“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”.
Setting the Scene
I’ve never mentored someone I haven’t had a dialogue with. Well, duh right? You kind of got to talk to the person you are mentoring- there seems to be no other way. You communicate. You talk. You write. You listen. So it should come to no surprise then that we are called to have dialogue with God. That’s one of the core aspects of prayer: communication. And like with my mentoring relationships, it’s been that open communicative relationship that the person is changed (hopefully for the better!). Likewise, we see throughout Jesus’ ministry the centrality of prayer as a communicating act whereby God transforms us and transforms the world. The Lord’s Prayer is actually a prayer that Jesus Himself taught his disciples to pray. And the legacy of the prayer has carried throughout generation to generation and from church community to church community. It’s also a prayer that, when you break it down, you can see the nooks and crannies of its amazing transformative power.
But let’s set the scene first.
The world is a broken place, and our hope is for someone to come in order to make all things right. In this light, we can take heart that the word “gospel” literally means “Good News”, and the Good News is, is that Jesus has come into this world to bring God’s rule & reign on Earth as it is in Heaven. Jesus’ whole ministry is working towards that reality. Jesus makes this reality known in His life & ministry, Jesus gives this reality it’s decisive victory through His death & resurrection, Jesus weaves this victory slowly throughout this broken world through His Church empowered by the Holy Spirit, and will one day make this reality everywhere when He returns. In the gospels, we see Jesus on the move showing us what it looks like when Jesus reigns as King- there are healings, there are confrontations with the current ruling powers, and of course there is His teachings about what it means to be a restored human being in God’s restored world (After all, if all of history is heading towards Jesus & His Kingdom one day being everywhere, then we are to learn in the present how to be the people we are destined to become). This is where Jesus’ prayer comes in: it’s right in the middle of his sermon that he is giving. And this prayer really shouldn’t come as a surprise- after all, if we are going to live as followers of Jesus, then we will need open dialogue with the God who can empower us into the life He has called us into. For the Lord’s Prayer is not so much a command as an invitation: an invitation to share in the prayer-life of Jesus himself. And with this, His own relationship with The Father.
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
We must understand that Jesus wanted his followers (and so us) to share what He had with God: that is, his own intimate approach to the Creator. He is “Our Father”. He is not just “A Father”- a somewhere off the distant deity, perhaps with a long white beard, that doesn’t really do much with Creation. Nor is there any sense that God is an impersonal force, or merely a metaphor. Any psychologist and anthropologist will tell you about the centrality of relationships within the world- it’s relationships that give us meaning, fulfillment, a life worth living. As it was said in the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, to draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”. We all know this- that relationship is the heartbeat of the universe. And so, is there really any wonder that the God Jesus reveals is called Father? It’s personal, it’s intimate.
Now some people have crappy dads, and these bad fatherly relationships are sometimes projected onto the text; and so, unfortunately, we can be triggered by such words like “Father” because the image we get of Father isn’t good. Some, but not all, have fathers more like that of Scar from the Lion King rather than then a wise & loving Mufasa. In fact, we live in a time in history where fatherlessness is at an all-time high. In correlation to this, is the higher degree of social problems from those who fathers have abandoned them or left them astray emotionally. Perhaps more than ever it’s important then to recognise that Jesus offers us a counter to our culture’s lack of fathers. The answer to a world of crappy dad’s or none at all isn’t to ignore the God Jesus calls Father, but rather to re-capture what true Fatherhood means in light of Jesus. When a government official comes to another country, they are representing in themselves the values, the vision, and the moral character of their originating country, and often that countries leader. Likewise, when Jesus comes on the scene he insists over and over again that he is imaging the exact representation of what God is like. Jesus Himself says that when we see Him we see the Father. And so, what do we see in Jesus? We see Love. Love not defined by the standards of the world, or by own experiences, but love defined by Jesus’ words and actions. That the images we need we see in Jesus. And so Fatherhood is re-defined in Jesus. This might not solve our qualms about the word “Father” straight away, but it’s a starting place that locates the meaning of the word father not in our experiences, but in what we see in Jesus- the one who reveals to us true Fatherhood.
In A Place of Authority- So relax
Now, where is this Father? He is in Heaven. Now don’t automatically think harps or anything of the like. God being in Heaven is not so much about geographical location, but more about God’s power. This is what we see all over scripture, especially in the prophets and psalms- as Heaven being the over-and-above-awe-place of power & authority over creation. This should tell us something: that the God Jesus calls us to pray to is in a place of control (not manipulation, but control nonetheless). The picture is sometimes depicted as like a throne, and thrones (both now and then) tell us that the person on the thrown rules, has command, and get’s what needed to be done, well, done. In other words, with God, we are in good hands, because the one in which we pray to is in control. He has got it all covered. My point? How much comfort is that, that God has got it all covered. So relax.
