January 10th, 2022 By Adam Hamilton
In Luke 11, one of Jesus’s disciples approaches and makes a simple request: “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John [the Baptist] taught his disciples” (v. 1). In response, Jesus teaches the disciples what has become known as the Our Father or the Lord’s Prayer. No other prayer is more important to Christians than this prayer. It is the Lord’s prayer—the prayer he taught us to pray. There are a host of other prayers we overhear Jesus praying in the Gospels, and I’ll mention them below. But only with this prayer does Jesus say, “Pray like this.”
Each word is saturated with meaning, a meaning that we often miss when we pray it by rote as we gather in our churches for worship. Each of its six petitions (five given by the Lord, one added by the early church) reflects the major themes from Jesus’s life and ministry. The prayer is meant by Jesus to shape our lives and, through us, to shape and change the world.
Multiple Versions of the Lord’s Prayer?
There are three versions of the Lord’s Prayer that came to us from the earliest period of Christianity. We are most familiar with Matthew’s account, found in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:9-13). The English version of that prayer was influenced by William Tyndale’s 1525 translation, which in turn shaped the form of the prayer as it appeared in the sixteenth-century Book of Common Prayer and finally the King James Version of 1611. Tyndale’s version was modified slightly into the version most English-speaking Protestants and Catholics pray today. Let’s look at the King James Version side by side with a modern translation of Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer. Modern versions, in this case, the Common English Bible, are based upon more reliable Greek versions of Matthew’s Gospel than were available in 1611:
In addition to different versions of the Lord’s Prayer rendered by various English translations, we have a different version found in Luke’s account of the prayer. Here it is from the Common English Bible’s translation of Luke 11:2-4:
Father, uphold the holiness of your name.
Bring in your kingdom.
Give us the bread we need for today.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who has wronged us.
And don’t lead us into temptation.
Notice that neither of these New Testament versions of the prayer, Matthew’s or Luke’s, includes the traditional closing doxology, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”
There is a third version of the Lord’s Prayer that comes to us from the early church, in a document called The Didache or The Lord’s Teaching Through the Twelve Apostles to the Gentiles. This is a fascinating document describing the practices of the early church that some scholars believe was written in the first century, and others the second century, offering guidance in the Christian life. In chapter 8 of The Didache we find Matthew’s version of the prayer quoted.
Do not pray as the hypocrites, but as the Lord commanded in his Gospel, pray thus: “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, as in Heaven so also upon earth; give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our debt as we forgive our debtors, and lead us not into trial, but deliver us from the Evil One, for thine is the power and the glory for ever.” Pray thus three times a day.
Note that this version included the doxology. Note, too, the closing words that are in bold, “Pray thus three times a day.” This is a remarkable testimony to the importance of the Lord’s Prayer for early Christians.
Over the years this prayer has come to mean a great deal to me. I pray it with my church family every weekend in worship. I pray it and meditate upon its words in my morning walks. I pray it together with my seven-year-old granddaughter at bedtime when she spends the night. I’ve prayed it with broken people sitting in my office. I’ve prayed it at every wedding I’ve officiated. I pray it at every hospital call I make. I pray it with the dying, and with their friends and family at each funeral or memorial service.
I once visited a woman in hospice care. Helen hadn’t been responsive in hours. Her eyes were closed, her breathing had become more labored, and the hospice nurse said that the end was imminent. She had not spoken since the previous day. I pulled up a chair to the bed, gently took her hand in mine, spoke to her, and also to her family sitting around the room. I reminded her of Christ’s love and his promises. I read Scripture to her. And I told her how grateful I was to have been her pastor. I then took anointing oil and, with my thumb, made the sign of the cross upon her forehead, a reminder that she belonged to Christ. Finally, with each of her loved ones touching her, we prayed, giving thanks to God for Helen’s life and entrusting her to God’s care. At the end of this prayer, I said words I had spoken thousands of times before. “Now, let us join together in the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray saying,
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us, not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
As we concluded, one of her children spoke up and said, “Did you all see that?” Another replied, “Yes, I was watching her. She moved her lips, speaking the Lord’s Prayer with us.” It was a holy and beautiful moment. These were the last words Helen would attempt to speak before she passed a few minutes later. I’ve seen this happen again and again. (I’ll share another similar story later in the book.) Each time it happens, it reminds me of just how important this prayer is to so many. It is deeply embedded in the hearts and minds of most Christians.