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Making The Lord’s Prayer Practical

Seven Stages of Personal Prayer

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Does merely reciting the Lord’s Prayer generate the results the disciples were after—the intimacy Jesus modeled with His Father?

I have a friend who serves as head of the practical theology department at an evangelical seminary. I couldn’t resist asking him: “Well, if you’re the head of the practical theology department, who is the head of the impractical theology department?”

Is there such a thing as impractical theology? I don’t think so, but for many believers, theology (especially the kind discussed in the rarified air of seminary) seldom makes it into the realm of everyday Christian living.

However, some of the most practical theology ever taught came from Jesus’ own lips. In Luke11:1-4 He responds to His disciple’s request, “Lord, teach us to pray . . .” The disciples observed Jesus praying and likely made a connection between His outward-facing ministry and His upward-facing prayer life. The disciples wanted to know how to pray like Jesus.

Anyone with a spiritual inclination wants to pray and to have their prayers answered. My nominally Christian parents taught me the Lord’s Prayer when I was a child. But since I was an unbeliever, saying the Lord’s Prayer was a dry habit, repeating words with little life or meaning. Even today, among Christians, the Lord’s Prayer is generally dusted off only during unison recitations in corporate worship.

But if this is the prayer Jesus wanted His disciples to learn, was His intent simply to teach them to say the words? Does merely reciting the Lord’s Prayer generate the results the disciples were after—the intimacy Jesus modeled with His Father? I’ve discovered that one way of making the Lord’s Prayer more practical is to break the version Jesus taught the crowd in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:9-13) into seven components and use it as a template for daily prayer.

Stage One | Worship

Remember what kind of Heavenly Father you have
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” To enter into the intimacy Jesus enjoyed with His Heavenly Father, we have to remember what kind of Father we have. He has our best interests in mind (Matt. 7:9-11). He deals with us compassionately (Psalm 103:8-14). His commitment to us surpasses the bonds of human affection (Psalm 27:10). Our Father patiently longs for a relationship with us, even when we keep Him at arm’s length (Luke 15:11-32). Yet, at the same time, Moses reminds us that God is a consuming fire (Deut. 4:24). So when we come before the Lord in prayer, we do so with a combination of familiarity and fear, awe and affection, intimacy and intimidation. We draw near to His compassion and yet cry out with the angels, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord Almighty!” (Isa. 6:3). Grasping God’s character, we respond with “hallowed be your name.“The Lord’s Prayer teaches us that we enter into prayer through the gate of worship.

Stage Two | Kingdom Reach

Pray for others and the advance of Christ’s Kingdom
“your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.“Many of Jesus’ followers likely imagined He had an earthly kingdom in mind. The reality is we live in the great “in between” (the period between Christ’s ascension and His return). For us, the immediate working out of God’s Kingdom on earth aims at the expansion of Christ’s spiritual Kingdom. This is the part of the Lord’s Prayer where we pray for those we long to see come to Christ. It’s where we ask God to give us and others the grace we need to fulfill our missional role in His plan. Notice it is an outward-focused section of the prayer, tied to Christ’s ultimate purposes. This part of the prayer has an aggressive quality. It reminds us we are not of this world, yet we long to see Christ’s Kingdom expanded in our midst.

Stage Three | Daily Needs

Bring your needs before the Lord in faith
“Give us this day our daily bread.” How interesting that the part that concerns our needs follows the section about advancing His Kingdom. Could it be that, in the way the prayer is ordered, Jesus is speaking to us about our priorities? “But seek first his kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). Matthew 6:8, immediately preceding the Lord’s Prayer, reminds us “your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” When we bring our needs before Him, as we ought, we should be mindful that He has promised to care for us. We can be confident because He is faithful.

Stage Four | Right Relating

Cleanse your heart and your relationships with others
“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” This part of the Lord’s Prayer acknowledges our propensity to sin, even after becoming a Christian. The remarkable thing about this section is that it’s in the middle of the prayer! An overly strict view of God might demand we confess our sins upfront. Yet the positioning of this phrase speaks to God’s grace. We confess our temporal sins in the context of a permanent relationship. Make no mistake; the Lord’s Prayer calls us to deal with our sin and to restore right relating with our Heavenly Father and with those whom we think owe us something—our debtors.” The infectious nature of sin diseases our relationships with God and others. However, here in the heart of the Lord’s Prayer, we find a safe place to deal with our sin and to extend the grace we receive to those who sin against us.

Stage Five | Assault Avoidance

Pray for protection and admit your weakness
“And lead us not into temptation” How does the believer avoid giving into temptation? Do as this phrase implies—admit that you’re vulnerable, that you need protection from the myriad of temptations that assault our senses daily. To deny the power of temptation and your vulnerability to it is to set yourself up for failure. When I pray this part of the prayer, I paraphrase it in my mind: “Lord, put a hedge about me and protect me on every side as I walk in this world.” When I have prayed in that manner, I’ve noticed a significant lessening of tempting situations through the day. But it starts with being honest about my weakness. By including this phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus is instructing us to remember our vulnerability and need for divine help.

Stage Six | Yielding Afresh

Address your potential for evil and die to self
“but deliver us from evil.” As the couplets within the Lord’s Prayer go, this short phrase belongs with its neighbor above. But this last bit of the prayer is so important it warrants its own application. There are at least two types of evil from which the believer needs deliverance. First, there is external evil, evil in the world at large. The enemy’s proficiency in promoting external evil in its varied forms grows more obvious with each passing day. But there is a second kind—internal evil. This is the evil believers never fully shake until permanently freed in eternity of our old nature. In the meantime, dealing with our propensity for evil, flowing from our old nature, is a basic requirement of following Christ. Jesus said, “‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me’” (Luke 9:23). This part of the Lord’s Prayer gives us the opportunity to reset our hearts in a willing disposition. It’s where we reflect on passages like Galatians 2:20 and yield to Christ afresh. Jesus died for us, and we are daily called to die to self-rule and the evil that flows from it.

Stage Seven | Looking Upward

Put your eyes on the Lord and listen for His voice
:For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” In my Bible there’s a footnote stating that this part of the prayer does not appear in the earliest manuscripts. Original or not, attributing authority, power and glory to our Heavenly Father puts our eyes back on Him as we conclude the prayer. It’s the perfect place to sit quietly before the Lord, listening, should the Spirit of God whisper something precious to your soul.

Want to make theology practical? Let’s retrieve the Lord’s Prayer from the Sunday order of service and use it all week long. It’s likely you already know it by heart. It’s just a matter of framing your private prayers on the one Jesus gave His disciples. It’s packed with the kind of helpful theology we can use every day.

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