One of the most common and recited prayers of all time, the Lord’s prayer appears twice in the gospels. Once during the sermon on the mount (Matthew 6:9–13)and another time where Jesus taught it to His disciples (Luke 11:2–4). The question is how scriptural is the Lord’s prayer? Now, the fact that something is found in scripture does not make it scriptural, if not it would be totally scriptural to impregnate a married woman and kill her husband.
Three lines of the Lord’s prayer come up for consideration. The first is “thy kingdom come”. Often we imagine the kingdom of God to be the second coming of Christ when heaven would be established on earth and there would be no more evil in the world. If this was so, then half of Jesus Christ’s parables would make no sense. For example, Jesus likened the kingdom of God to a man who sowed good seed in his field but his enemy came and planted tares among them (Matthew 13:24–30, 37–43). Note that an enemy and tares were a feature of this kingdom. In the interpretation, Jesus says the enemy is the devil and the tares are his children meaning evil is still very much in operation in the context of the kingdom of God.
Also, Jesus expressly stated that some members of His audience would not taste death till they saw the kingdom of God come with power (Mark 9:1, Luke 9:27). That in itself is a double-barreled shot at the heaven on earth view of the kingdom because for one, heaven has never been on earth since that time and secondly, if heaven was on earth, there would be no death to taste of. It’s either Jesus Christ lied or the kingdom of God He preached has nothing to do with heaven.
However, when you realize that Jesus told the Pharisees,
“The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20–21)
It all begins to come together. Jesus did tell His disciples about the Holy Spirit which was going to be in them (John 14:17), the Holy Spirit did come with power as earlier promised (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:8) in Acts 2 and a good number of Jesus’ disciples were witnesses to this. This is the kingdom of God Jesus spoke about and in this context, all the parables make sense since some accept Jesus into their hearts and become partakers of the kingdom, some refuse it, evil remains present in the world and the devil remains a factor.
The point is, what kingdom are we still praying for if the kingdom of God is here already?
Even the line “Give us this day our daily bread” is questionable. Jesus says He is the bread of life, the true bread sent by God to give life to mankind and that while anyone who ate of the bread he fed the 5000 with would still die, anyone who ate of Him would live forever (See John 6:32–58). In light of this, what would be the point of begging God for daily bread when the true bread has already been freely given you? But I digress…
The second line up for consideration is “forgive us our sins; for we also forgive everyone that is indebted to us”. Although, it is possible to arrive at a different conclusion from a purely semantic point of view, this line is almost always interpreted as hinging forgiveness from God on the condition that we also forgive others. The gospel however is one of unconditional forgiveness (Colossians 2:13) and free justification (Romans 3:24) out of the bowels of God’s mercy. If forgiveness from God is a free gift, why do we need to persuade God to forgive us based on our own personal track record of forgiveness towards others? Wouldn’t that be insulting?
Besides the epistles are clear that we are to forgive one another, but get this, not so that we can be forgiven but because we are forgiven.
“…even as Christ forgave you, so do ye” (Colossians 3:13)
The third line for consideration is “Deliver us from evil”. The original Greek interpretation in the prayer Jesus taught His disciples is, “Deliver us from the evil one”. It is a prayer of deliverance from Satan.
Jesus when heading to the cross said,
“Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the prince of this world be cast out” (John 12:31)
He also said the Holy Spirit (which came after the cross) would convince the world of judgment because the prince of this world is judged (John 16:11). If the evil one has been overcome already, why pray for deliverance from him? Moreover Paul writes that Jesus died so that He could deliver us from this present evil world (Galatians 1:4).
Okay fine, let us assume none of those arguments convince you. Didn’t Jesus’ final instruction to His disciples contain repeated admonitions to pray in His name? (John 14:13, 16:23–26). Is the Lord’s prayer a prayer in the name of the Lord?
Secondly, from the book of Acts, there is no record of the disciples or the early church ever praying the Lord’s prayer. They did however pray in the name of Jesus (Acts 3:6, 4:30, 9:34).
We see the miraculous signs and wonders as a result of prayers in Jesus name. The term “in Jesus name” is not just an addendum behind every line of prayer, it actually means “On the authority of Jesus”. Why do we have this authority? Because the kingdom of God the Lord’s prayer was yearning for is already here. Why do we have this authority? Because we have already been delivered from the evil one. And we can use this authority only because God (in Christ) has unconditionally forgiven us and there is no longer a barrier between Him and those in Christ.
Also, despite the repeated emphasis on prayer in all the epistles, not one of them refers to the Lord’s prayer. In fact, none of them even gives a specific pattern for prayer. It just says “pray”.
Prayer is supposed to be communication based on a relationship with God. If that is the case, then it ought to be dynamic and not confined in a box or restricted to a robotic chant or mantra. But again someone argues, “Well, I pray that first, then I go ahead and pray normally”. The answer to that is why not go ahead and just pray normally then? Why start off with a meaningless chant that doesn’t come from your heart?
Finally, this is not to say anyone praying this prayer is going to hell or cannot have a decent relationship with God. After all, God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). This is just to get our minds working because tradition is never far way from religion and an authentic relationship with God is anything but religious.
Food for thought:
The Lord’s prayer begs God for everything He has already provided in Christ, could this be the reason those who centre their prayer lives on it either do not believe in miracles or almost never get miraculous results? Who knows…