Due to the strenuous nature of the past six months, I have not had that valuable time which I generally give to musing over scripture with pen in hand. This morning my readings and subsequent thoughts flowed into today’s post. I usually do not like writing these particular posts because I feel inadequate or as if I’m discussing a field that is not mine, i.e. something outside literature. Thus, the following argument may or may not be helpful. We cannot, however, deny who we are, and suffice it to say, the Bible is a grand piece of literature worth commenting on. This morning, I decided to write about prayer, and what better place to go than the Lord’s Prayer. Oftentimes when we Christians pray, we feel a thousand different thoughts and anxieties flutter into our brains, keeping us from the much needed focus we long for when talking to our Lord and Savior. But we also forget that Christ gave us a “formula” of sorts to help us when we do speak to him. How closely we follow this prayer is somewhat irrelevant to me, but more important is that the aspects are included in every prayer we send to heaven, aspects usually lacking in my own petitions.
“Hallowed be Thy name.” We seek first in all we do to give God the much due glory he deserves. We consecrate his name, declaring it to be holy, set apart. And what is his name? He tells us it is “I AM WHO I AM” — that is, his character, his attributes, is both immutable and all-sufficient, the very Source of all good that is made up in this world. We seek to give God this glory first and foremost in our prayer because this sets the tone for the rest of the prayer. It demands us to sit back in fear and trembling of this great God we are conversing with by his grace. It is not, lest we mistake it, merely praising God for what he has done in our lives — also important — but giving him praise for no other reason than that he exists in an independence and holiness, a power and love, that we cannot quite comprehend. Better we do not, for our prayers would rarely leave off from here, or they would last quite some time.
“Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Recently, I found myself involved in a group prayer in which a young woman ended her prayer with something along the lines of the Apostle John: “Amen, come quickly, Lord Jesus!” Immediately I was convicted for two reasons. First, because I rarely if ever pray for the Lord to return. Secondly, I find that this lacking of my prayer life reveals perhaps the deeper truth that I care not whether he comes today or in 1,000 years. Not so much that I don’t want him to come — surely at times I do — but that I am indifferent concerning the most important event yet to occur. But Christ and the early Christians taught us to long for Christ’s return on a daily basis, above all the other distractions that may take our desires, both good and bad. For we must “hate” our parents if we are to follow Christ. Every prayer (and we assume from evidence later on that this is a daily practice) should include a petition for Christ’s return, reminding us, as we so easily forget, that we are transient beings inhabiting this planet in earthly tents groaning for our heavenly dwelling. For the Christian realizes this earthly life as the closes thing to hell he will ever experience, and he greatly longs for paradise.
“Give us this day our daily bread.” Much has probably been written on this “daily bread” Christ refers to. Is it his reference to literal bread or figurative for our daily physical needs? Is “bread” merely symbolic as Jesus calls himself the “bread of life” and later tell us to eat of his body, the bread? I believe it is both, for to interpret something symbolically, we should first read it literally to see if that makes any sense in the context of the whole. Indeed, it does, for only a few lines afterwards, we are told to not lay up physical treasures on earth but to instead seek Christ’s Kingdom and all our earthly and physical needs will be met. So Christ is certainly teaching us to humbly pray on a daily basis for our physical needs we have on this earth. (“Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?”) And just like that we are transported back to the reality that though we should long for and expect the next life, Christ’s return, we cannot neglect our transient pilgrimage through this life. Agur perhaps stated this part of the prayer best when he asks God to “feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” In times of great prosperity, we often forget our reliance on God, and in times of need, though we may not steal, we will grow in our anxieties, and our jealousies for our neighbor’s bread. Thus, God does not have us give our prayer for every need for the rest of our existence but one for the present time. But do we just pray for our daily physical needs? Of course, we do not, and Christ has us spend the rest of the prayer on our much more pertinent spiritual needs: our daily bread.
