Matthew 6:7. And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words.
8. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.
9. Pray, then, like this: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.
10. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
11. Give us this day our daily bread;
12. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors;
13. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.
Earlier He had denounced their false motivation in prayer, namely, the fact that they sought their own glory and profit among people, even in a work which was aimed at God alone, calling upon Him and asking for His help in our need and temptation. Now He goes on to denounce the false manner of their prayers, that is, the fact that they supposed praying meant using many words and babbling. He calls it the manner of the Gentiles, a reckless and worthless prattle, the sort of thing that would come from people who supposed that they would not be heard otherwise. For He saw very well that this would develop and that the same sort of abuse would continue in Christendom that existed among them already in those days: that prayer would become a mere work, to be judged on the basis of its size and length, as though this made it a precious accomplishment; and that instead of true prayer there would be mere jabbering and babbling, which did not belong to the experience of the heart. As we can see, this is what has happened to the inmates of the monasteries and the cloisters and to our whole clergy, whose way of life seems to have involved no other work than beating themselves and wearing themselves out every day with so many hours, as well as singing and reading their canonical hours at night. The more of this they could do, the holier and greater an act of worship did it seem. Yet amid all this, there was not a single one who spoke a genuine prayer from his heart; but they were all laboring under the gentile delusion that prayer meant making both God and oneself tired with yelling and murmuring, as though He neither could nor would listen any other way. And all they achieved by this was a useless waste of time; like asses, they simply punished themselves with their praying.
For this reason they themselves have said that there is no harder work than prayer. And of course, this is true if the aim is to turn prayer into a work or a chore which the body is forced to undertake, reading or singing for so many hours in a row. Therefore any day laborer would prefer to work at threshing for an entire day to just moving his mouth for two or three hours in a row or staring straight at a book.
In short, their prayers have not been the sighs or petitions of their hearts, but merely the slave labor of their mouths or their tongues. Even though a monk may have been reading or muttering his canonical times for forty years, he has not prayed from his heart for a single hour during all those years. They never think of this as an opportunity to present a need to God; all they think of is their own obligation to do this, and God’s to pay attention to all this trouble and toil.
But the Christian’s prayer is easy, and it does not cause hard work. For it proceeds in faith on the basis of the promise of God, and it presents its need from the heart. Faith quickly gets through telling what it wants; indeed, it does so with a sigh that the heart utters and that words can neither attain nor express. As Paul says (Rom. 8:26), “the Spirit prays.” And because He knows that God is listening to Him, He has no need of such everlasting twaddle. That is how the saints prayed in the Scriptures, like Elijah, Elisha, David, and others—with brief but strong and powerful words. This is evident in the Psalter, where there is hardly a single psalm that has a prayer more than five or six verses long. Therefore the ancient fathers have said correctly that many long prayers are not the way. They recommend short, fervent prayers, where one sighs toward heaven with a word or two, as is often quite possible in the midst of reading, writing, or doing some other task.4
But the others, who make it nothing but a work of drudgery, can never pray with gladness or with devotion. They are glad when they are finally through with their babbling. And so it must be. Where there is no faith and no feeling of need in a petition, there the heart cannot be involved either. But where the heart is not involved and the body has to do all the work, there it becomes difficult drudgery. This is evident even in physical work. How difficult and dreary it is for the person who is doing something unwillingly! But on the other hand, if the heart is cheerful and willing, then it does not even notice the work. So it is here, too: the man who is serious in his intentions and takes pleasure in prayer neither knows nor feels any toil and trouble; he simply looks at his need, and he has finished singing or praying the words before he has a chance to turn around. In other words, prayers ought to be brief, frequent, and intense. For God5 does not ask how much and how long you have prayed, but how good the prayer is and whether it proceeds from the heart.
Therefore Christ says now: “Your heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask for it.” It is as if He would say: “What are you up to? Do you suppose that you will talk Him down with your long babbling and make Him give you what you need? There is no need for you to persuade Him with your words or to give Him detailed instructions; for He knows beforehand what you need, even better than you do yourself.” If you came before a prince or a judge who knew your case better than you could describe it to him and tried to give him a long-winded account of it, he would have a perfect right to laugh at you or, more likely, to become displeased with you. Indeed, as St. Paul says (Rom. 8:26), “We do not know how we are to pray.” Therefore when He hears us, whatever He gives us is something in excess of our understanding or our hopes. Sometimes He lets us go on asking for something which He does not give right away, or perhaps does not give at all, knowing very well what is necessary and useful for us and what is not. We ourselves do not see this, but finally we have to admit that it would not have been good for us if He had done His giving on the basis of our petition. Therefore we must not go into a long harangue to give Him instructions or prescriptions about what He should do for us and how He should do it. He intends to give in such a way that His name might be hallowed, His kingdom extended, and His will advanced.
