Apr 24 - The Lord's Prayer

The Lord's Prayer

April 24, 2016

Matthew 6:7-15; Luke 11:1-4

 

 

THE LORD’S PRAYER

Matthew 6:7-15; Luke 11:1-4

April 24th, 2016

 

Prayer is nothing more or less than speaking with God.  And, if we pray, if we speak with God at all, then what we say will, in all likelihood, be determined on the kind of image we have of God and what we think prayer entails. 

 

So, if we think that God is the eternal and terrifying judge, we will pray differently to him, than if we think of God along the lines of our best friend. 

 

If we think that prayer is all about asking God for things, then that is how we will pray. 

 

Included in the Sermon on the Mount, is Matthew’s record of Jesus’ model prayer.  Most of you are familiar with it, but some of you may have never heard of it.

 

Two friends, John and Bob, were talking and the subject of religion came up.  John challenged his buddy, “If you know so much about religion, let me hear you quote the Lord’s prayer!  I’ll bet you $ 10 you can’t do it.”  His friend Bob took up the bet and started off, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.  If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”  John begrudgingly took out his wallet, fished out a $ 10 bill and muttered as he handed it over, “I can’t believe you were able to recite it!

 

By the way, those of you who are parents, by all means teach your kids the Lord’s prayer.  But why traumatize them by teaching them the, “I might die before I wake” prayer?  Just my opinion, but don’t do it! 

 

Luke gives us the historical setting of the Lord’s Prayer, which is missing in Matthew. 

 

Not recorded in Matt

Luke 11:1a

 

 

 

 

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord teach us to pray as John taught his disciples.”

 

Just to remind you, a Rabbi or spiritual teacher in first century Palestine, would gather around him students who were called disciples.  These students would follow the teacher, the Rabbi, around, sitting at his feet as he taught, listening and memorizing what they heard. 

 

So Luke speaks of a disciple of Jesus, he is pointing one among a number of men who had accepted Jesus as their spiritual teacher or advisor. 

 

[As Jesus replies, all of the second person pronouns are plural.  Jesus is purposefully addressing his group of disciples as a group, not as individuals.]

 

Matthew 6:7-9a

Luke 11:1b

When you pray, do not keep on babbling like the pagans. They do this in the false belief that they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need even before you ask him. 

This, then, is how you should pray:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And he said to them, “When you pray, say:”

 

Jesus begins by pointing out the mistake beliefs of non-Jews who prayed to their god or goddess or gods or goddesses.  The word translated “pagan” (ethnikoi, from ethikos) refers to foreigners, Greek, Roman, or any other ethnic group OTHER than Jewish.  

 

It seems that long and repetitive prayers were considered more effective than shorter prayers who are to the point.  While Jesus himself advocated persistence in prayer (cf. Luke 11), what the pagans did wasn’t to be true of Jesus’ disciples.[1] 

 

In Ecclesiastes 5:2, the teacher of old (koheleth) gives the Israelites this advice:  When you speak to God in the temple let your words be few

 

Prayers don’t have to be long, wordy, repetitive or showy in order to be effective.   Some churched individuals end up having a prayer language all of their own:

 

They may try to use as many of God’s names as possible:

 

Oh, all-providing Lord of hosts, Alpha and Omega, Jehovah Jireh [sees], Jehovah Rapha [heals], Jehovah Nissi [banner], Jehovah-Tsidkenu [righteousness], Jehovah-Sabaoth [hosts], Adonai, creator, God Almighty, Abba, Lord, I bow before you.  … 

 

They even know the nicknames of God.

Or they may use pronouns and words commonly used in 17th century England:

 

To thee we prayer in our hour of need, knowing of thy great and wonderful mercies, which thou dost bestow upon us.  

 

Others may use language that sounds somewhat confusing to those who hear it:

 

Let the spiritual gifts of mercy radiate from underneath our fingernails in the glorious realm of your righteousness.  Let your atoning sacrifice redeem us from the gloomy pits of darkness.

 

Others again may use an inordinate amount of repetition when it comes to addressing God or Jesus:

 

Lord, I thank you Lord, for all, Lord, that you’ve done, Lord.

 

Father, you are the father of lights, Father.  Praise be to you Father, for, Father, you, Father, have created the world, Father.

 

Others may have a special public prayer voice all of their own, much like some pastors have a special preaching voice.

 

Whiny singsongLord!  Oh Lord! How we COME into your presence, sinners SAVED by grace, unworthy of your love and compassion. 

 

Or perhaps they get loud.

