What does the Lord’s Prayer Mean?

The Lord’s Prayer is one of the best loved and most spoken prayers on the planet. Every Easter Sunday, it is thought that well over 2 billion people worldwide recited this prayer. It is used in church services, schools, in small groups and in many individual private times with God.

There are numerous different versions of the prayer. The traditional Lords Prayer is based on the Authorised Version of the scriptures in 1611. Other versions in common use are from the New English Version (adopted by the Church of England in 1977), and the Catholic version of the “Our Father” (in Latin here ). The Lord’s prayer differs in length – the Catholic Church omits the doxology at the end (“For thine is the kingdom, the power, etc). All these popular versions base the text on Matthew 6:9-11, rather than as it appears in Luke 11:2-4.

What does the Lord's Prayer Mean?

Our Father which art in Heaven

Jesus teaches His disciples that God is our parent in Heaven. The Apostle Paul restates this by extorting the believer to address God as “Abba” (Aramaic for “Daddy”- the kind of intimate word that a child would use to his or her father) ” And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15)

Hallowed be thy name

The first of seven requests in this prayer. “Hallowed” means holy. As we pray this line we are reminding ourselves that God is separate from us, completely pure and faultless. Here we become aware of our own frailty as we adore and worship the living God.

Thy kingdom come

God’s kingdom is to do with His ways and order. So here we are asking that God’s ways happen here, as they are fully obeyed in Heaven.

Thy will be done

The third request in this prayer is that God’s will occurs. Here we are aligning our will with God’s will, we are submitting ourselves to Him, and asking that His way triumphs.

Give us this day our daily bread

We need God in all areas of our life (physical, spiritual and mental), and this is a daily need. We need to come back to God regularly, each day- indeed, many times each day and many ways, for we can quickly become independent and self-seeking. Jesus reiterates this daily dependency when he exhorts us to not “worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself” (Matthew 6:34)

And forgive us our trespasses

Different versions of this prayer use different words here – sometimes “trespasses”, “debts” or “sins”. Here we bring to mind the ways in which we have failed God and others, and ask the Lord for His forgiveness.

As we forgive them that trespass against us

As we receive God’s forgiveness, we bring to mind anyone who we feel may have wronged us, and pardon them.

And lead us not into temptation

The sixth request in the Lord’s prayer is not to be in a place where temptation might overwhelm us. It is not wrong to be tempted or tested (Jesus was!). It is wrong to give in to this temptation.

But deliver us from evil

The final request is for protection by our Father in heaven. When Jesus was tempted by Satan, he declared ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'(Matthew 4:4). In times of trial, Jesus recognizes the Lord as His source of deliverance. Likewise we are to depend on God when evil is at our door.

For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory. Forever and ever. Amen.

The prayer finishes with a closing doxology, that is, a hymn of praise to God. Not all versions of the Lord’s prayer include this as many biblical scholars believe that this was added at a later date.

What's the difference between trespasses, debts and sins?

If we compare the original version of the Lord’s Prayer (found in Matthew’s Gospel) with the traditional version (seen above) the main difference between these versions is over the word “debts” or “trespasses”. It is also worth noting that the modern Lord’s Prayer (New English Version) translates this word as “sins” (Luke’s Gospel also has “sins” not “debts”).

Debts: The use of the words “debts” and “debtors” as found in Matthew 6:12 does not necessarily refer to financial debt. In Romans 13:8 we read “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another…” – the word “debt” here being the verbal form of the same Greek word in the version of the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew.

Sin: To “sin” is a general wrongdoing, the biblical definition being to “miss the mark”: the target being the perfection established by God and found in Christ.

Trespasses: To “Trespass” is a specific type of sin, normally understood to mean the failure to act for the good and do the right thing.

These differences in wording may be accounted for by the original version of the prayer in Aramaic (the spoken language of first century Palestine). In Aramaic, both sin and debt use the same word. Hence this section of the Lord’s prayer is a request to God for forgiveness of sin, and not a plea for the pardoning of financial debt. The notion of asking God for forgiveness of sin is common in the Jewish tradition (such as in the Amidah, a prayer said by Jews three times a day) and the Jews of the day would have understood the type of forgiveness that Jesus was referring to.

The Context of the Lord's prayer

The context for the prayer is the Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus discussing how we should pray. We are not to pray to impress God or others, or to think that we might be able to manipulate Him in order to get what we want.(Matthew 6:5-7, The Message) Rather, we are to come simply, as a child would to his father, and honestly, being real about our failures and need of God.

