Abstract: Our whole life is a prayer which consists of a praise to God, a hallelujah, an amen, an echo on the Lord’s Prayer. It embodies the kingdom of God advancing forcefully and us vigorously laying hold of God’s kingdom. It represents our calling. Paul’s statement on the ministry of the Spirit was spot on: “But thanks to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.” (2 Cor 2:14). We should never settle for less, for Jesus’ death was too costly.
The Gospels convey a lot of information about Jesus’ prayer life. He prayed through the night, rose up early in the morning to pray, went alone to the mountain side to pray and went to lonely spots to pray. The writer of Hebrews commented on Jesus’ prayer life as follows: “He offered prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, …”. (Heb 5:7). He talked to his Father in the dark moments of his life on earth and made great decisions after long periods of prayer.
When one of Jesus’ disciples asked Him: “Lord teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples” He taught them the Lord’s Prayer, a short prayer with impressive content.
Jesus began with: “Therefore do not be like them (people with their long prayers with many words). For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.” (Mt 6:8). Very often we are telling God about our needs which He, in his love and care, already knows. We are telling Him things as if He is very far away and has no eyes to see or ears to hear, or we are trying to convince Him to help us as if He does not love us. Sometimes we think that the key to successful prayer depends on the way we pray, the words we use and the effort we put into the prayer. At the same time we are not attentive with Whom we are speaking and do not even ask for his will.
Before we discuss the Lord’s Prayer, we have to make two important remarks:
- Prayer is part of a Christian’s life and prayer is never without living. There ought to be no Christian living without constant prayer and no prayer without living. You may not first live and then pray, or pray and then live. Prayer and living belongs together.
- Prayer is a dialogue with God. Prayer is part of a constant walk with God; a walk together with God to His intended goal for us.
With the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus is putting our “talk to… and walk with” God on much more solid ground.
2. Summary of the Lord’s Prayer
We start off with a short summary of the content of the Lord’s Prayer. (You will find a full discussion of the content of the Lord’s Prayer in ATS’ online course on Prayer):
2.1 The first part of the prayer – God’s concerns:
“Our Father in heaven, …”. It is unique in the religious world for man as a product of creation and part of a tragic, sin-filled world to call God, the almighty creator, “our Father”. It is only possible through the death and resurrection of his holy Son, Jesus Christ and the implementation of this truth through the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit. It implies that the Lord’s Prayer is built on God’s grace and intervention in this world and our lives.
The first prayer: “Hallowed be your name” is a request that God will reveal Himself to us, that his greatness, love, goodness and his glory will become known and visible to us and to the whole world. A prayer that his name becomes part of our lives, changes us so that we become bearers of his name, totally controlled by Him and to be able to live to glorify Him as Paul wrote to Timothy: “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever”. (1 Tim 1:17).
The second prayer: “Your kingdom come” is a request that the almighty, sovereign God would establish his kingdom, his presence, his supremacy and reign through the resurrected Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit establishes God’s dominion in our lives and in the world through the victory of Jesus Christ over sin and the power of all evil forces. The purpose of Jesus’ entire earthly life was: the good news of the coming of God’s kingdom.
The third prayer: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is a hopeful cry reaching from far below, a call from a broken and sin-controlled world, to heaven where God’s will rules. “Please, let your goodwill be on this world of ours, as it is in your glorious heaven. Please God, control my own life and the whole world. Teach me to obey your Word and to be sensitive to the whispering of the Holy Spirit.”
2.2 The last three prayers are about our own concerns:
The last three prayers amaze us with God’s consideration for our daily needs.
“Give as this day our daily bread.” In the coming of his kingdom the good heavenly Father is concerned about our daily needs on all levels of life. A good, loving and almighty God is providing abundantly for his children. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, He already made provision for all our needs.
“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” This request is a concern regarding our spiritual stance towards God. Our sins separated us and are constantly separating us from a holy God and condemning us to a situation of eternal death. Although we are Christians, we have nothing to offer God for our enormous debt or shortfalls. We have no right or merit but are continually depending on the abundance of his grace, through Jesus Christ, our High Priest.
We appreciate the continuous conviction of the Holy Spirit in our sanctification process. A process that makes us aware of our sins and shortfalls in the presence of a holy God but also assures us of the constant atonement of Jesus, our High Priest.
The “forgiving of our debtors” is not primarily a precondition for forgiveness from God, but rather proof of the new reality that follows from the truth of being forgiven by God. A Christians’ life is “to live with a plus”. A Christian is able to forgive and to forget since he has become a new creation. Something is wrong, when “forgiving our debtors” is not a part of being a new creation through God’s forgiveness.
The last prayer: “And do not lead us into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.” This prayer does no presuppose that a Christian will be exempted from temptation and suffering in this world; on the contrary, these are part of a Christian’s daily life. Evil includes the devil, sin, depravity, wickedness, all things that are opposed to the holy, almighty and loving God. Till the second coming of Jesus we will be submitted to this broken world with its hostility against God and his people. We are however assured of deliverance through the victory that Jesus has already attained by his death and resurrection. Through the work of the Holy Spirit a Christian is not a victim of evil, but a conqueror.
