The one thing I don’t like about going on holidays is that it often means I have to miss church service. (That might be the most Ned Flanders thing I’ve ever said, but it’s true.)
But when I peeked into the Revised Common Lectionary and saw what the readings were for July 24, when my wife Karen and I were scheduled to be en route to our fabulous 20th-anniversary Alaskapalooza Cruise, my misgivings softened a little.
The Gospel reading scheduled for that week was Luke 11:1-13 – Luke’s version of Jesus teaching the Lord’s Prayer to His disciples. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a big fan of the Lord’s Prayer. I wrote an entire blog post devoted to it, a few years back and have touched on it in several others. I’ve studied it from a few different angles and I pray it nearly every day. If there’s a Sunday I can afford to miss, it’s one that focuses on the Lord’s Prayer, right?
While I don’t regret the Sunday away from service, I am glad I chose to listen to several sermons from churches that focused on this reading. At my church, guest pastor Andy Lees gave a great sermon on Prayer With Attitude; Denver Lutheran Pastrix Nadia Bolz-Weber preached a barnburner called Our Father Who Art in Everything; and Max Lucado, whose Oak Hills Church in San Antonio doesn’t follow the Lectionary, nevertheless preached powerfully on the Lord’s Prayer on July 31.
But what spoke most loudly to me on this topic was a sermon from a church I’ve never even been to: St. Timothy’s Anglican Church in Edmonton. I stumbled upon St. Timothy’s a few months ago when I was looking for podcasts from Canadian liturgical churches to balance out my U.S. Evangelical-dominated library, and I’m glad I did. The church seems unpretentious and Godly, and the preaching is accessible, yet insightful.
Case in point: the Rev. Canon Maureen Crerar gave a wonderfully encouraging sermon July 24 about the Lord’s Prayer. She mentioned that some years back, a mentor challenged her to pray the Lord’s Prayer, contemplating each word individually as she went.
That sounded like a great idea to me, so I’ve decided to give it a shot myself in this blog post – mainly using the contemporary-language version of the prayer, but jumping willy-nilly from translation to translation in mid-prayer when it suits me – because that’s just how I roll. (Take THAT, Flanders!)
Do you ever think about the fact that even though God is the One who created us, we’re invited to call God our God? The entire universe belongs to God, so clearly, we’re God’s people. But this prayer suggests that this sense of belonging is meant to be mutual.
‘I am my beloved’s and my beloved’s is mine.’ – Song of Songs 6:3
God could require that we use words like ‘Master’, ‘Lord’, ‘King’ or ‘Owner’ here, but the most powerful being in the universe invites us to think of God as our parent. Please don’t let quibbles over the gender of God get in the way of the power of the incredible graciousness of this invitation.
Not ‘that’, ‘what’ or ‘which’ (in this translation, anyway). Who. God is not some impersonal Force like you see in Star Wars, God is a personal being who knows and loves you, personally.
A Picasso or a Garfunkel?
‘Art’, in this case, is an old-fashioned form of the verb ‘to be’. Another form of ‘to be’ is ‘am’, which God uses to great effect in Exodus 3:14 to teach us something about Godself: God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” I wrote a whole series about The A-Word a few years back. Here’s a link to Part 1. Lots of writers and singers have picked up on this same vibe over the years, including All Sons and Daughters, whose song You Will Remain reminds us that ‘You were, you will be, you always are the Great I Am.’
Here are some thoughts on the word ‘in’ from another previous blog post.
What does it mean for God to be ‘in Heaven.’ Is Heaven a place? A state of mind? A plane of existence? Or is Heaven anywhere God is? (And if God dwells in our hearts, does that mean Heaven dwells within each of us, too?)
Yes, God is our friend and our mentor and our daddy. Yes, we are all made in the image of God. But the word ‘holy‘ means ‘set apart’, because despite all of the ways we’re invited to strive to be like God, God is perfect and we are not. And yet, this perfect, holy God invites us to use words like friend, mentor and daddy as we pray to Him.
Holy is your name. Sometimes ‘you’ is a plural pronoun, but in this case it’s singular. Only God’s name is holy.
After all, we live in a culture where names are nearly meaningless. To have a name so intricately linked to the substance of a Being is instructive about both the nature of holiness and its potency.
Not our kingdom, Your Kingdom. We are invited to be citizens of this Kingdom, but it belongs exclusively to our God.
Not God’s democracy, God’s republic or God’s anarchy. God’s Kingdom. A well-ordered, just and perfect Kingdom where there is no doubt Who is in charge and unanimous satisfaction about that fact.
There’s an urgency in this word, isn’t there. Maybe even a desperation: Your Kingdom come … soon … please …?
Similar to the last ‘your’, this one pleads for God’s will – and no one else’s – to be done.
