A few passages of the Bible are, owing to their frequent or unintelligent recitation, easily overlooked by the Lord’s people – this is one of them. But Christians need to pray, and the Lord has graciously provided us this brief sample to teach us important principles of prayer.
It is a pattern prayer, but not a ritual to be carried out by rote. That was the very type of thing the Lord was condemning in His admonition to avoid “empty phrases” and “many words” (v7). Prayer is to be an expression of meaningful fellowship, not meaningless verbosity. But the content of this prayer remains rich in its relevance to all believers today. The Sermon on the Mount (Mat 5-7) provides principles for the kingdom and is applicable to us “because we are subjects in the kingdom.” “These three chapters are directly relevant to believers today.” To be sure, the kingdom has not yet come in its fulness (v10), but there is nothing in this prayer that is inconsistent with the interests of God’s people in the age of the Church.
Here lies one of the most evident and important lessons from the paragraph: prayer commences with the concerns of God and subsequently moves to our needs. Before we hear “give us” in this prayer, we hear “your name … your kingdom … your will.” Too often our thinking is preoccupied with the honour of our name, the expansion of our perceived kingdom and the triumph of our own will. Let us learn the lesson from the pattern provided by the Lord: give priority to God and His glory in prayer.
The Relationship It Reveals
“Our Father in heaven” is not a formula we must use, but it does present a relationship that is vital to appreciate. Through our union with Christ, Almighty God has become our Father (cf. Joh 20:17; Gal 4:6). “Father” is a lovely blending of intimacy and reverence. He is personal and loving – the ideal Father. But as “our Father in heaven,” He is always infinitely greater than us. We rightly bow before Him, yet with the knowledge that the One with heaven’s storehouse at His disposal delights to hear His children’s voices.
The Priorities in the Prayer
Our selfish tendency is to rush to requests pertaining to our needs, but the Lord Jesus teaches us otherwise.
“Hallowed be your name” expresses a desire for God to be honoured – the name represents the person. It is an aspiration that the One who is holy will be regarded as holy, throughout His creation. The Lord Jesus is modelling a worshipful heart in prayer. Similarly, many of us have profited at times from the ACTS acronym as a guideline for prayer: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication.
The fact that the Lord taught His disciples to pray “Your kingdom come” establishes an important eschatological point. Even though the King was present, His kingdom had not yet dawned. The kingdom is no more present today in the absence of the King than it was when He was here. We are part of His kingdom (Col 1:13), and already experience it as a spiritual reality (Rom 14:17), but its ultimate fulfillment awaits His coming back to the earth in power. Subsequent to Matthew 6, Scripture gives the additional revelation of the Lord’s initial return to the air for the Rapture of the Church, but the kingdom is ours to enjoy as well. While we can readily see how suffering saints of the Tribulation era will utter this phrase with particular intensity, we should also eagerly anticipate that righteous reign of the Lord Jesus.
“Your will be done” acknowledges that prayer is not intended to convince God to change His mind – we are the ones to be changed. It takes time, but often two fruits of prayer are our honest acknowledgement of what we really want in a given circumstance, and a humble acquiescence that our Father knows best. “Prayer is not a convenient device for imposing our will upon God, or for bending his will to ours, but the prescribed way of subordinating our will to his …. Every true prayer is a variation on the theme ‘Your will be done.’”
The Supplications in the Prayer
As it is a mistake to put our needs ahead of His honour, so it is also a mistake to think He isn’t interested in our needs. We are a weak and needy people, and our Father is able and willing to supply what we need.
“Daily bread” may seem superfluous to many readers today, but the Lord is reminding us that even amidst the abundance many of us possess, we are ultimately dependent upon God. Let us give thanks to God for our food – and mean it. The crops growing in the field, the job that enables you to buy groceries, the health that enables you to enjoy it all – all of these are gifts from God. Independence from God is worldly pride (cf. 1Jn 2:16); prayer is a spiritual expression of dependence.
In this context, “debts” refers to sins, whether wrong things we have done, or right things we have failed to do. Verses 14-15 help us to see what is at stake: not our possession of salvation (judicial forgiveness), but the enjoyment of our relationship with the Father (paternal forgiveness). Similar to Matthew 5:23-24, the Lord is teaching the importance of right relationships with our brothers and sisters if we expect to have a right relationship with God (cf. 1Jn 4:20). Remember, it is difficult to be angry at and unforgiving toward someone if you bring them regularly before your Father in prayer.
While the closing clauses of the prayer (v13) present some interpretive challenges, the main thrust is clear: we need the Lord’s grace to experience victory over sin. It is a mercy when opportunity and desire do not coincide. “Preserve me, O God” (Psa 16:1). If we were spiritually stronger, would we pray less? No. We would recognize our weakness and our need to pray more. The Lord Jesus was the perfectly dependent man. If He was a man of prayer, how much more we need to learn from the pattern He has left us.
 David Gilliland, Bible Readings on the Sermon on the Mount, Bangor, NI, 1994.
 John Stott, The Letters of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), 188.