The most famous and beloved prayer in Christendom is the Lord’s Prayer. In the gospel of Matthew, it appears in the Sermon on the Mount.
Amidst a swelling throng of seekers, Jesus announced the principles of a new world order. Although the crowd was within earshot, Jesus’ words were primarily directed to his disciples -- an unlikely band of unschooled commoners who had been told they would be fishers of men. Curious to learn more, they settled at the Master’s feet. Little did they suspect that they had just begun a three-year training program that would prepare them for a globe-shaping undertaking.
But of all the things the disciples heard that day, none would be more mission-critical than what they learned about prayer. Using half the bandwidth of the Apostle’s Creed, Jesus taught them how to call upon the resources they would soon need:
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. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
This is no “one-size-fits-all” prayer or a “when-you-don’t-know-what-to-pray” prayer. It is a worshipful supplication that includes praise, petition, confession, submission and thanksgiving, along with some important Christian doctrines. In Part One I discussed the first verse of this prayer. This week I conclude with the remainder.
Your Kingdom come
It sometimes amazes that Jesus taught more about the Kingdom than any other matter, including the Cross. Numerous parables, and discourses that span whole chapters, are devoted to mysteries of the Kingdom -- its principles, its attributes, its manifestation, its fulfillment. One of the most repeated themes of the Kingdom is its “nearness.” But, as explained in "The Rest of the Gospel,"
“Nearness” in no way suggests that God was any less sovereign or involved in creation prior to the Incarnation; but, rather, with Emmanuel (“God with us”) God’s reign and presence will be manifested through his earthly agents. Neither does “nearness” mean that the kingdom had been absent or remote. Instead, the good news of the Kingdom is that, from the Incarnation forward, individuals and culture would experience the healing touch of Christ through his bride, the Church.
“Your kingdom come” is not a plea for God’s Kingdom to descend from heaven; it is thanksgiving for its existential reality and submission to its expanding influence in our lives, in expectation of the day when it will penetrate every dimension of human experience, causing all things to be made new.
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven
We have access to technological wonders that were unimaginable just a generation ago: global positioning systems, iPads, magnetic resonance imaging, and robotic surgery, to name just a few.
Yet, for all of our success in harnessing nature, we have failed to harness the one thing at the root of all of our troubles: the human heart. From the mass graves of communism to the market collapses of capitalism, the twentieth century has witnessed the failure of every utopian ideal born in the hearts of men.
Time and again, history has shown that all of our real problems are cardiological, not technological. Curing our human condition is a matter of submitting to the One who will make in us a new heart. Only then, can His Word flow in us and through us, so that by us, in the power of the Holy Spirit, His plans for this earth will be fulfilled.
Praying “Your will be done,” is praying “Your will be done through me.”
Give us today our daily bread
We may possess many things -- food, clothes, cars, homes -- but none is solely the result of our effort. Everything we have is directly or indirectly a gift of God who has promised to provide our “daily bread.” But this is not wholly, or even chiefly, about physical bread: “The bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” By this Bread we are nourished through prayer, Scripture, solitude, worship, and . . . hardship.
Nothing can draw us from the soup line of our own inadequacy to the banquet of God’s abundance like hardship. Jesus challenged us to “carry our cross.” Paul yearned to experience the fellowship of “sharing in His sufferings.” And James considered our trials “pure joy.” The uneasy lesson of Scripture is that all paths to transformation pass through hardship.
Asking for “daily bread” is an expression of faith in God as our trustworthy source of sustenance whether we are at the table of plenty or in the crucible of affliction.
Forgive us our debts
Nothing is more debilitating than the pressing notion of a moral standard that we know, but wish we didn’t, because of the guilt we bear for violating it. A person who knew all about the crushing weight of sin was King David. In a passage that is most likely a self-disclosure after sending Uriah to his death, David writes,
When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.
It wasn’t until the prophet Nathan pointed a floodlight to the king’s offense, that David acknowledged his guilt, confessed his sin, and experienced God’s peace.
“Forgive us our debts” is an act of contrition. Acknowledging our guilt before a righteousness God, we confess and repent of our sins, placing our faith in His grace and mercy. The result is peace that no psychotherapy or pharmaceutical can ever deliver.
As we also have forgiven our debtors
A while back I noticed a T-shirt that read: "To err is human, to forgive is out of the question." Often that sums up my reaction when wronged. Yet, as a Christian, forgiveness is not an option. I am commanded to love others as Christ loved me. And since Christ loved me, foremost, by forgiving me of my sins, I must forgive those who offend me.
What’s more, Jesus doesn’t give me an out for “habitual offenders.” Even if a person sins against me “seventy times seven,” I’mon the hook. It is an expectation that few would deny is beyond what is humanly possible. That’s why forgiveness, as the old saying goes, is divine.
Forgiveness does not mean that I must forget a wrong or extend unearned trust to the wrongdoer. It means that instead of demanding restitution, I move toward reconciliation. As Jesus took the initiative in restoring us to fellowship with Him, we are to proactively promote fellowship among our brothers and sisters.
This phrase is a reminder of our duty as ambassadors of reconciliation and agents of restoration.
And lead us not into temptation
This is not to suggest that God would tempt us or lead us into a morally compromising circumstance. Scripture makes clear that Satan, not God, is the agent of temptation. Rather, this is a declaration of our weakness, our inability to withstand the onslaught of Satan’s devices absent God’s help.
In recognition of our frailty, we trust God who “will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear. But when we are tempted, He will provide a way out so that we can stand up under it.”
“Lead us not into temptation” is a petition that we will 1) desire “a way out,” 2) recognize the escape route that God provides, and 3) have the will to take it without hesitation or reservation, like Joseph fleeing from the arms of Potiphar’s wife.
But deliver us from the evil one
Trusting that we have been delivered from the condemnation of sin through the Cross, and that God will deliver us one day from consequences of sin in a fallen world, we acknowledge that, in the between time, we need victory over the habit of sin in our lives with the help of the Holy Spirit.
“Deliver us from evil” expresses our utter dependence on God for that victory. It is He, Paul confidently professed, who “will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly Kingdom.” This is the work of the Triune God, by which we are being transformed from cadavers of corruption to beings glorious and imperishable. Sola Dei Gloria!
With ingenious economy, our Lord established a memorable model for prayer. When we use it as an outline for worship, as opposed to a canned incantation, we incline ourselves toward an encounter with the living God. As we reflect on each verse and respond in worship, while engaging the body in a posture of humility, we experience God in mind, heart, soul, and strength.
Regis Nicoll is a freelance writer and a BreakPoint Centurion. His "All Things Examined" column appears on BreakPoint every other Friday. Serving as a men’s ministry leader and worldview teacher in his community, Regis publishes a free weekly commentary to stimulate thought on current issues from a Christian perspective. To be placed on this free e-mail distribution list, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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