What is the Significance of the Lord's Prayer?
It might seem an odd question: Does the Lord’s Prayer represent a worldview? It might even seem a bit indecent. How could a model prayer, the ultimate way to connect with God personally, have anything to do with such an abstract notion as a “world-and-life” philosophy? The first thing to say is that worldview thinking properly conceived is not really abstract. It should entail not only a statement of philosophy but a heart commitment. The second thing to say is that prayers represent more than simply access to God, but avenues to truth.
The Lord’s Prayer contains everything essential to our Christian view of life. Here is how. Classically understood there are seven “petitions” to the prayer. There are three “thy” petitions (thy name, thy kingdom, thy will), and four “us” petitions (give us, forgive us, lead us not, and deliver us).
The prelude to the prayer is “Our Father, which art I heaven.” In a way that says it all. God is God, “I am that I am”. But he is our Father. We have been adopted into is family. And he dwells in heaven, that is, he is not to be confused with our earthly, physical father, but lives in the realm of divine righteousness and divine sovereignty. This is a central argument for the Christian faith. Compare it to Islam, where Allah is aloof, fatalistic, nearly inaccessible. Or to Buddhism which requires agnosticism.
“Hallowed be thy name”. God is to be worshiped. His very name is holy. In this way the Christian faith is not simply a statement of propositions, but an act of worship. It is the opposite of aloofness or agnosticism. We know him to adore him; more importantly he knows us, his children.
“Thy kingdom come”. After knowing God we will want to see his purposes advance. They are summed up in the reality of a kingdom: God rules the world, but his kingdom purposes are not yet fully realized. To put it awkwardly, there is an agenda which we want urgently to see actualized. Our life has a purpose which is not self-fulfillment but kingdom-centered.
“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. Realizing his kingdom purposes must be done in his way, not in ours. There may be conflicts between how we think his agenda should be executed and his. There are parts of his will which we might not have favored, but we recognize that he knows best. In his own dwelling the angels obey him perfectly, and so should we.
“Give us this day our daily bread”. We are needy creatures. We cannot survive without food. No matter how resourceful we may be, unless the Lord provides, our efforts will amount to nothing. Bread is primarily physical food. But the prayer can include other daily needs, such safety, resources and even the means of grace, prayer, fellowship, Bible-study. This is unlike the philosophy of “que sera sera” or knocking on wood.
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.” Some versions use “debts” and “debtors”. The idea is the forgiveness of sins. These are either lack of conformity to or transgression of the law of God, which is simply God’s character. No religion is remotely comparable to the Christian faith, which, through the unspeakable sacrifice of Jesus Christ provides the atonement for, the eradication of all our offenses.
“And lead us not into temptation”. Here we ask for God providentially to steers us away from enticements to fall. We also ask him to spare us tests too hard for us to resist. Sometimes both are very threatening. Each person has strengths and weaknesses. But no one, except Christ himself has power to resist every trial. The Christian faith provides not only truth but power.
“But deliver us from evil”. We seek not only safety but “strength to climb” as the spiritual puts it. The ultimate deliverance is death, through whose doors we journey into God’s Paradise.
Our good works can do nothing to provide for all these things. Only the grace of a loving God can. We can only receive it through faith, the personal dynamic of our worldview.
William Edgar, Ph.D. is professor of Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary and Associate Professor at the Faculté Jean Calvin.