Our Father - The Lord's Prayer
The Lord's Prayer is possibly one of the most well known prayers throughout the world. Christians and non-Christians can either recite most of this prayer off by heart or have certainly heard it at least once in their lifetime, and lots of people will hear the words if they have heard Cliff Richard's single "Millenium Prayer".
But for those of us who use it as part of our own prayers or in a service, how many of us stop and think about the words that are being said ?
What are we really saying and what are the implications for ourselves as we say them ?
It is so easy to think that the Lord's Prayer is just some nice words given by Jesus to his disciples.
But first three points of interest ...
- The version in Luke 11 misses out a lot of the words that are written in Matthew 6.
The footnotes, however, show the other words can be found in later manuscripts.
- The Jewish people have a long and rich heritage of a devout prayer life, so it seems somewhat puzzling, at first glance, that the disciples should ask Jesus how they should pray.
It was common for a Rabbi to teach his disciples to pray, and since Jesus was their teacher what could be more natural. But there is possibly more to it than just that.
In Luke 11:1 "one of his disciples said to him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples". Had the disciples overheard John's disciples praying, and were the prayers somehow different to what they as devout Jews were used to ?
Did they overhear Jesus himself praying in a different way ?
- Since they recognised Jesus as God, and as prayer is our way of speaking to God, what better time to find out exactly how God wants to be spoken to than to ask Him whilst he is with you in person.
Let's remind ourselves of the Lord's Prayer, from Matthew 6 ...
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.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
We can not get an understanding of the impact that the two words "Our Father" have on our thoughts and behaviour without appreciating the prayer as a whole, so let's take a quick tour of the Lord's Prayer.
The Lord's Prayer is THE pattern for our own prayer. So it is important then that we understand what Jesus was teaching us; how else can we follow the pattern revealed to us ?
Look at the first sentence, is it about us ?
How often do we approach God in prayer and immediately launch into our requests; what we want from Him ?
I know that I am guilty of doing exactly that at times !
The first sentence in the prayer is all about God, who He is, glorifying His name, looking to His coming, requesting that His will, not ours, be done on earth as well as in heaven.
This is how it should be. We should think of God first, be God-centred and not self-centred. This first sentence then, should make us stop. Think about God, His glory, and what His good will is for us, before we start considering our own needs. Putting God back at the centre of our lives.
The other three sentences deal with us, with our needs, present (Give us today), past (forgive what we have done) and future (lead us and deliver us).
Is it a coincidence that time is dealt with in that order and not as we would normally phrase it, past, present and future ?
I don't think so. I believe it to be quite deliberate. We are to have as our first concern that of the present, the here and now. Then we are to consider what has happened in our past, but to then look to the future.
This is mentioned elsewhere by Jesus - worry about today, look to His coming, etc.
Jesus also encouraged us to think on God first, then others and then ourselves. This is reflected here, God is placed at the beginning of the prayer. Although we are saying the prayer, the words and our thoughts include others (Give us, lead us, deliver us).
Later manuscripts also include the following ending, which we are probably familiar with,
"For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever. Amen"
Here we are returning our focus onto God and worshipping him.
Having looked at the whole prayer, albeit briefly, let's look more closely at the beginning.
The Lord's Prayer, in Matthew 6, begins with the words "Our Father", and it's these two simple but powerful words that help us to appreciate the rest of the prayer and set the prayer in its correct context.
The word Father is used in two senses, in the legal sense and in the sense of fatherhood.
In the story of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46) Jesus tells us that God will never look lightly on anyone who injures or refuses to help one of his children. The Talmud (the Jewish commentary on the Old Testament) has a passage, "The Angels wished to sing praises to God while the Egyptians were drowning in the sea, and God rebuked them saying 'Shall I listen to your hymns when my children are perishing before my eyes ?' ". A wonderful glimpse into how God feels about all people.
- The legal father is the man who helped cause that child to be born into the world. This is the parent, they may not have anything to do with the development of the child but they are its legal father nonetheless. God is our legal father in that He is the creator of all things. See Deuteronomy 32:6 "Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you ?" and Isaiah 64:8 "Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand."
- Fatherhood is that relationship of love and trust between the father and their child. Just as the parent will forgive the child that says sorry, so God is willing to accept the penitent heart. Jesus showed us this in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). When the Old Testament prophets prayed to God to have mercy on his children, God answered "Only when they do my will are they my children; when they do not, they are not."
The Old Testament view of God was different from that of the New Testament and can, I think, be summed up in three passages ...
- In Job 38-39 God bombards Job with the point of saying to him, "What right have you to speak to me or to question me ?".
- In Jeremiah 18:1-11 we have the picture of God who will do with man what the potter has done with the lump of misshapen clay.
- In Psalm 24:3-4 we have the conditions laid down in order to be able to approach God.
Who may ascend the hill of the Lord ?
Who may stand in his holy place ?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.
From these passages we see our relationship with God as that of the created with the Creator. God is a mighty and powerful God who has absolute say over what He has created. We also see that no matter how hard we try we can not meet God's criteria for standing in His presence; we simply do not make the mark.