The Will of God is a terrifying, comforting concept, isn’t it? God’s will rarely consults our preferences, and it often takes us to uncomfortable spaces.
But there’s comfort in the knowledge that when God’s will is being done, circumstances are unfolding as they are meant to – the best possible scenario is being realized. There’s a ‘Come what may’ freedom that percolates when there’s confidence that the will of God is being accomplished. So please, Lord, Your will be done.
I long for God’s will to be ‘done’ as in ‘finished’ (past tense) and unalterably, unshakably in place for all time. But when you’re a God who exists outside time, the past tense doesn’t really apply. On the Cross, Jesus declared, ‘It is finished’, and in one sense, past tense was appropriate here. But in another, Jesus’ work of salvation is an ongoing process that will continue in each of us for our entire lives.
Thanks to gravity, there’s very little of humanity that is truer than the statement that we are on Earth. (Sure, we can use huge amounts of resources and ingenuity to liberate ourselves from the state of being ‘on earth’ for short periods of time, but there’s no denying that this is a fundamental component of humanity as we know it.) When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, I think it’s implied that we’re asking that God’s will be done on earth in the same sense, and to the same extent that we humans live on earth.
Not necessarily ‘Earth’, the third planet in our Solar system, or ‘earth’ the first of the four elements of the ancient world, but Earth, the place where humanity dwells. If humans ever colonize Mars, I don’t envision Martian Christians changing the words of the prayer to say ‘Your will be done, on Mars as it is in Heaven.’
Not ‘like’, as in ‘similar’. ‘As’, as in ‘identically’. We’re asking that God’s will be done on earth to the same extent that it is done in Heaven. That’s a pretty huge prayer when you think about it. And I think God wants us to think about it.
Heaven is the face of a little girl
with dark brown eyes
that disappear when she smiles
Heaven is the place
where she calls my name,
says, “Daddy please come play with me for awhile”
God, I know, it’s all of this and so much more
But God, You know, that this is what I’m aching for
God, you know, I just can’t see beyond the door…
– from Heaven is the Face, by Steven Curtis Chapman
Notice the absence of the word ‘please’ here. Jesus doesn’t tack on a bunch of flowery, exaggeratedly pious ‘We beseech you‘s and ‘We know we are not worthy but if you could please see your way to provide‘s, He invites us to simply say ‘give’ here – as if we’re invited to come to God not as beggars, but as children entitled to a place at God’s table. ‘As if‘ because in Christ, it is so.
Not ‘me’. ‘Us’. This prayer is prayed for the entire community, and by the entire community. I wonder if, even when we are alone when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are part of a chorus of believers around the world, praying it together with one voice. I think that might be true, and I like that.
Sometimes it’s easier to imply the word ‘someday‘ in my prayers for God to give me what I’m asking for. You know, ‘Whenever You get around to it, Lord. Heaven knows some of my siblings in Christ have needs that are more severe than mine, and I wouldn’t want to cut in line ahead of them, so you know, whenever. And if that turns out to be “never”, that’s cool. You’re the God, after all.’
But Jesus instructed us to ask God to give to us on this day.
What do we mean when we say ‘day’? Is it the eight-hour work day? The 16-hour period when we’re awake? The X-number of consecutive hours of daylight we experience between dawn and dusk? The 24-hour period in which the earth completes a full rotation?
And what does it do to our understanding of the word ‘day’ when we remember that God created the universe in six days (especially if we’re among those who don’t take this literally)? What about the paradigm-torpedoing word in 2 Peter 3:8 that ‘with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.’? Either way …
‘This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.’ – Psalm 118:24
Again with the plural pronouns. Our daily bread, not my daily bread. Another reminder that we pray this prayer in community.
Also, again with the sense of entitlement. (Didn’t Jesus ever say ‘please’?) But I don’t think this use of ‘our’ is meant to convey a ‘Give us the bread today that we’ve got coming to us’ vibe. More like, ‘You know our individual and collective needs better than we do, so give us what we need to meet those needs.’
Give us today what we need today. There’s such humble, uncomplicated dependence in this word. Such acknowledgement that every day we eat, it’s because God decided we can eat today. Every breath is God’s to give us (or not).
Here are some reflections on ‘bread’ from a previous blog post.
Because man does not live on bread alone, we add more to this audacious list of requests (which is worded to sound a lot like demands).
Christian musician Matthew West tells us that forgiveness is ‘the hardest thing to give away’, but it’s also the one of the hardest things to ask for.
If there were a word for ‘Can we pretend this never happened without addressing who did what to whom?’ and that was the word used here instead of ‘forgive’, I think we’d be less daunted by that word. But even if such a word does exist and eludes me for the moment, it’s not the word Jesus taught us to pray here. He commended this prayer to us using the word ‘forgive’, because He knew we need to own our own sins before we can give them to Him.
