"The Lord's Prayer," is a non-threatening meeting place for people of all religious beliefs. It is not unusual to see, or be in, a group of people of various faiths reciting Jesus' prayer. Often these people, both cold and warm on religion, will hold hands in a prayer circle while speaking the prayer.
Isn't this interesting? Religious discussions can become so testy that they are banned in many work places. Yet, this simple prayer brings harmony instead of dissension, agreement instead of debate. This portion of Jesus' "Sermon On The Mount" is found in Matthew 6:6-13 (KJV).
"And when you pray, do not heap up endless and empty phrases as heathens do; for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray like this:
"Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed is thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen."
Too often we ignore Jesus' warning about endless and empty phrases. Missing the truth about this prayer, we repeat it thoughtlessly as if the words alone are magic and will somehow please God. Believing that his hearing us say these words pleases him, we think, "Surely I am religious because I pray in public."
If you think this prayer motivates God, you miss the relationship God offers you. He doesn't need to hear the prayer because he created it. We need to hear what God is saying to us from it. Next let's examine the words and find the promises God gave us in this comfortable and familiar prayer. It is our statement of faith, our creed, our treasure of truth.
"Our Father" reminds us that God is creator and is everyone's father. All people are his children and in his family, so mankind is a brotherhood. We have heard that thesis from our earliest memories. Do we act as if we really believe it?
If there is such a brotherhood of mankind, it operates under the Cain and Abel syndrome. There is little brotherly love and much sibling rivalry. Person to person competition, even for parking slots, is intense and often violent.
The brotherhood of mankind in this prayer is not Jesus' main theme. In the Lord's Prayer, you are confirming a real live God as your Father. Anything less ignores the potency of this opening statement. The God of all creation is your father. But what does Father mean in this prayer?
In Jesus' times, both in the East (Oriental world) and the West (Greco-Roman world) the father totally controlled his family. The father owned all the property and made all the decisions. The children were always subject to the father's supervision. In return, the father provided all the children with protection and prosperity. His duty was to protect his children from want.
While family members had their father's love and support, they could leave the family. Those who left the family were on their own without any of their father's support. Once gone, they would continue to have their father's love but ceased to have his presence, power, prestige, or wealth.
Do you live in your Father's house, under his love and protection, or are you living out on your own?
"Which art in heaven." In the New Testament, Jesus used both the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of God to mean the same thing. He said this Kingdom is here, now. What? What does that mean? How do you "go to heaven" if heaven is here, now?
He was talking about the spiritual nature of existence. You have an inner spirit (pneuma), given to you when you were created. Pneuma is your life and being, that spark that energizes you and makes you a person. Without pneuma, spirit, you would be a non-person corpse. That fact should confirm that life depends on spirit. Logic should remind us that because life depends on spirit, spirit comes first and then material follows.
Believe it or not, the spiritual realm of existence governs all material manifestations. Because the spiritual is invisible and the material is visible, our concepts get turned upside down. We believe what we do here, in the material, motivates and moves the spiritual realm. Simply, we believe our words, works, and thoughts control events. It never occurs to us that spirits control our thoughts that end in our words, and acts.
We should have a better grip on logic than this. We know God is Spirit. We know God is everywhere. We believe God knows everything. We think God is all powerful. Then we part our brains and live as deists. We act as if God cannot or will not work in our lives here on earth, at this material level.
In this portion of Jesus' prayer/creed, we try to bring our brains back to reality. God is in heaven. Heaven is spiritual. God is in control. When we are controlled by God's spirit, we are with him. Then we are in the Kingdom of God - the Kingdom of Heaven. His Spirit is loosed in us to pilot our lives. This is reality, life as it is.
"Hallowed by thy name." Hallowed is an early English word that means sanctified. We prefer translating it "holy" as if there were some common understanding of that word's meaning. Just for fun, define holy. It may be easier to say what holy isn't than what holy is. How are you doing on it?
If we say this phrase in Jesus' prayer/creed, we are making both an abstract statement and a personal confession. We are not just throwing God a bone to placate him. He does not need to hear compliments or have adulation. God already knows who he is without our descriptions of his person. He doesn't need to have us fawn at his feet.
So our abstract statement that God is holy doesn't help him. It helps us focus our attention on the Father's nature. At the intellectual level, your definition declares him holy. Now what do you really think? Is he holy according to your feelings? Do you treat God as if he is holy? Do you speak about God as if he is an important part of life? Do you talk about him at all?
If, in your mind, God is the holy God of all things, and your heavenly Father, you will venerate him, worship him, and want to consider him in all your decisions. You will have a deep, heartfelt love for him. Do you, or is God just as abstract to you as is the word holy?
