Last week’s article was the first of a three-part study of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). The Lord’s Prayer, so familiar and comforting to all of us, is one that presents us with both a challenge and a choice. Will we do things God’s way or our way?
The last article took a broad view of the prayer, setting it within its historical and cultural context. Jesus, like other Jewish rabbis at the time, lifted up this prayer to God as a model of prayer for others. Yet, unlike other rabbis, the prayer communicated an unparalleled intimacy with God (Jesus called God “Abba,” or Daddy, in the prayer) that had a universal reach (Jesus places God’s Kingdom and the earth, not Israel, at the center of the prayer).
Famed commentator George Butrick once stated that the prayer is thoroughly Jewish, but “childlike in simplicity: statesman and man in the street, philosopher and rustic, bishop and the youngest catechumen are one here . . . No prayer could more unqualifiedly set forth God’s sovereign love and man’s dependence” (Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, “Matthew”, v. 7 pg. 309).
Look past the lofty poetry and the simplicity, however, and we quickly note that it is made up of six petitions. Three petitions look heavenward (known as the “Thou petitions”); three petitions reach into our daily, earthly lives (the “we petitions”).
This article explores the first three petitions–the “Thou Petitions”–a little more closely.
The first petition is that God’s name will be “hallowed” or made holy. There is irony here, for the same God that is intimate with Jesus–Jesus’ very own Daddy–is the same God that is set apart and holy, above all of creation. Jesus is intimate, but Jesus knows his place; he also knows that God is creator of all and over all. As theologian Emil Brunner once quipped, “God is not in the world; the world is in God.”
Likewise, when we pray that God’s name is holy, we can’t help but remember the many times that God required us to be holy. In Peter’s first letter, he challenged his audience, God’s very children, to “be holy in all your conduct” because God is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16).
Although we find comfort in praying this prayer and invoking God on our behalf, we must respectfully bow in adoration and humility before a God who does not work for us or according to our own agenda.
This leads to the next two petitions: That God’s kingdom may come and that God’s will be done “on earth as it is in heaven.”
The Kingdom of God stands central in this prayer because the Kingdom was central to Jesus’ theology and preaching. The very setting of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew–in the middle of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount–can rightly be called God’s blueprint for kingdom living. We cannot be God’s children without understanding that we are kingdom citizens in which we live into God’s righteousness in word and deed.
Our prayer for God’s kingdom is not the catalyst for its arrival; rather, it attests to the fact that, in the person of Jesus and in the prescriptions set forth in the Sermon on the Mount, that kingdom is already breaking into our midst. This petition not only furthers the kingdom, it acknowledges our allegiance to the kingdom.
It is a challenge because we are not praying for our kingdom or our will to be done. Too often, our prayers to God are but veils of trying to get God to do what we want God to do. We are God’s emissaries, however; and we work for God.
There is no room for two kingdoms in God’s realm. It is either God’s kingdom or our kingdom that we devote our lives to building.
Jesus’ first three petitions in his prayer start us off in the right place: On God’s own terms. It does not end there, but looks forward to how this very kingdom affects our daily living as stewards of that kingdom ethic. Next week we’ll explore the next three petitions and how they apply to our life.