If we are going to be disciples of Jesus, we should learn how to pray. Learning to pray is to disciples as learning to fly is to a bird. Tearfund's Michael Laverty reflects on the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6: 5-15).
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, 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.
“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘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.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins”.
Interestingly, Jesus starts out on how to pray by teaching us how not to pray. First of all, he says, pray not as a hypocrite or as a performance to be seen by others. Jesus also says not to pray in the manner of the pagans, going over and over, pleading to the gods for what they needed. Jesus says you don’t need to pray that way, because your Father in heaven already knows what you need.
Having talked about what not to do, we find in Matthew 6:5-15, Jesus is praying one day and when he has finished his prayers his disciples ask him to teach them to pray, just as John taught his disciples. This is common practice for Rabbis, it’s what they did. A Jewish Rabbi would compose prayers for his disciples to pray and that is how they would learn to pray.
‘Lord teach us to pray’, they said. Jesus begins, ‘When you pray, ‘Say’’ – emphasis on saying. When you pray, take these words and assemble your prayer, like this.
We begin in prayer by addressing our ‘Father’ in Heaven, Hallowed be your Name. Hallowed, sacred, set apart. Holy, revered be your name. It is our ‘relational’, ‘familiar’, connection with God the ‘Father’, that allows us to enter into what is ‘holy’.
‘Your kingdom come, your will be done’.
Thy government come, thy policies come, thy culture come… ‘on earth and it is in heaven’. I like this thought. May heaven and earth come back together again.
‘Give Us this day our daily bread’.
Notice when we pray the Lord’s Prayer we pray in the plural. Not give me my. Not my Father who is in heaven. It’s our Father.
One of the reasons we pray this way is that when we pray we do not initiate prayer, we join the prayer already in progress. As we pray, we come before the throne of God, but there is already prayer going on there. The saints of God around the world are gathering to the throne of God, in prayer and when we come to pray, we simply join in the prayer already in progress. And then, we leave off of praying, but prayer doesn’t stop, we just simply leave the prayer. So we join the prayer, we leave the prayer. But prayer goes on.
Give us Our daily bread.
Day by day - Here I see that you don’t need to spend a lot of time listing things. When I pray I do not need to go through everything on the list I need, especially materially. Because Jesus has just said, ‘Your father knows what you need.’ We express our dependence upon him but can really sum it up by, ‘give us day by day our daily bread.’
‘Forgive us our trespasses, for we also forgive everyone who trespasses against us.’
We are very prone to be very protective about our space and our stuff and we don’t want anybody trespassing. We have to be careful not to incorporate that attitude into our hearts, because we pray ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive trespassers’.
‘Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil’.
God knows the future, I have plans, I have an idea, but I don’t know the future, God knows. So, when we pray about what lies ahead, we say, ‘God, if the course is going to take me into trials and tribulation and temptation, give me a detour. Take me a different way. Take me around that. Around the hard times.’
Sometimes we may have to go through hard times, but there are some hard times, that if we would pray and ask God to lead us in another way, he will!
Lead us not into trial, trouble, temptation, lead us another way. Rescue us... Save us...
The question comes up, do you really think that Jesus meant us to pray that prayer? The short answer for me is – Yes! I absolutely think that’s what he meant.
I pray the Lord’s Prayer, of course I pray other things within my prayers, but at the centre is the Lord’s Prayer. Sometimes I expand on it, sometimes I pray it straight through, as it is, but very thoughtfully.
The Lord’s Prayer teaches us how to pray well. Some people fear that it will become just mechanical. But any prayer can do that, just slow down and reflect on the words.. Simple, just be very thoughtful, and say the words with intent.
The Lord’s Prayer rescues me from the burden of trying to find out what to say. It’s interesting, when the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray he didn’t say, ‘Just talk to God.’ He could have said that.
Jesus says when you pray, ‘Say this…’
We are given the word. Pray this. God wants us to pray well and we are given a prayer that Jesus composed.
The Lord's Prayer is brief. Because you’re not going to be heard for your many words anyway. It’s brief so it’s easily memorised and it’s highly portable.
Each word is packed with meaning and covers every area of life, all the dimensions of time - past, present and future; past – forgive us our trespasses; present – give us our daily bread; future – lead us not into temptation.
The Lord’s prayer is filled with the Divine Jesus.