Children’s prayers are often a delight to listen to. Here’s one from a little relative: “Dear God, Good day, no fall down.” And another: “Dear God, help me to be kind, help Daddy not to spank me, and help Mommy to make cakes.” And some from my own family: “I thank you that Dad doesn’t have a lot of meetings.”
Once Naomi said, “My leg hurts. Pray that my leg will go away.” And a prayer from a little member of our congregation: “Dear God, thank you for the trees and the mountains and the sun, and thank you for the rocks — even if we can’t throw them.”
We smile at the prayers of God’s little people. Sometimes I feel like I haven’t grown up much. I’m still praying, “Dear God, Good day, no fall down.” If you’re like me, you could use some help with your prayer life and you’re in good company. The disciples felt the same way. Jesus had not yet taught them much about prayer — He had just prayed. Finally, after perhaps seeing the connection between private prayer and public power, they said, “Teach us to pray.” Do you feel like saying to Jesus, “Teach me to pray”?
I don’t need to give more time to my job. Many people, if anything, would do well to cut down on work time. Workaholism is an American disease. And I feel like I am giving sufficient time to the family (although I could be doing a whole lot better as a husband and father). But I know that I need more quality and quantity in my prayer life. “Lord, teach me to pray.”
We could use help in the evangelism program of our church. We need to strengthen the administrative oversight. But our biggest need: “Lord, teach us to pray.”
When the disciples got around to making that request, Jesus gave them what we call “The Lord’s Prayer.” They didn’t ask Him how to end their synagogue services or close their religious business meeting. They asked Him for help in praying. He gave them a model prayer, one that could cover the bases, that could be used as an agenda for personal or group prayer.
That’s the way Martin Luther took it. When his barber asked for help in prayer, Luther wrote him a long letter in response. He said, “I regard it (the Lord’s Prayer) as the best of prayers — superior even to the Psalter, which I am very fond of. Indeed, it turns out that it was composed and taught by the real Master. What a pity it is that such a prayer by such a Master should be babbled and gabbled so thoughtlessly throughout the world.” Luther called the Lord’s Prayer “the greatest martyr, for everybody tortures and abuses it.” He encouraged his barber to use it as a model, saying one phrase at a time, then allowing the Spirit to help him fill in the rest.
If the Church, like the disciples, said “Lord, teach us to pray,” they would likely receive the same answer as the barber and the apostles: the Lord’s Prayer. It really isn’t the Lord’s prayer — it is ours. (He didn’t pray “Our Father,” because He was the unique Son of of God. And He certainly did not need to be forgiven of anything.) May we use it for the purpose it was given — to teach us how to pray.
Luther spoke of it as the ideal prayer: “A Christian will have prayed more then enough when he has prayed the Lord’s Prayer aright.” So we look at each phrase as a fitting menu for personal or corporate prayer, not simply as part of a rite (which too easily becomes rote and rut), not the thing that precedes the closing hymn, not something we say but something we pray. “Lord, teach us to pray.”
Our Father Who Art in Heaven.
The children’s prayers we began with focus on me and my. That’s all right for kids, but sooner or later we realize that the universe does not revolve around me but around God. Prayer focuses on God and His kingdom, not me and mine.
“Our” reminds me that I have been joined to a family, often closer than one’s nuclear family. We have been adopted into the family of God. Together we have one Father.
A missionary boy played on a high school basketball team in Japan. After the game he said to my mother-in-law, “I had my best game tonight.” Margaret said, “But I didn’t see you playing at all.” He answered, “I wasn’t, but I was praying during the game for the other players.” That boy had learned the meaning of “our.”
“Father” — one of the first words an infant learns, the first word a baby Christian is taught by the Spirit: “Abba, Father.” A father loves hearing it; so does God. He told the children of Israel, “I thought you would call me “My Father …” (
To say “Father” is to call down the care of the One who brings us into His family, who gives us a sense of belonging, who listens to our every cry. The Spirit helps us say “Father” because we are loved, appreciated, cared for. Breathe in the Father’s love as you say it. Whether your earthly father was close or distant, caring or callous, your heavenly Father is all you ever needed and wanted in a Dad.
We know about “Our Father” because Jesus revealed Him. Jesus taught to us to say “Father.” We are not natural children. We are by nature alienated from God. It took the death and resurrection of God’s unique Son to make adoption possible.
“Who art in heaven” reminds us that our Father doesn’t miss anything. When Daniel needed to know the king’s dream and its meaning, the Lord who knew everything revealed it, sparing him and his friends from being butchered. “Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven” (
Hallowed Be Thy Name.
God’s fatherhood draws us close to Him. His holiness separates Him from an unholy creation, keeping us from presuming upon His fatherhood. He doesn’t accept us on any terms. All roads do not lead to heaven. Those not willing to reckon with His holinesss will not experience His love. When we say “Hallowed be Thy name,” we are asking that His name be kept holy.
When the curtains are pulled back momentarily, allowing us to take a glimpse, what we hear is “Holy, holy, holy.” The quality of God which most causes worship from the angels is His holiness. That more than anything else sets Him apart from His creation. There is no darkness in His character, no flaws in His perfection, no weakness in His faithfulness.
