Understanding Hope and the Lord’s Prayer

Steve —  August 6, 2021 — Leave a comment

Understanding Hope and the Lord’s Prayer

By Drs. John M. Frame and Steven L. Childers

In this Applied Theology series of courses and books, you’ll learn a Trinitarian theology of faith, hope, and love by understanding and applying to your life what the Bible teaches about: 1) Faith found in the Apostles’ Creed, 2) Hope found in the Lord’s Prayer, and 3) Love found in the Ten Commandments. You’ll learn from God’s Word that:

A mind that is renewed by faith and a heart that is aflame with hope results in a life that honors God by loving him and others deeply and well.

In Theology of Hope Course Lesson 1, you’ll learn how to understand the biblical concept of hope found in the Lord’s Prayer.

About the Applied Theology Project

The Applied Theology Project provides you accessible, affordable seminary-level teaching designed to help you learn how to apply theology to your life and ministry in practical ways – with the goal of helping you better know, love, serve, and honor God as LORD in all of life. Seminary professors John Frame and Steve Childers combine their almost 90 years of teaching and ministry experience to help you apply theology to life and ministry.

Read Chapter 1 of the Theology of Hope: A Biblical Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer below.

Learning Tip: Don’t miss reading the “going deeper” footnotes!

Chapter 1: Understanding Hope and the Lord’s Prayer

A Biblical Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer 
Drs. John M. Frame and Steven L. Childers

The Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments summarize the essence of what followers of Christ believe, why they have hope, and how they should live.

The Lord’s Prayer is the way Jesus taught his disciples to pray and the way most Christians have prayed throughout history, including those among the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant traditions.[1]

The New Testament reveals two accounts of Jesus’ teaching his disciples this prayer. The first account is early in his ministry, probably in Galilee, when he gives the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:9-12). The second account is later in his ministry, probably in Judea, when one of his disciples asks him to teach them how to pray. (Luke 11:2-4) Jesus gives us this prayer in five simple verses in the Matthew 6 account.

Pray then like this:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
            Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
             Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
             And lead us not into temptation,
            but deliver us from evil.[2]
[For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.].[3]

Jesus’ intention in teaching his disciples to pray this new way is so that they would begin to think, hope, and live in a new way. He knew it was not possible for them to pray like this without aligning their lives with their prayers.

So, the Lord’s prayer is marvelously full of meaning.[4] Theologian J.I. Packer says the Lord’s Prayer is “a key to the whole business of living. What it means to be a Christian is nowhere clearer than here.”[5]

The Setting of the Prayer
Before examining the individual petitions in this prayer, it can be helpful to understand the contexts in which Jesus taught it in Matthew and Luke.

In Matthew’s account, Jesus teaches this prayer in the middle of his warning against the dangers of practicing religious righteousness to be approved by people. He begins this part of his Sermon on the Mount by saying, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.” (Matt. 6:1)

Then Jesus uses the common practices of giving, praying, and fasting to help his hearers understand how they should practice these spiritual disciplines. In each of these three examples, Jesus draws a stark contrast between how religious hypocrites practice righteousness and how his followers should practice righteousness. When he addresses the practice of prayer, he distinguishes his approach to prayer with the religious traditions and practices in his day saying,

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 . . . But 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. (Matt. 6:5-8)

Jesus’ primary focus is on people’s underlying motivations for prayer. The pagans and religious hypocrites pray to earn favor with their audience or God by calling attention to themselves. Jesus says, “Do not be like them.” Instead, Jesus teaches his followers to have the motivation of a dearly beloved child who longs to know and honor God as their heavenly Father, by praying to God as “Our Father”.

In Luke’s account, Jesus teaches this prayer in response to a request from one of his disciples to teach them how to pray, soon after they observed Jesus finish his prayers. Luke writes, “Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1)

The disciples regularly observed Jesus’ practice of prayer, including times when he would secretly separate himself from them to pray. Mark tells us, “Rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” (Mark 1:35)

There were also many times the disciples heard Jesus pray when he was with them. There was something unique and compelling about how Jesus prayed that made his disciples want to learn how to pray like him.[6]

Luke’s account of Jesus teaching this prayer in Luke 11:2-4 is immediately followed by his account of Jesus continuing to teach about prayer in Luke 11:5-13. So, what does Jesus teach his disciples about how to pray after giving them the Lord’s Prayer?

