When it comes to learning how to do something, there are different kinds of people. Some people need everything spelled out for them. They don’t want to think, they want each step described in detail with no room for variation or error. There are others who find that far too constricting. They want the barest possible description of a rather vague goal and then be given the freedom of how to accomplish it on their own. The task they perform will resemble their own personality more than anything else. I tend to seek something more in the middle. I need clear goals and purposes. I even like to have a good idea of how people have accomplished them in the past. But at the same time, I like the freedom to be able to adapt to changing circumstances and to allow the job to fit my personality. Let us apply this to prayer. We are supposed to pray. God could have just told us to pray but at the same time refusing to give us any examples, thus leaving us completely on our own to figure it out. Or God could have said, you need to pray but you need to pray these specific words every time. How would that fit with someone someone who is more intellectual or more emotional? Would that be better for someone who is rich and is celebrating another financial victory or a street person who is dying in poverty? The disciples wanted to learn how to pray. Jesus taught them. But what Jesus gave was not a regulated prayer that had to be done the same way every time. We see there is some variation even between Matthew’s and Luke’s version. It is likely that Jesus taught on this numerous times and did not feel the need to keep the wording precise. We are going to take a look at the basic pattern of the Lord’s Prayer. The first thing that I want you to notice is that there is some similarity between the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments. Not in the details but in the pattern. Both begin with a section focusing on God and then having a section focused on human needs. This is a basic pattern of the Christian faith. Remember what Jesus said when he was asked to summarize the Law? Love God and love your neighbour. God and humanity. It is found throughout the Old and New Testaments. Let us start with the focus on God.
Focus on God
Like the Old Testament prayers that we have looked at, Jesus specifies who he is praying to. It is the Father in heaven. It is not just Jesus’ Father, as he was uniquely God’s Son. Jesus invites us to join him in calling him Father. The Apostle Paul teaches about the role of the Holy Spirit in prayer and reminds us “you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”” (Romans 8:15 ESV) Calling on God as Father is basic to being a Christian. Our prayer to our heavenly Father is that his name be hallowed. What does that mean? When we see God’s name profaned, not just in swear words, but in how people treat what God stands for, our hearts should break. In the Bible, a name is not just how you address a person but is a symbol of who or what that person is. That is why when a major event takes place, often someone changes their name. We want people to treat what God stands for, his holiness, grace, love, and justice, with reverence and respect. Closely connected to this is the prayer that God’s kingdom come and will be done. What is God’s kingdom? It is not a place. It is not heaven, at least not exactly. Heaven is God’s kingdom but not geographically. Heaven is God’s kingdom in that God’s will is fully done there. God’s kingdom is simply any where God’s will is done. We need to know what God’s will is for this world and for our lives and pray that it is done. Now, there is benefit to people when this is done. It is God’s will that things like slavery and human trafficking come to an end. Of course, this will benefit people. Thousands of people would have a better life and would be free from suffering. That is a good thing. But in this prayer, that is not the motivation. This prayer begins with the desire to see God glorified, to see his will accomplished and his name honored. We rejoice that humans benefit, but our passion should be toward God. Are you filled with this love for God? Do you desire to see him glorified? That is the model Jesus gives us.
There are some who believe our entire prayer life should be about God’s glory. That sounds spiritual, but Jesus invites us to pray about human needs as well. I call this human focus but that is not fully accurate. There is still a focus on God, but we are praying for specifically human needs. We pray for our daily bread. Bread in the ancient world was a symbol for all food. That could be extended to all our physical needs. That is not unspiritual. When the Israelites escaped Egypt, he did not just give them spiritual blessings, he gave actual bread and water for their physical needs. I have a young family. We have plenty of physical needs. Time after time we have brought those needs to God. I have looked around and have seen no obvious way the needs could be met. Things have looked hopeless. But when we have trusted in God, he has always come through. We need food on our tables. But we need just as much forgiveness. We need God to forgive us. We are in debt to God because we as sinners have sinned against an infinitely holy God. If God does not forgive us, the most delicious banquet is of no use to us. This forgiveness takes place when we first been the knee to Christ. But it is an ongoing process. We sin in thought, word and deed. We need to continually seek forgiveness. This sounds attractive to us. But Jesus connects this to our forgiveness toward others. This is somewhat harder to accomplish. I have spoken to Christians who very much enjoy the thought of God forgiving them but who completely reject the possibility of forgiving other people who have hurt them. This cannot be. Is it that God punishes us by withholding his forgiveness when we refuse to forgive? Or is it that we place ourselves in a state unable to receive forgiveness when we remain bitter toward others? We must also pray against temptation. The Christian life is not easy. Being a Christian is not just about a prayer you prayed in Sunday school or camp. It is not just about putting money in the plate or singing a hymn. Christianity is a journey along a straight and narrow road. There are numerous paths that seductively invite us to leave the way God has called us. I am sure we all know people who seemed eager to serve God and were active in church. Things changed. They became busy or discouraged or hurt or confused. At some point it just seemed easier to quit the journey. I am not one who claims to hear directly from God. But I remember a time that I woke up in the night and I demanded that God speak to me. I was not looking for an audible voice, but I wanted something. I got something, a word that popped into my head that I was not thinking about. It was ‘Haran.‘ What is Haran? The story of Abraham begins with his family leaving Ur and traveling toward the promised land. Under the leadership of Abraham’s father, they stopped half way at a city called Haran. God had to speak again to Abraham to get him to complete the journey. Where I was at this point in my life is that I felt God’s call for ministry on my life. I had even said yes to God and was willing to be a pastor. But then I got comfortable. I had a job and an apartment and felt no need to move forward. When I heard Haran, I knew exactly what God was saying. The next day, I called McMaster Divinity College and began the process to become a pastor. Temptation can come in numerous forms, both comfort and pain. We must pray that temptation does not take us from our journey.
The Lord’s Prayer. It is a beloved part of our Christian heritage. But it is not just a beautiful piece of liturgy. It is a model for us in our own prayers. We can pray this exact prayer. But we can also pray our own prayers according to own situations and our own personality. We can do this by building on this model. Begin by glorifying God. Pray for things that will not directly benefit you but will bring honour to God’s name. Then move on and pray for yourself. Pray for physical and spiritual needs. It is not selfish, it is important. Do not neglect this vital model of God and human focus in the Lord’s Prayer.