The season I currently reside in is one of discomfort, and difficulty. I would categorize it as it a type of suffering, and in this difficult season, I have found it more difficult to pray than I have before. Now, believe me when I say, that prayer is a discipline that can easily become a strenuous act for me, as I believe it is for many people, and it calls us to personal devotion and commitment, which flows in the face of our culture today. Prayer can be easily avoided because it brings us a certain intimacy that we are not used to. It is also a discipline that can reveal a lot about a person. For instance, how they pray, and what they pray for are alleyways into their hearts. Prayer can be communal but it is also deeply personal. Jesus usually only prayed by himself, and it was perhaps in Jesus’ prayers that were recorded that we get a better picture of who he was than anywhere else. One of the prayers recorded in the New Testament is one that Jesus did say, but he uttered it only in order to teach his disciples how to pray. They asked him, and he gladly showed them. Jesus was opening them up to the reality that prayer was not just for the religious leaders of their day, but for all humanity. We have heard the prayer many times, and so much so that its profound meaning has maintained but a dull voice in our ears and in our hearts. Dallas Willard in his book The Divine Conspiracy has helped me reflect on this passage with a clearer vision for what it was that Jesus was saying in this short but ageless prayer.
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this daily bread, and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
This is the greatest prayer of all. It depicts exactly what Jesus would have us pray. Perhaps not with the same words but indeed with the same principles and meaning behind each word.
First, God is the one who is there. The first line is a declaration, for God of course knows who he is and where he resides, but do we and do others? It is a proclamation that God exists! He is not far from us, but he is indeed in heaven where his glory dwells. We have misinterpreted heaven to mean “far off” for far too long. It was never meant to mean such a thing, and how can it! Heaven has made its first steps into this world through Christ. Heaven is in the process of fully coming, and it is indeed nearer than it ever has been. Does it matter then if we pray with our eyes open or closed? Some of the earliest Christians prayed eyes wide open, and even Jesus usually prayer standing up with his face pointed upward. God is real, and he exists.
Have you ever felt misunderstood? I know I did just today. Whenever I feel misunderstood there is always the temptation to simply move on from the people who misunderstood me. At times, whether it is actually true or not, we all feel misunderstood. The one who is truly most misunderstood though is God himself. Hallowed. What is hallowed? Holy? Sanctified? Yeah, it is certainly those things, but above all of that is God’s inherent worthiness. God is the greatest, the most Holy, the one who deserves our affections, and our love. He is ALL of these things, but how often is his attributes or characteristics misunderstood, even by those who follow Him! Whenever we feel misunderstood we should realize that it is nothing in comparison to our God whose name is Holy. He knows misunderstanding better than any of us. It is a tragedy that not all see our Father as greatest and best, and such a misunderstanding should cause us to mourn. Why doesn’t it?
I am not content with who I am. I am not content with the way this world is. In this prayer Jesus prompts us to ask for His Kingdom and His rule to come to this earth. His Kingdom, which is ultimately glorious and perfect, is somehow going to collide with this earth, and he is prompting us to continually ask for that collision to be apart of our personal lives. This is not some general abstraction that we can really know nothing of, but something he is asking we pray in order that we may see and witness this collision happening in our relationships, neighborhoods, and countries. The Kingdom will one day come as it states elsewhere in the New Testament, and Jesus is asking us to be agents of His will being done on earth. Notice that this comes after worship, and knowing our place before God.
I have more than what I absolutely need. In America, that seems to be the way it is. The majority of us have what we need for our daily doings, and there isn’t much of a struggle to get by. What then comes of asking God for what we need today? It does not say that we should ask God for anything past today. It is not that we should not have anything that we will use tomorrow, but rather that Jesus is calling us to trust in him for what we know we will need for today. God is asking us to give him our need for future security, for if we have him then our provisions can be met. Bonhoeffer says that receiving today liberates us from the worry of tomorrow.
Forgiveness is at the very heart of the gospel. We of course pray to God in order to confess our sins, and to ask for healing, but here Jesus asks us to pray for pity. Dallas Willard uses this word in regard to this passage because it makes us wince a little bit. It does not sound as noble as mercy or forgiveness. Here we are asking for pity. Yes, it is humbling and demeaning. This request gives us no room for pride or self-rightousness, for it is a plea that The Lord of the universe would show some pity on us, and feel bad for our lowly and abused state. We certainly need all the pity he can offer.
The temptation uttered here is not just to sin but trials in general. Willard says it best in saying, “Trials always tempt us to sin, however. And temptation to sin is always a trial”. Suffering is something that can be used for good by God. Trials are not arbitrary. Certainly we feel weak both in suffering and in temptation, and it is simply not a comfortable place to be. Could it be that trials always result in something better on the other side? Paul states that it is in suffering and weakness that he remains strong. That makes no sense unless he means that he experiences God strength working through him.
Which section of this prayer do you need most in your life currently? And how can we better meditate on these words? Have you ever tried rewriting the Lord’s Prayer? Here is an example that comes from Willard’s book:
Dear Father always near us,
may your name be treasured and loved,
may your rule be completed in us-
may your will be done here on earth
in just the way it is done in heaven.
Give us today the things we need today,
and forgive of us our sins and impositions on you
as we are forgiving all who in any way offend us.
Please don’t put us through trials,
but deliver us from everything bad.
Because you are the one in charge,
and you have all the power,
and the glory too is all your yours-forever-
which is just the way we want it!