But you may say: “Since He knows and sees all our needs better than we do ourselves, why does He let us bring our petitions and present our need, instead of giving it to us without our petitioning? After all, He freely gives the whole world so much good every day, like the sun, the rain, crops and money, body and life, for which no one asks Him or thanks Him. He knows that no one can get along for a single day without light, food, and drink. Then why does He tell us to ask for these things?”
The reason He commands it is, of course, not in order to have us make our prayers an instruction to Him as to what He ought to give us, but in order to have us acknowledge and confess that He is already bestowing many blessings upon us and that He can and will give us still more. By our praying, therefore, we are instructing ourselves more than we are Him. It makes me turn around so that I do not proceed as do the ungodly, neither acknowledging this nor thanking Him for it. When my heart is turned to Him and awakened this way, then I praise Him, thank Him, take refuge with Him in my need, and expect help from Him. As a consequence of all this, I learn more and more to acknowledge what kind of God He is. Because I seek and knock at His door (Matt. 7:7), He takes pleasure in giving me ever more generous gifts. You see, that is how a genuine petitioner proceeds. He is not like those other useless babblers, who prattle a great deal but who never recognize all this. He knows that what he has is a gift of God, and from his heart he says: “Lord, I know that of myself I can neither produce nor preserve a piece of my daily bread; nor can I defend myself against any kind of need or misfortune. Therefore I shall look to Thee for it and request it from Thee, since Thou dost command me this way and dost promise to give it to me, Thou who dost anticipate my every thought and sympathize with my every need.”
You see, a prayer that acknowledges this truly pleases God. It is the truest, highest, and most precious worship which we can render to Him; for it gives Him the glory that is due Him. The others do not do this. Like pigs, they grab all the gifts of God and devour them. They take over one country or city or house after another. They never consider whether they should be paying attention to God. Meanwhile they lay claim to holiness, with their many loud tones and noises in church. But a Christian heart is one that learns from the Word of God that everything we have is from God and nothing is from ourselves. Such a heart accepts all this in faith and practices it, learning to look to Him for everything and to expect it from Him. In this way praying teaches us to recognize who we are and who God is, and to learn what we need and where we are to look for it and find it. The result of this is an excellent, perfect, and sensible man, one who can maintain the right relationship to all things.
Having denounced and rejected these false and useless prayers, Christ now proceeds to introduce an excellent and brief formula. It shows how we are to pray and what we are to pray for. It includes all sorts of needs which ought to impel us to pray and of which we can daily remind ourselves with these short words. There is no excuse for anyone now, as though he did not know how or what to pray. Hence it is a very good practice, especially for the common man and for children and servants in the household, to pray the entire Lord’s Prayer every day, morning and evening and at table, and otherwise, too, as a way of presenting all sorts of general needs to God. But since the Lord’s Prayer has been adequately expounded in the Catechism and elsewhere,6 I will leave it at that and add no further comments here.
As has often been said, however, this is certainly the very best prayer that ever came to earth or that anyone could ever have thought up. Because God the Father composed it through His Son and placed it into His mouth, there is no need for us to doubt that it pleases Him immensely. At the very beginning He warns us to remember both His command and His promise, in the word “Our Father.” He it is who demands this glory from us, that we should put our petitions to Him, as a child does to its father. He also wants us to have the confidence that He will gladly give us what we need. Also included is the reminder that we should glory in being His children through Christ. And so we come, on the basis of His command and His promise, and in the name of Christ, the Lord; and we present ourselves before Him with all confidence.
Now the first, second, and third petitions deal with the highest benefits that we receive from Him. In the first place, because He is our Father, He should receive from us the glory that is due Him, and His name should be held in high esteem throughout the world. By this petition I pile up on one heap every kind of false belief and worship, all of hell, and all sin and blasphemy. And I ask Him to put a stop to the blasphemous belief of the pope, the Turk, the schismatic spirits, and the heretics, all of whom desecrate and profane His name or seek their own glory under the pretext of His name. This is indeed only a brief phrase, but its meaning extends as far as the world and opposes all false doctrine and life.
