Texts: Acts 2:42-47, Matthew 6:9-13
(this is a summary of the sermon I have this past Sunday. If you prefer, skip to the bottom for additional resources)
If we’re honest, prayer freaks us out. It feels mystical or magical or strange. It seems like something that is only for the elite. It doesn’t make sense to us. It feels awkward or like our words are bouncing off the ceiling.
I don’t know about you, but I need to be taught how to pray. Jesus’ disciples felt this and it compelled them to ask Jesus to teach them to pray. And he responded by telling them to say the Lord’s prayer.
Prayer begins with direction. It is about relationship
With whom are we speaking? “Our Father, in heaven.”
I know we all approach this idea of God as father from different places. I know it can affect how we see who this God is. For a further piicture of who this Father is, see Luke 11:11-13.
However, the fact that Jesus would instruct his followers to address God in this way was very controversial! “Father” as a title for God was rarely used in the Old Testament (only 14 times I can count) and always used with reference to the nation, not to individuals. Thus, where “father” does occur with respect to God, it is commonly by way of analogy, and not used to directly address Him (Deut 32:6; Ps 103:13; Isa 63:16; Mal 2:10).
In contrast, Jesus Himself addressed God only as Father (some 60 times in the Gospels), never referring to Him by any other name! Virtually all of Jesus’ prayers were addressed to God as Father (except when Jesus quotes Psalm 22 on the cross…my God, my God). So we, following Jesus’ example, get to call the God of the universe Father. The one whose name wouldn’t even be spoken by people for thousands of years, we get call him “Papa”.
When we say that he is in heaven (or rather, the better translation is “in the heavens”), we speak of something I will call his transcendent nearness. So we could pray: “Our Father who is up above, around, and near to us.” God is separate and other while being imminent and present.
So when we pray, we recognize that we are praying to the God of all creation who is our close and intimate Father, right there with us. We don’t have to hope that our prayers “get to God”.
“Hallowed be your name”
Or “may your name be kept holy, special, or set apart”. In the Ancient Near East and in many early religions, the name of a god (or a man, for that matter), was very important. It defined a reality. But men would sometimes use the name of a god to get what they wanted, or would curse them when they didn’t do something right. This prayer is one we participate in. It is saying, “we will seek to maintain the honor of your name”. And this is a difficult thing to do, is it not? We see the name of God defamed all around us, things done in his name, attributed to him. It is the cosmic version of that first bully telling us as a child that our Dad is weak or our mom is not the greatest Mom ever. That alarm that we feel pushes us to fight for the honor of the name of God. The Hebrew people, and even Jews today so revere the name of God, they do not speak or write it. They came up with Hashem, which lit. means “the name” (They ended up giving different names of God-all related to what he has done or his character).
“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”
So this is the first thing we seem to be asking/petitioning God for in this prayer. And I know this is where we get hung up sometimes, in the asking of God for things. We have these mental blocks sometimes.
Psalm 139:1-4 and Matthew 6:8 can become problematic for us. If God knows what we need before we even ask him, what’s the point in asking?
This question makes some big assumptions:
- That the need we are asking for is the same as the actual need that God knows.
2. That God’s knowing is the same as God’s doing (just because he knows, does that mean he will act on it?
3. That it is ok to rationalize away obedience. (if it doesn’t make sense to me, I don’t have to do it) If you have kids, you know this doesn’t work.
Let me say it clearly: prayer changes things. And we are commanded to do it. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
God has, in a mysterious way, chosen to tie his action in the world to the petitions of his people.
(2 Scriptures where God appears to change his mind in response to prayer: Exodus 32 [Moses] and 2 Kings 20 [Hezekiah])
I really like this example and quote from Dallas Willard’s Divine Conspiracy that explains the relationship and differences between the “will/purposes” of God and the “action” of God. Some call this idea of God’s sovereignty his “relational sovereignty”.
“God is great enough that he can conduct his affairs in this way. His nature, identity, and overarching purposes are no doubt unchanging. But his intentions with regard to many particular matters that concern individual human beings are not. This does not diminish him. Far from it. He would be a lesser God if he could not change his intentions when he thinks it is appropriate. And if he chooses to deal with humanity in such a way that he will occasionally think it appropriate, that is just fine.”
