The study of prayer would not be complete without examining the Lord’s Prayer. It is no doubt the most comprehensive piece of work on prayer ever composed. Here in this very short prayer Jesus has woven every possible principle of prayer together and has given it to us to show us how to pray. It is the best and simplest prayer tool we could possibly have. John MacArthur, in his book, Jesus’ Pattern of Prayer, said, “It [The Lord’s Prayer] is an absolute masterpiece of God’s infinite wisdom to somehow encompass every conceivable element in prayer and reduce it to one simple pattern.”1
In this first blog on the Lord’s Prayer, as an introduction, I want to talk about its settings. In upcoming blogs we will talk about its sources, its form, and generally what it teaches us about prayer.
The Two Settings of the Prayer
Since the prayer was introduced to the disciples at two different times and places, the prayer obviously has two different settings.
In the first setting, recorded in Matthew 6:9-11, Jesus brings the prayer to His disciples in His famous Sermon on the Mount. He introduces it as a better way or as the right way to pray in contrast to the way hypocrites and pagans pray. So here He preaches to them and says, “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men (v. 5)…And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words (v. 7)…In this manner, therefore pray: Our Father in heaven…”
When He says, pray in “this manner” (v. 9), He is referring to the prayer that He will give them, in contrast to the manner of prayer that He just talked about (vv. 6-8). It is a manner that is the exact opposite to the hypocritical way and the pagan way. It is prayer that does not draw attention to ourselves (v. 6); it is prayer that is private and personal—to God alone, “who is in the secret place”; it is prayer that is not repetitious, but believes that God is listening and knows our needs before we ask. In this short prayer Jesus gives us everything that prayer is. But overall, “this manner” of prayer is the correct manner or way, the true and Christian way; hence it is the opposite way of the hypocrite and the pagan. Therefore, He is saying here, Look, don’t pray the way others pray; pray My way instead. It is the right way, the way of My kingdom.
The second time the prayer is introduced, in Luke 11:2-4, the setting is quite different. Here, instead of being surrounded by a crowd, Jesus and His disciples are by themselves. Jesus had just finished praying, and one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”
There are two things I want to mention from this verse—Luke 11:1. First of all, Jesus’ disciples noticed that the prayers of John the Baptist and his disciples were different than their prayers (the prayers they grew up with). According to Dr. Lightfoot, from Mathew Henry’s Commentary, “…Whereas the Jews’ prayers were generally adorations, and praises of God, and doxologies, John taught his disciples such prayers as were more filled up with petitions and requests; for it is said of them that they did deeseis poiountai—make prayers, Luke 5:33.”2
I can imagine that they were tired of their common Jewish prayers, which were nothing more than religious ritual. They were curious about, and more interested in the petitionary prayers of John’s disciples. Their prayers, I suppose, seemed more personal and from the heart.
Secondly, since they were constantly observing Jesus praying, and since they came to Him and asked Him to teach them to pray, they not only wanted to pray as John’s disciples, they wanted much more to pray as Jesus prayed. They were not necessarily asking Jesus to teach them word for word how to pray, but I think they saw Jesus’ great heart for prayer and they recognized that when He prayed He was on a higher level. I think they also perceived the intimate relationship He had with His Father. And so, these are the things they were curious about and desired.
So here are the two settings of this prayer. The first was given out of a sermon and was taught in contrast to hypocritical and pagan prayers; the second was given as an answer to the disciples request—“Lord, teach us to pray.” In the first prayer, Jesus taught them the manner of prayer—or the principles of prayer and the correct way to pray. In the second prayer, since it is almost identical to the first (it is an abbreviated form of the Matthew prayer), I believe He wanted to teach them the same principles of the first prayer, but to also illustrate His heart of prayer and to answer their question. Therefore, after He recited to them the prayer He had previously taught, He added to it a story to teach them about prayer from His heart (vv. 5-13).
In the rest of our study, we will look mainly at the Matthew prayer, but we will also consider the Luke prayer, as each of them in their own settings have something to teach us about how to pray.
1 John MacArthur, Jr., Jesus’ Pattern of Prayer (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981), p. 13.
2 Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: New Modern Edition, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1991 by Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.