Teach Me to Pray!: Our Father

The morning air was still cold when Martin Luther entered the shop of Peter the barber. Peter was not only the local barber but a surgeon able to perform minor surgeries like bloodletting and tooth extraction. Likely his specialty cut as a barber prior to the Reformation was the tonsure or the monastic bald spot!   Luther entered waving a copy of a thin book.  It was a gift for his barber and friend of many years.   During a haircut he had asked Luther for help in developing his prayer life and Luther had obliged by writing a thirty-four page book called, “A Simple Way to Pray.” The book was published early in 1535 and it was this wonderful little book that Luther was waving.

This ought to be an example to every theologian who aspires to minister to the church.  Luther was likely the busiest man of his age and yet he carved out time to write a guide for his local barber and friend that this simple man might speak with the Majesty in heaven and not be afraid.  And that is the purpose of these next five posts on Theology for Everyone. 

In the Spirit of Luther’s, “A Simple Way to Pray,” the writers of this series are going to use the Lord’s Prayer in order to teach you how to speak to the Majesty on high.  According to Luther, the Lord’s Prayer was not only an excellent prayer but the perfect prayer guide. Not that it is to be prayed mindlessly.  Luther said, “Everybody tortures and abuses it; few take comfort and joy in its proper use.”[1] For Luther, the right use of the prayer occurs when the heart is “stirred and guided concerning the thoughts which ought to be comprehended in the Lord’s Prayer.”[2]  So, we are going to use the Lord’s Prayer as a guide that we might learn, as Luther did, to “suckle at the Lord’s Prayer like a child, and as an old man eat and drink from it and never get my fill.”[3]

So, let’s start with the first petition, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.” In this petition, there are at least three or four subjects for prayer.  First, we are to remember that the ground for all of our praying is our adoption into the family of God.  In other words, if my child came to me with a request for a gift and a child whom I’ve never met arrived on my doorstep asking for the exact same gift, who is likely to receive from me?  That is the way of it with God. He is our Father and because of that we have a right to come to Him in prayer. Begin by extolling and thanking Him for our filial relationship to Him.  

Second, remember that He is in heaven. In other words, He is different from you and me.  He is God.  And that means He is sovereign and in control of all things. He rules and governs all creatures and all their actions.  So, I come to him in confidence. I say, “Lord, I know that praying according to your will is truly a powerful and effective prayer because you are God!  You are God above all. But though you are in heaven you are near to all who call upon you!” 

Third, because He is God His name is to be hallowed. Now, the word hallowed is archaic but it has the common idea of holy or respect. And when we pray for God’s name to be hallowed we are asking that it be treated with the reverence it deserves and demands.  But it’s more than that. Luther reminds us that to pray that the Lord’s name be hallowed is to ask for the strength and courage to protect it, that it not be used uselessly, that it be invoked in our troubles and that our good deeds would incite others to praise and honor His Name above every name.  This and more does Luther have in mind!  It’s little wonder that he could suckle at this prayer like a child.

The fourth subject regarding this petition is the consideration of our chief end. The Westminster Assembly’s first catechism question is, “What is man’s chief end?” The answer is, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” This prayer drives us to think about our own end even as we think about God’s glory. Thus, we confess our own failures to hallow the Name while we pray for renewed success and present as well as future enjoyment in the Triune God.  

Luther said that he prayed the same general thoughts and ideas day by day. However, he also said,

It may happen occasionally that I may get lost among so many ideas in one petition that I forego the other six.  If such an abundance of good thoughts comes to us we ought to disregard the other petitions, make room for such thoughts, listen in silence, and under no circumstances obstruct them. The Holy Spirit himself preaches here, and one word of his sermon is far better than a thousand of our prayers. Many times I have learned more from one prayer than I might have learned from much reading and speculation.

Therefore, pray the Lord’s Prayer with concentration and singleness of heart. Pray it seeking the Lord in every petition or perhaps even just one or two.  Suckle at it and you will find no bottom to it.  

Jeffrey A. Stivason is the pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.  Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and is the Executive Editor for Place for Truth.

[1] Martin Luther, Works, vol. 43, Devotional Writings II, (Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1968) 200.

[2] Ibid., 198.

[3] Ibid. 200.


Jeffrey Stivason