MATTHEW 6:9-13 (NIV)
"This, then, is how you should pray:
'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.'”
These five verses of the Lord’s Prayer present a powerful compact primer from Jesus himself, but it easily can become thoughtless and rote. Growing up in a Christian family, reciting this prayer was common practice both in church and as a private discipline. I have not done it much lately. I need to.
We first address the one true and holy God. Before the example of Jesus, Jehovah God had been feared and worshipped but never related to as a Father. We acknowledge that he powerfully reigns over all the universe. But because of the liberty he has given us and the mess we have made, his Kingdom has not come in fullness yet. His will is not yet done, and it should be. So we ask and wait in hope. We can also ask for the small things, expecting him to provide for our needs. We must admit our failures and forgive those who fail us. In walking with him, we can know he will not lead us to temptation. He will keep us safe from the enemy of our souls. He is a good and gentle Father.
There is a well-known drama regarding this prayer written by Tom Long of Friends of the Groom theater company in Ohio. In it, God talks back and surprises the person who is ritualistically saying the prayer. God keeps interrupting her. Midway through, the woman complains, “Here I was, doing my religious duty, and all of a sudden you break in and remind me of all my hang-ups.”
And God answers, “Praying is a dangerous thing. You could wind up changed, you know. That's what I'm trying to get across to you. You called me, and here I am. It's too late to stop now. Keep on praying. I'm interested in the next part of your prayer.”
She reluctantly prays the next part, knowing that God will certainly have something to say about the forgiveness part: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." And God reminds her of the friend she’s holding a grudge against: “What about Sue?”
You see, God knows what you need, or need forgiven, or need to do, even before you tell him (Matthew 6:8). But we need for our sakes to say it.
In Andrew Murray’s classic book from 1858, Lord, Teach Us To Pray, each chapter ends with a recap prayer. The first chapter includes:
“O my Lord! Strengthen my faith so in the Father’s tender love and kindness, as often as I feel sinful or troubled, the first instinctive thought may be to go where I know the Father waits, and where prayer may never go unblessed.”
May we, too, understand the Father’s tender love and kindness, and may we be willing to go to him in prayer, trusting in his eternal goodness.
QUESTIONS FOR APPLICATION
- Have you ever memorized this prayer that Jesus gave us? Take five minutes today to shut out the distractions around you and read it again, trying to memorize one line at a time. If you can recite it at the end, say it by memory one more time.
- As you say it, don’t rush. Listen for what your Father in heaven has to say to you on each of the subjects. It will not necessarily be audible words, but you will experience his presence. Thoughts as reminders, or conviction, or other gentle suggestions will come to mind. Pay attention to these and respond to them in your heart.
- The Lord’s Prayer is a great way to talk about Jesus with people who don’t know him. Many unbelievers are familiar with the prayer, so if not today, look for a time this week to talk to someone about it. You could simply tell them you’ve been thinking about The Lord’s Prayer this week, and ask if they are familiar with it, or if they have ever sensed God speaking to them. You do not need to convince them, just get them thinking. God’s Spirit can do the rest. Even if there is no initial positive response, you’ve let them know that you’re a praying person who they can talk to about spiritual things.
This reading is a part of our "Small Feet Big Shoes" devotional series. You can also sign up to receive these meditations by email.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kimberly Creasman and her husband, Jim, served for the past 17 years in Southeast Asia. They are now taking a transitional home assignment year in Los Angeles. Jim is a spiritual mentor and executive coach to Christian leaders with a passion for Asia, and Kimberly, a creative artist and performer, is now focused on her writing and speaking. Their two sons graduate high school and university this summer.