The Lord’s Prayer was intended as a model not a mantra. Given the way it is often used today, it is more than a little ironic to observe that the model was taught, at least in part, as an alternative to the mindless, repetitive nature of pagan prayer. Jesus said:
“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.” (Matthew 6:7 ESV)
In contrast to the repetitive babble of the pagans, Jesus taught his disciples:
“Pray then like this:” (Matthew 6:9 ESV)
Martin Luther was once asked by his barber to provide some teaching and instruction on daily prayer. He responded by writing a very helpful letter on the subject, which contained the following counsel:
“You should also know that I do not want you to recite all words in your prayer. That would make it nothing but idle chatter and prattle, read word for word out of a book as were the rosaries by the laity and the prayers of the priests and monks. Rather do I want your heart to be stirred and guided concerning the thoughts which ought to be comprehended in the Lord’s Prayer. These thoughts may be expressed, if your heart is rightly warmed and inclined toward prayer, in many different ways and with more words or fewer.”
Luther did suggest that everyone should recite the Lord’s Prayer – 3 times a day, in the morning, in the evening and at table – but that was merely to aid in memorization. The goal was for the individual to be able internalize the general pattern and priority of the prayer and then to approach the Lord through those categories with the heart rightly stirred and directed.
So what would that look like?
I began doing this in my morning prayer times back in 2012. The following explanations and sample prayers reflect my understanding of the 6 main petitions in the Lord’s Prayer and some sample expansions within each category. I pray you find it useful.
Understanding the 6 main Petitions:
1. Hallowed be thy name
Of all the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer, this first one is probably the one we understand the least. “Hallowed” is not a word we used very often in English. It is a form of the word “holy” and it is used here in the passive imperative, meaning that we are praying that something would be done with respect to God – but what in the world could that mean? We’re obviously not praying for God to become more holy or for his name to become more holy – so what are we asking for here? Leon Morris is incredibly helpful on this, he says:
“This prayer is not so much a petition that God will do some great act that will show everyone who and what he is, as a prayer that he will bring people to a proper attitude toward him. It expresses an aspiration that he who is holy will be seen to be holy and treated throughout his creation as holy”.
When we pray “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name…” we are asking for God to so work in the world that more and more people would make him the centre and foundation of their lives. We are saying that we want to see more and more people acknowledging God as their ultimate authority and their highest priority. We are asking for idols to be cast down and for God to take his seat on the throne of every human heart. We are asking for all of Creation to be restored to its proper attitude, arrangement and orbit.
2. Thy kingdom come
The Kingdom of God refers to the domain of God or the rule of God and there are three ways in which the Bible tends to speak about that. First of all, there is a universal sense as seen for example in Psalm 24:1:
“The earth is the LORD’S and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1 ESV)
There is also a sense in which the Kingdom of God may be said to grow and spread as it is recognized and submitted to by individuals. We may refer to this as the internal sense. Jesus said:
“The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” (Luke 17:20–21 ESV)
There is, thirdly, a consummated sense, as spoken of by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:24-26:
“Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:24–26 ESV)
It is likely the second and third sense that are in view in the Lord’s Prayer. John Calvin for example says here:
“The substance of this prayer is, that God would enlighten the world by the light of his Word, — would form the hearts of men, by the influences of his Spirit, to obey his justice, and would restore to order, by the gracious exercise of his power, all the disorder that exists in the world.”
Lord make it so in our day!
3. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven
The Bible tends to talk about the will of God in three different ways as well. There is the decretive will of God, the preceptive will of God and the dispositional will of God. The decretive will of God refers to his Sovereign decrees which cannot be resisted or changed – so we’re probably not praying about that.
The preceptive will of God has to do with what God commands in his revealed Word. For example, God commands us to honour our parents – it is his will that we do so – whether we do it or not.
And then the dispositional will of God refers to that which God finds pleasing. 2 Peter 3:9 for example says:
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 ESV)
It doesn’t please God when people reject his offer of salvation and perish – it isn’t his will in that sense.
It is in these last two senses that we are praying when we pray “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. When we pray that we are asking for God to help us do what we should do and to do that which would be pleasing to him. Here we are acknowledging that we need God’s help to do God’s will. As St. Augustine prayed famously:
“O Lord, command what you will and give what you command”.
4. Give us this day our daily bread
With this petition we transition from prayers about God’s glory to prayers about our fundamental needs as human beings. Martin Luther says here:
“Therefore we pray, in the first place, that he may give us our daily bread, that is, everything that is needful for the preservation of this life: food, a healthy body, good weather, house, home, wife, child, good government, peace, and that he may preserve us from all manner of calamity, sickness, pestilence, dear times, war, insurrection, etc.”
Luther understood “daily bread” as a metaphor for the necessities of life. Notice also that, informed by the wording of the Lord’s Prayer, Luther counselled his people to pray in a communal spirit. We are not to ask for “my daily bread” but for “our daily bread”. This then is where you would pray for the people in your family, the people in your church, and the people in your city to have the means to buy groceries and gas. This would be where you would pray for the health of our children; this would be where you would pray for marriages and children; this is where you would pray for those who have lost their jobs; this is where you would pray for those who have been diagnosed with cancer.
5. Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors
One of the first things we learn as Bible readers is that sin separates us from God and apart from God we are falling apart. Sin is a serious problem. We need to get rid of it so that we can be reconciled and returned to God – and that’s what Jesus came to do! The Apostle Paul in Colossians 2:13-14 says:
“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13–14 ESV)
When you pray: “Forgive us our debts” you are asking for God to transfer your sins to the account of Jesus on the cross. He can pay for them there or you can pay for them in eternity.
That’s the deal.
