Since the beginning of the Christian church, the Lord’s Prayer has been used as a guide for daily prayer. The treatises of Tertullian, Cyprian, and Origen on the Lord’s Prayer bear witness to this.
The earliest witness, however, is the Didache.
And do not pray like the hypocrites, but as the Lord commanded in his gospel, pray in this manner: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come; your will be done, as in heaven, so also on earth. Give us today our bread for the day. And forgive us our debt, as we also forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one, for yours is the power and the glory forever. Pray in this manner three times a day (Didache 8:2–3).
The Lord’s Prayer played a central role in the worship of the early church, both corporate worship on the Lord’s Day and daily private worship.
The Lord’s Prayer also played an important role in Reformed worship.
Both the Larger and Shorter Catechisms contain an exposition of the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is particularly useful, they state, as “the special rule of direction” that Jesus taught his disciples “to direct us in the duty of prayer” (LC 186; SC 99).
In the Gospels, Jesus teaches us how to pray both by instruction and by example.
Luke says that when Jesus had finished praying in a certain place, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1).
To this, Jesus responded by giving the disciples the Lord’s Prayer. Thus, the Lord’s Prayer is a prayer that teaches us how to pray (cf. Luke 11:1–4).
In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord’s Prayer is surrounded by instructions concerning two auxiliary disciplines to prayer: almsgiving and fasting (Matt. 6:1–18).
Immediately before he teaches the disciples the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus gave them two warnings about prayer.
First, do not be like the hypocrites (Matt. 6:5–6).
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
That is, do not make a show of your prayers.
Second, do not be like the Gentiles (Matt. 6:7–8).
And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
That is, do not try to impress God by heaping up empty phrases, “for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
After these two warnings, Jesus gives the Lord’s Prayer, which may be used as either a prayer form or a prayer guide (cf. LC 186, 187).
As a prayer form, it is read or recited from memory. Notice that in Luke’s account, Jesus says, “pray these words” (Luke 11:2).
As a prayer guide, it is used as a model for making our own prayers. In Matthew’s account, Jesus says, “pray this way” (Matt. 6:9).
It is appropriate to use the Lord’s Prayer (both as a form and as a guide) in public worship, family worship and private worship.
The Didache instructs Christians to pray the Lord’s Prayer three times a day:
And do not pray like the hypocrites, but as the Lord commanded in his gospel, pray in this manner: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…. Pray in this manner three times a day (8:2–3).
The first step in learning how to pray is using the biblical forms of prayer such as the Lord’s Prayer or the Psalms.
To get started, one may pray the Lord’s Prayer daily and or pray through the Psalms monthly or weekly. It is also helpful to memorize the Lord’s Prayer and selected Psalms for use in daily prayer.
Tomorrow, we will look at the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer: the invocation.