~ Lord, Teach Us To Pray ~
The only request in Scriptural records of Christ's disciples was, "Teach us to pray." There is no record of any disciple asking instructions in how to walk on water, multiply food sources, raise the dead and all the many other things that would intrigue most of us. There are excellent reasons for this. If you knew how to walk on water or raise the dead, your sense of importance and egocentricity would probably go through the roof, to your own destruction. We are taught to deny our selves, to crucify the ego and "old nature", which is the only way we can be resurrected (reborn) into the kingdom of God's Holy Spirit. But asking instructions in prayer is quite a humble thing that doesn't feed our egos, since prayer is intimate time and connectivity with our Abba, literally, our heavenly Daddy. Sitting in the presence of a Spirit-filled, ego-free person has a powerful transforming effect on me. Prayer is sitting in the Presence of our loving Abba and is infinitely transforming.
Another crucial thing to realize in this unique request is Jesus was not asked to "teach us a prayer." Anyone familiar with the Jewish faith would instantly realize this would be a ludicrous request. They already had prayers for every possible occasion from weddings and funerals to prayers for recitation at dawn and at sunset. The last thing these Jewish disciples needed was another one to memorize and recite. They were not asking for this, yet many Christians turned this answer from a request to teach us to pray into another memorized prayer recitation.
So to title Jesus' response to this request of special instruction as "The Lord's Prayer" is misleading. To recite it as "His" prayer must grieve Him and the Spirit since we have missed the point and thus missed the opportunity to learn what He so very much wanted us to know, how to pray, not what words to pray.
Jesus' response was a wonderful treasure for our prayer lives. His response was a perfect model of how to approach the Father. I am so amazed at how perfect Jesus' instruction was! Books have been published on how to pray. But Jesus taught us how in just a few sentences, covering everything, leaving nothing out whatsoever. Let's review Christ's instructions phrase by phrase. In this review, I will suggest adding your own embellishments, as Jesus no doubt intended.
"Our Father…" Let's stop right here and ponder this, which is too often just glossed right over. Jesus taught His disciples in His vernacular language, Aramaic, not Greek, into which the Scriptures were later written. Some translations recognize Jesus' use of "Abba" instead of the more formal "Father." There is a beautiful difference! Abba is "Dad", a profound and wondrous term of endearment and intimacy. I am overwhelmed that the Creator invites this level of intimacy. It gives me the same feeling when a famous Dr. So and So tells me to just call him "Joe." But multiplied a zillion times! In my private prayers, I open with addressing our God as my Father or my Dad, but I pause and reflect on what that means and what Jesus was trying to teach us. God is not a "Higher Power", a Supreme Force, a Consciousness and His Holy Spirit is not an "It". God is a Person, and more profoundly and overwhelmingly, He is our heavenly Daddy Who loves us with agape, unconditionally.
"Who is in heaven…" Yes, that is the center of His kingdom and where my permanent home is. I also often add, "and throughout all creation, and beyond, since the universe cannot contain You!" These reflections are echoed in the Psalms. It reminds me further with Whom I am speaking! This phrase slows me down some more. So far we are only six words into Jesus' prayer instruction, and often it takes me a few minutes in private prayer to get to this point, pondering every precious word and listening to His response as my physical heart literally races in response to the implications of what I am saying and the Presence I am entering.
"Holy be Your Name…" This one stops me again. I just can't say that phrase in one second and move on. I affirm in my heart that I desire so much for His Name to be honored in my life, to be made Holy through me and in me. These are words not to be taken lightly or for granted. These are affirmations of profound intimacy with our Creator. Notice how translations use the future tense! Jesus didn't say, "Holy is Your Name." He instructs us to pray that His Name be made holy, and we have a great responsibility in making His Name holy above all others.
"Your kingdom come…" Another profound pause for consideration. Jesus isn't referring to the Second Coming or the fulfillment of the prophecies of Revelation. We don't need to pray for that! That is coming whether people like it or not! I think the kingdom of which He speaks is the same one when Jesus explained, "The kingdom of heaven is within you (or in your midst.)" I often add "…and explode with power in me, in my friends and loved ones, in all your children, Lord! I don't want my self to come, nor pride, nor ambition…just Your kingdom!"
"Your will be done on earth…" Another future tense! The rest of this sentence, "…as it is done in heaven" is in the present tense. God's will is always done in the heavens where there is no intrusion of evil. But here on earth it is quite different. God has given humans and all the angels "free will", in other words, a will of our own. God's will is often times hindered by our individual and collective wills (as in the case of organizations, worldly powers or entire nations, resulting in wars, atrocities, persecutions and evil that God does not will and condemns as sin.) God's will is no secret. He wants us to know it and pray for it to be done. His ultimate will is for us to "Love Him with all our heart, mind and strength, and to love our fellow humans as Christ loves us." Practice that and all else will follow in accordance with His perfect and most loving, graceful will for all of us. It is also useful to embellish here. I often add, "Your will be done on earth, in my life, in the lives of Xxxx and Yyyyy and in my church, my community, my family…" You add whom and what you desire to experience the fulfillment of God's will and pray for it as instructed!
