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The Rev. David W. Hall (PhD, Whitefield Theological Seminary) is married to Ann, and they are parents of three grown children. He has served as the Senior Pastor of Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA) since 2003. After completion of his undergraduate studies, Pastor Hall studied at Swiss L’Abri and then enrolled at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, graduating in 1980. In addition to pastoring, David Hall is the author or editor of over 20 books and numerous essays.

Article by David Hall

A Pattern for Prayer by the Master of Prayer

May 14, 2015 •

Classically and I think helpfully, this prayer is divided into two main parts. First comes the address and then six main petitions. Initially, there are God-ward petitions, followed by petitions for human need.

A. Let’s think about the Address first—it tells us how to approach God—the object of prayer. There are no other proper objects of prayer. We should address God with both reverence, as well as with a feeling of family relationship. It is not to angels or human saints, but this model prayer tells us to whom we pray. It is to:

  • ‘Our Father,’ the universal longing of estranged children of dust. ‘Father’ is a compact summary of Christian doctrine. Prayer is addressed to Abba. Our Father is tender, approachable, yet reliable and strong. God is Father in a special sense to those he has adopted in Christ. “Our” is a reminder not to pray selfishly. Christians are not to pray in ‘splendid isolation’ (Carson). Knowing that there are many children, “we” refers to the whole Catholic Church. God’s role to an adopted child is to be the perfect Father.
  • ‘Who Art In Heaven.’ This corrects our ideas of earthly fathers. Some have had poor role models. Heaven is a totally different environment than earth. It is unlimited and infinite. Thus God who dwells there is not bound by earthly chains. He is free, immense and infinite. Don’t be so chummy that we forget his Holiness. This address perfectly balances the transcendence and imminence of God. He transcends our horizon by being “in Heaven.” Yet he is intimately “Our Father.” “When the Disciples first prayed this,” as D. A. Carson notes, “no doubt they deeply felt the tremendous privilege of approaching God in so personal and intimate a fashion.” Before you ask in prayer pause to remember whom you address.

B. The Petitions. The first three requests are oriented toward God’s Glory, not our needs. It is not accidental that this prayer begins by emphasizing the Glory of God as a priority. This should also be our first priority in prayer.

  • ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name.’ “May Your Name be made Holy” (or ‘different, set apart’) is another way of expressing this. In biblical usage, whenever you see “name” e. g., Name of Jesus, names of God, “in the Name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit,”  “Name” stands for character e. g., change in a disciple’s names comes after some change in his character. Name is a catch-word for the person. Psalm 20:7 reminds us: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust the Name of Jehovah.” Trust is not in a vocal sound, but in the person named Jehovah. To revere God’s Name means to hold God’s Person in honor throughout our lives. So when we pray this we ask God to give us the Spirit so that day-by-day we’ll honor his Person in our lives. This petition could well be paraphrased as: “Enable us to give to Thee the unique place which thy nature and character deserve.”[1]
  • ‘Thy Kingdom Come.’ These first three petitions are implicit confessions that the prayed-for-end is not the case now, else we wouldn’t pray for them e. g., we would not pray “Hallowed” if that were always the case. Nor would we pray “Thy Kingdom come” if that rule had already arrived in its totality. In fact, each petition also contains a note of confession in it that must not be overlooked. So what are we praying for? Kingdom means rule or reign. Thus we pray for the Reign of God to come. God can reign without a land. God’s kingdom is the state of his reign. Kingdom was central to Jesus’ message. It signifies authority. We obey the King. “Thy Kingdom Come” is extensively a “prayer for the progress of missionary activity. Intensively it is a prayer that the praying one may increasingly serve God as a servant does his King.”[2] Thus to pray this means, “I earnestly wish for your rule to be extended throughout the world and increasing in my life, too.” Do we really want God’s Kingdom to come? Or would we rather enjoy things in this life as they are?
  • ‘Thy Will Be Done.’ Every angel and redeemed soul is perfectly doing this? This will or plan is carried out now perfectly in Heaven. In Heaven NOW there is not sin, suffering, death, or evil. God’s will is perfectly carried out. We are to pray that God will conquer his foes on earth so that his perfect plan will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Can we honestly pray for God’s will to be done plainly, freely, and without caveats? Or are our prayers more about our wills? In this petition, we have the sobering reminder that ours is a sin-ridden world in which God’s perfect will is not carried out but also the encouragement that it is in Heaven and one day that “the earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters under the sea. To pray “Thy will be done” implies two things:
  1. To learn his will by study of scripture.
  2. To do it in my own life.

We can say “Thy will be done” with attitude, resignation, resentment, or trust. What is your attitude toward God’s will? The pinnacle of trusting child’s prayer life is to say to the Father “Thy will be done. God knows best. My will and plan can be wrong. I’ll go by his.” The most revealing posture of Christ in Garden was his submissive kneeling when he prayed “not my will, but Thine.” Can we say that in the heat of battle or the intensity of crisis?

This, then, in the beginning is how we pray: We pray to our Father. We pray in the confidence that he is our Father. We pray with as much length and intensity as is necessary to rise from our knees convinced that he knows, hears, and cares. Calvin summarizes the point like this:

But if God knows what we need before we seek it, there might appear to be no benefit in prayer. If of His own accord He is ready to help us, what need have we to interject our prayers that might get in the way of the spontaneous course of His providence? There is an easy answer in the very purpose of prayer. The faithful do not pray to tell God what He does not know, or urge Him to His duties, or hurry Him on when He delays. Rather they pray to alert themselves to seek Him, to exercise their faith by meditating upon His promises, unburdening their cares by lifting themselves into His bosom. Finally they pray to testify that from Him alone, all good for themselves and for others is hoped for and asked. As for Himself, what He has determined to give of His own free will, and even before He is asked, He promises to give all the same, in response to our prayers. Keep hold of both points, then: our prayers are anticipated by Him in His freedom, yet, what we ask we gain by prayer.[3]

A hypocrite/pharisee could never pray these petitions in the Lord’s Prayer. They bring no glory to man. These only stress dependence, and call on God our Father to help us. These petitions (and the Address) allow no room for self-righteousness.

No prayer is so simple—it is often the first memorized by a child—nor so deep. “It contains the germ of everything which the most advanced saint can desire.” (Ryle) Why not renew your prayer life by starting as Jesus commended.

[1] William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1956), 186.

[2] William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1973), 226.

[3] John Calvin, Commentary on The Harmony of Matthew, Mark, Luke (vol. xvi: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1979), 204.


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