Scripture: Matthew 6:9–13

The Lord’s Prayer, as quoted in Matthew 6:9–13, is one of the most famous Bible passages of all time. It records Jesus’ specific instructions for how to pray.

It’s important to notice that, immediately before giving the Lord’s Prayer, Christ warned his followers to avoid “babbling like pagans” when they prayed. Pagans at that time viewed prayer as something like a business contract that had the sole purpose of earning favor from whichever deity was its object. As a result, Greeks peppered their prayers with all types of honorifics and titles, hoping to flatter their way into heavenly favor. Other pagan prayers did the same, and also reminded the deity of all the ways the pray-er had kept their end of the blessing bargain by making sacrifices and/or defending the reputation of the so-called god.

Jesus dismissed this approach to prayer as worthless and insulting.

Instead Christ offered a prayer structure based on an intimate, family relationship with our heavenly Father. Many people today call this a “model prayer,” because it demonstrates key elements of prayer for us. In Jesus’ day, though, his disciples would’ve known it as an “index prayer.”

Index prayers were common in ancient Judaism, something a rabbi would use to teach people to practice praying. These were what we might call “directed prayers,” delivered in outline form. For instance, a rabbi would collect a few short sentences that each identified an item for prayer. The intent was that a person following an index prayer would start with one of those statements, but then “enlarge upon it,” drawing out what it means and how it applies. They were not to simply memorize and recite each line, but to use each line as a catalyst for deeper, more personal times with God.

That’s the kind of index prayer that Jesus gave in Matthew 6:9–13, and it has proved a timeless model for Christ followers ever since.


IBB 62; APB 92

“Is the Lord’s Prayer supposed to be repeated word for word, or is it a sample prayer?” is reprinted from Bible-Smart: Matthew © 2023 Nappaland Communications Inc. Published Tyndale House Publishers/Rose Publishing. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.

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