“Hallow be your name” was a typical Jewish affirmation of God’s holiness and majesty. For something to be hallowed, means to treat it as holy, distinct, or unique. And a “name” within Judaism reflected not just a title but displayed a deeper meaning of the essence, the character the reputation of someone. In this part of the prayer, we are declaring God as Father, but as Father in His rightful, distinct and honoured place.
“Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven”
“On Earth” Not elsewhere
The precise place this Kingdom and will is to be done is on Earth. Some people, when they pray this prayer, implicitly have a view of faith that’s all about escaping this world when we die as the ultimate goal of faith (And bringing many people as we can with us). In this view, we say “Yeah, we do what we can on Earth to get people to Heaven; that must be God’s will on Earth”. It’s like God’s will on Earth then, is to be a giant net that’s all about collecting people, to be swooped up into the sky; the net comes down, temporarily, to then swoop people up. But we must be informed by a larger picture of faith that takes seriously God’s eventual renewal of creation to be the ultimate goal- as depicted in final chapters of Revelation. In that sense, asking for God’s will to be done on Earth is not like being a net that’s here for a moment and swooped back the next, but about being like someone who is preparing the way of the arrival of a new Kingdom, and so in his or her preparation, is seeing what can be done in the present that will work towards, and eventually match, what the area will be like when the Kingdom fully comes.
It’s on Earth that the will of Heaven wants to be done- because one-day Heaven and Earth will be one! It’s on Earth that we are called to match the will of Heaven because its Heaven and Earth that will one day be matched together! When we don’t take this seriously, we water down our rich, transformative, and beautiful faith- a faith that’s about renewing individual lives, renewing whole communities, renewing whole cultures, and eventually renewing the whole world- we water all that down into a “get out of jail free card”, and demote Jesus from Lord of Creation to Minister of Afterlife Affairs.
This vision of God’s Will being done on Earth as it is in Heaven should open us up into new exciting possibilities! Because if it’s about the eventual renewal of all creation, then all of a sudden everything matters. Faith doesn’t go in one box and then work in another, or relationships in another. Rather, this heaven-coming-on-earth faith is like a pair of glasses with which we look through; we can ask what it would look like for God’s Kingdom to be done in the area of work, of relationships, of, well, everything! If all of reality is heading towards the renewal of all things, then all of reality can be charged with the exciting call of seeking what it would then look like to anticipate, and then enact, God’s Kingdom & Will in xyz area.
This, of course, brings us to the obvious but much-needed point: It’s God’s Kingdom is the one we are asking to come. Now, why would I say that? Because let’s be honest, we can be so concerned with our little Kingdom of One, or we can be so entrenched with how our culture defines what life is all about (In other words, the world’s ‘kingdom’). In our little Kingdom-of-one, or in following in the drama of our culture, we then define good and evil (Their will). Praying for God’s Kingdom & Will then is about pleading for a different rule & reign, a different will to be done- God’s Kingdom…God’s Will. So don’t be surprised if our own agendas are challenged, and if our own priorities are challenged. Don’t be surprised if God leaves us going “Actually, I want you to live this way”.
Now let’s really focus this: what does it look like when Jesus’ Kingdom comes in ___ area? What does it look like when God’s will is done in ____ area? These questions deliberately bring Jesus into areas in our life that He desires to be (Which is in all areas); to be shaped by Jesus’ vision of God’s rule & reign and not our own or our culture’s standards. Once again, this is exciting! We are asking God to shape every area of our life into something much more bigger and expansive than ourselves- into a vision of reality that will lead all the way into an eternal Kingdom!
Now an important second point to this: those questions I have just said, shouldn’t just inform us of the end’s (what it will look like at the end when God’s will is done in xyz area) but also the ways by which we achieve our Kingdom inspired ends (in other words, how it is done). Without both the means and the ends informed by Jesus’ Kingdom & will, then both will be distorted in the long run. So let’s say someone feels compelled to spread the faith into a foreign country- okay that’s all well and good. But suppose then they go in there and destroy the entire culture, enforce the new religion by law & violence, and apply the death penalty to all those who attempt to stay within their old ways. My question is, is how that anything like the Kingdom?! It’s not. There’s an end, but a Satanic means, which of course then distorts & guides the original end goal into anything but genuine Christlike faith. Now, these same questions are questions we should also ask as a community, and as a wider culture, as we seek the good for both our neighbourhood and for our world.
