The Lord’s Prayer
How many times do we say the Lord’s Prayer in our lives? It is prayed every Sunday in many Churches throughout the world, when we say our prayers at home, if we cannot think of any other prayer to pray, we pray the Lord’s Prayer. If we have been going to Church for fifty years, then we have repeated this prayer over 2,500 times. I wonder if Jesus knew what would happen when he gave this prayer example to his disciples, I wonder if he knew that his example would become the only prayer that some people ever pray. According to Murray Watts, one of the playwrights of the Christian Drama Company – Riding Lights, even the insects are praying this prayer. He tells how a fly was looking up at a praying mantis, “What are you doing” said the fly. “I’m praying,” said the mantis. “Don’t be stupid, insects don’t pray.” The fly told it. And at that, the Mantis swooped down and grabbed the fly in it’s claws, and straight away the fly began “Our Father, who art in heaven”.
It is true that Luke’s Gospel records Jesus as saying ‘When you pray, say’, but it is quite possible that Jesus never told us to pray these words for Matthew’s gospel tells us that Jesus told his disciples “This, then, is how you should pray”. In other words, the prayer is not something that should be recited daily or weekly, it is an example that should guide the way we pray and the things we pray for.
When Jesus told his disciples about this prayer it was actually something revolutionary. His twelve followers have been taught all their lives that they are not allowed to mention God’s name aloud, that it is a name so holy and awesome that you cannot even mention it, and here is Jesus telling them:
“When you pray, say: Daddy”.
His disciples would have wondered if they were hearing him right, he was telling them to call the mighty and awesome God, the one whose name could not be spoken, daddy.
As if this wasn’t enough of a shock, he then goes to say that the way to have your sins forgiven is simply to ask. Those of you who know something about the Jewish temple will know that it was built for two purposes, one to be the dwelling place of God, and two, to be the place where people could come and present a sacrifice to God for forgiveness of sins. For nearly two thousand years, the way that forgiveness of sins has been obtained is by going to the temple once a year and paying the High Priest to sacrifice a sheep, cow or bull on your behalf. And now Jesus tells them, if you want God to forgive you, simply go to Daddy and ask him to.
How different this was to how we see the Lord’s Prayer today. If we were honest, we would all have to admit that there have been times when we have prayed these words without even thinking about what they mean. Yet the disciples would hardly dared to have prayed this prayer because of what the words meant.
How has this prayer changed so much from being something new and revolutionary to being something that many of us say without even thinking about the words? I think we can find one reason why things have changed when we look at the situation that Jesus and the disciples were in when he said these words. Luke tells us “One-day Jesus was praying in a certain place”. Now prayer was not something that was new to these twelve men, they would have grown up seeing people praying in synagogues and in the temple. Like all Jews, they would have known the Shema – the great Jewish prayer, almost from birth “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Prayer was not new to these people, so it can’t have been just the fact that Jesus prayed that made them ask Him “Teach us to pray.”
There must have been something in the way that Jesus looked as he prayed, maybe the sense of peace, or the sense of fellowship, or something else that made them ask this question. Possibly, they saw a smaller version of how he looked at the transfiguration. At that time we are told that “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became a brilliant white.” It doesn’t seem impossible that the disciples saw a little of that experience every time that Jesus prayed and because of this they ask Him, ‘teach us to pray’. ‘We want the same thing to happen to us as happens to you when you pray, tell us how.’
And what does Jesus teach them? Just concentrate on God. Put Him first, he says, recognise Him for who He is. Have you ever looked at your prayer times and seen just how much time you spend on each section of prayer. We spend time praying for ourselves, then time praying for others, but what time do we spend concentrating just on God. I think you will find that we spend less time on Him than we do on both of the other sections. And what happens if we are in a hurry and can’t spend as much time in prayer as we normally would. If you do what I have been guilty of in the past, what usually happens is that we pray quickly for ourselves and others and cut out the section on concentrating on God altogether.
I don’t know who wrote the following poem but it is based on Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”.
