Some Guidance from Jesus
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Before we get too far into this discussion, it’s important for us to bear in mind that these verses are found in a part of the Sermon on the Mount in which context is set in Matthew 6:1:
Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
Keeping the context of 6:1 in mind, take a look at this prayer, what do you see?
Do you see “look at me”? Do you see “gimme the goodies”?
What we can see here is humility, putting God’s purpose first and foremost, necessities forgiveness, and overcoming the evil one; it is elegant in its simplicity.
We are addressing the Father in heaven, acknowledging His glory and giving Him honor, and then asking for His kingdom to come in its fullness, where His will be the only will that is done on earth, just like in heaven. Notice that this doesn’t leave all that much room for my own will to be done, in fact, my will and your will are not mentioned at all.
There is a request that God would provide for us, a humble request to be sure, and then a request for God’s forgiveness as we forgive others; a scary thought for many, I might add. Finally, we are to ask God not to lead us into temptation, but to deliver us from the evil one, again a request of supreme humility. When you put this all together, Jesus is teaching us to pray in a manner that is entirely foreign to the religious life of His time, and a lot more foreign in our own time than we might like to think about, with only God’s will being mentioned.
After this, Jesus goes on to expand a little bit on the whole subject of forgiveness making a conditional statement in verse 15, which must have blown the minds of the Pharisees and their gang of friends. Truly, this is radical now as it was back then.
Was it Jesus’ intention that we simply recite these words over and over? I really doubt it; I see this as a model for prayer, the elements to be included in prayer, rather than something to be memorized and recited to the absence of anything else, particularly when we lose what He is actually saying here. Of course, I would never say that there is anything wrong with reciting these verses, or any verses.
Here’s some homework: Reflect and pray on these verses, asking Him to reveal them in their fullness to you. I think you’ll find this to be a fascinating exercise in spiritual practice. Next time, we’ll see what Jesus says about fasting.
In our next installment, I’d like to share a very classic method for prayer, one that has changed the lives of thousands over the centuries… see you then!