But if he forgives your sins then he expects you to forgive others the sins they commit against you – that expectation is woven into the words of the fifth petition:
“forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Matthew 6:12 ESV)
This is the only petition in the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 that receives a subsequent exposition. Immediately following the words of the prayer, Jesus says:
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14–15 ESV)
Mercy for our sins and grace to forgive others are woven together in the 5th petition of the Lord’s Prayer.
6. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
This is a tricky one in English. In Greek the word for testing is the same as the word for temptation. Every temptation of course is a test but not every test is a temptation. There are other tests of faith; sickness can be a test, wealth can be a test, loneliness can be a test. The sense here in the sixth petition seems to be that we are asking God not to overwhelm us and to be ever mindful of our weaknesses and frailty. Charles Spurgeon says here:
“In the course of providence, the Lord tests our graces and the sincerity of our profession; and for this purpose he does ‘lead us into temptation’. We entreat him not to try us too severely.”
To pray this prayer in faith, it may be helpful to remember the encouragement given by the Apostle Paul who said:
“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV)
Thanks be to God!
The Lord’s Prayer is a model not a mantra. The goal is for us to be formed and instructed by its priority and focus. As Luther said:
“These thoughts may be expressed, if your heart is rightly warmed and inclined toward prayer, in many different ways and with more words or fewer.”
The following sample expansions represent some words that I have gathered, both from the Psalms and from The 1662 Book of Common Prayer that express the same sentiments and priorities being commended in the Lord’s Prayer. My prayer is that you would be stirred and guided by them as I have been.
1. Hallowed Be Thy Name…
“You are our strength, our Rock, our Savior, for with you is the well of life; and in your light shall we see light. You are God – our God; earnestly will we seek you. Our souls thirst for you; our flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. We have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, our lips will praise you, so we will bless you as long as we live; in your name we will lift up our hands in worship. Be exalted in this place. Be gracious to us and bless us and make your face to shine upon us that your ways may be known upon the earth, your saving power among the nations. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name!”
2. Thy kingdom come…
“Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: mercifully grant that all the peoples of the earth, though now divided and in bondage to sin, may be made free and brought together under his most gracious rule. May their eyes be opened and their ears unstopped that they might understand and submit to your perfect word. By the influences of your Spirit, cause men and women, boys and girls to obey your justice, and to flourish under the gracious exercise of your power. Overcome all the disorder that now exists in the world and bring all things together under the Lordship of Jesus Christ in whose name we pray.”
3. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…
“Almighty and most gracious Father, incline our hearts to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain. Turn our eyes from looking at worthless things and give us life according to your ways. Grant unto us a ready will to obey your word and fill us with a hearty desire to make your righteousness known upon the earth, your saving health among the nations. Teach us good judgment and instill in us knowledge that we may learn and delight in your commandments. Make your face shine upon your servants and teach us to walk according to your statutes for your glory and our good always.”
4. Give us this day our daily bread…
“O merciful Father, give us grace that we may learn our entire dependence upon you, for you are the Father of lights, the Giver of every good and perfect gift, in whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. We ask that you would supply seed to the sower and bread for food. Tend the sick, strengthen the weak, give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous, and all for compassion’s sake. Give our children grace to stand fast in faith, to obey your word, to abide in your love, that being made strong by your Holy Spirit, they may resist temptation and overcome evil, and may rejoice in the life that now is, and dwell with you forever in the life to come through the merits of Jesus Christ, who with the Father and the Spirit lives and reigns as God, world without end.”
5. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…
“Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from your ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the inclinations and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against your wise and holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done; and there is no health in us. Have mercy on us, O God! Spare those, Father, who confess their sins. Restore those who are penitent, according to your promise declared to mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, Father, for his sake, that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, merciful and sober life, to the glory of your holy name. Help us, Lord to forgive those who have wronged us and to pray for those who persecute us and to bless those who curse us and overcome evil with good.”
6. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil…
“Most wise and merciful Shepherd, make us to lie down in green pastures! Lead us beside the still waters! Lead us in paths of righteousness for your name’s sake. Though in your Providence you may ordain a season of testing in the valley and in the shadow of death, be gracious to us and consider our weakness. Do not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear and with every temptation provide a way of escape that we would not falter and bring shame upon your name. Make us strong in your Spirit and feed us with your holy Word. Visit this place, and drive from it all snares of the enemy. Let your holy angels dwell among us to preserve us in peace, and may your blessing be upon us evermore, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Amen – and may God alone be glorified!
Pastor Paul Carter
To listen to the most recent episodes of Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. To access the entire library of available episodes see here. You can also download the Into The Word app on iTunes or Google Play.
 Martin Luther as cited by Joel R. Beeke and Brian G. Najapfour in Taking Hold Of God (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2011), 15.
 As per Martin Luther, Commentary On The Sermon On The Mount in Lexham Classics, translated by Charles A. Hay (Bellingham: Lexham Press, 2017), 169.
Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, Pillar New Testament Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 145.
John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries (Complete), trans. John King, Accordance electronic ed. (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1847), n.p.
 John Calvin taught a twofold division of the Lord’s Prayer that mirrored the twofold division of the 10 Commandments. The first 3 petitions focus on the glory of God, the second 3 petitions focus on the needs of human beings. See here: John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries (Complete), trans. John King, Accordance electronic ed. (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1847), paragraph 68359.
 Martin Luther, Commentary On The Sermon On The Mount in Lexham Classics, translated by Charles A. Hay (Bellingham: Lexham Press, 2017), 170.
 C.H. Spurgeon, Commentary On Matthew: The Gospel of the Kingdom (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2013), 60.
 Martin Luther as cited by Joel R. Beeke and Brian G. Najapfour in Taking Hold Of God (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2011), 15.