The Lord's Prayer: A Prayer for Life

November 2nd, 2011
Image © by holeymoon | Flickr | Used under Creative Commons license.

Jesus’ model prayer gives us words, patterns, and themes that take on an importance beyond ordinary Scripture. The Gospel of Matthew gives the Lord’s Prayer central emphasis in the Sermon on the Mount. Many churches give an honored place to this prayer during weekly worship. Christians daily pray the prayer that Jesus taught.

Out of the Sanctuary— Into the Heart

First, let’s transfer the Lord’s Prayer temporarily from the church sanctuary into the sanctuary of a child’s heart; from public prayer to private prayer. In Matthew, Jesus teaches the prayer after cautioning his hearers against any showy prayers aimed at human eyes and ears. Prayer is directed to God alone. A sanctuary is no more sacred a space than the corner of the den where God’s name is honored. The Lord’s Prayer may be one of our most beloved public prayers, but it is also a prayer of our heart.

Simple Structure

The Lord’s Prayer is simple: an address plus two sets of three petitions. The prayer resembles first-century Jewish prayers referring to God as Father, asking that God’s name be holy, and that God’s kingdom come. In teaching this prayer, however, Jesus used Aramaic, the language of common people, not Hebrew—the language of the synagogue. In the Master’s prayer there is continuity with his Jewish heritage, but also a divergence. Interestingly, because of the language, the Lord’s Prayer can be prayed by and with our Jewish brothers and sisters.

The Prayer We All Know

The Lord’s Prayer, as it is found in Matthew, has become the dominant version of the Prayer for the Church. Matthew places the prayer in the center of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, underscoring the importance of the themes of this prayer to disciples of all generations: the honor of God’s name, living in the Kingdom, daily needs, forgiveness, and faith.

The Address

OUR FATHER. “Abba” is the Aramaic term Jesus used for father. The word reflects a child’s term of endearment (mama, papa). Adult children would address their parents in this way too. Jesus invites the understanding of an intimate personal relationship with God. Abba is a title for God none of us would presume had Jesus not taught us to address God in this way. “Abba” reminds us not only of God’s parental care for us, but of our life together with other children of God. The pronouns used in the prayer are all plural—our, us, we. We address God as Father, embracing all that that means to us individually. We pray “Our Father” and are reminded of our kinship to all believers.

The God Part

HALLOWED BE YOUR NAME. To hallow is to treat something holy. The first petition in the Lord’s Prayer directs us to this holiness. Jesus teaches us to hallow God’s name and to pray that others consider God’s name holy.

YOUR KINGDOM COME. The kingdom of God is the place where God reigns. That place is both future and present. We pray this prayer and know that God will bring in the Kingdom. In our praying comes the commitment of will and life to God’s rule here and now. When we follow Jesus, we dedicate ourselves to living in and toward the kingdom of God.

YOUR WILL BE DONE. Jesus’ life teaches us to be about God’s will and not our own. We see his humility, his steadfastness, his justice, his mercy, his discipline, and his love. We pray that these virtues would characterize life on earth. We pray that in our lives Christ becomes visible.

The Us Part

GIVE US this day our daily bread. We understand this petition physically and spiritually. Christ is the “bread of life” and the daily food of salvation. Daily we come to Christ. This part of the prayer also reflects the simple trust of those who live and work within the framework of a day; those who have renounced the world and its riches for the contentment of trust in God for daily needs.

FORGIVE US our debts as we forgive our debtors. Jesus teaches that everyone who comes before God’s holy presence comes as one who needs forgiveness. Sin is a debt owed to God one cannot repay. (Matthew 18:21-33). The word “debt” used in the NRSV and the NIV reflects this understanding. (The English word “trespass” appeared after the Anglican translation in the Book of Common Prayer.) Jesus teaches his disciples to ask forgiveness. Whoever receives the forgiveness of God is placed in a new relationship that both demands and makes possible forgiveness of others. To pray for forgiveness without extending forgiveness to others is unthinkable.

LEAD US not into temptation. DELIVER US from evil. The church has been bothered by the thought that God leads us into temptation. If you keep in mind the scope of the Lord’s Prayer, however, some clarity shines on this troublesome part. Remember the thought at this time. Before God’s final victory, the people of God would endure tribulation and persecution—a time when the pressures might be so great that faith would be compromised. Disciples were taught to pray not to be brought to this time of testing. Testing and trials were manifestations of the power of evil. Because Satan is a representative of all realities that oppose God, to be delivered from the evil one is another translation of this part of the prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer can be more than a memorized, liturgical, Sunday prayer. The prayer of Jesus becomes a rudder for directing the course of the spiritual life: in church, in our homes; for adults, and for the children in our midst.

Pray in This Way: The Lord’s Prayer Stones

Introduce the Lord’s Prayer in the life of your students by dividing the prayer up using a phrase for each day of the week. Write a phrase on each of seven smooth small stones (or some other item that can be placed in a pocket) to be carried each day. A bag or pouch can be made in class to hold the stones, as well as instructions and guidelines for parents to distribute a stone each morning and gather the stones at night.

Sunday: Stone 1Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Let the stone remind you to think about God this day. Talk about what it means to honor God’s name.

Monday: Stone 2Thy kingdom come. Talk about the sort of actions that help God’s kingdom become visible in the course of their day (smiles, friendliness to classmates, helpfulness, etc.).

Tuesday: Stone 3Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Talk about the life of Jesus and how he helped us to see what doing the will of God looked like. Help your children understand how they can choose God’s will each day.

Wednesday: Stone 4Give us this day our daily bread. Pray for necessary things today. Help your children understand the difference between needed things and wanted things.

Thursday: Stone 5And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Let this stone teach the asking of forgiveness. Read and talk about the passage Matthew 18:21-33.

Friday: Stone 6And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Jesus teaches us to see anything that threatens our following God as evil and pray to not follow evil’s devices. Talk about some temptations and patterns of evil they might face.

Saturday: Stone 7For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen. Rest this day in the knowledge that God is over all. Talk about trusting God.

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