The Model Prayer that Jesus taught His disciples in Matthew 6 can be divided into three distinct parts. As we build a daily habit of praying “in this manner,” our prayer lives can significantly deepen and our perspective of things can radically improve.
Part 1: Vertical–Start with praise and surrender.
When we pray, we should always begin with a vertical focus on “our Father in heaven.” Never start with yourself. God is the only one worthy of our attention when we pray. We should begin with praise to our God, just as Jesus did when He said “Hallowed be Your name.” We should speak directly to the Lord, telling Him how awesome and holy and worthy He is.
Take as much time as needed for your mind and heart to catch up with your words. Let the truth of His greatness sink into your soul. Heart-felt praise should naturally lead us then to surrender our will to Him. Like Jesus, we should humbly submit to His will being done “on earth, as it is in heaven.” It’s not about our will being done. Our Father is not some magic genie granting us our every wish and whim. Before we dare ask for anything or expect anything of Him, we must first willingly submit to His will above our own.
Part 2: Personal–Pray for yourself and your loved ones.
Once we’ve focused our mind and heart vertically and surrendered ourselves to Him, then we are ready for the second part of the Model Prayer. In this part, we pray for “us.” “Give us this day our daily bread…Forgive us our trespasses…and deliver us from evil.” We should boldly bring our needs, our sins and our frailty before the Lord. Admit you are needy. Fall on His grace to supply your every need. We should never fall prey to the notion that we shouldn’t pray for ourselves. Of course we should; Jesus did, and so should we.
Notice He said, “Give us this day our daily bread” (italics added). Don’t worry about tomorrow. Ask Him for the provisions you need today for you and your family. Trust Him to provide for you. Remember what David said: “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread” (Psalm 37:25, NIV). Linger in this second part of the prayer until you’ve also confessed any sins God reveals to you–including the sin of unforgiveness toward any who may have hurt or trespassed against you. And be sure to pray for protection from the evil and spiritual darkness that is all around us.
Part 3: Big Kingdom–Open your heart to love and pray for others.
“For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” This third part is what we might call the “Big K” portion. As important and necessary as it is for us to pray for ourselves and our own needs, our prayers aren’t complete if they don’t open up to the bigger picture–to the world beyond our own. Too often we seem content just getting our personal needs met and building our own little kingdoms, when God has called us to something much greater. We are on this earth to help build His Kingdom, to help lead people to come under His rule and reign.
Once we have cast our personal cares on Him, we are then ready and able to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2, ESV). Therefore, praying Big K prayers means we should make time to intercede for others, for specific people who don’t know the Lord, as well as for those in leadership and for people going through difficulties. Every day, we should also include in our prayers bold Kingdom requests–things we simply can’t accomplish for the Lord on our own. They should be petitions that only God can do through His power. They should be so far beyond our own abilities that only God could get the credit when the requests become reality.
It’s important to note that many scholars don’t believe Jesus actually said the closing words of the Model Prayer. In fact many versions of the Bible don’t include “For thine is the kingdom and the power and glory…” So, does that let us off the hook for Part 3? Can we skip the Kingdom focus when we pray? Is it OK for us to be content just praying for ourselves; then saying “Amen”? Not at all. Jesus’ prayers always included a Big K mindset–and so should ours. When He prayed in John 17, for example, He started out vertically, and then He prayed personally. But notice how quickly His focus then turned toward others, particularly those the Father had given Him: “After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: ‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him (verses 1-2, NIV).
We can see the three parts of the Model Prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane as well: “My Father (vertical), if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me (personal). Yet not as I will, but as you will (big K)” (Matthew 26:39, NIV). Naturally Jesus prayed for Himself. He knew the agony He was facing, and He didn’t want to go through it. But He didn’t stop there; He couldn’t just think about Himself when He prayed. His whole life had been about doing His Father’s will, instead of His own. And Jesus knew it was His Father’s will for Him to die, so that you and I and so many more could have life.
No doubt, the most powerful illustration of unselfish, Big Kingdom praying was when Jesus extended His arms and allowed soldiers to drive nails through His hands and feet. Despite the excruciating pain, He still managed to pray, but not for Himself–He prayed for them. ““Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34, ESV). May in all our praying we never fail to pray for them…
A Visual Illustration
Here’s a simple and memorable way to illustrate the three parts of the Model Prayer. Try it first in your private prayer times, and then teach it to your congregation or small group.
1. Vertical: Lift your hands toward heaven, as you express your praise to God and surrender to His will.
2. Personal: Now drop your arms and wrap them around yourself, as you take time to pray for your personal needs, unconfessed sins and deliverance from evil.
3. Big K: Just as Jesus extended His arms out on the cross, extend your hands now as you pray for God’s Kingdom, power and glory in the lives of others.