Dear Readers,


At a recent Ebenezer meeting, a youth asked, “Why do we recite the Lord’s Prayer during congregational worship?” It is a thought-provoking question which demands a proper understanding of the Lord’s Prayer and the Biblical concept of recitation.

The recitation of the Lord’s Prayer is a common practice in some Reformed Churches. The founding pastor of the Singapore Bible-Presbyterian movement, Rev. Timothy Tow, regarded the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer as “an important part of Bible-Presbyterian liturgy.” On the other hand, the practice is shunned by others for fear that it is but “vain repetition”.

First, the prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 is called the Lord’s Prayer because it is prescribed by Christ Himself for His disciples (c.f. Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4). We are not constrained to use the specific words of the Lord’s Prayer in our prayers, for Christ said, “After this manner therefore pray ye,” and not “After these words therefore pray ye”. It is thus given as a set direction and pattern by which we are to approach prayer.

Nevertheless, for the Lord’s Prayer to be a model for believers to follow, it must first be a most perfect and theologically comprehensive prayer. Are these not the words of the Master Teacher Himself? Thus, it is most appropriate for a believer to pray the Lord’s Prayer provided it is done with proper understanding. This was how the Westminster Assembly comprehended the Lord’s Prayer. The Westminster Larger Catechism, which Tabernacle BPC adheres to as her confession of faith, states in Question 187,

Question 187: How is the Lord’s Prayer to be used?

Answer: The Lord’s Prayer is not only for direction, as a pattern, according to which we are to make other prayers; but may also be used as a prayer, so that it be done with understanding, faith, reverence, and other graces necessary to the right performance of the duty of prayer.

The Directory of Public Worship in the Westminster Standards also recommends it to be used in public prayer :

And because the prayer which Christ taught his disciples is not only a pattern of prayer, but itself a most comprehensive prayer, we recommend it also to be used in the prayers of the church.

However, while it is acceptable for the minister to lead the congregation to pray the Lord’s Prayer, is it then acceptable to recite it?

Consider Joshua 1:8,

“This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth;
but thou shalt meditate therein day and night,
that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein:
for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous,
and then thou shalt have good success.”

The term “meditate” (hāgāh) refers to the soft undertones made by the reader as he reads the Holy Scripture. It is not just a mechanical recitation, but a means to facilitate memorisation, understanding and consolidation. It is a comprehensive learning process. This is the reason the King James translators translated the term “hāgāh” as “meditate”.

In addition, are we not commanded by the Scriptures to sing psalms? “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” Many of the Psalms are prayers written by the saints of old. One example is Psalm 90 which is a prayer of Moses. The hymn, “O God our Help in Ages Past” is based upon this psalm. Surely the singing of these prayers in the psalms is no vain repetition, if it is sung with grace in our hearts to the Lord!

Of course, there is a sense in which the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer can be turned to “vain repetition” if it is treated as “a magic formula” to procure the blessings of God. One example is the teaching of an Orthodox Church to recite the Lord’s Prayer at least three times in the worship service to ensure that God will pour down His blessings from heaven! Such practice is but pure superstition. There is also a danger of the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer turning into “vain repetition” if we do so without directing the prayer to God, or without proper understanding. Therefore, it is imperative for the leaders and teachers of the church to educate the congregation on the right understanding of the Lord’s Prayer, so that everyone may pray in truth.

The recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, if done rightly with proper understanding, has the following advantages :

  1. It unites and expresses the congregation’s desire for God to answer prayer according to His will.
  1. The pattern and principles of prayer are affirmed in the hearts of the congregation members.
  1. The congregation members will be prompted to meditate on the words of the Lord’s Prayer, and examine their hearts in the light of those words. For example, when we pray for the Father to forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, we are directed to examine our hearts to see if we possess an unforgiving spirit. If there is truly an unforgiving spirit in our hearts, we must quickly repent before the Lord, or our prayers will not be heard.

Therefore, it is the conviction of this writer that the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer is a laudable practice which is grounded firmly on the theology of worship and prayer which is taught in the Holy Scriptures. The recitation of the Lord’s Prayer should remain “an important part of Bible-Presbyterian liturgy” (Timothy Tow). The right understanding and significance of the Lord’s Prayer should also be consistently taught to the congregation, that members may learn the right manner of prayer. The recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, if done in spirit and in truth, can be of great blessing to the church.

Preacher Clement Chew