Friday, January 11, 2019

Reclaiming the Lord's Prayer


Maybe I am alone in this, but I sometimes get the feeling the Lord's Prayer is practically forgotten in evangelical churches. Maybe we are so concerned about using it in ways Jesus did not intend that we forget to use it at all. That should change. Our Savior gave us an outline for prayer, and we should use it. Understanding the concepts in it and applying them to our devotions are invaluable to deepening our relationships with God.

In my tradition, and maybe in yours, the Lord’s Prayer is almost taboo. The argument is that reciting it causes it to lose meaning and makes it into something like an incantation. That misses the spirit of Jesus’ words just a few sentences earlier in Matt. 6:7–8, so we do not do it.

The problem, however, is that it can cause us to make an opposite error. Just because we do not repeat the Lord’s Prayer does not mean we should ignore it. The sad reality is, that is what has too often happened in evangelical Protestant churches. It is not a universal mistake, but it is a general one.

One possible way to correct it and find our way back to what the Lord intended is to go phrase by phrase. The idea, which I would contend is what Jesus meant for us to gather from His teaching, is to follow an outline in prayer.

But do we need one? Anyone who thinks he doesn’t is proving my point about how we have missed the target. Not that many people would actually admit to feeling that way, but we often act like it and ignoring the Lord’s Prayer is a part of the problem. Maybe we are so used to praying that we are out of touch with its power and mystery. The fact is, we have been invited to communicate personally with the God of the universe. Let that sink in. It is a monumental concept, which is why the disciples asked how they ought to do it. Approaching it the wrong way is risky, to say the least. A pattern is valuable to have, and Jesus’ graciousness to give one (actually, several) is another proof of His great love.

Our Father in heaven

As Jesus tells us, then, the first step in prayer should be to recognize our place in the universe. That is why Jesus tells us to pray to “Our Father in heaven.” It is like any other type of communication. You address the person to whom you are speaking and acknowledge the relationship you have with them. We pray to the Lord of Heaven, maker and ruler of all things, but we do so because He has called us His children and invited us to make our requests to Him. Prayer begins with the proper mindset when it takes full account of the wondrous fact of our adoption into God’s family.

Your name be honored as holy

Secondly, Jesus reminds us to honor the Lord’s name as holy. You might call this the other side of the coin. Thanks to Jesus, we can approach the throne of God boldly (Heb. 4:16). He is our Father who loves us and wants to hear from us. But that does not mean we should approach Him flippantly. Our prayers should remain mindful of who He is. We are not talking to a cosmic Santa Claus, running down our wish list. In prayer, we are speaking with the source of all power and wisdom, who holds all our days in His hand.

We would do well to keep that in view when we speak to Him. And when we do, we will be more likely to keep it in the forefront of all we do with our lives. That is also a part of what Jesus means. Not only should we treat God with reverence in prayer, but we should live in such a way that others will be drawn to revere Him, as well. If, instead, we cause Him to be mocked, then we have failed. We should pray for the strength to honor Him in the world.

Your kingdom come

Jesus then tells us to pray for God’s kingdom to come. Our devotions are not complete if they do not include occasional awareness of God’s plans. A day is coming when the Lord will eliminate every last vestige of sin, suffering, and death. We should be looking forward to that. And in the meantime, we should be doing what we can to bring our world into line with what He envisions for it. We cannot do so completely, but there is great blessing in the partial ways we share His goodness. So we should be praying for His Day, while also requesting the ability to make our days better.

Your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven

The next one is pretty much the same, then, but I did want to point out a nuance. If we are praying for the kingdom to come, then we are also praying for God’s will to be done here as it is always done in heaven. One follows the other. Still, this helps to make it personal. God’s will and our wills are not always in sync (that’s my submission for understatement of the century). Even Jesus Himself struggled with doing what the Father required (Matt. 26:39). But that is a valuable reminder that He not only talked the talk, He walked the walk. It should encourage us to do the same. When we find that God’s way is not our way, it should be our prayer that we can have the humility to give up on our way. Even that requires His help, though, so we need to ask for it.

Give us today our daily bread

Jesus follows this with “Give us our daily bread.” This is the one we are probably the most familiar with. Certainly, it is the most common. It is petition, asking to receive something. The simplicity of daily bread is a reminder that everything we have comes from God. I don’t think this should be taken as far as saying we should pray only for the things we need, not the things we want. There is nothing inherently wrong with praying for blessing. The main concept is being aware of the Lord’s goodness, whether in little things or big ones. We should be willing to express our total dependence.

And forgive us our debts

The thing we need most of all, of course, is forgiveness. Sin breaks our relationship with God and mars our existence. We can do nothing on our own to remove its effects or pay the price for it. Prayer is a time to thank God for doing what we cannot. Jesus Christ came to be the sacrifice for sin, and we are forgiven through accepting Him.

His grace justifies us, but we continue to struggle with sin in this life. As we do so, it is necessary to turn back constantly to God, acknowledging our failures and receiving His mercy. This renewal does not save us each time, that is accomplished once and for all when we first turn to Jesus. Rather, it reminds us that the burden of guilt is removed and encourages us to move forward in the assurance of God’s love.

As we also have forgiven our debtors

Along with that, we must also ask for the strength to forgive. We have been called out by Christ, and we have a responsibility to model His love in the world. Those who cannot forgive, on the other hand, cannot be forgiven. That is because they essentially put themselves in God’s place. They can see only the wrongs of others, downplaying or completely ignoring their own. When we see our need for mercy, then we can see the need of others, as well. Showing it is how we reflect our Savior, and how we approach Him.

And do not bring us into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one

Lastly, just because we are not perfect does not mean we can cease becoming better. We must do all we can to be on guard against sin. We should make it our prayer to be freed from the patterns and situations that drag us down. Temptations come, but God can help us to forge new paths out of the places where we have made our most frequent failures. We have to ask Him to do so, imploring Him to lead us to where He wants us to be rather than further down the road of painful consequences.

Meaning over Words

All of those things are just an expansion on what Jesus said, and much more could also be said about each of them. That is the point. They are general enough to be individually applicable. Hopefully my little explanations have helped you see how they apply to you.

The Lord’s Prayer is not so much meant to be repeated as it is to be followed. These are the elements our prayers should contain. It would be hypocritical for me to say that this pattern needs to be followed in order every time we pray. There are New Testament examples that do not do that. Some things can be put in different spots or left out at times. But we should make an effort to do more than ask for things. Prayer is also for relationship, praise, faith, submission, and repentance. Rather than ignoring the Lord’s Prayer, we should be thankful for Christ’s teaching that still means so much. That is what it is really for, and we do not want to miss out by being too concerned about its misuse.

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