The Lord’s Prayer

“Take a moment to conduct a statistical audit of your prayer life. Do you find most of your prayer time focused on God, or on your own desires?" by Major Thomas McWilliams

From my days as a little boy, there are some memories that are forever seared in my mind. Some of the more vivid mental pictures stem from experiences involved with being in “big” church. These first seeds of my lifelong faith journey were planted in a small Texas Methodist church. As I think back on those days, I clearly remember how large and hard the wooden pews were, how sunlight took on various colors as it streamed through stained-glass images of Bible stories, and how we as children were to remain “seen and not heard” during prescribed sacred parts of the service. 

The church services consisted of a continual string of various voices, which fluctuated between talking and singing. I never really knew who was speaking as all I could see was the back of someone’s shoulders and an occasional lady’s hat. However, the lack of a view proved to be an advantage as I was far more interested in determining how fast I could swing my feet suspended above the floor, or in repeatedly rolling a Matchbox car back and forth across my leg. The game for me was to continually push the limits of activity to the point of receiving a disapproving parental glare. 

To the adults watching me, it must have seemed like the spiritual elements of the services were having no impact. However, they were wrong. There was one repetitive element of the Sunday services which became emblazoned in my memory. At a prescribed point during each Sunday service, the entire congregation would stand in unison and recite the King James Version (KJV) of the “Lord’s Prayer.” To this day, the KJV of this Matthew text is the only one which I can hear in my thoughts, even if it is being presented in another version:

“Our Father which art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come,

Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts,

as we forgive our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil:

For thine is the kingdom, and the power,

and the glory, for ever. Amen.”

Matthew 6:9-13 KJV

From those early days until now, I have heard the Lord’s Prayer preached in sermons, taught in Sunday school classes, portrayed in drama, uttered through puppets, and parsed to its limits by those looking to find a new nugget of worth through the details of its Greek origin. All these talented presenters exploring the Lord’s Prayer have done a wonderful job in helping me to learn ever more about the text. At the risk of derailing their excellent work, let us take a moment to consider the Lord’s Prayer through the lens of statistics.

The KJV of the Lord’s Prayer contains a total of 66 words. Though this seems to be a small number of words, Jesus presented them to His followers as a model of how we should pray to our Heavenly Father. Of the 66 words which make up the prayer, 38 of them are directly and distinctly about God. This means that 57 percent of the model prayer is not about us at all, but about our Heavenly Father. When was the last time we prayed to God and spent most of that time magnifying, glorifying and recognizing His grandeur? 

There are a further 21 words which are concerned with our relationships with God and people. For those keeping score, this constitutes 32 percent of the overall prayer. It is during this segment of our prayer time that we become accountable for our spiritual walk. The thought of approaching God and asking that He forgive us for our sin failures is normal, but to ask for this grace to only be granted to the level by which we have shown grace to others puts us on the responsibility hot seat. Furthermore, Jesus instructs us to ask God for help in avoiding sin and rebellion, which is a detriment to our relationship with our holy God. 

This leaves only seven words, or 11 percent, of the total prayer to address our personal needs. This request is not directed towards the “wants” of our life. Who would not want God to shower them with a large bank account, a new car, a new job or a thousand other wants we carry? However, that’s not what God teaches us to pray for. In His model prayer, He did not grant any space for the “wants” of life—just consideration for what we “need” to get through the day. 

The geometric structure of the prayer also provides clues for our heavenly approved prayers. Jesus teaches us to recognize the person of God and His attributes both at the beginning and at the end of the prayer. Having our focus on God and not ourselves is a great pattern for communicating with our Creator. 

Take a moment to conduct a statistical audit of your prayer life. Do you find most of your prayer time focused on God, or on your own desires? When you do mention yourself, does it come with built-in accountability to be the follower that Christ has called you to be? When you cast the spotlight on yourself, are you asking for subsistence for the day, or are you selfishly looking for Him to fulfill your wants? We need to model our prayer life to meet the pattern given to us by Jesus. When we do, we will find that our communication with Him will become relationally richer and more spiritually rewarding.