Some Christians see the prayer as a model for how we should pray, rather than a definitive set of words that we should recite. This view is especially common in modern day evangelical and charismatic churches, where there is an emphasis on praying spontaneously from the heart. However, in other church traditions, such as the Anglican and orthodox church, daily ritual in prayer is seen to be important in keeping close to God. There is also seen to be benefit from praying the same words together, as this helps unity of heart in worship.

The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.

Prayer of St Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.


There are two common misunderstandings about this prayer:-

It was written by St Francis – this is almost certainly not true. The author is unknown and it is likely that this prayer was written at around the time of the outbreak of World War One – for further reading on this, see the Franciscan archive writings.

It is often incorrectly called “The Serenity Prayer of St Francis”. The Serenity Prayer is a different twentieth century prayer attributed to Reinhold Neibuhr (1892-1971). The prayer is also often referred to as the “Peace Prayer” or the “Peace Prayer of St Francis”.

In addition, the hymn written in 1967 by Sebastian Temple “Make me a channel of your peace” has led to the prayer being commonly known by it’s first line.

This prayer can be divided into two sections:-

The first section

This is from the first line up to the words “Where there is sadness, joy”

In the 21st century, we often associate the word “peace” with a personal sense of calm and restfulness. However, the word actually derives from the Latin “pax”, meaning “freedom from civil disorder”, and is a translation of the Jewish word “Shalom” which has to do with wholeness – both at a personal and relational level.

This prayer is about transformation – the movement away from darkness to light, from despair to hope etc, and hence encapsulates the meaning of Shalom in that it is about a direction of travel towards a state of wholeness and well-being, rather than being about something that has already been arrived at.

The prayer is also a declaration of intent for the person who prays it. This is similar in style to many Celtic prayers, which declare statements of faith rather than specifically ask God to do something in a situation. For example, the Prayer St Patrick’s Breastplate declares:-
“I arise today through God’s strength to pilot me: God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s eye to look before me” etc.
The prayer also has similarities to the writings of the prophet Isaiah in Chapter 61, where negatives become positives through a transformative work of God. Here the writer declares that the Lord is about to turn despair into praise and mourning will be turned into joy:-
“to bestow on them (those in Zion) a crown of beauty
instead of ashes, the oil of joy
instead of mourning, and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair”.

(Isaiah 61:1-3, NIV)

2nd section

In this last stanza, which begins with the words “O Divine Master” the prayer falls in two sub-sections. The first lines have three requests to God (to seek to console, understand and love others first) the second three lines are statements of faith – it is in giving that we receive etc. This pattern of three is common in many famous prayers. For example, the doxology at the end of the Lord’s Prayer “For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory” and the Glory Be, which has two groups of three –

“Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be”.

St. Richards Prayer also has three requests (“to know you more clearly” etc), as does the beginning of the Serenity Prayer. This pattern of three mirrors the very nature of God – being one God in three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The three requests to God:-

grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console

The first request is that of consoling others. Here the believer is to ask how they might console somebody else first, rather than seeking to be comforted in their grief or trouble. The idea that in caring and comforting others we ourselves will find comfort resonates with Christ’s words in the Beatitudes:-

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

Matthew 5:7, (The Message)

to be understood, as to understand;

The late Stephen Covey (1932 – 2012), author of the international bestseller “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” observers that “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Covey encourages people to begin interactions by seeking to understand somebody else first, before wanting to make yourself heard or understood.  This act of understanding will involve deep listening. This goes against the natural instinct within oneself of wanting to impress or tell ones story first, before thinking about anyone else and their life and story.

to love, than to be loved

Jesus says that to love God and  “Love your neighbour as yourself” are the greatest commandments. Rather than waiting around to receive love from others, we are encouraged to be pro-active in giving it.

The three statements of faith:-

For it is in giving that we receive

This is similar to the point about consoling. Here we can think about Christ’s words on the importance of giving. If we are generous in our giving. we will receive in abundance:-

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Luke 6:38, (NIV)

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned

After teaching the disciples the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus had some strong words to say about the importance of forgiving others:-

If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Matthew 6:14-15 (NLT)

and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life

Here we can compare the words of this prayer with the writings of the Apostle Paul. Because the believer is united with Christ in His death through the symbolic act of baptism, so too is the believer united with Christ in a new, eternal life. (Romans 6:1-10)

Concluding Thought

The Peace Prayer of St Francis underscores the principle of going first. Often in situations of deadlock, where relationships have broken down, the route for resolution is to be humble and ask for forgiveness (even when we feel like we are the ones who are owed an apology).  Ingoing first, the other party is more likely to be open and responsive. They may even “say sorry” as well.

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