I knelt to pray but not for long, I had too much to do.
I had to hurry and get to work, For bills would soon be due.
So I knelt and said a hurried prayer, And jumped up off my knees.
My Christian duty was now done. My soul could rest at ease.
All day long, I had no time, To spread a word of cheer.
No time to speak of Christ to friends, They’d laugh at me I’d fear.
No time, no time, too much to do. That was my constant cry,
No time to give to souls in need, but at last the time, the time to die.
I went before the Lord, I came; I stood with downcast eyes.
For in his hands God held a book; it was the book of life.
God looked into his book and said; "Your name I cannot find.
I once was going to write it down...But never found the time"
"For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
When Jesus told his disciples to pray saying, “Father, hallowed be your name,” he was telling them to put God first in their prayers. Nothing else must take that place, not family, or friends or work or anything else, just God and Him alone. Jesus actually said this in a couple of other places as well. When the rich man came wanting to know what else he must do, Jesus told him: “sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come and follow me.” Then Luke goes on to tell about the man who wanted to put his family first: “Another man, one of his disciples, said to him, `Lord, let me go and bury my father first.’ Jesus replied, `Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their dead.’ Jesus wasn’t specifically talking about prayer when he said those words, but if they apply to discipleship, then they must apply to our prayer life as well.
So one reason why the Lord’s Prayer does not mean as much today as it did to those early Christians is because we often fail to put God first in our prayer life as the Lord’s Prayer tells us too. Another reason can be found when we look at who we pray too. Jesus began the prayer with the word Abba. This is a very intimate word, when our Bibles translate it as Father, they do not really do the word justice for you don’t find many children calling their parent Father nowadays. I certainly cannot imagine Thomas, my six-year-old son running to me and saying “Father, please can you come and play football with me.” He would just run up and shout “Dad, come and play football.” It is only after I have pretended not to hear him that he says, “Dad, please can you play football”. So Dad or Daddy is a better translation of Abba, than Father. It means that God wants us to treat Him like this in our prayer life. He wants us to be as free with Him as a child is with his or her daddy. But for us to do this, we must first treat Him the same way in the rest of our lives. To give you an example, it is soon going to be the summer holidays, and if we do the same as last year, our family will be planning a few days out over this time. Maybe down to the beach, or go for a train ride, or visit the Sealife Centre, I haven’t exactly decided where to go yet, but it will be something to make this a summer for Thomas to remember. One thing I do know is that throughout the holiday almost the first thing Thomas will say on a morning when he wakes up is Dad, can we do this today, or Daddy can we go there today. Do we act like this with our heavenly Daddy? So often we organise our lives according to what we want to do, and then go to God and say “please be with me in this”. That is not treating God like a Daddy, if Thomas came to me on a morning and said “Daddy, I am going to do this today, do you want to come with me” he would soon discover that he does not treat his dad like that. Maybe when he gets older, but not now. Before we start to call God Abba or Daddy in our prayer times, we need to start behaving as though He is Abba or Daddy in our Christian lives. Instead of expecting Him to bless what we do, we need to go to Him and ask what we should be doing. It is only as we begin to treat God like daddy in our lives that we will come to know Him as daddy in our prayer time.
But Jesus doesn’t just leave us thinking that God is only an intimate God, one that we can know personally. He goes on from there to say ‘hallowed be your name.’ For a number of years now Christians have been busy stating how people must come to know God as their personal Lord and Saviour. And it is good that we have done this, but we can’t just leave people thinking that God is just a close friend or even a close Father. He is also a God to be feared, an awesome and holy God. That is what hallowed means.
Sadly, the Church finds it difficult to see God in both of these ways. Some denominations concentrate on the intimate God, the God who wants us all to be His Children. Others have concentrated on the awesomeness and holiness of God. If you have been in Cathedrals like York and Canterbury you will understand how it can be difficult to think of an intimate God in these places. The awe and beauty of our great cathedrals remind us that God is a God of awe and holiness, and we need that reminder at times. Our Churches have a problem in that we seem to concentrate either on an intimate God that we can call Daddy, or a God of holiness and awe. We find it difficult to see him as both.
