Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer

Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer

In response to Mark Renner’s sermon on the Lord’s Prayer, here are some things I have learned over the past few years of using the Lord’s Prayer to guide my personal prayer.

Our… 

This one little word sets the tone for the whole prayer, and it took me a good 40 years of reciting the prayer to notice it.  It’s not “my” Father. I’m praying at least with all Christians, who would call God “Father”, and also with others who are God’s children, even if they may not realize it.  Jesus doesn’t teach me to pray just for myself, but as part of a community. It’s also not “Their” Father. Jesus doesn’t allow “us” to pray for “them,” keeping “them” at arm’s length.  He teaches us to pray “our,” to remember that we are all connected and affected, all in need of daily bread, and forgiveness, and deliverance.  

Father… 

Praying to our Father implies both intimacy and authority.  We’re not praying to “Our best buddy” or even “Our grandfather”, either of which might conjure the idea of someone who will indulge us in whatever we fancy without responsibility for our discipline.  But we’re also not praying to “Our Master,” someone who bosses us around without personal love for us or concern for our welfare. Those whose earthly fathers were particularly lacking in intimacy, care, or discipline may have to substitute a different image that includes both healthy authority and healthy love and concern.  (But in keeping with Jesus’ image of God as “Father,” I will continue using the male pronoun.)

Who art in heaven…

I used to think this meant that I was praying to a God who was a distant observer.  But I’ve learned that “heaven” in this context doesn’t refer to a place for the dead, but instead to “God’s dimension of the created order…normally hidden from human sight but occasionally revealed or unveiled.” (NT Wright)  This phrase reminds us that God is present with us, even if he is hidden, and we are asking that our prayers will permeate the barrier between our usual space-time universe and heaven.

Hallowed be thy name...

God’s name is his reputation, his image, the way people regard him and talk about him in the world.  Certainly there are plenty of places and situations where our Father is not hallowed at this time. If we are praying for a particular situation, this petition reminds us to pray that the situation will eventually bring glory to God.  It may stretch our faith and imagination to the breaking point to pray this, but that is the challenge that Jesus lays in front of us.  

Thy Kingdom come…

Jesus talked a lot about the Kingdom of God, but it gets very little attention in contemporary Christian culture and church practice.  I don’t have a specific picture of what Jesus had in mind with this petition, but it may refer both to the complete fulfillment of God’s Kingdom at some point in the future, while also encouraging us to ask that God’s presence and authority will enter the situation we have in mind.

Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven...

Jesus demonstrated this petition dramatically in his own prayer in Gethsemane: “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from my lips; nevertheless, let Thy will be done.”  Jesus teaches us both in words and example that we can ask our Father for anything, but we must then submit to his final decision and authority. Sometimes this petition can be scary or impossible to pray, but in the very next sentence we are invited to ask God to give us what we need, to endure whatever he sends our way.

Give us this day our daily bread...

The first part of the Lord’s prayer forces us to think about the big picture–God’s reputation, God’s Kingdom, God’s will.  The rest of the prayer relates to the reality of living in this world today. This petition may be the one most dramatically affected by praying “our” instead of “my”.  “Give me this day my daily bread” would be almost a throwaway line for a person who has a stable source of income, living in a country with a stable food supply and a variety of feeding programs to fall back on if personal income should fail.  But “Give us today our daily bread” requires a whole lot of guts and faith to pray, when “us” includes those living in famine, war, or oppression,  knowing there has probably never been a day in the history of the world that everyone has had enough to eat. When this petition is expanded to encompass our other physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, it becomes truly bold to pray that, just for today, God will meet everyone’s needs.

Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors...

perhaps the most frightening line in the Lord’s prayer.  I would prefer that Jesus had taught, “Forgive us our debts, even if we can’t quite bring ourselves to forgive our debtors.” Instead, we are forced, in the presence of our heavenly Father, to face not only our own sins but our need to forgive the sins of others…and to rely on his grace alone to do both.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…

We need deliverance from the real and daily realities of both temptation (the sin that comes from within us) and evil (the consequences of other people’s sin and the misfortune that comes with living in a fallen world).  The Gospels also record Jesus praying for this at other times, such as praying for Peter that he would withstand Satan’s “sifting” at the time of Jesus’ death. (Luke 22:31) How often do we include this request in our spontaneous prayers?

For thine is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory…

this was added later but seems a fitting closing for the prayer, bringing us back to focus on God’s Kingdom, his power to hear and respond to our prayers, and the importance of acknowledging and enhancing his glory.  

 

This post was written by Good Shepherd Member Sherri Swartz

1 Comment
  • Mark Renner
    Posted at 11:55h, 10 September Reply

    Nice work Sherri! Thank you for following through on my encouragement to do your own dive into the Lord’s Prayer and to share what you found.

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