3. The prayer lacks a conclusion, an “amen”.
The benediction to the Lord’s Prayer (Mt 6:13b) that we find in some Bible translations (e.g. KJV, NKJV, 1953 Afrikaans vertaling) is not included in the most authoritative manuscripts of Matthew’s text. It is therefore accepted that it did not originate from the original text of Matthew’s gospel. The early believers were used to honour God with a doxology, a praise offering at the end of a prayer. This closing phrase was their own spontaneous participation and a marvelous end – an amen – to the prayer taught by Jesus: “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
This doxology is without doubt a magnificent and appropriate close to the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is a request which is in harmony with Jesus’ declaration in Matthew 11:12: “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.” (NIV Mt 11:12).
3.1 Two questions
We have to deal with two questions: Where did the suggested close, the doxology and the “amen” come from? And why did Jesus end the prayer without a closure, an amen?
(i) It is generally accepted that the origin of this doxology is to be found in David’s prayer recorded in 1 Chronicles 19:10-15. This doxology is a condensed form of a longer version in David’s prayer. You will often find the same kind of doxology in the New Testament (see Rom 11:36).
David’s prayer started with: “Blessed are You, Lord God of Israel, forever and ever.” It is a prayer with an abundance of praise offering to God for his greatness, power, glory, majesty, his kingdom, his reign and headship over all. Praise to Him, the giver of all things. This prayer was made by David after he had offered all his personal gold and silver to build a temple for God and his people also had made a huge contribution. The doxology was born out of pure gratitude and joy towards God who enabled them to make such great contributions. Everything, riches and honor, comes from God.
(ii) To answer the question “why Jesus ended the prayer without a closure, an amen?” you first have to understand that prayer is a dialogue, a conversation between God and us. Real prayer consists of God who speaks first and then he waits on us to take part in the dialogue. The initiative and the content of our prayer, our dialogue with God, comes from God. Prayer is a response to and a echo of God’s coming to us.
Prayers as dialogues between God and his people are, inter alia, found in the following Biblical episodes:
- Genesis 18:17-32: The Lord and Abraham talking about Lot in Sodom.
- John 15:1-16: Jesus the true vine talking to us as branches and inviting us to ask from Him.
- 2 Corinthians 1:19-21: Jesus and Paul with the “amen” on God’s promises.
- Romans 8:26-28: The Holy Spirit and the believer in times of suffering.
- Ephesians 6:18: God through the Holy Spirit in constant dialogue with the believer in the midst of the great battle.
Notice how God takes the initiative in prayer and defines the content of prayer in the above mentioned episodes.
- In Genesis 18 the discussion was built on the fact that God called Abraham “… since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him … that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He had spoken to him.” The dialogue was built on God’s covenant with Abraham and therefore the Lord waited on Abraham – after He made know his intentions – to start his prayer on behalf of Lot and his family.
- In the parable of the true vine in John 15, Jesus said that He calls us his friends and therefore He tells us about his Father’s plans. He also promises us that the Father will give us whatever we ask in his name, so that we may bear fruit – fruit that will last.
- In 2 Corinthians 1:20,21 we learn that: “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God.” (NIV). Jesus guarantees God’s promises and we agree and accept it with an “amen” to glorify God.
- Paul informs us in Romans 8 that: “… the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” (v 26,27). This is a magnificent account of praying together with the help of the Holy Spirit.
- In Ephesians 6:12 Paul wrote about the struggle of a Christian against the world’s powers of darkness and the spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly realms. In the last part of his description of God’s armor he remarked: “and pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” (NIV). This battle is a constant, never-ending endeavour of prayer inspired by the Holy Spirit and building on what Jesus did.
4 Our own contribution to the dialogue
Jesus taught us the Lord’s prayer to give our prayers content according to his will, but in this open-ended prayer He gives us the opportunity to add our own part to the prayer, or our own contribution to the dialogue, or our appropriate response.
4.1 The content
With Jesus’ decision to leave the Lord’s Prayer open ended without a closure, He actually gives us the opportunity to ponder over the content while we pray. He gives us an opportunity to make it our own, to agree to it with a doxology to the great and loving God through Jesus Christ. He invites us in the prayer to personally respond to the good news of: “… the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.” (NIV Mt 11:12). The doxology is nothing less than our response on God’s coming to us through Jesus Christ; a response on every detail of the Lord’s Prayer.
We are invited to constantly experience his majesty, power and victory, his reign, and love, as revealed in Jesus Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. The first prayer: “Hallowed be your name” becomes part of our thinking and living.
Our prayers consist of our agreement, our “amen” which actually is our “Hallelujah”, our rejoicing and praise to God: “Hallowed be your name.”
