The prayer is arranged in three main parts: the address—“Our Father who is in heaven,” six petitions, and the doxology. We will focus, in this blog, on the six petitions.
The Six Petitions
As for the six petitions, the first three are directed toward God and His purposes, and the second three are directed toward man and his needs.
The first three petitions are:
1 That the name of God will be revered—“Hallowed be Your name,”
2 That the role of God would be established—“Your kingdom come,” and
3 That the will of God be done—“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Notice how each of these petitions is dependent on and related to each other. The hallowing of His name is dependent on the coming of His kingdom, and the coming of His kingdom requires the doing of His will. Each is a separate petition but they all are closely tied together.
As to the function or purpose of these petitions, though they obviously serve to bring glory to God, when we faithfully pray these petitions we are also benefited. For when we pray “hallowed be Thy name” we see who He is in all of His holiness. When we pray “Thy kingdom come” His kingdom captivates us. In a sense, we enter into His house and we see all of His glory. Last, when we pray “Thy will be done” He invites us into His mind, where He shares with us His great plans and purposes for us.
The second three petitions are as follows:
4 For daily provision—“Give us this day our daily bread,”
5 For daily pardon—“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” and
6 For daily guidance and protection—“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
Notice, first of all, the relationship of this second set of petitions with the first set; again they are dependent on each other. In order for His will to be done and His kingdom to be established through us, we must have sustenance, forgiveness, and guidance. On the other hand, we would not know to pray for our daily needs, we would not see the significance of it, unless first we pray for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Secondly, you will notice that the three petitions for daily needs cover all the aspects of our being: our body, soul and spirit. Daily bread I think primarily refers to the body or to physical things; forgiveness refers to the soul or the mind; and the prayer for our guidance and protection corresponds to the spirit.
These three petitions also cover all aspects of time: forgiveness covers the past; daily bread covers the present needs; and “lead us not into temptation” speaks of the future.
So here is briefly how the prayer is structured. Now the question is this: why is it structured as it is?
The Purpose Of Its Form
Here are three possible reasons why Jesus composed this prayer as He did:
1. As to its short outline form, I think the main objective Jesus had in mind was that it would be a teaching tool or a mind jogger, but not a prayer to recite. He wanted this prayer outline to be a starter prayer for us. Once we get started in prayer, I think He wants most of our words of prayer to be our own.
2. Jesus wanted to show us the order and priority in prayer. He wants us to learn that the things of God always come first before our own needs. Therefore, with this prayer in the back of our mind as we pray, we will be more aware of praying for His desires first: things that concern His name, His kingdom and His will. Then after we pray for those things it will be natural for us to cry out to God for the things we need—things we lack to do His will: our daily bread, forgiveness and guidance.
3. Jesus wanted to show us the primary purpose of prayer: to hallow His name, and to bring in His kingdom and will. He also wanted to teach us that we are dependent on Him for all our daily needs: for daily sustenance, daily pardon, and daily guidance and protection.
Now let me conclude this section by adding that it was not Jesus intention that we follow this form exactly every time we pray. Jesus Himself, when He prayed, did not follow this form exactly (e.g., Jn. 17); and if you look at other prayers in the Bible, they do not follow the form exactly either. When Jesus told His disciple that they should pray “in this manner” He was not referring to the form. Manner, I believe, has to do with the principles of prayer, not to the form and words of prayer.
The form and words of this prayer were meant to be an example of prayer and to express the substance of our petitions; however, He never meant that we were to follow that example exactly. The manner of prayer means, mainly, that our prayers are to correspond to Christian principles—to His kingdom principles. We are to pray not as hypocrites and pagans, but as those who follow God and Christ, and who are led by the Holy Spirit. Yes, we are to pray in this manner of prayer—according to God’s principles of prayer, but never are we expected to follow any exact form of prayer.