God Bring’s God’s Kingdom
But, of course, this isn’t about us conjuring up the Kingdom and God’s will on our own (As if we are like someone on a desert Island rubbing two sticks together to make fire!)- the whole point of this section of prayer is that we are pleading that God brings God’s Kingdom; that God brings God’s will. When God’s answers this pleading section of prayer, He unleashes the reality of this prayer.
All that said, let us not think even for a second that this leaves us dormant, with nothing we can do. God does the work, and yet we are called to be people who participate in the work God is doing. It’s like a symphony, having been composed by someone else, we nonetheless play our instrument. However, we nonetheless stress the work of God. It’s God who is doing the saving. We do what He wants us to do, as participates in His saving work in the world.
“Give us this day our daily bread”
Food is an occurring reality that happens throughout Jesus’ ministry. The wilderness feeding stories suggest both a literal feeding and a symbolic act that demonstrated God’s power to provide for the needs of the people. The sharing of food, both actually and symbolically, was a central feature of Jesus’ life. And of course, the climax to all of this, the last supper- where food is used as a symbol of Jesus’ saving work in His own body. Bread was a sign of God’s in-breaking Kingdom, where the world would be fed, both physically & spiritually (Without division of the two!). To ask for bread is to ask to be nourished, but nourished within the context of God’s Kingdom coming in- that He would provide because His Kingdom would be a providing Kingdom.
The Bread of Today and Tomorrow
Like a diamond, there is actually a few different angles to this richly diverse part of the prayer. One angle is this: Some commentators think the original Greek meaning here is “tomorrow’s bread”, not daily bread. When you read it as “Give us today, tomorrows bread”, then we see that the disciples are being told to pray for the “bread of tomorrow,” perhaps referring to the banquet feast planned for the day God’s Kingdom is fully established on the Earth. In other words, It is another way of asking for God’s rule to be established now. But there is also a purely present dimension to this. Daily bread was an Israeli throwback to the time in the wilderness where God met the daily needs of His people. In other words, daily bread is also about us trusting God to meet our daily needs right now. Perhaps just like there is the Kingdom now, and also a fully established Kingdom later, there is both a longing to say “Come Lord Jesus! Bring what the world needs!” and also a petition to say “God! Help us now! For we are in need!”
Daily Bread As Daily Needs
Some of us have it pretty well of, and some of us don’t and therefore live from pay check to pay check, but regardless it all comes from God. That breath you just took is a need God has just fulfilled, that food you ate earlier is a need God just fulfilled, and without food or breath you are dead. The mind you use for you to work and make your living- that’s also a need God has given you. Our daily needs are what we need essentially to live! That’s why it’s a need! Of course, a humbling and daunting task is to ask what is a “need” and what is a “want” and ask God for the wisdom to discern between the two.
(Something that must be acknowledged is that Job seasons and moments do exist- we might truly need something, and we might pray and not get it (And maybe for a variety of factors). Taking the Christian life seriously is taking seriously that this does happen. However, this is not to water down an equally true reality- that God does indeed supply.)
We all need daily bread- the basics of food, water, shelter. Maybe you’re in a season where you have particular needs, such as needing someone to listen to your struggles. Another thought that crossed my mind is that maybe, like that of asking for God’s Kingdom and will for your life, God wants you to be daily bread to someone- maybe you’re just the person someone needs in their life in a particular season? After all, God uses His people to do His will. Perhaps there is so much unmet ‘daily bread’ need in the world because sometimes we aren’t doing the “Your Kingdom come, your will be done” bit. To both ask for daily bread, and be daily bread to the world. That’s stretching beyond this context, but it’s a thought I want us to consider.
“and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors”
The larger picture behind this section of the prayer is, of course, one of the main thrusts of Jesus’ Kingdom arrival: the forgiveness of sins. Part of the vision of God’s Kingdom, envisioned in the Prophets, was that of a coming time where God’s forgiveness would come to His people & to the world. Hand-in-hand with the longing for the “Forgiveness of sins” was the prophets linking “the forgiveness of sins” with the larger reality of God’s presence being over the land again. And such, Jesus’ Kingdom-coming was a way of saying “God’s forgiveness is here! And so His presence will be here!”. It’s the time of Jubilee!