"Give us today, our daily bread…" Another phrase requiring a long pause in my prayer time. In His "Sermon on the Mount" Jesus emphasized living in the moment, for "tomorrow will have its own troubles." Jesus did plan ahead, of course, but He didn't live ahead. His attention and heart was in the moment. He is instructing us to pray for our daily bread each day, so that we pray that every day. It would be against His instruction to jump ahead and cover an entire month. "Lord, give us this month, our monthly bread" just isn't what He taught us. Or, "Lord, give us a prosperous year free of hassles and problems." That isn't scriptural or spiritual! Am I free and healthy today? Are my daily needs on all levels met today? Praise and thank God! Let me celebrate today! But am I needy today? Sometimes I am, so, as instructed, I pray for bread that day, and take time to explain to my Abba what I need in the way of bread. He promises to provide!
"And forgive us our sins…" I don't gloss over this phrase either. I take time to reflect upon my sins, how I have come short of having my Abba's Name be made holy in my life. I confess them specifically and ask Him to reveal to me anything I should know but don't recognize as sin. In our New Covenant with God through the sacrifice and atonement of Christ, sin isn't a transgression of the law anymore. It is a painful offense against our Abba, our heavenly Dad, that grieves (sadly) His Holy Spirit. Moreover, forgiveness is such a treasured, inexplicable gift of agape love and spiritual freedom and empowerment! I thank Him for His forgiveness! I love Him for it!
"As we forgive those who sin against us." Please appreciate the spiritual meaning of the carefully chosen grammatical conjunctions. Jesus did not say, "Forgive us our sins and we will forgive others" or "…help us to forgive others." The "as" means a simultaneous cooperative with our Father. It isn't a matter of who forgives first. It is not a sequence thing. It is a joint event, we are forgiving as we are being forgiven. They go together. So I often add, "So that healing, reconciliation, love and harmony will reign over my life and all the lives intertwined with mine, forcing out all evil, conflict and adversity that is against Your will for all of us." It is cleansing. It is a wondrous spiritual bath. Why anyone would go against Christ's teaching and hold onto unforgiveness and its poison and opt instead for continuing pain and adversity baffles me. Please take note that after Jesus taught this model, the only part of it He continued to embellish upon was this matter of forgiveness! I take that to mean this may be the most important aspect of learning how to pray, or, maybe just the most difficult!
"Keep us from temptation…" I pause again here and specify to my Abba what specifically I lift up to Him, expressing my desire, with the prophet Daniel, to "purpose in my heart" to obey Him, to stay on that straight and narrow path that Jesus said few find, to please Him, to help me to stay undefiled and to continue in the often painful process of sanctification.
"And deliver us from the evil one." Some translations say "Deliver us from evil." I include both and embellish again: "Deliver me from the evil in all its forms, seen and unseen, human and non-human, from the assaults of the prince of this world, Satan, and his diabolical emissaries of hell." I often elaborate on the nature of evil affecting me, my family, friends, community, ministries, churches, nation, asking for the breaking of their strongholds and the binding and powerlessness of evil, being quite specific. Evil, both personified and as part of the fallen state of humankind, is real, otherwise, Jesus would not have instructed us to pray against it.
"For Yours is the kingdom, the power, the glory, forever! Amen." Yes, not all translations include this final ending, but so what? It is indeed powerful, honorable and meaningful to end all of our prayers with praises to our Abba, and I often go on and on at this point.
Please understand that despite explaining what I do and how I use Jesus' instruction in how to pray, I am still a continual learner. My intent is to spark some ideas in you and, in return, I always welcome your own insights and suggestions. I am just a beggar showing other beggars how I obtain food. I am hungry to learn from you how you do it. Therefore, we encourage one another, as the Scriptures instruct.
Let me leave you with one last observation. I timed myself several times saying the "Lord's Prayer," which I have contended is not a recitation prayer but an instructional guide. Going at an easy, prayerful pace, it took me between 25 and 30 seconds. Please consider the recitation of these words does not constitute prayer, which should be a beautiful, unhurried, sitting in the Holy of Holies time of intimacy and personal transformation with our Abba. It really does not make sense how so many of us feel content with 30 second utterances, absent of deep reflection on what we are saying to the Creator of all things, while blowing away 2 hours watching a TV show or an hour solving a cross word puzzle. Yes, we'll contend these are needed times of "relaxation" after a "hard day of work." Doesn't it tweak your curiosity that 2 hours in prayer does not seem as appealing as a time of relaxation and rejuvenation? And why isn't it? If prayer seems to be a chore, a labor, an obligation, I encourage you to enter into prayer and offer that up to our Abba. See what happens.
As a recitation, the "Lord's Prayer" takes 30 seconds, and, if we are in hurry, we can say it faster <g>! Please understand, however, we are just talking to ourselves. So we might as well not pray those words at all for it amounts to only mockery of Jesus' very succinct and precious instruction on how to pray. Try praying the model that Jesus taught with the pauses, contemplations, personal additions and embellishments. Personalize it. But set aside at least an hour or two, because that's how long it will take you to say "The Lord's Prayer" as Jesus meant it to be used. You will be blessed, God will be blessed ("Bless the Lord, O my soul") and those for whom you pray will be blessed. Life doesn't get any better than that.
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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Weekly Reflections © September 15, 2000
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