The Lord’s Prayer: the Gotchas

Lord's Prayer in greek in the Pater Noster Cha...

Lord’s Prayer in greek in the Pater Noster Chapel in Jerusalem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Millions, perhaps, billions, of time a day, Christians recite the Lord’s Prayer.  It is arguably the most well-known part of Scripture in and out of Christianity.  We all appreciate the part where promises that, if we ask, he will provide for us (“Give us this day our daily bread”).   We take comfort in asking him to rule this earth, and comfort in asking for his forgiveness.  But, the Lord’s Prayer is an easy prayer to say and a hard prayer to really live.  Let’s Discuss.

Our Father in Heaven,

A father is someone who is there to provide for us.  More than just seeing to our physical needs, he is tasked with being our spiritual example and trainer.  By calling God our Father, we are beginning by saying, “OK, dad, I’m about to ask you to do what you need to do in my life in order to train me to be the right kind of person.”  It’s like going up to you high school track coach and saying, “OK, I want to be a winner, so subject me to whatever training you must so that I can win the race.”  (I would have used football, since this is the most painful discipline I have ever encountered, but the Bible speaks of life as a race.  I could have used wrestling for the same reason, as a good coach teaches you to get out of tight situations.  Etc. etc.)  You are essentially asking him to subject you to training that will test your physical and emotional limits.  Now, you are going to get specific.

Hallowed (revered, kept holy) be your name.

“OMG”.   When did the invoking of the name of the holy and wise God become a hash tag for texting?  We are asking God to help us revere his name, to use it solemnly and to use it to proclaim his goodness to the world, not as a point of exclamation about anything of this world.  There is nothing in this world, short of life and death, that warrants invoking God’s name in that way.

Also, consider that the Bible has declared that we are bought with a price, the death of Jesus, and that we are now the redeemed of God and are to live like it.  In other words, keeping God’s name holy doesn’t just mean not using his name frivolously.  We all walk around as God’s children, and, as such, wear his name on our foreheads.  When we act in a way that denies our parentage, we dishonor the name of God.

Your Kingdom Come.

Help us to remember, O Lord, that this is why we are here on this earth.  We are not trying to create a national utopia.  We are not trying to amass earthly wealth.  We are not trying to win a popularity contest.  We are trying to further your kingdom.  We are trying to reach out to those who don’t have understand the fantastic benefits of being joint heirs of your kingdom and to invite them to join.  Therefore we should spend less time trying to repeal Roe v. Wade (although abortion is detestable to you) and legislate against gay marriage (although any sex outside of your institution of marriage is detestable to you) and more time meekly talking to our neighbors with a gentle whisper, the still small voice of the Gospel, since that is the only way that your kingdom comes.  We will not allow ourselves to be distracted by all the enticements to make more money or to play more to the extent that we forget to meditate on your Gospel, through which your kingdom must also come to us.

Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

What is God’s will?  We might say that we can sum up God’s will in the ten commandments — don’t serve idols; don’t kill, steal, commit adultery or lust after things.  But that is mostly a negative way to look at it.  St. Paul says it this way: (Galatians 5:22-23) “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”  When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we do the will of God.  There is no need for someone to compel us to follow laws, because we have the will of God dwelling in our hearts.  Therefore, we pray that God would more and more lead us to a perfect harmony with his will, just as the angels in heaven are in perfect obedience to his will.

As for the unbeliever, he does not know or care about God’s will.  Therefore, God’s will can only be done on earth by us, the believers.  So, in this petition, we pray that God would sanctify us, lead us to walk in his will, to love unconditionally, to seek peace, to be patient with others, to keep up the good work and not get discouraged.  And we ask him to let us live in the joy of our salvation.  Along with this, we ask that he would cause his Spirit to live in more and more people, so that they, too, may do his will.

Now, it is true that God will accomplish his will on earth with or without the cooperation of humans.  God certainly used Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Caesar, Pilate, Herod, Caiaphas, and a host of others hostile to his will in order to show his sovereignty on the earth and to accomplish his plan for salvation.  So, in the sense that we wait for the fullness of time for Jesus to return, we pray that God will move to complete his will for this earth as soon as possible.  But, we pray that we will be among those who seek the will of God and will actually reap the benefits when his will is carried out through us.

Give us this day our daily bread.

In this petition, we acknowledge that God is the giver of everything we need.  We also remember that, as Jesus said, we ought not worry about what will happen tomorrow, because that will take care of itself, and each day has enough of its own challenges on which we should focus.  So, in essence, we are saying, “Give is the understanding that you have our back for this day and every day, and give us the faith to trust you.  And give us tools that we need to face the challenges of this day.”

