“I’ve been to three churches on this street, and yours is the only one that says the Lord’s Prayer,” a visitor informed me one Sunday. This surprised me since I figured most Christian churches would regularly say the prayer that Jesus gave us. However, it appears that those familiar words are being prayed less and less frequently during worship. In fact, there are six Christian churches on that mile-and-a-half stretch of 34th Street NW in Winter Haven, Florida, but only one of them prayed the well-known prayer this past Sunday. You see, there’s a common idea in American Christianity that claims that spontaneity and spirituality go hand-in-hand; that is, if you’re not wording your prayers on the fly, then they are neither from the heart nor spiritual.
Now, there is also a pitfall common among Christians who regularly say the Lord’s Prayer. It’s what Jesus observed, “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.” (Matthew 15:8) How often have we fallen into the habit of reciting those familiar words while thinking about whatever is next on the schedule? On the other hand, there’s another pitfall into which many Christians have fallen when speaking prayers on the fly. It’s what Jesus warned against when He said, “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)
We clearly have a problem with prayer, but it is not due to the prayers we use. The main problem lies within ourselves. As sinners, we are able to take even something as beautiful as a heart-to-heart talk with God, and pollute it with our sin. And that’s the very reason why the Lord’s Prayer is so valuable.
If you were to ask around for prayer requests from family and friends, most of the responses would likely fall under the umbrella of the Fourth Petition, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Whether those requests cover financial problems or emotional distress or employment issues or ongoing illness, they are all in that category of physical needs which the Fourth Petition quickly covers. But we have even greater needs which are addressed in the rest of the Lord’s Prayer.
When you ask that God’s name be hallowed, you’re requesting that He ensure His true, saving Word be continually preached, as it is the power to salvation. When you ask that God’s kingdom comes, you’re requesting that He use His gracious power to create and sustain faith in naturally resisting hearts like your own. When you ask that God’s will be done, you’re requesting that His desire to save lost sinners be accomplished, even for you. When you ask God to forgive your trespasses, you’re requesting that every sin which plagues your conscience be removed by Jesus’ blood. When you ask for deliverance from temptation, you’re requesting that God keep you firmly in His loving hands. When you ask for deliverance from evil, you’re requesting that God vanquish the enemies of sin, death, and the devil also for you.
Seeing these many spiritual needs, we are reminded of our helpless sinful nature, because of which God ought to deny even our smallest requests. And yet, Jesus has given you these very words to pray as an assurance that the same God who promises to hear them is also the One whose good pleasure it is to fulfill every request. You are His child. As your dear Father, He will listen, He will forgive, and He will answer.