If you have never met God face-to-face, you can't revere him. How can you love and revere someone you have never met? How can you revere someone you are not sure exists? You can't. You really need to meet this Father but he must introduce himself to you. No one else can take his place doing that.
"Thy Kingdom come." We know that the Kingdom of God is his Spirit in our hearts. "The Kingdom of God is within you", so said Jesus (Luke 17:21). But what does it mean to be in God's kingdom? What will happen in your life? Should you really be praying for this to happen? Do you really want this?
Now we are headed toward serious religion. This acknowledges that God has a plan and we want it put into effect. Until now, we were simply discussing the nature of God and his program. We are now asking him to put his program into effect. Can we justify taking this radical step? Easily done!
Common sense tells us that if everyone lived under God's "Golden Rule" and in "brotherly love," there would not be any man-made problems in the world. There wouldn't be any need for police, defense budgets, government regulators, watch dogs, locks, fences, or any program for self-protection. We could cut our taxes and put all efforts into correcting social ills and satisfying individual needs. Family problems would disappear, as would divorce and its consequences.
But if common sense tells us that is a good idea, our selfish interests reject it. We think God has a good plan but does not have the muscle and mind to make it work for "me." So, we must continue to look out for "number one" because God can't, or won't. This works until it doesn't work.
When we really understand that we need God's help in looking out for number one, then we can honestly pray this phrase. This requires an honest step of faith that we haven't exercised before. It requires putting God's needs in front of our needs. We must conclude that God comes first, knows best, can deliver, and that we are no better than second.
"Thy will be done." Let me ask you a question. Assuming you are going to the Spirit world - Heaven - after you die, what are you going to do for eternity? Do you know? Have you thought about it? I know what I am going to do in the hereafter Heaven. I am going to do what I am told to do. I am going to do what God tells me to do. I am going to be obedient to his "will".
Doing God's will is a choice, of sorts, in this world. It becomes a necessity in the world to come. The world to come, Heaven in the hereafter sense, is called "Paradise." Life there, we assume, will be trouble free and always in the presence of God. There we think we will be bathed in God's love, and always be carefree and joyful.
Do you have any reason to dispute that picture of life after death? Maybe you are not sure of what the living conditions will be in that later heaven, but you know you will not be in control. Don't you? You do know you will need to do what you are told to do. Don't you? I do!
In this prayer phrase, we are agreeing with the inevitable. God's will shall be done because he is God and he has the power to cause anything to happen. Honestly spoken, this phrase is our intellectual commitment to submit to God's will as we can best understand it and conform to it. Here we admit God has a will and we will follow it if we can figure out how. Instinctively, or at least hopefully, we think God can show us his will.
Now this part of the prayer becomes more than a thoughtless liturgy. It is our acknowledgement that God is real, alive, and has a will. We are agreeing to accept and implement his will. Now we wonder, what is supposed to happen next?
"On Earth as in Heaven." Here? Most of us have been told that God wants us to be good - good beyond our ability. We are supposed to do good works and always behave, so we can go to heaven when we die. So we have been told.
But the truth is we are not really concerned with that right now. We have more to do daily than we can handle. Sure, it is nice to be moral and try to think of God's rules, but presently that is not our main interest, and is far too hard. "As long as we are not breaking the law, please don't rock our boat." God's main will, we say, is for us not to harm others.
God's will for us is something much greater than not harming others. His will for us is to experience all his joy, love, and plenty here on earth, on earth as in heaven. It is to know him and enjoy his power and presence in our life here, long before our later after-life. But to get serious about doing his will now, we need to know that he is fully in control.
The major stress in life is solving the daily problems that go with meeting our bodily needs. Most of our time and thought is directed toward our employment. We must know we can pay our bills. Worrying about food, clothing, shelter, and danger detracts from any serious theological speculation. We need assurances about our "daily bread" before we can pay more attention to God.
Jesus, of course, already knew that. So, he assured us, in his prayer, that our daily needs were also subject to God's power and part of his grace package. God's help in those efforts is necessary before we can really get serious about religion. If God doesn't help with our daily needs, we are really still on our own.
"Give us this day our daily bread." What sort of bread does this phrase mean? Sliced or loaf? White, wheat, or rye?
In Jesus' day bread was the main course everyday. It was the most important human food, the essential element for life. Lechem, the Hebrew word for food also translates as bread. It appears two hundred and sixty times in the Old Testament. The Greek word for food and bread, used the same way in the New Testament is artos. There it appears eighty one times, with Jesus speaking it on twenty-two of those occasions.