Forgiveness: Something you need
When it comes to forgiveness, we have to remember that there is actually a need for forgiveness. God isn’t an impersonal force but a personal being- and we have been jerks to God. And if not to God, certainly to other people made by God, and to the way we hurt God’s creation, and ourselves. We have, and do, break the fabric of our relationships with God, each other, ourselves, and creation all the time. Let’s not kid ourselves: we have screwed up. Thankfully, God is extremely gracious and forgiving. And so we need to pray this daily, as a reminder that we are not perfect, and as a reminder that our God is not an arsehole, but extremely gracious and willing to forgive us when we screw up. The whole point of being disciples of Jesus is that we are students of Jesus and His kingdom- Students fail; we fumble. But, In a world that’s often filled with tit-for-tat thinking, we have a God who eternally loves us and forgives us. We are like babies learning to walk for the first time, and learning to walk takes time, but walk we must, and the one teaching us to walk isn’t hitting us when we fall, but lifting us up and beckoning us forward.
“I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine!” is not how forgiveness works
“Forgive us as we forgive others” is not a type of quid pro quo declaration (A type of “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine”). Jesus is reminding the disciples of their need to forgive in the light of the Father’s forgiveness. Jesus is not teaching the disciples to ask God to condition and proportion his forgiveness on theirs. We often read the text like that because a lot of our theology has the undercurrents of influential theologians of Church history- and in particular to this reading- John Calvin and Tertullian. These two were theologians in church history who were also lawyers. Because of their profession, they read a lot of legal language into the texts, and then wrote a bunch of theology books that seeped into western theology (Interestingly, not eastern orthodox theology), that has been kept through history, preached upon, and carried up to today, and so we then read these texts, we sometimes read them with these legal-framework glasses discretely handed down to us, and as a result, we read what Jesus’ said as some sort of legal jargon. When our reading eyes read the Bible like a legal textbook manual you might get the impression that Jesus is saying that we won’t be forgiven if we don’t forgive- but if that was the case than it’s not real forgiveness! The whole point of forgiveness is that you don’t have to do anything to be forgiven- you are just, well, forgiven! (Now certainly forgiveness will be costly to the one forgiving us- just look at the cross! But nothing has to be done to be forgiven, rather you are just forgiven). We have to recognise scripture as the true & relational story of what God is up to in the world, and when we see it like that, then its easy to see that this section on forgiveness is deeply interconnected & flows, as opposed to sliced up and made ridged. Almost like waves at a beautiful beach is the flow of forgiveness that works too-and-fro: As we see God’s forgiveness for us, we forgive others. And as we forgive others, it opens us up more to see the beauty of God’s forgiveness for us more & more. So we go out into the world and forgive others more freely, and so our eyes open more to the beauty of God’s forgiveness for us. And so on… It just goes on, and it swells up into true life whereby we become the forgiving people God wants us to be, and the forgiving people who will match the life of heaven that Jesus is, and will, make on Earth when He returns when He renews the world by that same standard of forgiving love.
The Healing Power of Forgiveness
The challenge here, then, is that redeemed people live as redemption people; forgiven people live as forgiving people. Let me tell you story:
In America in 2006, a man by the name of Charles Roberts went into an Amish school and took 8 girl hostage, killed five of the eight, and then killed himself. This of course, devastated the Amish community and even the USA as a whole. However, this community responded in a powerful way: An Amish neighbour comforted the Robert’s family only hours after the shooting, and extended forgiveness to them. Amish community members visited and comforted Charles Robert’s widow and his parents. One Amish man held Roberts’ sobbing father in his arms, reportedly for as long as an hour, to comfort him. The Amish also made a charitable fund for the family of the shooter. About 30 members of the Amish community attended Roberts’ funeral, and Marie Roberts, the widow of the killer, was one of the few outsiders invited to the funeral of one of the victims. Marie Roberts wrote an open letter to her Amish neighbours thanking them for their forgiveness, grace, and mercy. She wrote, “Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. Gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.” Some commentators criticized the quick and complete forgiveness with which the Amish responded, arguing that forgiveness is inappropriate when no remorse has been expressed, and that such an attitude runs the risk of denying the existence of evil. However, the community explained that their willingness to forgo vengeance does not undo the tragedy or pardon the wrong, but rather constitutes a first step towards a future that is more hopeful.
That’s the power when we embody forgiveness into the world, and it’s what we are called to do.