In Luke 11:5-13, Jesus teaches his disciples to keep praying to God as their Father with the persistent, shameless boldness of a dearly beloved child. He teaches this to his disciples by telling them a parable about a man who has a need and knocks persistently on his friend’s door late at night until he finally gets up from his bed to answer. (Luke 11:5-8) Then, Jesus says,

I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? (Luke 11:9-12)

Jesus is teaching his disciples to be persistent in praying the way he had just taught them to pray – to be persistent in their prayers first and foremost for the Father’s name to be honored, for his kingdom to come, and for his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Jesus ends his teaching on how to pray by promising his disciples that the Father will answer their persistent prayers by giving them the greatest gift they could ever ask for as his children – the gift of himself in the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (Luke 11:13).

Jesus is teaching that God himself is the ultimate gift to all those who “keep asking, seeking, and knocking” in their prayers. The greatest answer to prayer is not receiving what we ask God to give us – even things like our daily bread, forgiveness, and deliverance from temptation and evil – but the far superior gift of knowing, loving, and honoring the Giver as our Father in heaven.

The Meaning of the Prayer
The Lord’s Prayer has become so familiar to many Christians that they no longer think about the meaning of the words they’re reciting, ironically and unknowingly disobeying Jesus’ command not to pray with “empty phrases” (Matt. 6:7).

Understanding the overarching structure of the prayer can help us better understand the meaning of individual petitions. The petitions in the prayer are divided into two categories: 1) Godward petitions focusing on God’s honor, and 2) manward petitions focusing on human needs.

The first petitions repeat the pronoun “your” three times: 1) “hallowed be your name”, 2) “your kingdom come”, and 3) “your will be done.” The second petitions include eight personal pronouns: 1) Give us this day our daily bread, 2) forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors, and 3) lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

It’s also helpful to understand how the petitions relate to each other. For example, the first petition, “hallowed be your name” is best understood as the greatest of the three Godward petitions. We ask the Father to hallow his name by causing his kingdom to come and his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

The three subsequent manward petitions for daily bread, forgiveness, and protection from temptation and evil should not be seen as disconnected from the Godward petitions – but the means to their fulfillment. We ask the Father to give us our daily bread, to forgive our sins, and to protect us from temptation and evil not ultimately for us – but so that we will hallow the Father’s name by causing his kingdom to come and his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Therefore, our study of the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer and its applications to life and ministry will draw from this overall structure and its flow of thought found in the prayer.

Godward petitions for God’s honor:
1. Hallowed be your name.
2. Your kingdom come,
3. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Manward petitions for our needs:
4. Give us this day our daily bread,
5. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
6. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

The Godward and manward petitions should be seen as a whole. In the Godward petitions Augustine teaches that we “ask for eternal goods,” and in the manward petitions we “ask for temporal goods, which are, however, necessary for obtaining the eternal goods.”

The Purpose of the Prayer
Jesus introduces all these petitions by saying, “Pray then like this” (Matt. 6:9). The Greek word translated “like this” (οὕτως) means pray “after this manner” – instructing us not merely to recite these words in prayer, although that’s acceptable, but to use them as a model for all our prayers.

Augustine teaches that praying in a “correct and proper way” means that we “say nothing that is not contained in the Lord’s Prayer.” So, we pray not only using “these very words”, but also “the other words we may prefer to say” that will help us follow the model of the Lord’s Prayer.[7]

Obviously we are not limited to praying only the exact words of the Lord’s Prayer. There are many prayers in Scripture, for example in the Psalms, that use very different words. The point is that the Lord’s Prayer is a model for our prayers. The prayers we bring to God are applications of the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer.

For example, the Lord’s Prayer says “your will be done.” That authorizes us to pray specifically for all the ways in which we would like God’s will to be done: “Lord, please defeat those who promote abortion in our land.” “ Lord, help me to be faithful as I talk to my family about Jesus.”

Jesus teaches us to follow this model in all our prayers so we will understand that our purpose in life is the same as his – to hallow the Father’s name by causing his kingdom to come and his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. To do this, Jesus knows that we will need to be constantly trusting our heavenly Father for our daily bread, forgiveness, and deliverance from all the evil he came to conquer for our sake and for the sake of the Father’s name.

Jesus wants us not only to believe in these truths with our minds, but also to embrace them in prayer with our heart affections so that we will live out our whole lives in light of them. Only then can we know the hope of the gospel that is the hope of God’s glory, the hope of God’s kingdom, and the hope of God’s will being done on earth as in heaven.

