature and strengthen our faith. And because we are to pray first for other believers, we invite God to meet their needs as well.

The second meaning of “daily bread” is the word of God itself. When we pray for our bread, we ask Him to fill us with His word, i.e., Himself.

“In the beginning was the Word [Jesus], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1, with addition)

Jesus is the Bread of Life (John 6:35). Satan did not acknowledge this distinction when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness and told him to turn the rocks into bread so He could eat. But Jesus replied, “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word of God (Luke 4:3–4).” This is the same bread as we see in the Lord’s Prayer.

Daily bread is not only physical food but also spiritual food. We need to pray for believers to be filled daily with God’s word — the Bread of Life — as well as physical nourishment so they can continue to walk in faith.

Equal Portions of Forgiveness

Matthew 6:12, “And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

Luke 11:4, “And forgive us our sins, for also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.”

Matthew and Luke’s accounts of the Lord’s Prayer now begin changing slightly. Matthew asks for forgiveness of debts, while Luke asks for forgiveness of sins. Both say the same thing — we should ask God to forgive us of spiritual debts (sins).

Sinners are in debt for disobedience to His word. Our only path to forgiveness is through the Lord Jesus, who readily gives it fully and completely. In Matthew 18:21–22, Peter asks Jesus how often he should forgive a neighbor who keeps sinning against him. He asks if seven times is enough because forgiving someone seven times is an unimaginable number of times. But Jesus replies, “I do not say to you up to seven times but up to seventy times seven.”

Jesus is not asking us to do any math. He is instructing us that mercy for others must have no end, just as God’s forgiveness for us has no end. Therefore, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask Him to forgive us what we owe Him in proportion to the forgiveness we show others for what they owe us. If we can repeatedly and mercifully forgive others, God will forgive us just as much.

Of course, God knows it is challenging for our sinful natures to forgive a repeated offense. So we pray for His mercy and strength to make it possible in how we live and interact with others, especially an enemy (Matthew 5:44–45).

Deliverance and More Praise

“And do not lead us into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.”

Matthew and Luke both use the same words in 6:13a and 11:4, respectively. Here, “the evil one” is specified to clarify that it is Satan and not God. God does not tempt us (James 1:13), but He allows us to experience trials. The stories of Job and Peter are good examples.

Satan is the one who uses every method possible to tempt us to sin and rebel. Jesus even says we should expect trials and tribulations (John 16:33). Satan may tempt us more than we might like, but God promises He will always provide a means of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Sometimes, deliverance is immediate. Other times, it is through endurance so that God will refine our faith like gold (1 Peter 1:7). The truth is God may not always answer our prayers the way we want. Regardless, Jesus instructs us to pray for deliverance from persecution and temptation to sin. Such a petition acknowledges our spiritual reliance on God’s provision and protection.

The final part of the Lord’s Prayer is found only in the book of Matthew. Luke does not mention it at all.

“For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” (Matthew 6:13b)

Though this final praise was not in the original biblical manuscripts, the message is the same. Just as we should begin our prayers with praise, we should always end them with praise for the same reason — He is worthy.

The Lord’s Prayer’s Central Theme

Formally, the Lord’s Prayer ends in Matthew 6:13 and Luke 11:4, but Matthew records that Jesus had one more bit of instruction to finish things off.

“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will the Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14–15).

Verses 14 and 15 put a kind of bow on what Jesus is teaching in verses 12 and 13 (as well as Luke 11:4). These verses go together with one overarching theme: forgiveness. We should pray for forgiveness of sin, for God to keep us from temptation, and to remember that God will forgive us as we forgive others.

Forgiveness is the number one discipline every believer should practice until it becomes automatic. More than prayer, giving, or any other principle, forgiveness is consistently Jesus’ central theme alongside love. Forgiveness is so important that Jesus repeats it several times in the Lord’s Prayer to emphasize it.

To be clear, God will never withdraw the justification we receive through Jesus’ shed blood. In no way will He ever rescind His gift of salvation. Divine forgiveness from the penalty of sin (death) is permanent and complete because of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross (see John 5:24, Romans 8:1, and Ephesians 1:7).

However, God may chastise us out of His great love for us (Hebrews 12:5–7) as a parent disciplines a child. Such discipline is why we must confess our sins daily and ask for His forgiveness. The result is a spiritual cleansing of “worldly defilements.” It is not the same as the comprehensive cleansing we receive when we first put our trust in the Lord. It is more like a daily washing. God promises to withhold our cleansing from ongoing worldly tarnishing us if we refuse to forgive others.

“Ask, Seek, Knock”

Matthew ends the Lord’s Prayer in 6:15, but Luke continues it in verses 5–13. Remember, Luke’s account occurs at a different time and place than Matthew’s. Here, Luke records Jesus telling the same parable about prayer as He did in Matthew 7 during His Sermon on the Mount. Some translations call it the “parable of the persistent friend.” Others simply title it “Ask, Seek, Knock.”

In short, from a first-person perspective, the parable is about someone (you) knocking on a friend’s door in the middle of the night, asking for three loaves of bread to give to another friend who has unexpectedly come for a visit. But the friend whose door you are knocking on tells you to leave because everyone is sleeping. But Jesus says in verse eight that he will get out of bed and give you bread because of your “shameless boldness,” i.e., persistence. Jesus tells a similar parable about a widow demanding justice from a judge in Luke 18:1–8.

The homeowner obliged you because of your persistence. If a friend will do that, even reluctantly, how much more will God, who loves and cares for you so much, oblige you?

Jesus’ point is Jesus delights in answering our prayers. It does not mean He will answer as we might like or hope, but He will answer them according to His will if we persist.

Persistence in Prayer

Jesus follows the parable by instructing us to “ask, seek, knock.” These two sections are important footnotes to the Lord’s Prayer or any prayer. They must go together so we can fully understand His teaching.

“So, I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you.” (v9)

Jesus then asks an interesting question.

“What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?” (v11–12)

No human father who really loved his children would ever be so uncaring as to give his child a snake instead of a fish. What kind of love would that show? It sets up Jesus’ final point about the depth of God’s great love and prayer.

“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?” (v13)

A parallel passage in Matthew 7:11 says, “Give good things to those who ask Him,” while Luke says the Father will give the Holy Spirit. In both accounts, Jesus is talking about entering the kingdom of God. We should persistently ask for good things (blessings) for ourselves and others, seek His righteousness, and knock on the kingdom’s door so the Holy Spirit can transform and make us fit to enter.

We know the Lord always keeps His promises, and here is yet another one. To those who persist in prayer, seek His righteousness, pursue mercy, and ask for His protection and blessings over the body of Christ, God promises they will enter His eternal kingdom.

--

--

Steppes of Faith

Encouraging your Christian faith with Biblical history, proven theology, and uplifting Scripture. www.SteppesofFaith.com