Our Father, who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. Matthew 6:9-13.
Oh, how many times I/we have repeated those lines in public forums, during athletic events, even in church. I expect Jesus knew as much would occur. Here is what he says right before:
And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. Pray, then, in this way: Matthew 6:7-8
I do not recall ever contemplating this instruction before reciting the Lord's Prayer publicly. Do you? Recently, I have given this a good deal of thought, but only recently. The whole WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) craze came and went well before I began to take Jesus seriously, but in this respect we have his perfect advice. "Pray, then, in this way:" How many times have I/we asked for God to give me/us direction or guidance about a particular subject? Too many for me to remember, that's for certain. But even about this, Jesus has told us what to do. Why continue to wonder?
Have you heard this(?): "I don't know how to pray about __________." I've said this, I've even used this as a form of prayer, "God, I don't even know how to pray about this, but..." Sound familiar? Since Jesus said, "Pray then in this way:", I guess I will. Let's analyze, shall we?
"Our Father who is in heaven." The magnitude of this statement is almost beyond comprehension, if you really think about it. You have an all knowing, all powerful God worthy of fear, respect, adoration, and never ending praise from angelic beings the likes of which brought guys like the Apostle Paul and John to their knees. Yet, at the same time you have God as the Father, Abba (Dad or Daddy). There seems to be a tension between the sheer distance between humanity and this God and the close relationship intensely desired (probably more by God than humanity). The tension is entirely a human creation. When we are able to grasp that God wants to be our Dad, there to give advice, impart wisdom, and shower with blessings, his grandeur becomes all the more grand.
"Hallowed be Your name." That grandeur I was talking about, that never ending praise: holiness. I don't think we can imagine this holiness, but one day we may have some idea. I suspect that if we truly contemplated this holiness when we prayed, our prayers would be quite different. Note: this should not in any way lead to the tension I mentioned earlier, quite the contrary. God is so holy that His holiness makes even the unholy righteous. Call it grace, call it divine, call it what you will, but if your goodness is so good that you make everyone and everything work together for good, that's pretty holy.
"Your kingdom come." I think our understanding of this concept is hampered by temporal limits we try to place on it. I imagine that most view this as a plea for God to hasten the coming of the end. I do not mean to reject that notion entirely because I think it is a significant part of the meaning, but I think it is only a part. "Your kingdom come" should be a plea for kingdom encounters on earth NOW. We get glimpses of this when we see someone healed of a terminal illness or missing organs or limbs restored. We see glimpses of this when we experience a prophetic word and watch it unfold. But, I think Jesus meant to instruct us to ask God to make this a regular part of our life. Jesus very clearly said, "the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Matthew 3:2 I think we forget this. Implementation may not be so easy, but availability is certain.
"Your will be done." Why do you suppose Jesus instructed us to pray for God's will to be done? If God's will was done by default, this would be completely unnecessary. I think too many of us dismiss things as God's will that simply are not. Does this sound familiar? "We prayed for God to heal him/her and they weren't healed, so it must be God's will?" WHAT? For which diseases was Jesus' sacrifice insufficient. As I read Isaiah 53, Jesus bore ALL of our sicknesses and by His scourging we are healed. Is this not God's will? Perhaps Isaiah should have come with footnotes containing all of the exclusions. The notion of "salvation" is all encompassing. Whether we choose to walk in this or not is no fault of God. Explaining away what we are unable to explain as "God's will" shortchanges what Jesus did. Imagine trying to tell Jesus that his sacrifice was sufficient for the cold or flu but not for cancer or arthritis. I truly believe that failures in this regard are due to our shortcomings not God's. We can either take God at His word, or try to define His word by our own experiences.
"On earth as it is in heaven." When Christ returns this will happen, undoubtedly, but we are instructed to pray for this now. Again, if God's will were the default, why bother to pray for it? I firmly believe Jesus could have come to earth and healed everyone, rid the earth of demons, and saved the world, but the time had not come. The demons knew it wasn't time (Matthew 8:29) and Jesus knew. Why do things this way? Because this IS God's will. Jesus did, instructed his disciples what to do, and then sent them out. Our commission is still the same.
"Give us this day our daily bread." If there is one thing God wants us to know about Him, it is that He is a provider. This is not to suggest there is a hierarchy of roles, but God very clearly wants our trust and faith. This is all he asks in return, a rather small price. Jesus came so that we would have life, and have life abundantly. God wants to provide abundantly, and some of us need to think bigger. I have always felt somewhat guilty about praying for provision, it always seemed somewhat selfish. I am shedding that guilt now. If Jesus said to pray for provision then I will do so abundantly.
"And forgive us our debts" Having been raised Catholic, I grew up saying "forgive us our trespasses (or sins)", but I think the term "debts" is really all encompassing. All encompassing not just of the type of wrongs or obligations, but encompassing of the people who have been wronged and to whom the obligations are owed. Clearly we owe and have wronged God, but we should earnestly seek forgiveness, which is readily available, for all of debts. Tip: if you are unsure of what qualifies, ask. The Holy Spirit is faithful to answer, but only if you ask.
"as we have also forgiven our debtors." Note that the "forgiven" in this clause is in the past tense, it is required before we can rightfully ask for God to forgive us. When we have forgiven, God will forgive. I would say that unforgiveness is one of the most dangerous things facing humans. So important is forgiveness that immediately following these instructions, Jesus emphasized forgiveness. "For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your transgressions." Matthew 6:14-15. The unwillingness to forgive is the one thing we know will cause God to "hand [us] over to the torturers." Matthew 18:34. Quite a dire statement of fact, but one for which the evidence is abundant. I would venture to say that many if not most problems (be they health, emotional, psychological, or otherwise) can be traced to a hurt and subsequent lack of forgiveness. We have all been wounded, so it is fortunate that we also have the first-aid kit.
"And lead us not into temptation," Admittedly, I have always struggled with this concept. Would God really lead us into temptation? The answer is not necessarily implicit, but Jesus clearly instructs to pray that He not. That's close enough for me. We know Satan tries to tempt us all of the time, so, for good measure, we probably should pray for protection from that as well. But, if I can submit a slightly different take on this idea: I do not believe that God leads us into temptation, per se, where temptation is the ultimate destination, a test designed by God to test our faithfulness. Rather, I believe God leads us in a direction we are ready to go, though there might be land mines along the way. In Is That You God? Act 2: The Attack, I wrote that I doubted anyone could accomplish any real good for the kingdom without going through a little to do it. I still believe that, and I wonder now if this is the kind of "temptation" to which Jesus was referring. A "help me get there without stepping on any land mines" sort of thing.
"but deliver us from evil." If you have landed in evil, or ever stepped in it along the way, God probably needs to deliver you from it, it will seldom go away on its own. The "lead us not" is protection for the future, the "but deliver us" is for the past and present. Deliverance is an idea that is foreign to most. The notion of repelling, or expelling, evil makes for good Hollywood drama, but not good dinner conversation. It's sad really because deliverance needn't be so spooky. It is simply a matter of surrender/ownership. A surrender to the ownership of Christ. The battle has already been won, it is the claiming of the victory that remains elusive. In Ephesians 6, Paul explains this distinction between the spiritual battle and the fleshly battle. Too many of us battle against flesh, when the war is in the spiritual. It's a battle we are sure to lose, unless we enlist God's minister of deliverance, the Holy Spirit.
Five simple verses, one all encompassing prayer. The simplicity and beauty of the Lord's Prayer. Meditate on it, appreciate it, but most importantly, use it.