"Give us this steak and daily bread, and forgive us our mattresses."
"Our Father, who are in Heaven, Howard be thy name."
"Our Father, who art in Heaven, how didja know my name?"
"Give us this day our jelly bread."
"Lead a snot into temptation." (Someone who thought he was praying for his little sister to get into trouble.)
These misquotes by children might make us smile, but they point out the possibility that a well known prayer can be mumbled out on a regular basis, and not be understood.
In Matthew’s gospel the prayer comes in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, and seems to form the centre. Everything that Jesus teaches about how to be a disciple and to live well, hinges on prayer. Jesus gave to his disciples everywhere, to us, this prayer as a pattern that helps us to encounter God and grow in Him. From very early in the history of the church, beleivers were encouraged to memorise this prayer, along with other key texts. The Apostle’s Creed tells us what to believe, the Ten Commandments tell us what to do, and the Lord’s Prayer tells us what to desire. It is part of our story, of how we can grow to be more like Jesus.
1. Our Father, who art in heaven
2. Your name – may it be hallowed }
3. Your kingdom – may it come }on earth as it is in heaven
4. Your will – may it be done }
5. Give us this day our daily bread
6. Forgive us our sins/debts/trespasses as we forgive those who sin against us
7. Lead us not into temptation/trials
8. Deliver us from evil(the evil one)
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever.
What we pray and the order that we pray it in seems to very significant. There are three requests towards and honouring God, and then four requests about our needs.
First, when we Jesus tells us to call God Father, he is not saying that God is like earthly fathers; he is saying that we have this privilege and joy of aspiring to be like our heavenly Father. He is in heaven – all-powerful and mighty, but he is our Father – caring and noticing each small detail. He is our Father – we are part of a family that fills all of time and space.
Requests 2 3 and 4 are in the passive tense. There is nothing any of us can do to make God’s name more honoured, his kingdom come sooner, or bring about his will; but as we pray this we find our wills stirred that we want to see this happen, here on earth, now. We find ourselves tending to think and desire different things – God’s things. Our highest priority is to see the name, the kingdom, the will of God honoured and obeyed here one earth, in our lives.
The fifth request is for the material things we need. Food, shelter, clothes – the necessities God knows that that we need and is delighted to supply. The Jews of the first century would have heard this as an echo of the manna provided in the wilderness on a daily basis to the children of Israel. In the west where there are always shops open, stuffed with food, we do not always pray this with the urgency of our brothers and sisters in less privileged areas. We even start to pray for luxuries that are not evil in themselves but reveal that there is work to be done in establishing God’s priorities in our lives.
The sixth request is for another necessity, this time a spiritual one – forgiveness. This is free and unconditional – on God’s part. He forgives us, not because we are loving and forgiving but because he is loving and forgiving. Sometimes we are given medical procedure or drug and it is not immediately obvious that it has ‘taken’ or is working; but a test can show that things are going well. When we find ourselves able to forgive then it indicates that we have received his kind forgiveness to us.
Jesus knew all about testing and temptation. He tells us to pray that we will not be led there, and in praying we will also be conscious of his guiding presence to lead us to avoid harmful influences and to fill our minds with all that is good.
This petition is closely linked to the previous one. Jesus knew that trials and difficulties were inescapable for him and will be for us. The reality of our Christian walk will be tested and but we pray for God’s protecting love to circle us and all whom we love, and we know that when we enter the valley, he is right there with us to protect and guide.
The last part of the prayer as we pray it, the Doxology, seems to have been added later by the early church and follows the standard Jewish practice to giving all the glory to God. It brings us full circle , back to the praise and adoration with which we started the prayer, and acknowledging that God is the one who can make these things happen.
“Amen” is the word which signifies our acceptance, our “buy in” to the whole process. It is our signature on the cheque, our pressing the Submit button that says we accept all the conditions. As we join in and say this together, so we are united in obedience to our God and Father, as he has been revealed to us by our Lord Jesus Christ.
1. If you had to share this prayer with someone who had never heard it before, which part do you think would surprise them most?
2. How do you feel when we describe God as Our Father?
3. How does a concern for God’s name, his kingdom, his will, affect how we think and act?
4. Why do you think the petitions are in the order that they are in?