 

ShoutingGod, you, bringer of all joy and mercy.  We adore you.  We praise you.  We magnify you. Yes Lord!

 

I believe those various types of prayer exist because, there is a genuine belief that those kind of prayers are more effective than others, or maybe that they are more honouring to God.  On the negative side, they may be used for the purpose of making the person praying appear more spiritual to other believers who hear it. 

 

When we talk to God, we simply need to be ourselves and use our own words, not what we think those who are listening want to hear, or what we think is the most politically correct and polite way to pray. 

 

Instead of hiding behind a bunch of tired clichés, we need to be open and transparent with God … we can’t hide anything from him anyway.  Next time you pray, purposefully try to be as brutally honest as you can.

 

 

As I’ve already mentioned, some individuals only think of prayer as a time to bring out a litany of requests:  for good health, money and material blessings; for whatever our hearts desire may be; for a date, a mate, real estate; for God to reinvigorate, to initiate, to remunerate, to emancipate; for God to help with my fate, deal with my hate, or lower my weight. 

 

Prayer ends up being nothing more than repeating a list of gimme’s. 

 

In response to the request and in contrast to the pagan prayers, Jesus gives his disciples an example of a prayer.  In Luke the bare outline of the prayer is recorded, while in Matthew there are a few expansions which are highlighted in the overheads by being slightly off-white rather than white in colour.

 

Matthew 6:9b-10

Luke 11:2

Our Father in heaven, may your name be revered as holy.

May your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Father,

may your name be revered as holy.

May your kingdom come.

 

 

 

Both Luke and Matthew record Jesus’ view of God, not primarily as a terrifying judge and definitely not as a close buddy, but as a father figure.  Parents love their children, so why is God spoken of as masculine.  Probably because in first century Palestine, the father’s position in the home was one of authority and honour – very different from what is the reality in most homes today.  So God is a father who has love for his children, but not a mamby pamby, soft spoken, father who is a dolt or who the rest of the family makes fun of.

 

In Matthew, Jesus makes it clear that God is the Father who resides in heaven, that is, that he is a wholly-other being from humans. 

 

I think that is what is wrong with some worship songs or prayers that speak to God or Jesus in terms that could be used when speaking to a boyfriend or girlfriend.[2] 

 

When we speak of madly falling in love with Jesus or God, or of one’s desire to be in God’s embrace, or of one’s desire to lavish one’s love on Jesus, it reflects an emotionally driven, almost romantic kind of love.  If I fall in love with God, I can just as easily fall out of love.

 

[We find this not only in modern lyrics but also in some songs written by pietists such as John Wesley and Nikolaus von Zinzendorf.[3] ]

 

I believe this approach to God was the furthest from Jesus’ mind when he speaks of God as a heavenly father. 

 

However, if we do think of God in terms of our heavenly Father, then we may think of our own identity in terms of being a child of God, fully accepted and loved by him.  That too will determine how we pray, how we speak to him.

 

I think that the first petition in Jesus’ model prayer, is the most important, because it really reflects the response of the human heart toward a holy God – it demonstrates reverence, esteem, and admiration – the treasuring of God’s name above all things.  This attitude flavours all the other points in Jesus’ prayer.

 

As we read in Psalm 29:2, an attitude of honour and respect toward God was prevalent among the Israelites who lived 3,000 years ago (c. 1,000 BC): 

 

Give honour to the LORD (YHWH) for the glory of his name.          Worship the LORD (YHWH) for his splendor and holiness.                                                     Psalm 29:2

 

The opposite of honouring God as holy, is to profane, disgrace, and dishonour God.  This can be done through language, attitude or action, how people speak and the choices that they make. 

 

The request in Matthew, that God’s will ought to be done on earth as in heaven, is really a definition of what it would look like if God’s kingdom, his rule did in fact come to earth, if his rule was present right now.

 

Perhaps, to make Jesus’ model prayer a bit more understandable to us, we could potentially rephrase it in the first person:

 

My heavenly father,

May I revere, esteem, treasure, and honour your name as holy.

May your glorious, sovereign and kingly rule become a reality in all areas of my life.

May I do your will in my life as perfectly and joyfully as      the angels in heaven do your will.

 

Do you already sense a completely different flavour to the prayer when you say it in this way?

 

It is also a way that we may not want to pray.  God’s will being done as completely in my life as it is in the place where God abides, may not be what I really want.  Perhaps it’s safer to pray that God’s will be done in my life as far as I want it and allow it.  Don’t mess with my vices, God.  Don’t mess with my finances, God.  Don’t mess with my personal life choices, God. 

