A Guide to Interpreting Lists

The Lord's Prayer

In this article we are continuing to examine lists in the Bible. More particularly, we are considering how best to interpret these lists. The previous two articles in this series are:

This time let’s take a look at The Lord’s Prayer as recorded in Matthew 6:9-13. (Luke also gives an account in Luke 11:2-4). This prayer serves as a model given by the Lord to his disciples when they asked Jesus to teach them to pray.

The Lord’s Prayer in List Form

Let’s begin by listing each of the parts of this prayer by numbering each line. The opening line is not really part of the list. It is basically the salutation which blends with the first item on the list.

  1. Hallowed be your (our Father in heaven) name.
  2. Your kingdom come.
  3. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
  4. Give us this day our daily bread.
  5. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
  6. Lead us not into temptation.
  7. Deliver us from evil (the evil one).

The Priority Principle

This series of articles stresses a general principle that the reader should attempt to interpret the list by placing the priority on the first item on the list. Not all lists are designed in this manner, but this should be the starting point.

If we follow this principle, then the priority petition is to pray that the name of the Father would be hallowed. A quick check of our prayers likely reveals that we usually prioritize lines 4 through 7 when we pray.

How do we typically begin our prayers? If we begin by asking for stuff, we are beginning with #4. If we begin with confession or asking for forgiveness, we are beginning at #5. If we are frightened, worried, or under attack, we usually begin with #6 or #7.

But this approach will not give you the sort of prayer life which Jesus teaches. For example, how do you know what stuff you should request from your Father? James warns us that we do not receive because we do not ask and when we do ask we ask amiss. Do we inquire like the old song on radio, “Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz?”

If we begin with items 4-7, it is an indication of the focus of our lives. Notice the main pronoun in each of those lines. It is “us”. That is the wrong place to begin. Now notice the pronoun in items 1-3. It is “your”. Now we are on to something. Lines 1-3 have a priority over lines 4-7 if we are to be God centered rather than man centered.

Among lines 1-3, it is the first line that has the highest priority. God’s highest desire is his own glory. His name is set apart as glorious and holy. If that is God’s highest desire, it should be our highest desire.

Applying the Principle

As you go through lines 2-7, keep your mind anchored to line 1. This will keep the main petition the priority. Let’s think of it in these terms.

  1. Hallowed be your (our Father in heaven) name.
  2. Your kingdom come in such manner that your reign is characterized by the hallowing of your name.
  3. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven so that your name is made glorious across the globe.
  4. Give us this day our daily bread so that whether we eat or drink we will do so for the glory of your name.
  5. Forgive us our debts so that your name is declared to be hallowed or glorious.
  6. Lead us not into temptation so that we do not dishonor your name, but instead you hallow your name.
  7. Deliver us from the evil one so that in triumph your name is exalted and praised.

You can reinforce this by beginning your prayer with line #1. Then after each line (#2-#7), repeat line #1. This should help you cast your eyes upward to the Lord who’s name is being hallowed.