Hearing the Lord’s Prayer Anew
Hosea 1:2-10 or Genesis 18:20-32, Psalm 85 or Psalm 138, Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19), Luke 11:1-13
When I pray nowadays, I sometimes begin with something like the disciples’ request from this Gospel text. “Lord, teach me to pray.”
In doing this, I surrender even my prayer, my prayer language, to Him who knows better than I what I need. In doing this, I make myself a co-laborer with my Lord, rather than a petitioner. In doing this, I allow Him to show me what He’s up to, so that I can craft my prayer so as to use it to join in His already-established work.
This is a different sort of listening for His voice. Of course, there are times in my life where I am too caught up in what’s going on around me to hear His reply. All I know is what I want, and I can’t discern if this is His will for me (or for the person I’m praying for/over) or not. In those times, I continue to ask for discernment, and offer up my own desires as honestly as I can. “Please Lord, do this! I don’t know if it is consonant with Your will, but this is what I want (for myself, for someone else).” And as with Jesus’ prayer in the Garden, I try to remember to end with these words, “Nonetheless, not my will, but Yours, Lord.”
For a long time, that last phrase worked as a “hedge” against committed prayer in my life. I never risked much in prayer, because I was always just asking God to do whatever God wanted to do. I rarely risked disappointment because I rarely asked for much. Now though, this surrender at the end only follows a passionate request to God that I be granted the blessing for which I am praying. I try my best to cry out as the Psalmist does, from the deepest part of my heart, from the deepest pain or need that I can perceive in the situation. Only after really begging God do I go on to say, Nonetheless….”
But back to the text from Luke today.
Allowing the Father to show me what He desires to do for me or someone else, and then joining in His prayer is akin to what Jesus did when he prayed. (Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. John 5:19) How many of us are in the habit of asking first, and seeking the Father’s will for the situation only afterward?
And how much more are we willing to risk in prayer when we perceive that we are asking what the Father desires to give?
Lord, teach us to pray!
Folks have written much better essays on the Lord’s Prayer than I can do here. Still, there are a few things I’d like to point to as Jesus teaches us what prayer given by His Father looks like.
“Our Father.” The first thing we’re to do is address God as family, as beloved. We are not praying to a distant deity, but One who dwells with us as Father, as “Daddy.” Our heavenly Father is the model for all fatherhood. He grants our requests and withholds them, always in love, always because He knows what we need before we ask. In today’s reading, we have a contrasting image, of the neighbor who might otherwise decline to hear our petitions in the middle of the night, but who grants us our request because of our persistence (I prefer to translate that word “shamelessness). Like the image of the importunate widow and the unjust judge, this isn’t meant to suggest that God is someone who only hears persistent prayer. Jesus means it as contrast to His Father. “If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:11-13) So then we need not approach God as someone who is remote, but as someone who cares. We begin our prayer in confidence, the confidence of a favorite child.
“Hallowed be Thy Name.” Or, Holy is Your Name. May we always treat it as holy. Funny that God should be putting that prayer into our mouths. Didn’t He just ask us to treat Him as Family? Now He wants us to go back to treating Him as unapproachable?
Almost. He never wants us to lose sight of His holiness, lest we forget that the reason He alone is worthy of praise is that He is unapproachable unless He chooses not to be, and that it is not by necessity that we know Him intimately as Father, but by His choice. If we lose either half of that equation, God’s accessibility and the holiness that makes Him inaccessible except by His own choice, we lose God altogether.
If we opt for a God who is only approachable, whose train does not fill His temple, whose voice does not make the mountains shake, then we are left with a God whose availability cost Him nothing. Hardly worthy of praise. This god might be comfortable, but not very comforting in a storm.
On the other hand, if we have only a God whose Name is holy, who never makes Himself available to us so as to reconcile us to Himself, then we have a “god” like so many others. Mighty, powerful, capricious. It is God’s decision to condescend to us from His throne of Glory that causes us to cry “Holy!” with the saints, not His power alone.
So much of modern thought about God seeks to erase this “holiness” of God. So much of it would remove from our imaginations the vision of the throne room that Isaiah had, when his nearness to God made him tremble with fear because of his sin, his brokenness. “So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5) I think I understand this desire. God has been much too distant in the church for much too long. This is a natural reaction to a one-sided image of God. Unfortunately, this is something akin to what Paul warns of, “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,” (Ephesians 4:14) Because the church and her inhabitants have not grown into mature followers, we are prone to be blown back and forth, rather than finding the balance God desires for us.
What I find so regrettable about this current “swing of the pendulum” is that it leaves me with no one to run to, no one to hide in. Because God is no longer God, I have to be, and I quickly become overwhelmed with the task.
I don’t need to erase God’s holiness to be able to approach Him. As he did with Isaiah, God makes provision for my sin, He cleanses me of that which I could never remove. Then, having brought me close, He speaks (“Who will go for us?”) and I am able to respond (“Here I am, send me.”) I don’t want God’s voice to cease to be Godlike. I don’t want to reduce God to a small “wizard of Oz” behind a curtain who only uses smoke and a good amplifier to protect himself.
I want to hear the same voice that spoke Creation into being speak peace to my heart in the midst of the storm. I want to hear the same voice that thunders from heaven whisper comfort to me when I am lost. It is this voice that I can trust to teach me to pray.
I’m not absolutely certain that this is necessary, but I haven’t figured out how to rescue the Lord’s Prayer in any other way yet, so I’m going to use the daily portions here to break the Prayer apart and focus your attention on each different section. For a somewhat deeper look into the Lord’s Prayer and how I believe Jesus intended it to be used, you might try my booklet “Worship Through the Lord’s Prayer” which can be downloaded from my website, The Vicar’s Keep. What I’m certain of is that we cannot pray the Lord’s Prayer as a whole until we have learned to pray it piece by piece.
