Jesus teaches a way, or form of prayer. He has just told the crowd to take care how they pray, warning them against the trap of thinking that a volume of words will get God’s attention. Also the audience is warned to avoid seeking other’s attention when we pray. Several times leading up to this passage, Jesus has said, “When you pray, do not…” Then, rather than leave us wondering, He gives us a model or pattern for prayer.
There is a very helpful book & a companion blog by Scott McKnight, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. McKnight makes the argument there that this prayer is Jesus’ synthesis of the Kadish and the Shema of Jewish faith into a prayer. (Here’s a book on The Lord’s Prayer that McKnight recommends: Praying the Pattern.)
Jesus has, as we find throughout His ministry, taken the ancient faith of His people Israel, and brought it to a culmination. He reminds people of the things they have forgotten that they know. He presses people to live the heart and spirit of their faith, not simply the outward expression. And he challenges people to put outward expression to their theology. All of this happens in the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus has come alongside us, knowing that we struggle to pray at all, much less to pray rightly or well. And we receive both a prayer that is satisfactory and complete as it is, without addition or comment. We can simply take these words upon our lips, plant them deep into our heart, and focus our mind upon them, and we will encounter God. At the same time, we have received a prayer with brings together the entire biblical witness about God, and enables us to follow this pattern of prayer, from Acknowledgement, to Worship, to Submission, to Petition, to Repentance, to Plea for Security in the path of righteousness, to Acknowledgement and Worship again. There is nothing about which we can or should pray that does not find a home within this prayer. These words of Jesus teach us what matters in prayer, and by exclusion, what does not. One way to apply this prayer is to use it as a filter for all our other prayers. If we attempt or desire to pray a certain way, and this conflicts with Jesus’ Prayer, then we must leave it aside and open our hearts to His words and His will.