What does the Lord's Prayer mean?
The problem arises out of our understanding of
Οὕτως οὖν προσεύχεσθε ὑμεῖς (Matt. 6:9a)The usual interpretation is a fairly literal one, as though Jesus had said:
“After this manner therefore pray ye:” (KJV)
“Therefore, you should pray like this:” (HSCB)
“This, then, is how you should pray:” (NIV)
“Pray like this:” (NLT)
“Pray these words:”The Greek doesn’t say that. The meaning is more accurately:
“Make your prayers go like this:”In other words, the Lord's Prayer is really a template of how to pray.
Repeat the words and it becomes meaningless ritual. Pray according to the template and you can be sincere and real.
Praying using Jesus’ words as a template gives us the following way to form our prayers:
1) Acknowledge who God is.The order is crucial, and it’s the part we get wrong all the time.
2) Pray for His work on earth.
3) Ask for what you need.
4) Ask for forgiveness.
5) Ask for a way to deal with temptation and opposition.
How often do we open our prayers with requests to deal with our immediate situation, with pleas for forgiveness to deal with our feelings of sinfulness, with requests to rain down fire and brimstone on our enemies. (OK, that’s a little over the top, but you get the idea.)
When we do so, we easily lose track of just who God is.
If we started every prayer putting God’s majesty and His agenda first, we might just get a better perspective on life.
As for the “error”, the fact that we throw in a doxology, which has early roots, is moot if the Lord’s Prayer is a template. To wring our hands over whether it is an error or not is to succumb to the same kind of literalist thinking that leads us to ritualistically repeat Jesus’ words. The very kind of thinking which prevents us from learning how to form all our prayers the way Jesus commanded us.