Only then can we know the hope of God’s promised provisions of our daily bread, forgiveness, and deliverance from evil – especially as we dare to follow Jesus in the suffering that always accompanies those who pray and then live like this.

But sadly, most people don’t use the Lord’s Prayer this way, if they use it at all. Seeing how people in his day abused the Lord’s Prayer, Luther called it “the greatest martyr on earth.”

What a great pity that the prayer of such a master is prattled and chattered so irreverently all over the world! How many pray the Lord’s Prayer several thousand times in the course of a year, and if they were to keep on doing so for a thousand years they would not have tasted nor prayed one iota, one dot, of it! In a word, the Lord’s Prayer is the greatest martyr on earth (as are the name and word of God). Everybody tortures and abuses it; few take comfort and joy in its proper use.[8]

Luther’s harsh words against the abuses of the Lord’s Prayer are rooted in his heartfelt longing for God’s people to know and taste the riches God brings to all who pray it. He writes:

To this day I suckle at the Lord’s Prayer like a child, and as an old man eat and drink from it and never get my fill. It is the very best prayer, even better than the psalter, which is so very dear to me. It is surely evident that a real master composed and taught it.[9]


[1] Besides the New Testament, the earliest summary of Christian beliefs and practices is found in a first century document called the Didache from the Greek word Διδαχή for “Teaching” that includes a list of beliefs, including the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer, that were taught to converts before they were baptized.

[2] We’ll study later how the formatting of these verses reflects the relationship between the prayer’s primary and supporting petitions, e.g. God’s kingdom comes when his will is done on earth as it is in heaven, we ask the Father to forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors, and our temptation includes the evil from which we need deliverance.

[3] The traditional doxology is found in the majority of New Testament Greek manuscripts (Textus Receptus and Majority Text) including the Greek uncials dating from the 5th-10th century and the Greek minuscules dating from the 9th-12th century. This is why the doxology is included in the English KJV and NKJV versions. But the doxology is not found in the earlier and best Greek manuscripts, including א, B, D, f1, various Latin and Coptic versions, and numerous church fathers. It’s also not found in Luke’s account of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11:2-4. So, most modern English Bible translations do not include it or it’s placed in a margin or footnote, e.g. RSV and NIV. The use of this doxology probably arose when the prayer began to be used in public worship and needed a doxology at the end. It may be based on 1 Chronicles 29:11, “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.” So, it’s fine for believers to use this doxology to conclude the prayer, but it should not be seen as belonging to Jesus’ teaching.

[4] The Anglican Prayer Book Catechism reveals the fuller meaning of the Lord’s prayer. Question: “What desirest thou of God in this prayer?” Answer: “I desire my Lord God our heavenly Father, who is the giver of all goodness, to send his grace unto me, and to all people, that we may worship him, serve him, and obey him, as we ought to do. And I pray unto God, that he will send us all things that be needful both for our souls and bodies; and that he will be merciful unto us, and forgive us our sins; and that it will please him to save and defend us in all dangers ghostly (i.e., spiritual) and bodily; and that he will keep us from all sin and wickedness, and from our ghostly enemy, and from everlasting death. And this I trust he will do of his mercy and goodness, through our Lord Jesus Christ. And therefore I say, Amen. So be it.”

[5] The early church father Tertullian refers to the Lord’s Prayer as “a compendium of the gospel”. The English Puritan Thomas Watson calls it “a body of divinity”. J. I. Packer, Growing in Christ, Crossway Books, 1994

[6] It seems likely that when Jesus’ prayed, he used the same model for prayer he taught his disciples in the “Lord’s Prayer.” This argues against those who advocate changing the name of this prayer to the “Disciple’s Prayer.”

[7] Augustine writes, “It was very appropriate that all these truths [in the Lord’s Prayer] should be entrusted to us to remember in these very words. [But] Whatever be the other words we may prefer to say (words which the one praying chooses so that his disposition may become clearer to himself or which he simply adopts so that his disposition may be intensified), we say nothing that is not contained in the Lord’s Prayer, provided of course we are praying in a correct and proper way.”  From A letter to Proba by Saint Augustine, Bishop (Ep. 130, 11, 21-12, 22: CSEL 44, 63-64) On the Lord’s Prayer.

[8] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, 43:200

[9] Ibid.

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