But of course…
Now, of course, a few pastoral caveats to be mindful of:
-your power for forgiveness should not be used as a badge of self-righteousness
(Beckoning someone towards forgiveness is an invitation to someone to become more fully who God wants them to be by setting them free from the dehumanising cycle of revenge & hatred, It should NOT be used as a way to show someone how much better you are)
-forgiveness doesn’t mean trusting a person again
(If someone has a track record of doing evil, forgiving them doesn’t mean that person will automatically change. It might never be appropriate to have that person in your life again. Healthy boundaries might need to be developed)
-forgiveness doesn’t mean that a perpetrator shouldn’t be called out to repent
(This varies from situation to situation, however, there will be times that forgiveness will be alongside a call to the person to change their ways i.e. repent. Forgiveness doesn’t equal silence, especially (for example) there is on-going abuse where others are being hurt by those in power. Too often, Christians can use God’s call to forgive as a weapon against survivors, whereas rather forgiveness & the call for accountability can go hand in hand)
-there is a legitimate place for anger and lament leading up to forgiveness
(We need to process our pain and emotions, and we see that, in the Psalms, there was no better place than to do it in the presence of God).
Also be mindful of other things:
-Forgiveness is not saying what happened didn’t matter
(It merely saying that we can’t be beholden to what happened forever)
-Forgiveness isn’t waiting till the other person or persons is sorry; that might never come
(And if Jesus waited until we were sorry he wouldn’t of come!)
-Forgiveness will be painful, yet it will also be the ultimate freedom for both yourself and for the greater healing of the world.
With this said, it’s still important not to lose the full weight of meaning behind forgiveness: we set healing in motion when forgiveness is present. This healing is seen on both personal level (letting go of hurt, hatred, and the rest. After all, unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies) and this healing is of course seen on a social/communal level (Think, for example, the Truth & Reconciliation project in South Africa). The call to be both people who are acutely aware of our own need for forgiveness, to then be formed as forgiving people to the wider world- we cannot lose that. For forgiveness is the battle cry of the advancement of God’s Kingdom. If the forgiving love of God on the cross set in motion the saving of the world, how can we think forgiveness in our own context won’t be central? After all, if life is all about an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth than we’ll have a world full of blind toothless people.
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
This fits with the Kingdom agenda. Asking for the Kingdom & Will of God to be done on Earth will have, on the other side of the same coin, a plea that we would not be lead into trials and that we would want to be delivered from evil. So this part: “do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one”. The Greek is difficult here; however, we can agree that Jesus is not asking his disciples to pray that God would not play the role of “the tempter,” which is something God doesn’t do. Jesus is, rather, telling his disciples to pray that God would protect them from hardships that accompany their kingdom work. From whom would they expect such hardships? The closing line of the prayer makes it explicit: “rescue us from the evil one.” Jesus knew that carrying out the Father’s kingdom work would evoke attacks from the Evil one.
I am convinced that this isn’t talking about not being near trials or God never wanting us to be in the midst of evil (If that was the case then how are we a light in the darkness or a city on a hill if we are neither in the darkness or in the world? After all, we are not called to be hermits). It’s rather that, when we are in those places, we are asking for God to make us strong that we don’t give into doing life, and Kingdom, and power the way the world does it. We see Jesus’ trials in the wilderness, we see it in the garden, we see them from people throughout his ministry bringing accusations. Trials are a central reality of Jesus’ public life. Because if you are bringing the rule & reign of God, modelled after this same God, then, of course, you’re going to have people (and also Spiritual forces) coming up against you. You are going to have trails when you follow Jesus. So the prayer is not so much “God, don’t let this happen” (Clearly it will!) but rather “God, when this does happen, don’t leave me there, but help get me through it!”. It’s like marching forward with conviction towards a chosen destination, but there are tempters on the side telling us to give up and give in- we are asking for God to help us to continue to go forward! To not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil
The Daily Battle
This is a daily battle- here are some examples: how will we choose to treat people (Such as people who annoy us to no end? Will we give in and show hatred?), how will we consume products (Such as if we are buying clothes made by slave labour or not. Will we be mindful of these things or not even care?), will we be people who blindly support any nation or government without question (In other words, will we forget that Jesus is Lord and that Ceaser is not? Will we, of course love the nation we are in, but let our love of nation be about appreciating it’s good gifts and wanting to see a country healed of hurt and purged of our societal sins, rather than being idolatrously nationalistic and say that “Everything’s fine, and how dare you say bad things about this country!”, that which our Ceaser wants us to do?). Now let’s be clear: we aren’t perfect- we know that. And because we are students and Jesus is the teacher, we don’t have to be over-obsessed with getting it right (And as such forget grace), however, we are nonetheless called to be God’s people in a dark world, and if we are to bring the light we have to be the light and not succumb to the darkness.
This is our prayer, both as a community and also in our own daily lives. It covers all that to which we need to pray, and like rain refreshes us and grows green & lively world.