The Lord’s Prayer

Luke 11

“Teach us to pray!” Jesus’ disciples asked him. Sadly, teaching anyone to pray isn’t like teaching someone how to change a wheel, or to bake a cake, or even how to do a fractional of liquid air.

Being a Christian is not primarily learning a set of beliefs, belong to a volunteer organisation, or even conforming to a list of appropriate behaviours; rather it’s about being on a journey with God, in the company of other people. The journey is not so much a trek, but an adventure because it’s a trip towards trusting in God, rather than trusting in those securities and crutches in which the world has taught us to trust, like possessions and money.

And so praying is a way of being made into a people whose journey is a sign to the world that God has not abandoned the world to its own devices, but is present as a people on the move, a people moving out from their old ways and means. Jesus was not a philosopher laying out a new system of disembodied belief. Jesus was a teacher whose life taught what he preached. We love and follow Jesus not simply because of what he said, but because of the way he lived, died, and was resurrected.

When Jesus’ disciples asked him about prayer, Jesus told them to “pray in this way”: like some poor man who kept pestering his neighbour at midnight, beating on his door until he got out of bed and gave him the bread he needed. We’re challenged to be just as persistent in our effort to “pray in this way.” In the process of obeying Jesus’ command to pray like this, what happens is that we bend our lives towards God.

So, to help us think about this more deeply, on Sunday evenings when there isn’t another event or preacher, I’m going to preach on the Lord’s Prayer, one line each week.

For many, I suspect, the Lord’s Prayer has become a habit. We may say the words without thinking about them sometimes, but habit is good. Most of the really important things we do in life, we do out of habit. We eat, sleep, make love, shake hands, hug our children out of habit. Some things in life are too important to be left up to chance. Some things in life are too difficult to be left up to spontaneous desire, things like telling people that we love them or praying to God. So we do them “out of habit.” Habits are important, particularly in a faith that is so at odds with many of the deeply ingrained and widely held assumptions of this culture. We therefore must do things “out of habit” as Christians because it’s so difficult for most of us to pay attention to God in a society that offers us so many distractions. Prayer is bending our lives towards God, and habit is one way that we can do that. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he didn’t tell them to go off and sit quietly until something spiritual came to their minds. He didn’t ask them, “well, how do you feel about God?” He said, “Pray like this. ‘Our Father…‘

The Lord’s Prayer is a gift. One of the most difficult aspects of meeting new people is not knowing what to say at first. How
should we address them? What subject should we bring up first? In giving us this prayer, Jesus has not left us to our own devices in our relationship to God. We need not flail around, trying to think of something to say to God. All we have to do is to say these words out of habit, by heart. It is the Lord’s Prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer is not for getting what we want but rather for bending our wants toward what God wants. This prayer, unlike some other modes of prayer, is distinctively related to the one who teaches us to pray. This prayer is the enactment of the story of a God who called a people into existence through Jesus. In praying this prayer we become the people God has called us to be in Jesus. The Lord’s Prayer becomes a lifelong act of bending our lives towards God, in the way that God has offered.

So, the Lord’s Prayer is the fount from which all Christian belief and action flows, the daily bending of our lives toward a God who has, in Jesus Christ, so graciously leaned toward us.

When we pray ‘Our Father in heaven’, we sense God in busyness, creativity, and frustrations of the workplace, in laughter and tears of the home, in conflict and peace-making in the world, in the beauty of the sunrise and the sunset, and ask God to open our eyes to glimpses of heaven each day.

When we pray, ‘Hallowed be your name’, God calls our name, to worship, to sing and dance, to shout and proclaim, to give praise to his name.

When we pray, ‘Your kingdom come’, God calls us to be his servant, to be his love in the world, to further his kingdom on earth, and we ask God to show us, to guide us, how to serve him.

When we pray, ‘Your will be done’, we ask each time, what God’s will for his people? What is God’s will for his world? What is God’s will for me? We listen for God’s voice, showing us the path to follow.

When we pray, ‘On earth as in heaven’, we’re asking to live God’s will in the small daily acts of living, and in the way we respond to God’s call; to work God’s will here and now on earth, with a vision of God’s glory, the inspiration of God’s kingdom before us.
When we pray, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’, we remember that God provides for our needs, our food and shelter; that God gives us strength to serve him, wisdom and knowledge so we may share his gospel, his love, and his compassion, so that we may live and work his good news.

When we pray, ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us’, we ask god to forgive us for those days and years, those perplexing times, those times when we doubt God’s wisdom or love; for holding back when we should step forward; for remaining silent when we should speak. We ask God to forgive those who hurt us, who doubt us, or overlook us.

When we pray, ‘Lead us not into temptation’, we ask God to help us not to be tempted to separate action from prayer, nor prayer from action; not to give way to complacency, nor undue fear; to arrogance, nor timidity. We ask God to grant us patience to test our sense of calling with humility and the wisdom of others. We’re asking God to give honesty and integrity.

When we pray, ‘But deliver us from evil’, we ask God to help us to keep to the path that leads to him, and to avoid patterns of living that keep me from him.

When we pray, ‘For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever’, we are trying to serve God, to partake in the growth of his kingdom; to sing and work to your praise and glory.

So, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we’re bending our lives towards God, and when we say Amen, we’re asking that it may be so in our lives.

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