We need to remember that God is a God to be feared, but also a God who longs to put his arms round his people and hold them. Abba, Daddy, you are a God who is holy and awesome yet also a God who is closer to us than anybody else can be. Help us to know you in both of these ways in our lives. Help us to say with Jesus, Daddy, hallowed be your name.
The next line of the prayer that Jesus taught must also have shocked his disciples. Here they are slowly beginning to believe that Jesus is God’s chosen one, the Messiah. Many Jews of the time believed that when the Messiah arrived, everything would miraculously be put right in the world. They would no longer be a persecuted people; they would no longer have to suffer the Romans ruling their country. When the Messiah arrived all of this would be finished, they would be free to worship God, free to live in God’s new kingdom. Well the disciples are discovering that the Messiah has arrived, and what does he tell them to do, pray to God that your kingdom come. How must they have felt on hearing those words, no sudden miracle, no sudden getting rid of the hated Romans. Just more waiting and praying for God’s kingdom to arrive.
Shortly after Jesus taught his disciples this prayer, Jesus reinforced these words by telling them something that would have shocked them even more: “I have come to set fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is over! Do you suppose I came to establish peace on the earth? No indeed, I have come to bring dissension.”
Wouldn’t it be lovely if everything became perfect as soon as we started believing in God and Jesus. Sadly, that’s what many new Christians are taught, or at least they have been in the past. Believe in Jesus and all your troubles will be over. The current form of this is “Believe in Jesus and he will bless you with money and promotion and everything else. This is actually the exact opposite of what the Bible teaches us; the Bible teaches us that the trouble, persecution, and temptations begin once we believe in Jesus.
We are to pray ‘your kingdom come’, that was what shocked the disciples, everything wasn’t automatic, and it wasn’t a case of “the Messiah’s here, everything’s ok now.” But does it shock us today? Do we realise that accepting Jesus into our hearts is only the start of the journey, once we have done that we too must pray ‘your kingdom come.’ Can we say that we have allowed or are allowing his kingdom to come in our lives? I know that there has been many times in my own life when I haven’t been able to say this. Times when God’s kingdom has been less visible in me at the end of the week than it was at the start. Since I first realised what it was we were supposed to be praying for here, I began to take a regular look at my life and ask the question, “Have I allowed His kingdom to come in me over this period of time?” Can people see God’s kingdom clearer in me now than they could a week or a month ago? As I said, the answer has often been no, but it is slowly becoming a yes.
Are we allowing His kingdom to come in other people as well? It is no good praying “your kingdom come” and then refusing to tell others about that kingdom. For God’s kingdom to come, we need to reach those who do not even realise who or what the Messiah is, and who God is.
And are we allowing His kingdom to come in the world. One of the things I love about this Church is the witness that is made most Friday and Saturday mornings throughout the summer. When you open this Church for coffee and prayers you are allowing his kingdom to come in our world. A few weeks ago, the news was all about the release of the killers of Jamie Bulger. Amongst all the threats and displays of hate that were made towards these two young people, it was wonderful to hear the words of the Bishop of Liverpool stating that they needed to be given a chance. That if they stayed in prison, there would be no hope for them. That was the Church allowing God’s kingdom to come. But we need to do this more, to stand up and speak God’s words of love and justice and mercy in our world.
To pray ‘your kingdom come’ means that we have to be willing to work for that kingdom to come in our lives, in other people’s lives and in the world. If we are not willing to do this, then we may as well stop praying the Lord’s Prayer.
I said at the start that the Lord’s Prayer is a revolutionary prayer; it would have shocked those twelve disciples who first heard it. Yet today, Christians repeat it in Churches throughout our land without a second thought about it. May God give us the grace and strength to ask Him the same question as his disciples asked Jesus: “Lord, teach us to pray”. And may we too recognise that the prayer he teaches us today is just as shocking, and just as life changing for us, as it was for them.