And that is the heart of this line in the prayer.
When we pray Your kingdom come, we are asking God to be about his business in ways we know only he can do. We are praying for justice, for the world to be made right, Maranatha! (Come, Lord Jesus!)
When we pray Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we are saying we want to be about our Father’s business. It is about our obedience. Just like heaven is the place where God is being obeyed and worshiped all the time, we work to bring that to earth in the way we live.
“Give us this day our daily bread”
There are only two things I wish to highlight here. The first is that the plural part of this prayer is emphasized again. It is truly our prayer. When is the last time you prayed for someone else’s basic needs to be met along with yours?
Second, this is a prayer that places our attention squarely on the present. We are not asking for things for tomorrow. We are focusing our trust on what God will provide today. Perhaps many of our prayers are masquerading as baptized anxieties about the future when God is calling us back to where he is: with us, in the present, providing what we need. (again, sometimes we need to have our perception of our needs realigned with God’s)
“And forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors”
There is so much to be said about forgiveness and how it affects our lives. Let me just say that we need a constant reminder of the pity that God has had on us when it comes to our condition. And I use the word pity on purpose, as mercy is a word that may have too much religious baggage to be as jarring. God saw us, way over our heads, upside-down in life-debt. He saw it and took pity on us. He felt for us in our awful state. And then he forgave, the word means to literally send away, never to return.
And this is the way we are supposed to forgive those who have wronged us. This is a transformative side to this prayer that moves us into right relationships. We must be reacquainted with our
“They owe me an apology.” Probably. Cancel the debt, place it on the cross.
“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
At its core, this is a prayer saying, “God, please don’t let bad things happen to me.” You may think this is too simple or childish of a prayer. Or perhaps its praying “wrong”. After all, doesn’t scripture talk about being called to suffer, to pick up the cross and follow Jesus?
God is a good Dad. He doesn’t willfully send his children into harm like a sadist. And the truth is, he does this A LOT. We tend to focus on the times where he doesn’t seem to, and think that he is being a bad Dad. This is shortsighted.
The idea of being delivered is that we are pulled through hardship, but make it on the other side. It is not praying: pull me out of this. It is saying, pull me through. Jesus, again, modeled this in Gethsemane. “Father, is there a way you can keep this from happening?” And ultimately, Jesus was delivered through and into victory.
So, this is a prayer we should repeat and a prayer we should model our prayers after.
Because engaging in prayer is like learning how to speak.
Have you ever thought about how you learned to speak? It is an amazing process. It begins with listening. We hear the voices of our parents and those around us and recognize their voices.
It continues with naming who these big people are that feed us. Mama. Dada. Then concrete words like milk, blanky, food. Then abstract like hungry, thirsty, and more. And on we go, putting words together, asking for things, talking about things.
But we can’t speak what we don’t hear. And we have to practice. Because our language changes over time.
Eugene Peterson speaks of 3 types of language that we use in our world:
–Language I is primary language, the basic language for expressing and developing the human condition. It is the language of relationship: coos, giggles, gibberish,
–Language II is the language of information. Everything has a name. Language II is the major language used in schools.
–Language III is the language of motivation. We discover early on that words have the power to make things happen, to bring something out of nothing, to move inert figures into purposive action. This is the language used in advertising and politics.
In our world, languages II and III are the predominant languages of our culture. As we grow up, we tend to put relational language I to the side, it is considered inferior and childish.
We need to relearn relational language. And prayer exposes our deficiency in this language while seeking to change it at the same time!
We need to pray these words of the Lord’s Prayer, again and again. And this is not vain repetition. This is repetition on a mission! It is formative. It helps us learn the language of God! It resets us to speak relationally again.
Ways to engage in prayer different this week:
-Pray the Lord’s prayer, both individually and with others.
-Set times to pray the prayers of others/the Psalms/common prayer. Shoot for once or twice a day. Some great online resources for you: the Trinity Mission, Book of Common Prayer, Mission St. Clare, Daily Office,