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

Herein lies one of the biggest gotchas.  Yes, God has forgiven all sins through Jesus’ payment on the cross.  But this is not the crux of this petition.  In this petition, we are acknowledging that we also have a responsibility to forgive sins of other against us that is equal to the full forgiveness God gives to us.  In fact, Jesus even follows up his teaching on the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6) by saying, “If you don’t forgive the sins of others, how can God forgive your sins?”  He taught further on the subject in his parable of the man who owed his master a million dollars.  The master forgave the man’s debt, and then that man went out and refused to show any mercy to another man who owed him ten dollars.  In the end, the unmerciful man was condemned, not because he was not forgiven his debt, but because he failed to show mercy.

As Christians, we suffer persecution in this world.  We even suffer from sinful words and deeds of other Christians.  Yet, God has told us to overcome evil with good.  God has told us to reflect his mercy into the world, to friend and foe alike.  He has not told us to carry out his justice.  He reserves all rights to that.  So, what do we have to gain in this world by retaliation?  That will not further God’s kingdom.  More importantly, what does holding grudges do to us?

When our whole lives become about revenge, we become the very evil that we abhor.  When our whole lives become about getting justice, we lose sight of the fact that our own escape from justice through Jesus is the very thing that secures our eternal freedom.

Many people say, “I forgive, but I will not forget.”  Peter asked Jesus once, “How many times do I forgive my brother for committing the same sin against me — seven times?”  Jesus’ reply was, “Seventy times seven.”  It doesn’t mean 490 times, it means every time.  Every time your brother or sister asks forgiveness, you give it.

What about forgiveness of those who are not our brothers and sisters in faith.  What about terrorists, extremists, and all who seek to undermine morality and our Christian values?  As they nailed Jesus to the cross, he prayed “Father forgive them, for they don’t understand what they are doing.”  Jesus didn’t say, “Forgive them, Father, but never forget what they did!”

Lead us not into temptation.

Luther tells us “God surely tempts no one.”  What we are really praying is that God would lead us in such a way that we don’t let ourselves fall into temptation.   We all have different weaknesses, so each of us is tempted in different ways.  I pray in this petition, “Lord, lead me to see what things lead me away from you into evil thoughts, word, and actions, and help me avoid those things.”  What is causing you to stumble?  Is your boyfriend or girlfriend causing you to sin? Get rid of him or her.  Better to be single than to be ensnared in sin by a romance.  Is your job causing you to sin?  Better to find another job than to be forced to compromise your conscience.  Is your house causing you to sin?  How about your car, or your boats?  What about what you watch on TV, or the music that you enjoy?  Lord, lead us to keep our focus on you.   Yes, indeed, a dangerous thing to pray, if you really mean it.

Jesus said it this way, “Store up your treasures in heaven. . . for where your treasure is, there your heart will be.”  He also warned that it is very hard for people with earthly riches to enter heaven.  It’s not because riches are bad.  Rather, the more earthly treasures one has, the more one is tempted to think about earthly treasures and not to focus on heavenly treasures.  After all, in the Lord’s prayer, we are asking God that, beyond our daily necessities, he help us to focus on heavenly treasures.

Deliver us from evil.

Should we always turn the other cheek, forgive and forget?  Should we always let people walk all over us?  Yes.  On the other hand, God tells us that he will protect us, and he tells us to be careful.  There is no reason to leave the doors unlocked, or to leave our possessions in plain view of thieves.  It serves no purpose to walk into a meeting of skin heads and demand that they love their dark-skinned brothers.  Jesus also said, “Be as harmless as doves, but as shrewd as serpents.”   Don’t retaliated when you are wrong, but also don’t give your enemies any ammunition.  Learn to avoid unnecessary conflict.

Conflict is, of course, inevitable, if you are going to walk in the truth.  Falsehood is all around us and does not like to have the light of truth shined on it.  People will hate you, if you stand for what is right.  But, don’t fight fire with fire.  That only makes more fire, and, in the end, you will also get burned.  Fight fire with water — Living Water.  You can never shout down the lies, because you will not be heard in the din.  But, using the gentle whisper of the Gospel, you can be heard.

The Lord’s Prayer is a very ambitious prayer.  With few words, it directs us to the central point of Christian life — let God do it!  Let God take care of our needs.  Let God bring his kingdom into our hearts and the heart of others.  Let God preserve us.  Because, as we conclude, His is the Kingdom, His is the power to make all things turn out the way he wills, and it is his glory which we wish to share for all eternity.

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