 

It’s easy enough to pray for world peace or for our political leaders to make choices in keeping with God’s will, but to pray that all of MY decisions and actions reflect God’s will can be pretty scary, because it may mean I need to bring significant change into my life. 

 

Matthew 6:11-13

Luke 11:3-4

Give us this day the food we need.[4]

Forgive us our debts[5] as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Do not lead[6] us into temptation (or: trial)[7] but deliver us from evil.

Give us this day the food we need.

Forgive us our sins,[8] for we forgive everyone who is indebted[9] to us.

Do not lead us into temptation.[10]

 

 

Jesus then gets to that part of the prayer where the person requests things for himself.

 

But again, these may not necessarily be the kind of requests that we would ask God.  For one, the first personal request is one for the necessities of life … for bread, not for steak, or money, or a house, or being independently wealthy, not that there is anything inherently wrong with those things.

 

He may have gotten the idea for such a prayer from Proverbs 30:8-9:

 

Give me neither poverty nor riches.  Give me the food I need this day, so I do not have too much and deny you, or have too little and steal, thereby profaning (dishonouring) your name.                        Proverbs 30:8-9

 

This attitude is reflected by the apostle Paul as well.  He writes to Timothy:

 

We did not bring anything into this world and we cannot take anything out of it either.[11]  If we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 

                                                                        1 Timothy 6:7-8

 

Pretty low expectations, isn’t it?  If pressed he might have added some shelter in his wish list.  He didn’t even want a donkey or camel to get around.  What’s wrong with the guy?

 

I don’t say this to disparage anyone, but I don’t think ANY of us would be content with food and clothing.  That is the very least that we want to buy with our money.  We are part of the DNA of our consumer oriented society to the point that many of us define ourselves by our possessions. 

 

Jesus’ prayer for provisions deals not with a wish list and it has nothing to do with the things we would like but don’t need.  It has to do with necessary provisions for life.  

 

Let’s put this prayer in the first person as well:

 

Please give me the ability to earn enough so that I can purchase the necessities for life, not necessarily all the possessions I crave and want.

 

Needs are those things we must have in order to stay alive.  Wants are those things we don’t need but would like to have.

 

As I penned this sentence I again thought of the very real possibility that we would not want to ask God only for the ability to earn enough money in order to purchase what we need to survive.  Shelter, food and clothing are generally available to all of us, despite the dearth of affordable housing in the greater Victoria area. 

 

As a result, we expect so much more from life than simply the necessities - we want so much more.  And by and large, we have so much more. 

 

It not only has to be some smart phone but the right smart phone.  It cannot be any old dishwasher, but one that is stainless steel.  We don’t want the old top loading washer, but the fancy front loading one.  We don’t want just any clothes, but only the ones that suite the look we want to achieve.  You get the idea. 

 

Yet in his model prayer, Jesus’ disciples were to ask for food, and at that, the most basic of staples available at the time: bread.  Perhaps, the litany of request me may bring to the great vending machine in the sky, would be greatly reduced if we took Jesus’ prayer to heart.

 

Pause?

 

Jesus then tells his disciples to also ask for forgiveness from God.  In Matthew, Jesus followers are to ask forgiveness from debts, something that is owned to another person, in this case, God.

 

In Luke, the translation of Jesus’ words reflects what Jesus was in fact getting at – the forgiveness of sins, that is, forgiveness for the things we think, say and do that are out of line with God’s will.  Those are what causes us to be indebted toward God.

 

Both Matthew and Luke reflect the intent of this part of the prayer.  I will, or have, forgiven those who have spoken or acted in ways that are hurtful, injurious, unfair, and just plain evil.  Therefore I am able to ask and receive forgiveness for all the hurtful, injurious, unfair and plain evil things that I have done. 

 

So how would I phrase this today?

 

I am a sinner, please forgive my sin every day, even though I do not deserve it.  And as I ask for forgiveness, I forgive and let go of all bitterness against any and all who have offended or hurt me. 

 

Forgiveness is not a feeling that we have to conjure up.  I can forgive even if I don’t feel like it.  Forgiveness is really the promise not to bring up or use someone’s past sins against them. 

 

Again, this is not a prayer we would necessarily want to pray, especially if we are still harbouring grudges, resentments, or bitterness against those who treated us poorly.  Of course I want to be forgiven, but why should I forgive others?  I’d much rather harbour resentment and let them know that I do. 

