The Paternoster

By Richard J Foster 

Richard Foster examines the Lord's Prayer.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be they name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

We today call it the Lord's Prayer, though that distinction more rightly belongs to the high priestly prayer of Jesus in the upper room (John 17). The Paternoster is the prayer given by the Lord for disciples of the Lord, namely, you and me. Its concerns embrace the whole world, from the coming of the kingdom to daily bread.

The Lord’s Prayer is essentially petitionary—asking. Adoration is present at the beginning and the end, but petition is present through the main body. Of its perfectly crafted requests, three relate to personal petition. These three entreaties can be gathered up into three words: give, forgive, and deliver.


Try to imagine what our prayer experience would be like if he had forbidden us to ask for the little things. He welcomes us with our 1,001 trifles, for they are each important to him. We pray for daily bread by taking to God those trifles that make up the bulk of our days. Are we struggling? We ask for patience and wisdom and compassion—daily, hourly. This is how we pray for daily bread.


[Our] debts are enormous indeed. The mountain of offenses grows too high for us—its very weight threatens to crush the life out of us. It is just when we are gasping for breath that Jesus invites us to pray. He knows how very much God loves to forgive. It is the one thing he yearns to do, aches to do, rushes to do. But . . . it is a conditional request. We are forgiven as we forgive. We must give in order to receive.


“Lead us not into temptation” means: “Lord, let there be nothing in me that will force you to put me to the test in order to reveal what is in my heart.” Now . . . Jesus is urging us to pray for rescue not from evil in a generic sense, but from the evil one. This does not sit well in our modern and postmodern understanding, but it is there nevertheless. Have we not seen enough of . . . the horrible to speak without embarrassment the phrase of Martin Luther: “The prince of darkness grim/ We tremble not for him/ His rage we can endure/ For lo, his doom is sure/ One little word shall fell him”? This is the outcome of the prayer for deliverance.

When we pray:

According to Mark Moore, in The Rhythm of Prayer: Jesus gave us this prayer to exemplify the proper spirit to have in prayer. It is a continual reminder against making selfish prayers. First and foremost, he praised God. He asked only for sustenance, forgiveness, and the will of the Father. We do well to do the same.

Excerpted from the modern classic, Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home, by Richard J. Foster (HarperCollins, 1992).