No matter where we attend church, what doctrines we hold dear, or how diverse our worship may be, we can all agree that one of the most comforting scriptures in the Bible is the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13).
I’m sure you can remember the last time you prayed that wonderful prayer. Some pray it as a matter of routine; others recite it in the midst of hardship. It’s familiar words are a balm to the soul, and its simplicity still strikes us as uniquely profound.
Couched in the heart of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the Lord’s Prayer moves the heart heavenward and our longings outward. Early church father, Tertullian argued that the prayer “summarizes the entire gospel.”
This summer, our church has been going through a sermon series on “Lessons in Prayer.” A summary of all those sermons in a weekly religious column would bore you, but one of those lessons on the Lord’s Prayer may be worth its while.
With that said, this article will be the first of three related to the Lord’s Prayer. Why not explore its varied nuances and take a closer look? Why not draw strength from its soaring poetry and meet with God in both its words and its silences?
This first article takes a broad view of the Prayer.
As mentioned, the prayer is set within the larger context of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The sermon, a prescription for godly living and a blueprint for embodying God’s coming Kingdom, address everything from poverty to fasting.
Set in the middle of the sermon are lessons on prayer. Jesus gives several instructions. Do not “heap up empty phrases”; rather, pray in secret, behind closed doors.
Then Jesus gives a simple prayer as a model for how his followers are to pray. In many ways it is not unlike other Jewish prayers of Jesus’ time.
It begins with God and an invocation of God’s holy nature. It ends with doxology. It addresses heavenly realities as well as daily living.
That’s where the prayer’s similarities with other Jewish prayers end. Unlike other prayers in his day, Jesus addresses God as “Abba.” This title is an intimate, personal title for God who is father. No other rabbi would dare address God in such a base, informal tone.
Also, most Jewish prayers are for Israel, but the Lord’s Prayer is universal: It is for the entire earth, and the language is cosmic in scope. Jesus’ prayer reaches beyond geographic boundaries and bridges heaven and earth in concrete ways.
God’s Kingdom is also central to Jesus’ prayer. If Jesus is the bridge between God and humanity, it is God’s Kingdom that is the extension of Jesus’ reign on earth “as it is in heaven.”
God’s kingdom stands above every nation and empire, and the Lord’s Prayer is the battle cry for those who seek to embody the values of this kingdom.
The Kingdom comes, for instance, when we trust God to provide for our daily needs (such as bread), when forgiveness and reconciliation win out over resentment and revenge, and when we acknowledge that God is in charge and can protect us from evil.
The kingdom is not far, but draws near, not only in the person of Christ, but in the petitions of his followers who recognize that God is breaking into the daily, routine events that occur in our midst.
In this way, the prayer is more than a mere comforting recitation. It is a challenge to our entire worldview.
To acknowledge the coming of God’s Kingdom forces us to surrender our own sense of independence. There cannot be two kingdoms in God’s reign–its His way or the highway.
To acknowledge the need for forgiveness, we must admit that we are creatures who are inherently sinful. To ask for forgiveness means we have to forgive others.
When we ask for bread or protection, we confront the many ways in which we waste our resources or wander too far from God.
As simple as the prayer seems, it is fraught with a powerful reminder that we who claim to declare “independence” actually face a choice to declare our dependence upon God and God alone.