Recently, some star Georgia Tech football players were arrested for grand theft. The coaches said it would damage the recruiting program for years to follow. These players gave Georgia Tech a bad name. They didn’t change Georgia Tech, but they tainted its reputation. If God’s children act in ways unbecoming of His family, we give Him a bad name. We haven’t changed His holy character, but we have defamed His name. When we don’t sanctify the Lord’s name in our lives, our conversation, our thoughts and actions, the world doesn’t think much of our God. “May your name be holy among us, O Lord.”
Thy Kingdom Come.
Daniel watched a succession of world kingdoms come and go. He prophesied about one that would start as a small pebble but would topple every other world empire. In the Lord’s Prayer we pray for that kingdom to come in power. God is concerned about government. History is the story of the rise and fall of kings and kingdoms. God has made His choice for the world’s ruler — His own Son. We pray for that kingdom to come.
When we see what other governments do — distorting justice, encouraging crime, ignoring misery, punishing the innocent — we yearn for God’s government. When we see disharmony in family government, broken relationships, unkept promises, shattered lives, we pray “Thy kingdom come.” When the government rests upon His shoulders, things will be different. His government is here in part, but ultimately we are praying “Maranatha — come Lord.”
To say “Thy kingdom come” is to offer a prayer that can and will be answered — now in part, then in full. “Lord, let your kingdom come to my life, to my home, to our church, to our government. Your rule brings righteousness, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit. Our rule brings discouragement, tension, unrest.”
Thy Will Be Done on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Luther knew that we were no match for Satan. He wrote in the Large Catechism, “We are far too weak to cope with the devil and all his might and his forces arrayed against us, trying to trample us under foot … But by prayer alone we shall be a match both for them and for the devil, if we only persevere diligently and do not become slack. For whenever a good Christian prays, ‘Dear Father, Thy will be done,’ God replies from on high, ‘Yes, dear child, it shall indeed be done in spite of the devil and all the world’.” (The Book of Concord, Tappert, p. 424).
How is God’s will done in heaven? Quickly, accurately, joyfully. Those wanting God’s kingdom are seeking His will. Earth dares to rebel against the king. Heaven wouldn’t dare do such a thing. It did once, and that was the first and last time.
Jesus prayed, “Not as I will but as You will.” God’s will is good. It is best, but it is not always easy. Because of the conflict of kingdoms, this is a battle prayer, a call to war, a realization that we are engaged in a fight.
Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread.
Having focused on God and His kingdom, I am now ready to include me and my needs. To start and end with me is to stay an infant in prayer. Is this how we pray? “Dear God, help me to find my keys, to get this parking place, to get a promotion, to afford the new furniture, to pass my test, in Jesus’ name. Amen.” Most of us are pursuing the American Dream (or rather “nightmare”), consumed with self. To pray right means that we put kingdom priorities above our own.
And yet, Jesus wants us to come before our Father with our needs. Hallesby, the Norwegian pastor and writer, said, “Prayer is letting God into my helplessness.” Rather than tough it out in time of need, we are encouraged to come before God as needy children. Kingdom work requires kingdom supplies.
Good fathers provide for the needs of their children — and God is a good father. If God had to pay income tax, He would have to claim all of us as dependents.
We are not praying, “Give us this day our daily cheesecake.” Bread speaks of the essentials of life, not the desserts. We are praying to have our needs supplied — and we never graduate from dependency. Each day has enough concerns — and we pray for daily provisions.
And Forgive Us Our Trespasses, As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us.
A boy spilled his milk. His Mom said nothing, but just grabbed a rag and cleaned it up with him. He said, “You’re the best Mom in the world.” We mess up. Not to acknowledge our messes is to accumulate a big debt. We owe God perfect righteousness. The only thing we can do is to declare bankruptcy and ask God to forgive the debt.
I spoke recently with a bankruptcy judge. He said that 40,000 people will declare bankruptcy this year. All of us need to declare bankruptcy before God. We cannot possibly pay back the massive debt Asking for forgiveness daily is like reminding ourselves of our bankrupt condition. And I need to do it daily, because sin is so much with me.
Realizing our situation, we should be understanding of those who have debts with us. Not to do so is spiritual suicide, because it puts us behind the bars of resentment and revenge. And “if I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (
I am glad we have a good treasurer in our congregation who keeps accurate records of our receipts and debits. He has skills I have never learned. But I am even more thankful that God does not keep record of the debts I owe Him. May I take the grace He has poured on me and share it with others rather than keep a mental tally sheet of those who have offended me.
And Lead Us Not into Temptation, but Deliver Us from Evil.
The hymnwriter wrote, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.” This petition acknowledges my weak nature. Evil is all around and within. We are weak. We not only need forgiveness for our failure, but safety against ongoing sin and against Satan. “Deliver us from evil” could also be translated, “Deliver us from the evil one.”
We do not live in a neutral universe. We cannot say, “Whatever will be will be.” We live in a messed-up world. Satan gets his licks in. Our world has been devastated by sin and the devil. He is stronger than we are, but he is no match for Jesus. “Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world.” And so we close with the doxology:
For Thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory Forever and Ever. Amen.
The most ancient manuscripts do not include this closing, but the Church has used it consistently from the earliest times. It appears to be a liturgical addition to the original prayer, but it is a worthy ending of praise, bringing us back to our center –God.
The Lord’s Prayer is our prayer. Let us use it for the purpose it was given by Jesus. “Lord, teach us to pray.”