The Hallelujah Psalms, especially the last eight Psalms are brilliant examples of praise to God by the whole creation and by all people with all means available to them. Praises must be done by God’s people in such a way that the whole world, a world filled with doubt and sin, be convinced of, and confess to the truth of God, his greatness and his love.
4.2 The origin
The origin of our contribution of praise at the end of the prayer is also coming from God.
The origin of our prayer is what God did through Jesus Christ, but our daily personal initiative in prayer, our “Hallelujahs” and “Amens” are also a creation of God himself through the Holy Spirit. Our talk to God in bed during the night, during the day, on street and at home, our daily living is by God’s grace: “And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ.” (NIV 2 Cor 1:20,21).
In Romans eight Paul tells us that in times of suffering when: “… the whole creation has been groaning as in pains of childbirth … we ourselves … groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. … We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”(Rom 8:23-26).
Paul’s great doxology in Romans 11:33-36, which might have been built on Isaiah 40:12-15, ends with: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory for ever! Amen.”
5.3 Our calling
Our praise or “amen” response embraces our calling; it is a moment to say “yes” on his calling.
Our prayer, our part in the dialogue may seem so small. Just a response to God, just an echo to his coming to us, just a hallelujah, an amen or a doxology of praise to God, is the work of the Holy Spirit. In recognising this, the question is: What makes our addition to the Lord’s Prayer important? Why did Jesus wait on our answer? Why did he wait on our “amen”?
In our prayer lives, we are partners with God, on his journey, to his eternal destination with us and the world, the new heaven and earth.
We find an immense truth conveyed by Jesus in John 15:15: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”
The context of the metaphor of John 15 confirms a very intensive and dramatic moment of God’s walk with his people in this world. He addressed his disciples in the dark night before He was crucified. It forms the middle part of two classic chapters (15 and 16) where Jesus elaborated on the coming of the Holy Spirit and before his High Priest prayer in John 17. It contains strategic information needed by his disciples (church) who are remaining in this world.
In this metaphor of Jesus, his Father is the gardener who took the initiative to start a vineyard, Jesus is the true vine and we are the branches. To understand the process of Jesus becoming the true vine, we have to consider Jesus’ incarnation and death in our place and his resurrection. A very costly endeavour of God’s love to save humanity. It is to God’s glory when the branches bear much fruit, meaning that God is glorified when we are successful in our calling.
Our partnership in this gardening of God – let us call it vineyard farming – is remarkable; we are no longer servants but are friends. It is significant, firstly, in the sense of our unity with Jesus; we as the branches with Jesus as the vine. Actually, there is no division between the branches and the vine – it forms one inseparable united identity.
Secondly, that we are not only his friends, but we are informed friends. Informed about the Owner’s dreams, thinking, planning and wishes: “Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
We are co-partners with co-input and co-responsibilities. Twice in the metaphor (v7 and v16) we are reminded that we have the opportunity to take part in putting our wishes in words with the promise: “It will be given.”
The most significant aspect of our partnership is found in Jesus’ words: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and to bear fruit – fruit that will last.” (15:16). Our involvement is not as a result of our initiative but of God’s eternal decision flowing out of his love.
Paul, and other New Testament writers, assure us that God chose us before creation (see Eph 1:4). To be chosen is an initiative from God, originating in eternity and was executed in Jesus Christ. This initiative of God contains four wonderful truths (Rom 8:29,30). He:
- “predestined” us – God’s choice was made with a specific purpose in mind.
- “called” us through the work of the Holy Spirit.
- “justified” us – put us, by way of faith in Jesus and a miracle of the Holy Spirit, in right standing with Himself.
- also “glorified” us. This is the shining brightness of his power, holiness and love in us. We are chosen to be glorified together with Christ (see Rom 8:17,30).
It is accepted that the Lord’s Prayer forms part of Jesus’ preaching on the coming of God’s kingdom: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” (Mt 4:23 also Mark 6:56, Mt 9:35). The Lord’s Prayer is also in cohesion with Jesus’ answer to John’s question: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Mt 11:2). John’s disciples were sent back to report to John what they had heard and saw, namely the signs of the coming of God’s kingdom in Jesus’ ministry.
On that day Jesus remarked to his disciples: “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; jet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.” (Mt 11;11-12).
Our participation in the Lord’s Prayer, our praise to God, our “amen”, must be seen as part of the coming of God’s kingdom through Jesus and the Holy Spirit: “… and forceful men lay hold of it.” This is a Christian’s calling, his answer/echo to God in Jesus.
James wrote that the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective: “Elijah was a man like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” (James 15:17,18).
Our entire life is a prayer which consists of a praise to God, a hallelujah, an amen, an echo on the Lord’s Prayer, which embodies the kingdom of God advancing forcefully and we also lay forcefully hold of God’s kingdom. It represents our calling. Paul’s statement on the ministry of the Spirit was spot on: “But thanks to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.” (2 Cor 2:14). We should never settle for less, for Jesus’ death was too costly.