The Lord’s Prayer in Heaven
One thinks of the oddest things while driving to church.
One recent Sunday on my morning drive to services I had an unusually strange thought. The saints in heaven worship God and pray to God. If they pray, would they perhaps pray using the Lord’s Prayer, which our Savior taught to us while on Earth?
The strict answer is, of course, that we do not know what precise prayers they pray or by what form of words. But on as I pondered on the roadway, I realized the question of the applicability of the Lord’s Prayer in heaven was in fact quite edifying and interesting.
It is very common, when discussing the experience of those who have died, to mix our own speculations in with the teachings of scripture. As in many other areas of doctrine, it is good to remember, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29 ESV) What has actually been revealed of the nature of God’s blessings to his people after death is limited, but glorious. To add to them would be like a child gluing tinsel and glitter onto exquisite works of gold and gems, and with as good of taste. We are not yet the sanctified souls that we will be in Heaven, and we are further still from the glorious perfection that we will enjoy after the resurrection.
What do we know about these future glories? We know that for the Christian “to live is Christ and to die is gain,” (Philippians 1:21), because “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Cor 5:8) The greatest blessing of Heaven, starting from the moment of death, is a profound and direct fellowship with Christ. As Samuel Rutherford wrote, “[Christ] is all Heaven and more than all Heaven.” This is the great Sabbath rest of God’s people, the first stage of the eternal blessedness.
That blessedness is great indeed, yet for those dead in Christ the day of fullness is still to come. We know that they along with us “wait eagerly for ... the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:23) Our Lord Jesus Christ has not yet returned to make a final end to sin and death. Until that day, suffering rules on Earth and death still claims all. Sin has not yet been fully vanquished. God’s justice is still not fulfilled visibly. No wonder that Revelation shows the martyrs in heaven pray, “how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev 6:10) Heaven, as the intermediate place between death and Christ’s return, is therefore a place of blessed anticipation. For the saints in heaven faith has not yet been fully made sight, and hope has not yet fully become present enjoyment. Though far happier than us on earth, our brothers and sisters in heaven also await the final fulfillment God’s plan of salvation.
We also know that the saints in heaven worship God. This is shown in the vision of the heavenly throne room in Revelation. Who- or whatever the elders are surrounding the throne of God, they join angels and archangels in the cries of “holy, holy, holy” and “worthy is the Lamb.” And, as we have seen, the saints under the altar make their own prayers to God for justice. Indeed, our Lord Jesus himself prays for us before the Father in heaven (Romans 8:34). Heaven is full of the glory of God, and therefore it is filled with the proper responses to His glory, including praise and prayer.
So, what then of the prayer that our Lord Jesus taught us? How would it apply to the prayers of saints in heaven, no longer burdened with the cares and temptations of this life? To answer, let us look at each part of that prayer in turn, following the divisions in the Westminster Larger Catechism.
Our Father, Who art in Heaven
Christ commands us to pray to the Father, but He did not leave us without support. He bids us to pray in His name, that is in reliance on His high priestly intercession before the Father. And we pray by the power and the assistance of the Holy Spirit. None of that is changed for the souls in heaven. If anything, they would perceive more clearly the benefits they receive from the Son and the Spirit as they are brought into the presence of the Father. They, too, cry out “Abba, Father” in the Spirit of adoption (Romans 8:15), so their prayers, too, would share the same preface as our own.
Hallowed be thy name
For the first petition, we do in fact have a clear word. The throne room scene in Revelation shows all the spirits in heaven praising the name of God. They, too, hallow his name in their words.
But we are called not merely to hallow the Father’s name through words only (Isaiah 29:13), but in our faithfulness and in our reliance on Christ alone for our salvation. For us on Earth, that means this petition is also a plea that we be enabled to hallow God’s name. The saints in heaven, being completely sanctified and cleansed from sin, are even more removed from giving mere lip service in their praise. Our prayer is for further grace, further perfection, and gratitude for the gifts already given. Enjoying the fulfillment of the former parts, their gratitude would surely sound forth more strongly.