Bread really means what we need for our daily sustenance. Without stretching the point, we can rephrase this clause in another way. It is the same as if Jesus taught us to pray, "Give us the money we need to live today." That understanding is so common that in slang, "bread" means money.
We acknowledge in this part of Jesus' prayer that God is involved in our income process. Our Father, in his love, wants to provide our daily sustenance. His will is for us to have the necessary food, clothing, and shelter. His will for us is that all our needs - material and spiritual - shall be met.
God wants to supply our needs so we can keep our attention focused on his total will - what he wants us to do on earth, before we get to heaven. An early promise from Jesus is that our Father gives all necessary gifts, grace, and providence to us when we seek his will and follow it. Matthew 6:25-34 records God's guarantee to be our provider.
When we know these promises are true, and we can rely on God to lead us through our greatest concerns, it is easier to get serious about religion. A real God who does real things for us that can be seen quickly gains our attention and respect.
The Lord's Prayer is divided into six couplets. The first teaches about God's nature. The second asks for his will to be done now. The third asks him to provide for our material needs. Now we are looking at the fourth couplet. It asks him to forgive our mistakes. The first line of the two is "and forgive us our debts," our trespasses.
There are several dynamics in this short phrase. The first is the admission that we need forgiving. The next is that God has the power to forgive. Also, it assumes God is inclined to forgive. Overall it is a confession that we are fallible. "Occasionally" we have made some noticeable mistakes.
The petition for forgiveness ties to Jesus' Beatitudes. It relates to most of them. For us to admit faults and ask for forgiveness, the key Beatitude attitudes must be felt. To ask for forgiveness, one would be poor in spirit, mourning, meek, searching for righteousness, merciful, seeking purity of heart and also wanting to be a peacemaker.
Of course, asking for forgiveness can be done from the fear of expected or deserved divine punishment. However, the prayer doesn't require a particular motive. It just requests God to forgive our mistakes. The fact that we ask God for forgiveness acknowledges his power and primacy.
On a more general basis, here we acknowledge that there is some proper order for all of us. The prayer says, "forgive us our debts." The plural pronoun of us implies that all people have fallen short of God's requirements. All are in the same boat.
We have a commonality as humans standing before God. None of us is better than another. If we all have fallen short of God's requirements and need his forgiveness, what are our shortcomings? Do you know yours?
Our shortcomings are the opposites of Jesus' beatitudes. Instead of blessings and happiness, our shortcomings give us unhappiness. An important beatitude is the one about peace makers. Peace is synonymous with contentment and happiness. Anger and resentment, opposites of peace, destroy happiness.
Unhappiness is something we all want to avoid. It is no secret that anger is an unhappy feeling. Unforgiveness and resentment are unhappy feelings. Too often we carry old resentments that keep us unhappy and cause us to make bad decisions.
The problem with that sort of thinking is that you, the victim, continue to be the only person who is hurt. You stay unhappy while the person who hurt you isn't experiencing any of your resentment and anger. You remain an unhappy victim in continuing anger and misery.
Giving up old unhappy feelings is a good reason to forgive. There is an additional reason. You can't be forgiven until you forgive. "and forgive us our debts" links with "as we also have forgiven our debtors." As the old song line goes, "you can't have one without the other."
The dynamic truth here is that forgiving helps us in two ways. It releases us from unhappiness in our emotions, as well as separation from God. When we forgive, we are open to receive God's blessings. Jesus promised, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."
The problem is that the Bible is full of God's directions. If it were easy to follow God's instructions everyone would be complying. The truth is, it is difficult to even want to forgive. To fulfill this requirement, we need God's help. Fortunately, he gives it. Part of his power package is for him to do his will in us and for us.
The best deal I can imagine is to be guided by a wise and loving God. Such guidance could eliminate many bad mistakes.
Asking God to lead us in anything is to ask him for guidance in everything, because life is an uncompartmentalized unit. All things that happen to us tie together. If we want something to occur in our life, that event has before and after consequences with each affecting the other. Once again, "you can't have one without the other."
So to ask God to lead us in one thing, is to ask him to lead us in all things. Many people do not realize this unity of events when they pray for a favor. So we may ask something from God and complain when he fails to give it, not realizing he could be protecting us from some unwanted consequence.
When we realize life's unity, we understand that if God grants us a specific wish, specific consequences will automatically follow. Those consequences may not be imagined or desired when we first give God the prayer petition. If we always knew the ultimate results, we might never ask the favor.
