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Through A Narrow Gate

Learning to Pray - The Lord's Prayer

In the first of a series on how to pray, Pastor Randi Henderson focused on how The Lord's Prayer provides a good model for us in term of structure and wording. Following are information she provided. The class meets on Thursdays at 6 p.m. with a repeat session the following Mondays at noon. Sessions are held at Westminster Presbyterian Church. All are welcome!

Through a Narrow Gate
The Lord’s Prayer as a Pattern for Prayer

-Rev. Randi Henderson

The Lord’s Prayer is ancient, and very likely to be the Church’s authentic memory of Jesus’ teachings on prayer. The first thing to note is that it actually sounds like a very Jewish prayer – the prayer of a people, not of individual persons.

Kaddish (2nd century rabbinic roots, perhaps earlier):
May the great Name of God be exalted and sanctified, throughout the world, which he has created according to his will. May he establish his kingdom in your lifetime and in your days, and in the lifetime of the entire household of Israel, speedily and soon. And say: Amen.

          May his great name be blessed forever and to all eternity. Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed is he, above and beyond any blessings and hymns, praises and consolations which are uttered in the world. And say: Amen.

          May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and for all Israel. He who makes peace in his high holy places, may he in his mercy bring peace upon us and upon all Israel. And say: Amen.

We have three, independent witnesses to the Lord’s prayer – Matthew 6: 7-13, Luke 11: 1-13, and the Didache, a very early teaching manual (2nd century) attributed to the apostles. The version in Luke is likely to be the oldest, but regardless, it’s clear that Christians from the very earliest times understood how important these words of Jesus were to faith – giving them real insight into the right relationship between the God of love and human beings. While the texts give different variations, the beautiful structure and symmetry of the prayer is clear in all three: 

Call on the Name of God – Jesus regularly addressed God by the Aramaic word Abba. It is an intimate word for “father”, perhaps not as familiar as “daddy”, but certainly an address for within the family. Could you address God as “mother”, “brother”, “friend”? Yes, all of them, and more. The important point is to acknowledge God’s relationship to us – one of nuture and trust.

  • Three exaltations for God’s reign – holy is your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth. The verbs are all second person singular.

  • Three petitions relating to human need – give us daily bread (or tomorrow’s bread today), forgive us, rescue us from evil. The verbs are all first person plural. The prayer isn’t about “me and my bread” even though that’s how I often pray it, but it’s a prayer for provision of the entire human family – all of us. It’s not a prayer for mercy as much as it is for reciprocity – that we act to each other in community in ways that mirror God’s love. God doesn’t tempt (James 1:13), but God does test (Genesis 22:1); people can be purified in such a trial, but they can also be destroyed.


What do you pray for, when you say these words?

Sweet Hour of Prayer: The Lord’s Prayer – (some interesting history on Reformed perspectives)

Of Prayer – A Perpetual Exercise of Faith - (John Calvin)

Praying the “Our Father” with Jesus - (Michael Simone, Jesuit & professor at Boston School of Theology)

The Lord’s Example Prayer -  (lots of scriptural notes)


Witnesses to The Lord's Prayer

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