If 1,000 people are praying this prayer with one voice at the beginning, it seems odd to think that it suddenly becomes 1,000 individual prayers happening simultaneously when we get to this part. So assuming that we pray this part of the prayer collectively as well, is there room to wonder if part of the power of the Lord’s Prayer is that when one person has the strength to say this prayer but not mean it in that moment, God uses the power of the community to bridge that gap and forgive that person’s prayers, too?
Not just your sins and my sins, but our collective sins as well. Our sins as a church. As The Church. As society. These sins are many, and for us to truly repent of them, we need to name them. A tall order. Thank God there’s grace.
One definition of ‘sin’ is ‘to miss the mark’. That doesn’t sound so terrible – especially when you consider that the bullseye we’ve fallen short of is Perfection Itself.
But we also know that our sins are so many and our darts so far off-target that it’s easy to wonder if we’re even facing the right target. (Is it any wonder that a definition of ‘repentance’ is ‘to turn around’?)
The prayer is going great up until this point. Give us our daily bread, forgive us our sins … and then Jesus had to use ‘as’ – meaning ‘at the same time as’ or maybe even ‘because’ to tie God’s forgiveness of us with our forgiveness of others. And He built it right into the fabric of the prayer, as if to remind us not to even bother asking for forgiveness if we’re not willing to give it.
Again, is it possible that the collective nature of this prayer means that we get to pool our ability to forgive our debtors, so when one of us is unable to forgive right now, that the forgiveness of the rest of the community somehow ‘carries’ or ‘covers’ the one who can’t forgive today?
Not so much a state of the heart, where we no longer feel like we’ve been wronged, but a decision to try to let go of the resentment and anger you feel toward the perpetrator – whether you ‘feel’ it right now or not. As West’s song emotes, ‘the prisoner that it really frees is you.’ Forgiveness.
Those people. The bad people who sin against others. I’m sure not one of those. … Am I?
Not ‘those that’, ‘those who’, emphasizing their humanity. Yes, they are sinners, but so are we all. We all find ourselves on someone’s ‘those who’ list sometimes.
‘Sin’ sounds a little more nasty here than the previous time this word was used, doesn’t it? Now that we are the victims, it’s a vile, offensive thing that the world should be rid of, right?
But it’ll probably help us to forgive if we can remember that even when we’re the victims, ‘sin’ still just means, ‘to miss the mark’. Maybe that reminder can help us to begin to truly forgive as we are forgiven.
Notice that the prayer doesn’t try to minimize the fact that we’ve been sinned against. God doesn’t seem to want us to pretend we weren’t wronged, or to downplay the damage that sin has done. God wants us to fully engage with this reality and choose forgiveness anyway, and leave the business of revenge, punishment and rebuke (if any) to God.
Once again, we’re invited to add more to this prayer, which already feels like more than we have any right to ask for.
God does lead us where we should go. The question is, do we follow?
This is a little word, but it packs a punch in the Bible:
- ‘The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”’ – Genesis 2:18
- “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. – Genesis 3:4
- ‘Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.’ – 1 Samuel 3:7
- ‘When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.’ – Jonah 3:10
- ‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.’ – Malachi 3:10
- “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
It’s amazing how God often answers prayers by not doing something, rather than by doing something.
One of the cool things about meditating on words is that even the forgettable utilitarian shorties can reveal truths about God’s work in the world. The Bible’s first use of this compound preposition speaks volumes, and so does the final one:
- Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. – Genesis 2:7
- “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. – Revelation 22:17
As for you and me, if we’ve invited Christ into our lives, we can be confident the Holy Spirit has come into our hearts. We are new creations in Christ, and we only need to live into this reality. Thanks be go to God!
Do we really need to ask God to lead us not into temptation? Would a good God ever lead us into temptation? Or is the more contemporary ‘Save us from the time of trial’ more accurate?
I’m no linguist, but I actually prefer the older rendering of this part of the prayer. The word ‘trial’ is a lot like the word ‘test’, and if we’re not tested, we don’t grow, so I’m not sure we should ask God to save us from the time of trial.
Perhaps, with fear and trembling, we should give God permission to test us, and instead pray the slightly different prayer that God lead us not into temptation.
And back to the original question, no. I don’t think God would ever lead us into temptation. When I pray this part of the prayer, it’s not for God’s benefit – like if I fail to pray this, God will pounce on the opportunity to lead me into temptation – it’s for mine: it’s a daily reminder that God never would lead me into temptation; it’s another reminder that while God isn’t safe, God is good.
