I. The pattern of prayer. We call it the Lord’s Prayer, but it is so only in the sense that He gives it. It is our prayer for our use. His own prayers remain unrecorded, except those in the upper room and at Gethsemane. This is the type to which His servants’ prayers are to be conformed. ‘After this manner pray ye,’ whether in these words or not. And the repetition of the words is often far enough away from catching their spirit. To suppose that our Lord simply met the disciples’ wish by giving them a form misconceives the genius of His work. He gave something much better; namely, a pattern, the spirit of which we are to diffuse through all our petitions,
Two salient features of the prayer bring out the two great characteristics of all true Christian prayer. First, we note the invocation. It is addressed to the Father. Our prayers are, then, after the pattern only when they are the free, unembarrassed, confident, and utterly frank whispers of a child to its father. Confidence and love should wing the darts which are to reach heaven. That name, thoroughly realised, banishes fear and self-will, and inspires submission and aspiration. To cry,’ Abba, Father,’ is the essence of all prayer. Nothing more is needed.
The broad lesson drawn from the order of requests is the second point to be noticed. If we have the child’s spirit, we shall put the Father’s honour first, and absolutely subordinate our own interests to it. So the first half of the prayer, like the first half of the Decalogue, deals with God’s name and its glory. Alas! it is hard even for His child to keep this order. Natural self-regard must be cast out by love, if we are thus to pray. How few of us have reached that height, not in mere words, but in unspoken desires!
The order of the several petitions in the first half of the prayer is significant. God’s name (that is, His revealed character) being hallowed (that is, recognised as what it is), separate from all limitation and creatural imperfection, and yet near in love as a Father is, the coming of His kingdom will follow; for where He is known and honoured for what He is He will reign, and men, if they rightly knew Him, would fall before Him and serve Him. The hallowing of His name is the only foundation for His kingdom among us, and all knowledge of Him which does not lead to submission to His rule is false or incomplete.
The outward, visible establishment of God’s kingdom in human society follows individual acquaintance with His name. The doing of God’s will is the sign of His kingdom having come. The ocean is blue, like the sky which it mirrors. Earth will be like heaven.
The second half of the prayer returns to personal interests; but God’s child has many brethren, and so His prayer is, not for ‘me’ and ‘my,’ but for ‘us’ and ‘ours.’ Our first need, if we start from the surface and go inwards, is for the maintenance of bodily life. So the petition for bread has precedence, not as being most, but least, important. We are to recognise God’s hand in blessing our daily toil. We are to limit our desires to necessaries, and to leave the future in His hands. Is this ‘the manner’ after which Christians pray for perishable good? Where would anxious care or eager rushing after wealth be, if it were?
A deeper need, the chief in regard to the inner man, is deliverance from sin, in its two aspects of guilt and power. So the next petition is for pardon. Sin incurs debt. Forgiveness is the remission of penalty, but the penalty is not merely external punishment. The true penalty is separation from God, and His forgiveness is His loving on, undisturbed by sin. If we truly call God Father, the image of His mercifulness will be formed in us; and unless we are forgiving, we shall certainly lose the consciousness of being forgiven, and bind our sins on our backs in all their weight. God’s children need always to pray ‘after this manner, ‘for sin is not entirely conquered.
Pardon is meant to lead on to holiness. Hence the next clause in effect prays for sanctification. Knowing our own weakness, we may well ask not to be placed in circumstances where the inducements to sin would be strong, even while we know that we may grow thereby, if we resist. The shortened form of the prayer in Luke, according to the Revised Version, omits ‘deliver us from evil’; but that clause is necessary to complete the idea. Whether we read ‘evil’ or ‘the evil one,’ the clause refers to us as tempted, and, as it were, in the grip of an enemy too strong for us. God alone can extricate us from the mouth of the lion. He will, if we ask Him. The only evil is to sin away our consciousness of sonship and to cling to the sin which separates us from God.
Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910) - Expositions of Holy Scripture: Luke