 

Jesus then goes on to speak about temptation or trials.  The Greek word used here can mean both.  Literally the word has the meaning of “testing, trying, or proving” someone, but it carries both meanings. 

 

Therefore, Jesus may be speaking about situations where his disciples face temptation, or about situations where they face hardship and persecution of some form or another. 

 

Traditionally, the words have been interpreted by translators to refer to temptation.  However, we read in James 1:13 that God cannot be tempted and does not tempt anyone.  James goes on to say that temptation arises when we want to cater to our physical and emotional desires in opposition to God’s will (Jam 1:14). 

 

So, if God doesn’t incite to sin, then perhaps it’s better to think of the prayer as the request to keep oneself from bad situations where one might be tempted to turn away from God. 

 

In Matthew, Jesus clarifies the request by pairing it with deliverance from evil.  In this instance, evil can simply refer to bad situations, or perhaps Jesus may be referring to the evil one, that is Satan.[12]   We know of Jesus’ own time in the wilderness, where Satan tempted him to worship the devil, to abuse his power, or to put God to the test by putting himself in mortal danger (Matt 4:1-11).

 

Let me put this request into the first person again, keeping in mind that God is not the source of temptation:

 

I do not want to go on sinning.  So do not lead me into a situation where difficulties, trials and tribulations, will tempt me to walk away from you.  Instead, deliver me from such evil. 

 

Perhaps I should point out that Jesus is not teaching his disciples to pray for the problems of others … I think the reason why he doesn’t is because he expected his disciples to be the answer to the problems of other … as they demonstrate compassion toward others.  (Nowadays, the comment, “I am praying for you,” is Christian code for, “I’m not going to personally do anything to help you.”)

 

Matthew adds a saying of Jesus that he spoke at another time, something also found in Mark 11:25-26.  He does this because it clarifies the connection between being forgiven by God and forgiving others. 

 

Matthew 6:14-15

Not recorded in Luke[13]

If you forgive other people when they sin against you, then your heavenly Father will forgive you also.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, then neither will your Father forgive yours.

 

 

 

If we refuse to forgive others, we cannot expect God to forgive us.  Saying we are sorry and that we are willing to reform our lives, will not lead to God’s forgiveness, if we are unwilling to forgive those who have hurt or offended us.

 

Jesus once told a parable, a story that is to have a spiritual equivalent, with regard to this point, recorded in Matthew 18:23-35:

 

Jesus told a story about a rich slave owner who had loaned some money to his slaves.  One day, the owner decided to call in the debts.  One slave was brought to him who owed him an amount that would be around $ 1 million today.[14]  Since the slave could not repay this huge debt, the master ordered him, as well as his wife and children to be sold off in order to recoup some of the money. 

The slave fell on his knees and begged him, “Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.”  The master had pity on him, let him go, and forgave him his debt.

That same slave went out, found a fellow slave who owed him 100 denarii, an amount that would equal about $ 13,700[15] – still a considerable amount of money but very small when compared to $ 1 million debt that had been forgiven him.  He grabbed his fellow salve by the throat and choked him and demanded to be paid what was owed. 

Just as he had done previously, the fellow slave fell on his knees and begged him, “Have patience with me and I will repay you.”  But the man wouldn’t give him a break and had him imprisoned until the debt was repaid.

When the other slaves saw what had taken place, they were really troubled and told their master what had taken place.  Then the master called back the slave who had owned him $ 1 million and said, “You horrible slave.  I forgave you that huge amount of debt because you pleaded with me.  You should have had mercy on your fellow slave just like I had mercy on you!” And he had him thrown into prison until the debt was repaid. 

 

Jesus concluded the story by saying, “My heavenly Father will do the same to every one of you, if you do not forgive others from the heart.”

 

Jesus was making the point that our personal level of indebtedness to God is way beyond the level of indebtedness that someone else may have toward us.  Even if someone has hurt us a great deal, our own combined wrong-doings are much greater.  And yet, we have such a hard time to extend forgiveness to another. 

 

I have mentioned a number of times that Jesus wanted to present a model prayer, not necessarily one that had to be memorized and repeated by rote.  Nevertheless, there really isn’t anything wrong with doing so.  In fact, memorizing and reciting the Lord’s Prayer may help us to get away from a simple litany of requests.

 

Notice that half of Jesus’ prayer focused on God himself … God’s otherness, his majesty, his holiness, his glory, his will. 

 

The other half of the prayer focused on requests that we likely would not make, at least not in this way –

  • for food that is necessary to sustain us for the day,

  • for protection from the kind of difficulties that would tempt us to compromise doing God’s will

  • for forgiveness from sins based on the forgiveness that we ourselves give others.