“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Christ at one point admonishes us to forgive or be not forgiven. At face value, this appears legalistic, strict. But the Christian life is one that functions primarily on grace through faith, and every true follower of Christ experiences that grace, giving him the capacity to forgive others the wrongs they commit against him. If he cannot (or will not) forgive his debtors, it is safe to conclude that he has not experienced this grace, for only those that experience the never-ending grace of our Father in heaven can be gracious in return. The Christian should forgive before any wrong is ever committed. It is not to say that every believer does this and no non-Christian is able to forgive. But the ability to do so as Christ would have us comes only from our daily drinking of that never-ending Fountain of Grace: Christ.
What then does this do for our prayer life? It leaves us entirely exposed before that Creator whose name is to be hallowed. We reverence his name, ask for him to come, plead for help physically, and acknowledge our desperate inadequacies. For me, this asking for forgiveness is not so rare as the acknowledging that I have and will forgive wrongdoers against me. I often forget in my prayer life that I ask for grace, not to hoard it, but to lavish it on my fellow pilgrims. Perhaps (though I may be irreverent) the payer would be better stated: “forgive us our debts, so we can forgive others.” We remember, in any case, our faults before God: a never-ending laundry list of sins, and we are able to see the pettiness of wrongs committed against us. Forgiveness is now easy. But if only that were the case!
“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” All professing Christians will easily confirm an existence in God, many will not be so quick to acknowledge the devil and his army of demons. But Christ clearly taught in the reality of daily temptations, and furthermore, no temptation can come from God. It follows that an evil spiritual force is playing a role in the life of a Christian, and that force is not to be taken lightly. For temptations do not come in obvious packages. No enemy sends the good guy a package labeled “bomb.” Instead he hides the bomb in a cake. (I reference Peter Pan here). But we are tempted when our guard is down, and these desires (usually with good initial intentions) lead us down a path we never before anticipated. We only like “gambling for fun with our friends”; “it is nothing more than a sexual joke, no harm in that”; “it’s only gossip, and if he only knew how much a prig he was, well, it’d do him some good”; “I know I probably shouldn’t covet my neighbor’s wife, but, hey, a wife’s a good thing in and of itself, what’s wrong with a little desire?” And the little lie we tell ourselves is like a horrible seed. Satan knows what we want perhaps more than we do or are ware of, and he does not apologize for using it against us.
It is so fitting that this part of the prayer is placed at the end. How often is this one overlooked? If it is not the most important aspect of the prayer, it is the most imperative. For our entire day is filled with temptations we do not even see or notice, masked in our own desires, and this prayer should be on our lips not just as we close but as we live our day: as we watch the news, drive to work, at work, perhaps most importantly, during down time. It is only our pride and arrogance that neglects this prayer – our seeming ability to overcome temptation on our own, or our lack of belief that it is really happening. But Satan cares not how he drags us to perdition, whether it be slow or fast, and when our desires conceive unchecked, they breed sin and death. Read The Faerie Queene and Pilgrim’s Progress and do not think that an epic spiritual battle only happens in Faerieland. We are bombarded daily as Satan uses our own selves against us, and, at times, the last person I want to be is myself.
To part I want to stress one thing I have noticed as I read this, and that is the apparent monotony that I have experienced in daily prayer, confessing the same sins, asking for help for the same temptations. I am not sure, off the top of my head, if Christ or anyone else in scripture ever promises complete relief from spiritual and physical toils. This is why the “dailiness” of this prayer is so important. God is not a magic genie who grants us forever our demands. Rather, he gives us sufficient grace for the time needed. He gives the mother peace while her son’s fighting overseas, but she finds the odd need to pray daily for that peace. The business man’s temptation to take “just a little” from his fortune 500 company meets him every day as he fires up his computer. He must ask for this bread daily. But monotony in prayer (or “ritual”) is an excuse we make to mix up our prayer in good intentions. But all this “mixing up” may just be the devil’s way of quietly having us forget the need for prayer. “I did rather well in my temptations yesterday, I will do just fine today, no need to pray for help.” It is not until we realize that it is not us who do anything in regards to temptation, but Christ working through us, that we see the need for daily prayer. A healthy recognition of this will lead to not just a daily prayer but one that is “without ceasing” and cognizant of our need to die a daily death to sin and evil desires.
But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic monotony that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never gotten tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. — GK Chesterton