When I was in the army and would be on course, we would often be taught by what we called a SME. SME stood for subject matter expert. It was acknowledged that there were certain people who had special knowledge of mental health or military law or anything else we needed to know. These SMEs would be brought in to impart their knowledge of their subject to us.
As Christians, one of the most important subjects that we could study is that of prayer. Most of us would acknowledge that prayer is important but how should we pray? We need a teacher.
Although I have read about prayer and prayer has been a part of my life for a long time, I would not consider myself an expert. Thankfully, I have found a SME to teach us about prayer. That SME is someone named Jesus the Christ.
The passage that we are looking at is a teaching session between Jesus and his disciples. The disciples had noticed that John the Baptist taught his followers to pray and they wanted Jesus to do the same thing. This is an appropriate request for disciples to ask of their religious teacher.
Before getting too far into this, we need a bit of perspective. Who was Jesus? Yes, he was a teacher and a rabbi. But he was more. Jesus was God incarnate, the second person of the Trinity, co-eternal with the Father. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Jesus spent significant time in prayer to the Father. If that is the case, how much more should we dedicate ourselves to prayer?
I will also make note that this version of what we call the Lord’s Prayer is slightly different than that found in Matthew. Why is that? It could be because of the translation into Greek out of the Aramaic that Jesus originally gave this prayer. It could be because that Jesus gave different versions of the prayer. But we will see that the core of the prayer is exactly the same.
We call this the Lord’s Prayer but some will reject that label, preferring the disciples’ prayer. I like the idea of this actually being the Lord’s Prayer. There are prayers that are still used today within Jewish liturgy that began as personal prayers of famous rabbis. I don’t think that Jesus made up this prayer on the spot. I believe that this was a prayer that Jesus could have used himself. I will examine some of the reasons that might make some uncomfortable.
Let’s examine the Lord’s Prayer in more detail.
Jesus teaches us to pray to the Father but to begin a certain way. The prayer begins by asking that the Father’s name be hallowed. We don’t use the word ‘hallow’ often, except at Halloween. It is a prayer that God’s name be made holy.
How can our prayer increase the holiness of God’s name? That’s not the point. The point of this is that praise is an important part of prayer. We should not just jump in to demanding our list of requests. Nor should praising God be seen as a way of bribing God into giving us what we want.
Prayer is meant to emerge out of relationship. That is why we pray to the Father. While we can pray using ‘God,’ ‘Father’ is helpful in reminding us that we are in relationship.
We do not have to use the exact words from this prayer, but it is good for us to spend some time acknowledging how amazing God is.
It is strange how the phrase ‘kingdom com’ has entered into our culture. You are most likely to hear the phrase in a movie talking about having enough explosives to blow something to kingdom come. We do not think enough about the literal meaning of the phrase.
If I had to summarize the teaching and ministry of Jesus in one phrase it would be the kingdom of God. Everything that Jesus did was to bring about the kingdom. The kingdom began with Jesus’ ministry and will achieve its fullest state when Jesus returns.
What is the kingdom of God? It might help to think about it as the reign of God. Matthew adds the helpful phrase of “your will be done.” That’s what it means for the kingdom to come.
What does this mean for prayer? Before we pray for our personal needs, we need to remember that we are part of a much bigger story. It is not just about what God doing in us, it is about how God is at work to spread his kingdom all over the world. We should be praying for other churches, missionaries, organizations. We should be praying for a mighty work of God in people who we will never benefit from. Our own ministry and our own church are important, but our ultimate goal should be to see God’s kingdom come rather than our own empire being built.
What I just said might make sense to you. It seems good to be praying for missionaries and for the persecuted church and for Christian organizations helping the needy. But what about praying for our own needs? Isn’t that being selfish? Shouldn’t a really spiritual prayer ignore all our own needs?
Not according to Jesus. Jesus taught his disciples to pray for their daily bread and I would suggest that Jesus prayed to the Father regularly that his own needs were met.
While daily bread can include both literal bread and food in general, it goes beyond that. Bread is a symbol for all the things we really need. Not necessarily our wants, although it is not forbidden to pray for them. Jesus teaches us to pray for our needs. This ultimately develops a sense of trust in God. Prayer leads us into some confidence that God will respond in a certain way. Praying for our own needs ultimately develops our faith.
We should pray for our daily bread as a representation of our physical needs. But we are not just physical beings. We also have deep spiritual needs. The greatest of those needs are to be in right relationship with God. Sin is serious and cannot be ignored.
We need two things. First we need our sin forgiven as we come to faith in Jesus and are adopted into God’s family. But we also need our sins forgiven. It would be amazing if we never sinned after our conversion but that is not reality. We need to keep going to God for forgiveness. But I need to make this clear: we do not lose our salvation after each sin. Our initial forgiveness is our adoption. Our ongoing forgiveness is not based on a threat of expulsion from the family. It is based on our love for God and our desire have the best possible relationship. I have felt the closest to God after I have made a sincere repentance to God and have experienced his forgiveness and grace.
I mentioned that the Lord’s Prayer could have Jesus’ personal prayer. But why would Jesus ever pray for forgiveness when he was sinless? Remember that Jesus received a baptism of repentance from John, even though he had nothing to repent of. There is a biblical tradition of righteous servants of God joining in a corporate repentance. Notice that the prayer is forgive us our sins and not forgive my sins. Even we cannot think about a specific grievous sin that we have personally committed, there is always an opportunity to ask for forgiveness with our brothers and sisters.
God is so gracious to forgive us each time, no matter how often we have committed the same sin. If only we had the same grace for others. Our prayers should have some impact on how we relate to others. This is especially true when it comes to forgiveness of sins. We want God to forgive us our sins and we need to be prepared to forgive the sins of others. I won’t pretend that this is easy. Jesus understood the difficulty of this and he gave numerous lessons and parables of how important this is. And remember that Jesus practices what he preaches. Peter, arguably Jesus’ best friend on earth, publicly denied him three times just before his death. If ever there was a reason to hold a grudge, this was it. But Jesus forgave Peter and empowered him for great mercy.
Finally, we are to pray that God would not lead us into temptation. But God would never lead us into temptation! Except, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, we read the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to experience temptation.
The point for us is that we should pray for protection from temptation. We all have weaknesses are vulnerable to temptation. While the heart has not changed, technology has made temptation easier than ever.
Praying for protection from temptation does the same things that praying for daily bread does. It builds trust in God. We should recognize that we need God. I’m most likely to fall into temptation when I’m confident in my own strength. If I think my righteousness is enough, I’m bound to stumble. Confess your weakness and rely on God’s strength.
Many of you will have experienced what I did as a child, a daily praying of the Lord’s Prayer in school every morning. Not only that, in the church tradition I grew up in, we prayed the Lord’s Prayer every week in worship. My childhood was engulfed in the Lord’s Prayer. And yet for so long, it had no impact on my life.
The point of the Lord’s Prayer is not to give us the magic words to say. It is not the words themselves but the principles that are found in the prayer. Left on our own, we may be prone to pray something not much different than a Christmas wish list. But prayer has such richer potential than simply offering a list of demands. When we study the Lord’s Prayer, I think we get a glimpse of Jesus’ prayer life. When we see the themes in this prayer, we have the opportunity to create our own prayers that reflect but do not duplicate the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus teach us to pray!