So how did we get to the New Testament view of God ? What changed in the understanding of the Apostles to get us to where we are today having a relationship with God as a child has with its father ?
The answer is that we can not and could not have such a relationship without God coming to tell us what He is like through His Son Jesus Christ. It is through our faith in Jesus that we such a relationship.
In Gethsemane (Mark 14:36) Jesus prayed "Abba, Father". The word Abba (apart from being the name of a pop group !), is the word used by a child when speaking to their father in the home. We would say "Daddy!". In contrast to Jewish thinking this was radically different. The devout Jew would not dare to even consider thinking of God as "Daddy". For them this was just not on. Yet this is how Jesus viewed God, and being the Son of God well he might !
But it shows how we are to come to God; with the trust and confidence of a little child who comes to a father whom he knows and loves and trusts. We can do this through the Holy Spirit as said in Romans 8:15 "You received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, 'Abba, Father' " and Galatians 4:6 "Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, 'Abba, Father' ".
Abba, Father. Daddy !
God cares for us with the constant love of a father and with such passion that in the end in Jesus he suffered death on the cross.
The following is from the book "Beyond Belief" ...
In Paddy Chayefsky's play "Gideon",
Gideon is in his tent feeling lonely when God bursts in and Gideon is up all night pacing back and forth thinking on Gods love.
In the morning Gideon says to God, "Hey God tell me that you love me."
"I love you Gideon."
"Tell me again God."
"I love you Gideon."
Gideon scratches his head. "I don't understand. Why do you love ?"
God scratches his head and answers, "I really don't know. Sometimes my passion is unreasonable."
The truly great news is that this love of God is not just for Christians, it's for everyone. From Matthew 5:45 "He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the un-righteous".
The story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32 show us that there is no question in needing clean hands and a pure heart before we can enter into that love. (Compare that with Psalm 24:3-5). God the Father loves us with a love which will never let us go. The disobedient son is not shut out, but there are rewards for the obedient son that the disobedient will not have until they turn and submit to Gods love.
Matthew 6:8 "Your Father knows what you need before you ask him".
Our prayers don't have to be spiritual or religious, we can pray for practical, worrying, every day needs. There is nothing we can not take to God in prayer.
In Jesus' time, you could buy two sparrows for one penny or five for the price of four. The extra sparrow was thrown in since it was worthless and had no value. But what Jesus is saying in Luke 12:6 "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies ? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God" is that everyone matters to God. The love of God is so all encompassing that that worthless sparrow matters to him.
In Matthew 10:29 it is stated that "not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father". One might think that that refers to the death of a sparrow, but JE McFadyen used to love to suggest that it could be said to mean "if a sparrow lights on the ground". So every time the sparrow hops on the ground God sees it and knows.
God knows and cares about everyone and if we matter to no one else, we matter to God; and if no one else cares about us, God does. He is after all Our Father, and he knows us all by name. I've often thought what's the point of all those lists of genealogies in the Bible. If you are thinking the same way then why not view them as representing the infinite number of people, past present and future who God knows by name. One of them is yours.
We have looked at how people viewed their relationship with God as a father figure before Jesus came, how Jesus blew away that idea and gave us a totally new way of looking at The Father, and how God as a father loves and cares, for and about us.
There's one more thing to say.
Look at the Lord's Prayer again, there is something missing. Can you tell what it is yet ?
I. I is missing, and no that is not just my bad english. The concept of Me, My, Mine and I are nowhere to be found in this prayer.
I, as an individual, do not appear in that prayer, and neither do you; as an individual.
Let's stop and let that sink in, that you and I on our own have no place in this prayer.
As we say the Lord's Prayer, individually, we are not only praying for ourselves but for each other. The first word of the Lord's Prayer is "OUR". God is not MY Father or YOUR Father, He is OUR Father.
When we pray "Our Father" we have not only stated our relationship with God but also with every human being who has lived, who is living and who will live on the Earth. IF God is indeed OUR Father, then EVERYONE else is OUR brother and sister.
In just two words, nationalism, racism, snobbery, class distinction, apartheid, and all of their ilk are utterly condemned.
If we pray these words "Our Father" and hate or despise a fellow human being, then the prayer is a mockery and we ... are liars.
To sum up then ...
Jesus gave us The Lord's Prayer as a pattern for our own prayer.
But it is not the ONLY way to talk to God. He is after all our Father, and just with our own earthly fathers there are times when we approach them in respect and reverence (usually wanting something !), and other times when we come with our tail between our legs seeking forgiveness, and also snatching a quick moment before rushing out the door (Teenagers in particular !).
Numbers 12:13 "So Moses cried out to the Lord, 'O God, please heal her !' " shows us that we can come to God with a simple plea.
Two everyday words that are powerful, everyday.
My thanks to William Barclay's book
"The Lord's Prayer"
for opening my eyes to this.
Site created by Richard Coleman on 1st February 1998.
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All information in this page correct as of 1st December 1999.