Now we understand what Jesus meant when he taught us to pray, "lead us not into temptation." With these five words, we pray, "Keep me out of bad deals. Do not let me be tempted to want, or do, anything that is not good for me. Do not let me sin against you."
In this prayer phrase, we move from acknowledging that God has a will for us to asking him to exert his will by leading us. We do that knowing that when we ask him to lead us in one thing, we are asking him to lead us in all things.
Here is our commitment to what we earlier affirmed in, "they will be done on earth as in heaven." "Lead us" is our new and personal statement of trust in God. We have moved from spoken words to belief and can truly say, "In God we trust."
The second part of this couplet is, "But deliver us from evil." The word translated deliver also can mean to rescue, or to protect. In this prayer line we see two things. First, there are bad things outside of our control that can happen to us. Next, Jesus says that God has the power to protect us from those maladies and bad treatment. Do you agree?
Everyone has uninvited events, both good and bad, which come into his life. Unscientific explanations of the causes are called superstitions. From earliest humans, desire to control events has led people to create ideas about luck and fate. Hoping to control events, people everywhere, and in every time, have invented various human rituals to control life. Those rituals include both words and works. We call such rituals "magic."
In the simple words of his prayer creed, Jesus has gone far beyond primitive superstitions and magic. He has turned out attention to a God who affects events when we ask. Jesus describes a benevolent Father who doesn't need any motivation to get him moving. He loves us simply because he created us. He protects and provides for his children. He does not need any bribery by primitive magic or religious rituals.
Jesus says we only need to ask. As God to deliver us from the mischief, malice, and viciousness that comes to us from the world. We should trust this live, powerful, loving God to deliver us from sin, sinners, and oppression of all sorts.
Jesus was a realist. He knew oppression - both spiritual and material - would come. He never said that it would be fun. He just said, trust God to handle it. He has the power and purpose to prevail for you. And if he seems a bit slow in showing up, trust him anyhow. He promised your Father's support while you wait. Who else can you call on for help?
The closing statement of Jesus' prayer and creed is, "for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever." His affirmation of the nature of God - kingdom, power, and glory - stand apart from the last word, forever. So here we talk about God's nature and discuss eternity next.
Early in Jesus' prayer, he prayed that God's kingdom would come on earth, as it is in heaven. We worked on that several pages back. We also admitted that God has the power to do what He wishes, whenever he wishes. Hopefully, we have agreed that God uses his power to give us comfort, peace and security.
So it is duplication to go back into the fact that creation is God's kingdom, designed by him, functioning according to his purpose. The fact that his purpose may seem strange or incomprehensible to us does not change the fact that God is in charge. It is his kingdom and he has full power. So there is no debate about that.
But why glory? What is God's glory? Glory as used here means that God is due honor, praise and worship, but not simply because he is God. It is not very exciting to bow down and glorify God only because he is the creator with full power.
We can glorify and worship God only after we experience him face-to-face. Once we have a personal meeting with the God of creation, and are touched by his awesome love, we cannot resist calling him glorious. Then we worship and glorify him because we personally know him, his love, majesty, and plan.
When we know we have an eternal security in him and from him, our fragility and loneliness vanish. That is a glorious experience, so we tell him our feelings. It is easy to say, Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory - forever.
Someone once said that the two longest words in the English language are never and forever. In the King James (Authorized) Version of the Bible, the word forever is divided. There it is rendered for ever. In our time, the two words have become one, but the meaning has not changed.
For ever means what it says. Forever. Perpetual. Time without an end. It is everlasting time with an open end. Endless time is a difficult concept because we have devised ways to measure time's passing. Thus, we have a calendar to measure days, weeks, months, and years. We use clocks to measure minutes and hours of each day. We have divided our calendar into two parts, one before the Christian Era and the other after the Christian Era to better understand large time blocks.
God himself divided time into periods to help people with their work. Days and nights teach us there is a time to work and a time to rest. He gave four seasons, alternating between one for work and another for rest.
Because of our habit of defining time in discernible units, we have no way of understanding eternity - the forever. It doesn't concern us because we don't understand it and cannot do anything about it. Eternity is there. We are in it. We cannot get out. Time is forever and so are we. We are as eternal as creation. It never ends and neither do we.
Have you considered what you are going to be doing forever? Do you know where you will be, and with whom? We know that eternity is out of our control. The next life will be a new experience, probably unlike this one. And, it will be under the power of God, and in his presence.
What will it be like to face God each day while remembering how we acted while on earth? In heaven, God will be taken seriously. There we must do his will without debate or choice. Here we can choose to do his will or ignore it. There, we will have to explain our earthly choices. That is an interesting concept, isn't it
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