In the second place, once we have His Word, true doctrine, and true worship, we also pray that His kingdom may be in us and remain in us; that is, that He may govern us in this doctrine and life, that He may protect and preserve us against all the power of the devil and his kingdom, and that He may shatter all the kingdoms that rage against His kingdom, so that it alone may remain. And in the third place, we pray that neither our will nor any other man’s will, but His will alone may be done, and that what He plans and counsels may succeed and overcome all the schemes and undertakings of the world, as well as anything else that may set itself against His plans and counsels, even though the whole world were to mass itself and rally all its strength to defend its cause against Him. These are the three most important elements.
In the other four petitions we meet the needs that apply to our own daily life and to this poor, weak, and temporal existence. Therefore our first petition here is that He may give us our daily bread—that is, everything necessary for the preservation of this life, like food, a healthy body, good weather, house, home, wife, children, good government, and peace—and that He may preserve us from all sorts of calamities, sickness, pestilence, hard times, war, revolution, and the like. Our next petition is this: that He may forgive us our debts and not look upon the shameful and thankless7 way we misuse the benefits with which He daily provides us in such abundance; that this may not prompt Him to deny us these benefits or to withdraw them or to punish us with the disfavor we deserve; but that He may graciously pardon us, although we who are called “Christians” and “children of God” do not live as we should. The third of these petitions is brought on by the fact that we are living on earth, amid all sorts of temptation and trouble, with attacks from every side. Thus the source of the hindrance and the temptation we experience is not only external, from the world and the devil, but also internal, from our own flesh. Amid so much danger and temptation, we cannot live the way we should; nor would we be able to stand it for a single day. We ask Him, therefore, to sustain us in the midst of this danger and need so that it does not overcome and destroy us. And our final petition is that He would ultimately deliver us completely from all evil, and when the time comes for us to pass out of this life, that He would bestow upon us a gracious and blessed hour of death. In this brief compass we have laid all our physical and spiritual needs into His lap, and each individual word has summarized an entire world of meaning.
But in the text there is a small addition with which He concludes the prayer, a sort of thanksgiving and common confession, namely this: “For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever.” These are really the titles and names that are appropriate to God alone, for these three things He has reserved for Himself—to govern, to judge, and to glory. No one has a right to judge or to rule or to have sovereignty except God alone, or those whom He has commissioned with it, those through whom, as His servants, He maintains His rule. In the same way, no man may exercise judgment over another, or become angry at him and punish him, unless he has the office to do so on God’s behalf. For this is not a right innate in men, but one given by God. These are the two things that He names here: “the kingdom,” that is, the sovereignty by which all authority is His; and then “the power,” that is, the consequence of His authority, its execution, by which He can punish, subject the wicked to Himself, and protect the pious. For he who punishes is doing so in God’s stead; all administering of justice, all protecting and preserving, is derived from His power. Therefore no one should wreak vengeance or exact punishment on his own; for it does not lie within his official capacity or ability, and it does not do any good either. As He says (Rom. 12:19): “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay”; and elsewhere He threatens (Matt. 26:52): “All who take the sword for vengeance will be punished by the sword.”
In the same way “the glory,” or honor or praise, belongs only to God. No one may boast of anything, his wisdom or holiness or ability, except through Him and from Him. When I honor a king or a prince and call him “gracious lord” or bend my knee before him, I am not doing this to him on account of his own person but on account of God, to one who is sitting in majesty in God’s stead. It is the same when I show honor to my father and mother or to those who are in their stead. I am not doing this to a human being but to a divine office, and I am honoring God in them. Wherever there is authority and power, therefore, the glory and the praise belong to Him. And so His kingdom, power, and glory prevail throughout the world. It is He alone that is ruling, punishing, and being glorified in the divine offices and stations, like those of father, mother, master, judge, prince, king, and emperor. The devil is opposing this through his minions. He himself is seeking to exercise the authority and power, to wreak the vengeance and exact the punishment, and to monopolize all the glory. That is why the petitions for His name, His kingdom, and His will are foremost here; for they alone must prevail, and all other names, kingdoms, powers, and wills must be shattered. Thus we acknowledge that He is supreme in all three of these areas, but that the others are His instruments, by which He acts to accomplish these things.
Luther, M. (1999, c1956). Vol. 21: Luther's works, vol. 21 : The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (21:141). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.