One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
He said to them, “When you pray, say:
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.’”
As I have tried to listen to Jesus through these days of Lent, I am learning things I have never understood before. The interesting thing about understanding is there’s always more to be had. The life, words, deeds, miracles, signs, moves, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus is ever revealing more truth and releasing more meaning. Remember, he reveals in the midst of relationship.
Today’s text brings us to the famed Lord’s Prayer. Let’s work to listen to him as he teaches us to pray.
I used to think the measure of a prayer was the sincerity of the one praying. While sincerity is surely a good thing, I now think the measure of a prayer is its substance. This prayer Jesus teaches us is so stocked and layered with substance, I am convinced we will never exhaust it all.
I want to share some insights that are coming to me as I try to listen and learn from Jesus in this prayer.
He said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Father . . .
Prayer begins with knowing what to call God. There are so many names by which God is called in Scripture. He is Yahweh, Elohim, Jehovah, Adonai, and on we could go. My late grandmother-in-law once gave me a book entitled The 365 Wonderful Names of Our Wonderful Lord. The interesting thing we learn from Jesus is how Jesus doesn’t call God by name but according to their relationship: Father. He invites us into his extraordinary relationship with his Father which graces us to say, “Our Father.” In life, we call just about everyone by their name, except when it comes to our parents. As my children are growing up, life is constantly changing. Our relationship seems to change by the day as they mature. What most pleases me is what hasn’t changed. They still call me “Da-Da.” That’s not a name. It’s a term of profound endearment. Jesus actually used the term Abba, an exquisitely intimate and endearing term.
So he teaches us to address God in terms of our relation to him and not by a name, and then, interestingly enough, he says this: “Hallowed be your name.” We are about to find out just who our Father happens to be. The God we are privileged to call Father, actually has the most holy name ever uttered. In fact (if I am remembering right), the people of Israel so lived in awe of the name of God they would not speak it except by the high priest once a year on the Day of Atonement. By teaching us to hallow the name of God, Jesus reminds us that though we call God by this intimate term of relationship, we must remember that our Father is the King of the universe, the Creator of all that is, and the righteous Judge, who lives in heaven. This God, who is our intimate Father, happens to be the high and exalted Creator of the heavens and the earth.
Watch what happens now. What I have always understood to be a series of essential petitions, I am now beginning to see as so much more. Rather than a series of asks, this prayer is a full-court celebration of our entire relationship with God. Because God is our Father, everything else that God is becomes a gift to us.
When we say, “Your kingdom come,” we are declaring our Father as the King of the universe.
When we say, “Give us each day our daily bread,” we are declaring our Father as Jehovah-Jireh, our Provider.
When we say, “Forgive us our sins [or trespasses],” we are declaring our Father as merciful Judge and a gracious healer.
When we say, “Lead us not into temptation,” we are declaring our Father as Mighty Deliverer and Protector.
I am beginning to understand the Lord’s Prayer not so much as a collection of petitions but as a profoundly powerful declaration of faith.
And it all comes together in the word Father. In fact, when we speak this term to God in prayer, we are saying all of this and more. Not only does Jesus teach us to call God “Father,” he shows us exactly what a true and loving Father looks like. For the many whose fathers served as a source of brokenness, Jesus reveals a Father who will heal with blessedness. Jesus brings all the attributes, character, roles, and names of God under the covering of a perfect Father.
Rather than a rote recitation, the Lord’s Prayer is a revelatory declaration. If I will really listen to him, this is how I will now pray. I will rely more on the substance of Jesus teaching and training than on my best efforts at sincerity. In fact, I think this is the substance that creates true sincerity.
Closing thought: Jesus is teaching us to pray with divine substance. When we put substance ahead of sincerity, our faith will begin to form our feelings. When we put sincerity ahead of substance, we will depend on our feelings to form our faith.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a son/daughter.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a saint.
Where are you in your relationship with God as Father? Is it real or religious-ish? What would help you grow here?
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