Before we begin our study of the Lord’s Prayer, let us look at one more thing Jesus forbids in prayer. In Matthew 6:7–8, He tells us to refrain from the “empty phrases” spoken by the Gentiles.
Many in the Hellenistic (Greek-influenced) culture of the first century believed they could manipulate God and nature through various forms of magic. Oftentimes they would repeat the same syllables or phrases over and over in order to attain a desired effect. Fundamentally, all such attempts desired to control reality.
Many still try to do the same today. Eastern religions, for example, may employ the rote, almost mindless repetition of phrases like “ohm” or “hare krishna.” New age mysticism tells us to visualize specific outcomes in the hopes of generating enough positive psychic energy to attain them. For example, they might call us to imagine world peace because they believe that when more individuals do so, more power will be generated to make the earth a peaceful place.
Such notions border on the ridiculous, but we too must be careful that we do not try to control the Lord using “Christian” language. The “name-it-and-claim-it” theology that characterizes the fringe of the charismatic movement is one example where those claiming to be Christians try to manipulate God by speaking the proper words.
Prayer can also become meaningless if we pray without paying attention to our words. Returning to Luke 11:2 and the Lord’s Prayer, we see that first and foremost, Jesus gives us an example of how to pray and not words to be unthinkingly repeated. Now, it is certainly proper to pray the Lord’s Prayer exactly as Christ gave it; however, if we pray it as if the words are magic, or if we offer it without thinking about the content, our prayers do little good.
Jesus says we can begin our prayers with “Father” (Luke 11:2) or “Our Father” as in Matthew 6:9. Regardless of the address we adopt, both ways of coming before the Creator remind us that we have been adopted as His children (Rom. 8:15). If we have faith in Christ, we have been ingrafted into His body and are a part of God’s family. This is a privilege those outside of the church do not share.
Some people reading this study today may have difficulty calling God “Father” because their own earthly fathers were cold, abusive, or neglectful. But the One to whom we pray does not share the imperfections of our earthly fathers, no matter how good or bad they were. Instead, we pray to the Father of Jesus and His people, the One who never mistreats us. Take time today to consider God’s goodness and address Him as your Father.