There are many parts of our worship liturgy which change at different times of the year, or with the kind of service (traditional vs. contemporary), or even on a weekly basis. But there is one aspect of our worship which we ALWAYS include in exactly the same way: The Lord’s Prayer.
Why do we attach so much importance to this prayer? Because it is the prayer Jesus Himself taught us! As part of His famous “Sermon on the Mount” Jesus gave this instruction (Matthew 6:9-13, NIV):
“This, then, is how you should pray:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
Now you will likely notice some variants in this wording from that which we print in the worship bulletin, but that’s due to the choice of translation. Since Jesus originally said this in Aramaic but was quoted in Greek in Matthew’s Gospel, the exact choice of words isn’t an important issue so long as the sense is correct (which doesn’t prevent Christians from having heated arguments about whether it is most correct to say “debts”, “trespasses”, or “sins” unfortunately). However, you will probably also note that the prayer as printed above leaves off the familiar ending phrase: “For thine is the kingdom and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. AMEN.” And if you are familiar with the Roman Catholic Mass, you will know that they also omit that ending (though they later include it as a kind of response to the prayer).
This is a case where our Catholic brothers and sisters seem to have done a better job than we in being true to the Bible’s original text. You see, that closing phrase (doxology) doesn’t appear in the oldest manuscripts of Matthew’s gospel – it was apparently a comment some pious individual wrote in the margin of an ancient copy of the gospel which then was accidentally copied into the text itself. (Though other instances of such copying errors are known, significant ones like this are rare). So, to the best of our knowledge, Jesus didn’t say those words when He taught the prayer. Protestants do typically retain this doxology when we say the prayer, probably because it was present in the Greek texts used when the Bible was translated into common European languages during and after the Reformation, such as the much-beloved King James English translation (c. 1611). However, most modern translations, such as the Bible in the pew don’t include it.
Such details aside, the most important thing about the Lord’s Prayer is the example which it affords us. Countless books have been written and sermons preached on this marvelous gem (which we often don’t fully appreciate because of its familiarity). However, one important aspect may easily escape us – how short it is (only 53 words!) and how simple the language. This should dispel any notion that God is impressed with long flowery dissertations – which is exactly the point that Jesus was making when He taught it (Matthew 6:5-8). God already knows our hearts and needs, but as our loving Father, He longs to hear our “voices.”
It has been estimated that on an Easter Sunday about two billion Christians around the globe are saying this prayer during worship! What a marvelous thing it is to be united by these words from the lips of our Lord, not only with Christian people of other places, but with believers stretching back to the first disciples and forward to generations not yet born!