We say it every week. We have it memorized. We can say it without
thinking. But what does it mean? What does it really say?
Did you notice the words “I” and “me” and
“my” don’t appear in the Lord’s Prayer?
It’s “us” and “our,” and “your”
(or thy/thine) when it refers to God. It’s a reminder that
the world revolves around God, not us.
The drama we watched proves there is more at stake than we think
when we say the Lord’s Prayer. Maybe it’s time to dust
it off and look at it again. Maybe every Sunday morning when we
repeat the words, we stand on holy ground and do not have the good
sense to take off our sandals. Maybe we are not yet ready to pray
the Lord’s Prayer and own it.
The Lord’s Prayer appears in both Luke and Matthew. The versions
are different. Matthew’s prayer is part of the Sermon on the
Mount. Luke is a slimmed down version that comes at the request
of a disciple. The context is Jesus’ healing of the man with
a withered hand on the Sabbath. While the Pharisees were fuming
over Jesus’ infraction of the law, Jesus escaped to the hills
to pray. When he finished praying the disciples said, “Lord,
teach us to pray.” They saw prayer was important to Him. They
saw the power of prayer in Him. They saw a personality in whom prayer
was vital and influential.” Notice that Jesus didn’t
start by answering questions about prayer. He gave them a model
Rather than analyzing each phrase of the Lord’s Prayer separately,
I want to make some general observations about prayer that may hopefully
spark an “ah-ha” insight for you.
1. Prayer is about relationship. In fact, the Lord’s Prayer
begins right there: “Our Father.” A little boy was standing
on the banks of the Mississippi River waving and shouting at a steamboat
going by. He was beckoning the steamboat to come to shore. A stranger
nearby said, "Give it up, young man! The boat will never come
ashore just because of your waving and shouting." Just then
the boat turned and headed for shore. The little boy grinned and
said to the stranger, "The captain is my daddy."
The captain of the universe is our “Abba.” He pays attention
to our petitions because he loves us. The first words in the Lord's
Prayer encourage us to believe that an intimate conversation with
the Lord of the universe is OK.
Carveth Mitchell says, “The purpose of prayer is to be in
harmony with God, to have a sense of God’s presence; to feel
the assurance that God is in, around and greater than any circumstance;
that, come what may, we belong to God and underneath are the everlasting
arms. Prayer is not a trading post -- “if you do that, then
I’ll do this--but a line of communication.”
A man went to sit in a darkened church each day at noon. One day
as he came out of the church, a perplexed observer asked him what
he did that whole time inside the church. “I just look at
God,” he answered, “and God looks at me.”
2. Prayer isn’t forcing God’s hand. We can’t
force God’s hand into giving us what we want. Rather, “we
pray to change, to become, to transcend the situations that surround
us and tap into the presence of Holy Love.”
A perfect illustration is about the mother sent her son to bed.
After a few minutes she went to check on him. Sticking her head
into his room, she saw that he was kneeling to pray. She paused
to listen, and heard her son praying over and over again. “Let
it be Tokyo! Please, dear God, let it be Tokyo!” When he finished
his prayer, she asked him, “What did you mean, “Let
it be Tokyo?” “Oh,” the boy said with embarrassment,
“we had our geography test today and I was praying that God
would make Tokyo the capital of France.”
We can’t force God’s hand when we pray for others.
Douglas Steele and Jane Vennard use the image of a wall to help
us understand intercessory prayer. Vennard says our prayers do not
force the person being prayed for to change just because we prayed.
The effect of praying for others is like lowering the threshold
of a wall, so those we prayed for can see what is already there.
As the wall comes down, people can choose whether or not to accept
God’s presence in their lives.
We can’t force God’s hand when we pray for healing
from illness. Rabbi Wolpe is a brain cancer and lymphoma survivor.
He writes, “My prayer was not answered because I lived; my
prayer was answered because I felt better able to cope with my sickness.
Each time I go for my regular MRI or PET scan and I am moved into
the metal tube, I do not pray that God will give me a clear scan.
I pray from gratitude that I am not alone, and that having been
near death I am still alive. I pray not for magic, but for closeness;
not for miracles, but for love.”
3. Prayer needs to be honest. A four-year-old boy was asked to
return thanks before New Year’s dinner. He thanked God for
each family member by name. He thankfully named each food on the
table. Then he stopped and became silent. The family waited. Finally,
he asked, ”If I thank God for the broccoli, won’t God
know that I’m lying?” That’s honest prayer!
On the other hand, sometimes our words and actions clash, like
the man who always grumbled at the food his wife prepared for family
meals. Then he would ask the blessing. One day after his usual complaint/prayer,
his little girl asked, “Daddy, does God hear us when we ask
the blessing?” “Why, of course,” he replied. She
paused for a moment, then asked, “Does he hear everything
we say the rest of the time?” “Yes, dear, every word,”
he replied. “Then which does God believe?” she asked.
Do we think we can fool God when we pray by rote without thinking
about what we say? Does God ignore our insincerity or inattention
when we read scripture or pray? Simeon Weil says, “Prayer
is made of attention. It is all the attention that the soul is capable
of all directed to God. The quality of attention determines the
quality of prayer. It cannot be replaced by the heart’s warmth.”
Heschel adds, “Prayer comes to pass when we forget ourselves.”
Perhaps our inability to pray and our society’s increasing
focus on the self are related.
Rabbi Leona Medina explained prayer this way: If you watch a man
out on a boat grab a rope and pull his boat to shore, and you don’t
understand the principles of weight and motion, you might think
that he was really pulling the shore to his boat. In spiritual principles
of weight and motion, prayer is not pulling God closer to you. Heartfelt
prayer pulls you closer to God.
4. God values our persistence. Jesus counseled his disciples to
be persistent in prayer -- to the point of peskiness. He illustrates
it with the story about the parent in bed with his children who
doesn’t want to get up to help a neighbor, but because of
persistence he finally yields. A current day example is four-year-old
Thane who likes to get up at 5 a.m. every day -- weekends, holidays,
winter, summer. He immediately climbs into bed with his parents
and parlays a series of specific requests: a pop tart, orange juice
and a video. Every morning, they groan sleepily and tell him to
go back to bed because it is just too early. Every morning, he prevails
-- not because they want to make him happy but because they want
peace and quiet! His persistence pays off. William McGill says,
“The value of persistent prayer is not that God will hear
us, but that we will finally hear Him.”
General Observations about the Lord’s Prayer