The particular form that Christian prayer takes is manifold – including intercession, supplication, thanksgiving, praise, lament, etc. – but the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) provides a template and shape for the whole of our prayer life. The Lord’s Prayer is our pattern for prayer because it was given to us by Christ, and so when we pray this prayer we pray as he prayed, he who was in perfect communion with the Father.
We address this prayer not to any abstract deity, higher power, or blind force; instead we address this prayer to “Our Father” the God who we know in Jesus Christ and the God who has called us in Christ to be His people. That we address God as Our Father highlights that all Christian prayer is corporate, whether we pray in the physical presence of others or not. When we pray, we pray together with Christ who is at the right hand of the Father, and we pray with all of the faithful across all time and space.
When we pray, we don’t just pray as a part of the Church, we also pray “in communion with those who do not yet pray, perhaps, but for whom Jesus Christ prays, since he prays for humankind as a whole…When Christians pray, they are, so to speak, the substitutes for those who do not pray” (23). We don’t just pray for ourselves or by ourselves, nor do we just pray for and with the faithful, but we pray for and in a strange way in place of those who don’t. What a powerful reminder that Christ has called a people to himself out of the world for the sake of the world. It isn’t us vs. them, it is us for them, because apart from Christ we are them, and it is “them” that God become flesh to save. We claim God as Our Father but when we do “we are and always shall be prodigal sons [and daughters] who can claim no other right than that which is given us in the person of Jesus Christ” (24).
Our prayer presupposes that what we ask for has already been granted to us in Jesus Christ. We believe that God has already made His name holy, that God’s kingdom has come, that His will is being done. We believe that God has already provided us with what we need today, that He has forgiven us our debts, and that He has delivered us from the evil one. We don’t pray in uncertainty, but with full hope – even in the midst of darkness, pain, and despair – that God has already granted and will grant us what we are asking for. We don’t end our prayers with a question mark, but instead with the exclamation point of “Amen” let it be so and it shall be do. Though our prayers have already been answered in this sense, our prayers aren’t redundant or in vain because God’s answer never remains in the past, as an event that merely happened to Jesus Christ a long, long, time ago. God’s Spirit brings God’s answer to our prayers in Christ ever anew into the present when we pray, and God’s answer also draws us into the future, toward the eschaton when all creation will experience the answer to these prayers in full. This is one of the great mysteries of prayer: that we pray for what has already been accomplished to be answered and accomplished again.