A Foundational Prayer

It is sometimes said that what is called the Lord’s prayer is not really the Lord praying, but rather is the Lord’s prayer offered to His disciples, for their use. This is helpful, but we still must not forget that this is the master of prayer teaching praying.

“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen” (Matt. 6:9-13).

Jesus intends at least one of two things here, or more likely a combination of the two. He means either that Christians should pray this prayer, or that their prayers should be very much like this prayer. We may without risk take it as meaning both. But some of the lessons we learn here are counterintuitive, at least to the religious carnal mind. The first lesson is that we should keep it brief: Jesus gives us a very short prayer as an example of the model prayer, and then, lest we miss it, He makes a point of telling us that we must keep our prayers short. Pagans think they will be heard through “much speaking” (v. 7). God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few (Ecc. 5:2). The second lesson is that we should keep it sharp. What the prayer lacks in religious fluff and padding — not to mention vowels that have a crescendo — it makes up for in power. Notice all the things that Christ has us pray for in the span of just a few short words.

We need to walk before we can run. The point can be made (and in other settings should be) that Jesus prayed all night sometimes, and we have examples of prayers elsewhere in the Bible that take more than a few seconds to pray. This is quite right, but we want to know where to start. We need to start with short prayers. Suppose your prayer life is virtually non-existent. Start by praying the Lord’s prayer every day. Suppose (as is more likely the case) that your prayer life is a hash of evangelical cliches. Ditch them, and start praying the Lord’s prayer every day. As you learn to pray this prayer, you may want to branch out by using the prayer as an outline for your praying. Or you could focus on different petitions in the prayer on different days of the week. But your starting point should be this prayer itself.

This small prayer has incredible depths, and we can only touch on a few aspects of it.

Our Father in heaven

: we are accustomed to speak of this as though it refers primarily to personal intimacy. But this is not the biblical meaning of the usage of the word. When Israel cried out to her Father, deep desire for liberation was involved (Ex. 4:22-23; 2 Sam. 7:14; Is. 55:1,3; 63:16). In this word, we pray in and for the new Exodus, and pray for the fulfillment of the ancient promises.

Thy kingdom come

: the Christian faith is not about going to heaven when you die. This petition is not a version of “if I should die before I wake.” Our prayer is that heaven would come here, not that we might go there (Is. 52:7-10).

Daily bread

: we are creatures, and we must learn to feast in the presence of God (Is. 25:6-8).

Forgiveness

: but we are also sinners, in need, not only of forgiveness, but also in need of forgiving. In the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, Forgiveness of Sin has arrived in the world. This dark world has stepped around a corner, and is now walking toward a ever increasing light. What is that light like? We get glimpses of it here and there, as we forgive one another. The Lord’s Supper is the culmination, not only of the feasts of Israel, but also of those scandalously happy parties that Jesus used to attend with various and assorted Palestinian losers. When you forgive one another, you are eating what is set before you.

Deliver us from evil

: about this point we should realize that this prayer has just one subject — the salvation of the world by our astonishing God. In the course of this salvation/conquest, God loves to deliver His people.

The power and glory

: in the life of Christ, God gives us a redefinition of power and glory.

So we should pray the Lord’s prayer. It is easy enough to help us in our baby steps, and it is profound enough to guide His Church into all maturity. At some point we will grow to the point where we notice what we are saying.

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