Thy Kingdom come
When we pray the second petition, we acknowledge that we “once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience,” (Eph 2:2) and that the world at large still suffers under the oppression of that rebel spirit. We pray that the kingdom of that evil prince will be ended along with all persecution of the saints. We pray for the conversion and salvation of souls. We further pray for the health, purity, and expansion of the Church to every corner of the world. And, finally, we pray for the day to come when “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.” (Rev 11:15)
The saints in Heaven also pray for these things, but from a different perspective. As we saw in Revelation 6:10, the saints in Heaven also pray in Heaven for the end of the sufferings of the Church on Earth. They are beyond the power of the persecutors to harm, but they call for divine justice against the persecutors and for the end of the suffering of their brothers and sisters. They no longer experience the lingering influence sin in themselves, as we do, and we do not know the extent of their awareness of events on Earth. But along with their prayers for the end of persecution, they would fittingly pray as well for the peace, purity, and expansion of the Church on Earth, as well as for the increase of God’s reign over the lives of their brothers and sisters.
Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven
In the third petition, we pray that God’s will be done on earth, by ourselves and by others. It means, in the words of the Larger Catechism, question 192, “acknowledging, that by nature we and all men are not only utterly unable and unwilling to know and do the will of God, but prone to rebel against his word.” We pray acknowledging the frailty of our own wills and the wills of others. This is a petition of repentance.
The saints in heaven have no need to pray this prayer for themselves. They already “submit to his will in all things, with the like humility, cheerfulness, faithfulness, diligence, zeal, sincerity, and constancy, as the angels do in heaven.” (WLC 192) But it would be no less fitting for them than it is for us to continue to beseech God that this becomes true for others as well.
Give us this day our daily bread
The fourth petition seems would be one of the petitions that would apply. They, like us, would fittingly express gratitude for past provision for the daily needs of earthly life. They, like us, would fittingly pray that others on Earth will receive with contentment the provision of their daily needs. But they are no longer in their bodies, which lie in the ground in decay until the day of resurrection. The only bodily need they still possess is for their bodies to be restored to life, and to a greater, more glorious, vitality than they possessed in the cursed world. For that day to come, and quickly, they surely pray just as we ought to pray.
Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors
The saints in heaven are even more delivered from present need in the subject of the fifth petition. Their debts have been paid, as have ours. But in their case, the account books of their lives are closed, with the merits of Christ as the final balance. Their final turn from sin is complete. They await the Last Judgment after the return of Christ, but their standing is not in doubt, and they already begin to enjoy their reward. Their fitting prayers under this petition would be gratitude for their accomplished redemption and acknowledging the continued need for repentance, pardon, and assurance for those of still in the body.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,
In the sixth petition we plea “that we and all his people may by his providence be kept from being tempted to sin.” (WLC 195) We once again look to Revelation 6:10, where the souls of the martyrs pray, “How long?” They call for an end to persecution and for God’s judgment upon the persecutors. What is persecution but another fierce temptation pressed upon God’s people by those who hate both God and God’s truth? They, being sanctified and resting safe in heaven, need no longer fear temptation from within or without. But their very perfection could only increase their desire that God deliver the church on Earth from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen
Finally, we have no doubt that they pray most fervently the conclusion to the Lord’s Prayer, as they need never cease from praising the Father’s rule, power, and glory forever.
Though the saints in heaven are blessedly beyond the need of prayers, we who still make our way in this vale of tears are not. As we gather and pray on each Lord’s Day, it is as if the veil that separates our life on Earth from the blessings of our loved ones in heaven is thinned. Our prayers, our songs, our hearing of God’s Word read and preached, and our reception of the sacraments give us grace and bring us closer to that blessing for which we long and which our brother and sisters in heaven begin to enjoy.
As we look forward alongside them to the final redemption of all things, may we together with them pray, “Amen, even so, come Lord Jesus.” (Rev 22:20)
Kevin White is a writer and member of Providence Presbyterian Church in Robinson Township, PA.
"When You're Overwhelmed with Prayer Needs" by Kevin Halloran
"Watson’s Wisdom on Prayer" by Donald McKim
"The Simplicity and Profundity of Prayer" by Mark Johnston
"Can We Talk about Death?" by Justin Poythress
Persistent Prayer by Guy Richard
Matthew Henry's Method for Prayer, a free online publication from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals
 By heaven, I do not mean the eternal kingdom on earth after the resurrection, but the present reality where saints enjoy the presence of God between the hour of death and the hour of Christ’s return.
 Letter 284, Letters of Samuel Rutherford, ed. Andrew Bonar