The Lord’s Prayer in Practice
If there is one part of the New Testament that is well known, at least for certain generations, it is the Lord’s Prayer. In movies or television show, if they want to show a generic Christian, they might have them recite the Lord’s Prayer. Even though it was first said by Jesus, it doesn’t include his name and so is less controversial than some.
I grew up attending a church that recited the Lord’s Prayer every week. Even if I hadn’t, I would have known it because I grew up in a time when it was said every morning at school. To be honest, I only appreciated it because it held off our lessons for a few minutes.
Have you ever wondered why schools did that? Of all the Bible passages, why the Lord’s Prayer? I can’t know for certain but I suspect that it was because the Lord’s Prayer has been the cornerstone for spiritual development for centuries and thus is part of our cultural heritage. I also suspect that the Lord’s Prayer captured the Christian message and the things that we value.
The days of saying the Lord’s Prayer in schools are long gone. But the Lord’s Prayer has much still to teach us.
The Prayer Part
The danger with the Lord’s Prayer is that it can easily become just a ritual. We can recite the words without ever taking time reflect on what we are saying. The truth is that the Lord’s Prayer is more than just a bunch of words, it is a model for us to create our own prayers. I see three buckets that are found in this prayer.
The first bucket is about our relationship with God. Too often we launch right into the stuff we want but prayer should be about our relationship with God. Prayer is a vital part of spiritual formation. Jesus teaches us to proclaim God’s holiness and to pray for the coming of his kingdom. The kingdom of God is one of the main topics of Jesus’ teaching. It could be argued that for Jesus, everything was about the kingdom of God. What is the kingdom of God? This passage explains it nicely. God is reigning as king in heaven. We understand that. We should be praying that as God reigns in heaven, so should God be reigning on earth. That begins with us, obeying God and submitting to his rule. The kingdom God is completely intertwined with our relationship with God.
The second bucket is about our own needs. It is not unspiritual to ask God to meet our needs. The Psalms are full of prayers asking for God’s intervention. Not only did Jesus teach us to do this in this prayer, Jesus modelled this type of prayer in his own prayer life. There are three things that are to be prayed for. We pray for our physical needs, for forgiveness from God and for protection from temptation. Why should we pray for ourselves? Isn’t that selfish? Have you noticed that airline safety presentations always tell you to put your air mask on first before helping others. We need to be cared for before we can help others. We want to give food to others? Then we need to pray for our own daily bread. We can’t give what we don’t have. So go ahead and pray for your needs. It is the way that Jesus taught us.
The third bucket seems a bit hidden in the prayer but it is important. As we pray for God’s forgiveness, there is an expectation that we will forgive. This bucket is about our relationships with others. Even though some people talk about a personal relationship with God, the biblical model is that we belong to a community that has a relationship with God. How we relate with others actually matters to God.
These three buckets fit nicely with Jesus’ teaching that we are to love God and love our neighbours as ourselves. We should pray each of these things, whether in the worlds of the Lord’s Prayer or in our own words.
The Action Part
Have you ever been in a situation where you are waiting for what the speaker is going to say next? The person has said something provocative and we are waiting for them to bring it home with how that should affect us. Jesus has just taught on the Lord’s Prayer, one of the most incredible prayers that has ever been prayed. Jesus could have said any number of things as application. He could have told the disciples to pray this three times a day. He could have told his disciples to fast an hour before and an hour after they pray this prayer. But Jesus didn’t say any of the things that we might expect.
Instead, Jesus zeroes in on that part about forgiving others. If you look at the prayer, it looks like that is a minor part and yet that is where Jesus focuses his attention.
Jesus seems to be saying that if we don’t forgive others, God won’t forgive us. There is a reason why we often stop reading before that section. When we confront Jesus’ words, we begin to push back. There are two reasons for this. One is that it messes with our theology and the second is that we just don’t want to do it.
Let’s start with the theology aspect. What do we do with this passage? Doesn’t God have unconditional love for us? Won’t God just forgive us, apart from anything we might do or not do? We don’t want God’s forgiveness to be tied to our actions. If we were to ask Jesus why he would include forgiving others as a prerequisite for receiving forgiveness, I suspect that Jesus would respond with, “Why are you fighting so hard to hold onto the right to refuse forgiveness?” Think about it, what do we gain by refusing to forgive someone? Is there a benefit? The people I meet who refuse to forgive are those who seem the most miserable. There is nothing attractive about unforgiveness.
I need to make clear what I mean by forgiveness. I am not saying that Jesus calls us to be best friends with a person who has hurt us. It is not about putting ourselves in an unsafe position. Forgiveness is about letting go of the hatred and bitterness. It is about handing them over to God and refusing to be ruled by the hurtful actions of another. For some people it is about forgiving someone who damaged a family heirloom, for others it is about forgiving someone who abused them. Each situation is different. But Jesus calls us to forgive. If we had any doubts, in Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus devotes an entire parable to this topic.
Instead of worrying if lack of forgiveness with keep us from heaven, ask what it would take for you to forgive the person you need. You may need help from other brothers and sisters in Christ but it is important.
Remember I said that it looks like this command is a minor part of the Lord’s Prayer, it really is not. We are to pray for the kingdom to come. When we forgive, God’s reign is active in our lives. When we forgive, we are avoiding that temptation to hold onto bitterness. It is everywhere.
Prayer is great and it is central to the Christian faith. But prayer is not about saying a few “magic” words. Prayer is meant to be connected to the rest of our life. At some point we have to get off our knees and put into practice what we have just prayed. The work is not finished after we have said the amen. I want you to think of one person that you are having trouble forgiving. Whenever you think of them, you can feel the bitterness rising up. You may need to confront them with your hurt but that may also not be possible. Pray to God for strength to forgive and pray for the person, not that God wold smite them but that God would bless them. Do whatever it takes to forgive. The only thing you have to lose is the weight of bitterness.