“Father” and “Holy!”
Much of modern Christianity is offended at the idea that God “condescended” to us, reached down to save us. Still, there is no power in a Gospel that does not begin with the Holiness of God which only He could have chosen to surrender so that we might have intimate fellowship with our “Father.” Today, as you begin to enter into the fullness of all that the Lord’s Prayer holds for you, focus your prayer on a God whose Holiness makes it painful to look upon Him.
Except that He steps forward in the Person of His Son to make Himself available to You.
Spend some time loving Him for that near-contradiction, and then pray something like this:
“Oh, God, You are so holy! And You are MY FATHER! And You are SO present to me! And it all seems so totally impossible! Alleluia!”
In Jesus’ Name.
“Your Kingdom Come!”
Like last “week’s” daily thoughts, this one, well, maybe each of these pieces, can take a month if you’re patient. “Your Kingdom Come” has been that way for me. Every time I pay attention as I pray through the Lord’s Prayer on a Sunday morning, I get stuck here. I may be able to catch up with the congregation at some point, but this is prayer enough for me, almost any day.
“I hunger for You and Your Kingdom, Lord! Nothing else. Nothing more, nothing less! Your Kingdom, where you reign in every life! Where every broken heart finds its rest and healing in Your Presence! Your Kingdom Jesus!!”
“Today,” as you explore the riches of the Lord’s Prayer, find that hungry, desperate place in your heart, and let it scream, and pray just this:
“Your Kingdom! Your Kingdom Come!”
In Jesus’ Name.
“Your Will be done on earth as it is in heaven!”
For me, this is not what it once was. It used to mean, “Make everybody be nice, God!” Now it’s a surrender of my own will, my own ability to discern His will, and a cry that He reveal His Will so that we might do it. So often what “makes sense” to us falls miserably short of what He needs to happen in order to bring in His Kingdom. When I pray “Your Will be done,” I pray that I can find a place in His heart where His will simply becomes mine, and I am enabled to walk in it.
“Today,” as you learn to pray as Jesus really intended, take some time to admit how much we hate to mistrust, to surrender our own judgment, and then begin to pray something like this:
Let me dwell in You, Father, so that I might know and do Your will, not what makes sense to me.
In Jesus’ Name,
“Give us this day our daily bread.”
This is not a request. There is no petition in this Greek construction. It is a command! What cheek! My seventh grade grammar teacher would label this the “imperative mood.” How do I behave imperiously with my God???
Simply because this way of speaking is the only one we have in English that expresses absolute confidence without using about a two thousand words. What this says, in it’s longer form is, “Lord I surrender completely my desire to provide for myself because You provide everything that is necessary. I will work only because You are Good, and not because I am afraid not to provide for myself. I can count on You for everything, and so I do.”
Now you see why Jesus put it in the imperative mood. Too long otherwise.
“Today,” as you struggle with this bit of the Lord’s Prayer, bring before Him all the things you do because you don’t trust Him to provide for you and your family. It’s okay. He knows anyways, and while it breaks His heart, He also rejoices when we bring some of this into the light. Then try to pray something like this,
Give me this day my daily bread.
In Jesus’ Name,
“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
Whoops. I really don’t like the idea that my access to the Father’s forgiveness might rest in my forgiveness of others. And yet it does. No two ways about it. This is the place in the prayer where I ask the Father to search my heart and show me my unforgiveness. I ask Him to show me where I have closed the door to His grace and help me to open it by forgiving others.
This doesn’t mean that I am totally closed to God’s forgiveness by my own incomplete forgiveness of others. But to the extent that I hold onto the offenses that others have caused me, I cling also to the judgment that accompanies my sin. I give the accuser ground on which to stand.
“Today,” prepare yourself to be overwhelmed by grace as He pours out His forgiveness on you as you permit Him to show you your hidden places of unforgiveness and heals them. Then pray whatever you can in that moment. For me, it’s mostly just,
In Jesus’ Name,
Okay. I needed more than five days for this “week.” Sorry.
“And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”
When I first wrote my booklet on the Lord’s Prayer, I left this bit out. Perhaps it was an oversight. More likely, I just wasn’t able to write it until more recently. I mean, who wants to admit that God leads us into temptation.
Because He does. Either that, or God just totally ignores my pleas, which I don’t think is true. I don’t want to go into all the grammatical gobbledy gook for claiming this, but this phrase should really read, “And please don’t lead us into temptation unless you also deliver us.” If you want all the translational stuff, look in the booklet. For now, take my word that here you’re not praying not to be tempted, ever. No. You’re praying that, each time God leads you into a place of testing (that’s another way to translate “temptation”) you are absolutely confident that He will also provide a way out. His purposes for the wilderness times will vary, but this prayer is our way of saying, “Whatever You bring me into, You will also bring me out.”
Not that there haven’t been many times where I didn’t know where to look for Him in dark times. But now, I refuse to accept that, just because I can’t see Him, He isn’t there.
“Today,” as you pray this bit of the Lord’s Prayer, think on past times of testing, or perhaps on one He has you in right now. And pray with Jesus,
Whatever this is, I know You’re in it, and You’ll bring me through, to the glory of Your Name.
In Jesus’ Name.
If you’d like easier access to Hearing His Voice than looking it up on a webpage, it is now available as both paperback and Kindle book. (But it will always be free here.)