 

I think the greatest difficulty with prayer is that we either never speak to God, or we only turn to him when we need something from him. 

 

I think Jesus reminds us that when we speak with God, then thanksgiving, praise and adoration are just as important as anything we can ask from him.  So we need to intentionally remember to use prayer as a way to worship and give thanks to God, rather than making our prayers a personal wish list.

 

As I’ve said, if you have memorized the Lord’s Prayer, that is a great thing.  And by all means recite it daily.  But don’t let it become rote, empty and devoid of real meaning.  Realize what you are actually saying:

 

My heavenly father,

May I revere, esteem, treasure, and honour your name as holy.

May your glorious, sovereign and kingly rule become a reality in all areas of my life.

May I do your will in my life as perfectly and joyfully as      the angels in heaven do your will.

 

Please give me the ability to earn enough so that I can purchase the necessities for life, not necessarily all the possessions I crave and want.

 

I do not want to go on sinning.  So do not lead me into a situation where difficulties, trials and tribulations, will tempt me to walk away from you.  Instead, deliver me from such evil. 

 

I am a sinner, please forgive my sin every day, even though I do not deserve it.  And, as I ask for forgiveness, I forgive and let go of all bitterness against any and all who have offended or hurt me. 

 

So when all is said and done, I have one challenge for you … speak with God, be it ever so brief, twice a day, without asking him to give you something, or to do something for you.

 

CAN I SPEAK WITH GOD AT LEAST TWICE A DAY WITHOUT TURNING IT INTO A PERSONAL WISHLIST?

 

Maybe you could turn to God in the morning, when you first wake up, or over the first cup of coffee.  Maybe you could turn to him in the evening, perhaps when you go for a walk, or when you lay down to sleep.  And thank him and praise him for who he is and for how he’s blessed you. 

 

 

 

[1] In 1 Kings 18:26, the prophets of Baal jump around and call on him to answer for a long time (this may only be due to the fact that he didn’t answer their request). 

Jesus does make the point about them being persistent in prayer (parable of the persistent widow; in Luke 11, the Lord’s prayer is followed by Jesus teaching about the persistent [impudent] friend). 

[2] John Mark McMillan (2005) “How he loves me.”  Kelly Carpenter “Draw me close” – lyrics could be sung to a girlfriend: “you are my desire, no one else will do, ‘cause nothing else could take your place, to feel the warmth of your embrace.”.  Matt Redman, Friend of Sinners: “I am falling in love with you.”  David Harper, I want to Lavish: “I want to lavish my love on you, Jesus.”  Matt and Beth Redman, Let my words be few: “Jesus, I am so in love with you.” 

[3] Wesley:  “Thou art altogether lovely.”  Zinzendorf: “Take thou our hearts and let them be, forever closed to all but Thee.” 

[4] The expression “daily bread” Jesus likely took from Proverbs 30:8, where a person prays not for riches but for daily bread

[5] Gk: opheilema, something owned to another person.  Right conduct is “owed” to God, therefore going against God’s will is an accumulation of debt owed to God.  Luke makes this clear in his translation – see footnote 4 below.

[6]eisphero”, to bring (into a state or condition); Seems opposite to James 1:13, “God is un-tempted (apeirastos) with evil, and he himself tempts (peirazo) no one.”

[7] Gk. peirasmos; lit., “trying,” “testing” or “proving,” not necessarily incitement to sin.  Could actually be in reference to persecution – keep us from being persecuted.  Or it could mean, “don’t allow us to face situations that tempt us.”  In James 1:14, the source of temptation is (physical?) desire.   Satan is also describes as “the tempter” in Thessalonians. 

[8] Gk. harmatias.

[9] Gk. opheilonti.  See footnote 1 above

[10] Gk. peirsamos.  See footnote 3 above

[11] Cf. Job 1:21, “Naked I came from the womb and naked I will depart.  YHWH has given and YHWH has taken away.  May the name of YHWH be praised.” 

[12] Satan is called the tempter in 1 Thess 3:5.  He is also the source of temptation in Matt 4:1-11; 1 Cor 7:5; 1 Tim 3:7, and often identified with the snake in the Garden of Eden. 

[13] However, taken from Mark 11:25-26 (in the context of being able remove mountains through prayer)

[14] 10,000 talents, about 20 years’ worth of a day labourer’s wage.

[15] 100 denarii.  1 denarii is one day’s pay for a day labourer.