Corporate Aspects of the Lord’s Prayer*
Jesus often took a small group of disciples with him when he went off to pray. Before he was transfigured, “he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray” (Luke 9:28). He took his disciples to watch and pray with him in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:36-38). To this very day, Jesus calls his disciples to come away in small groups to pray, for wherever two or three come together in his name, he is right there with them (Matt. 18:20).
Since Jesus has commanded us to pray together, we should pray in our homes. Roommates should pray together—daily if possible, but at least weekly. Parents should pray with their children at mealtimes, at bedtime, and throughout the day. Husbands and wives should pray together about the needs of their household.
Christians should also pray together in small groups. Home Bible studies and fellowship groups are sometimes considered a recent development in the life of the church. Yet wise Christians have never been satisfied to worship only once a week. They have always gathered during the week for prayer. The first apostles went to the temple to pray. The apostle Paul held house meetings in all the churches he planted. Even under persecution, Christians met in places like the catacombs to pray. Societies of men and women were organized for prayer throughout the Middle Ages. During the Reformation, pastors met together for Bible teaching and prayer. Many of the Puritans formed house groups. In short, Christians have always met regularly to pray with their brothers and sisters. If prayer meetings were good for people like Peter, Lydia, Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), and Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531), they will be good for you, too. One of the things that makes the church a community is the fact that believers pray together.
Since the Lord’s Prayer is a family prayer, we not only pray with one another, we also pray for one another. In the last three petitions we do not pray for ourselves, primarily, but for the whole church.
OUR DAILY BREAD
When we say, “Give us today our daily bread,” we are praying for our daily provision. We are asking God to meet the material needs of our brothers and sisters. This is why church bulletins often mention who is in the hospital, or what a missionary needs, or which family needs help moving. It is also why small groups spend time sharing personal prayer requests. When Jesus taught us to pray, he taught us to pray for the needs of the family.
Praying for a brother or a sister is one sign of spiritual maturity. Imagine a very demanding little boy. Every day he asks his parents to feed him breakfast, to find his shirt, to tie his shoes, to take him to the park, to give him a snack, and to do a hundred other things for him. Then one day the boy makes a request, not for himself, but for his little sister. He says, “Dad, can you help my sister? She climbed up on the dresser and she can’t get down.” The boy’s father will be touched by his son’s concern for another family member. In the same way, our Father in heaven wants us to ask for daily provision for our brothers and sisters.
OUR DAILY PARDON
We are also to pray for our daily pardon, which is what we do when we say, “Forgive us our debts.” Some sins are private sins. They are committed by an individual within the privacy of the heart. While every Christian needs to confess his or her own personal sin, other sins are corporate sins. They are committed by nations, cities, churches, or families. They are no one’s fault in particular, but they are everyone’s fault in general. God thus holds us responsible, not only for our individual sins, but also for the sins of our group. That is why so many of the great heroes of the Old Testament—Daniel, for example (Dan. 9:4-19), and Ezra (Ezra 9:5-15)—confessed the sins of the entire nation.
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we confess not only our individual sins, but especially the corporate sins of the church. What are the prevailing sins of your church? Pride? Envy? Hypocrisy? Prejudice? Greed? These are the kinds of sins which require corporate repentance. As a general rule, the Holy Spirit does not come in his reviving power until a church confesses its sins as a church.
LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION
Finally, when we say, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” we pray for our daily protection. As a pastor, I often offer this kind of prayer on behalf of our congregation: “Some of us will be tempted to sin today, Lord. Keep us from falling! Provide a way of escape! Save us from sin and from Satan!”
Daily provision, daily pardon, daily protection—these are the things we ask for in our family prayer. By praying these things for one another, we strengthen our family ties. As Cyprian once explained:
Before all things, the Teacher of peace and the Master of unity would not have prayer to be made singly and individually, as for one who prays to pray for himself alone. For we say not “My Father, which art in heaven,” nor “Give me this day my daily bread;” nor does each one ask that only his own debt should be forgiven him; nor does he request for himself alone that he may not be led into temptation, and delivered from evil. Our prayer is public and common; and when we pray, we pray not for one, but for the whole people, because we the whole people are one.
*This article has been excerpted from When You Pray: Making the Lord’s Prayer Your Own (2000; repr. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2006), pp. 43-45.