Another little word that packs a punch. North Carolina megapastor Steven Furtick has joked several times about his plan to do a sermon series someday called Big Buts of the Bible – looking forward to when he gets around to it. So often, the world seems to have the last word in a given situation, but God steps in and reveals bigger, better things.
Looking at this word from another angle, we often think our ways are good ways, and maybe they are. But … are they God’s ways?
Does a postcard deliver itself? Does a parcel do anything whatsoever to contribute to its arrival at a destination? No. Obviously, a piece of mail is a passive participant – a receiver – of delivery. And sometimes, it can be like that for us. We endure horrendous trial and hardship, and feel utterly powerless against it, and wonder if the torturous ordeal will ever end, and wonder in dread if this state has become our new, hideous normal. And then, suddenly – although it seems to have taken forever – it’s over.
We’re through the tunnel and we never even saw the light at the end of it. We’ve crested the hill without realizing it and are on a downward slope. The corduroy gravel road has suddenly become smooth, fresh blacktop. Not by our strength or our good decisions, but through a power that seems to work independently from us.
I hope to never have to experience it again, but I hold fast to the knowledge that when trials come, deliverance is available to any who will persevere long enough to receive it.
Think of the so-over-used-it-seems-trite-but-nevertheless-true Footprints poem. Think of Winston Churchill‘s famous quote, ‘If you are going through hell, keep going.’
All of us. Individually, collectively; today, tomorrow and forever.
Where are you from? I was born in Red Deer, I grew up in Drumheller and I live in Calgary, but I think there’s a greater truth about where (or maybe I should say ‘who’) I’m from.
On another note, and getting back to the ‘pay attention to the little words’ theme, one of my favorite uses of this word is in these two tried-and-true (or maybe that’s tired-but-true) preacherisms:
- We don’t work for our salvation, we work from our salvation.
- Generosity isn’t what God wants from you, it’s what God wants for you.
Make no mistake. There is evil in the universe. There is also evil in our own hearts. And we need God’s deliverance from both. Thankfully, God is in the Deliverance Business.
‘For’ as in ‘because’:
Because the kingdom, the power and the glory are God’s, now and forever, God can and will give us today our daily bread, God will God will forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us;
Because the kingdom, the power and the Glory are God’s, now and forever, God will lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil.
For: once again, a lot of power is packed into this little three-letter conjunction.
Not just a kingdom. The Kingdom. Do you ever let that sink in? You are (or you can be) a citizen of The Kingdom.
What is the Kingdom of God like? If only Jesus had given us a few parables to help us catch a glimpse of this elusive concept.
Jeremy Camp used this word quite effectively in song recently, reminding us that ‘the same power that commands the dead to wake; the same power that can cause a raging sea moves mountains when He speaks, the same power that rose Jesus from the grave; that power lives in us.
and the Glory
We use this word a lot in church, but what does it actually mean? Wiktionary is glad we asked:
- Great beauty or splendour, that is so overwhelming it is considered powerful.
- Honour, admiration, or distinction, accorded by common consent to a person or thing; high reputation; renown.
- That quality in a person or thing which secures general praise or honour.
- Worship or praise.
- An optical phenomenon caused by water droplets, consisting of concentric rings and somewhat similar to a rainbow.
- Victory; success.
- An emanation of light supposed to proceed from beings of peculiar sanctity. It is represented in art by rays of gold, or the like, proceeding from the head or body, or by a disk, or a mere line.
I don’t think these definitions, even stacked on top of each other, do justice to God’s glory, but collectively, they’re probably a decent start.
The Kingdom, Power and Glory are God’s and God’s alone. And yet, God chooses to share them with all who will receive them. So in a sense, the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory can be ours.
As I said a few posts ago, the only time we really have is right now. We don’t have the past anymore, and we don’t have the future yet. All we have is now.
And right now…
… in this moment …
… God is God and God is good and God is King, and …
You mean there’s more? After all we’ve asked for and all we’ve received and all we’ve celebrated about God, there’s still more? Yes. There’s more. Just a little thing God likes to call …
This is a word we throw around fairly casually, but as temporal beings who can only perceive time as linear and inalterable, we can’t possibly connect with an ethereal absolute like ‘forever’. And yet, ‘forever’ is what we are told awaits us. The title of a famous Star Trek episode, The City on the Edge of Forever, is arguably an apt description of the ‘place’ we inhabit.
Forever is not so much a synonym for ‘unending’ as it is for ‘having no end and no beginning’. Forever refers to a reality that exists outside of time. And if the concept of such a reality is difficult to grasp, the notion of a Being Who dwells there, Whose power is so absolute that He is even Master of Forever.
And the Master of Forever is your Daddy. Your Friend. Your Rabbi. Your Defender. Your Redeemer.
Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His steadfast love endures forever. – Psalm 107:1
Amen. Verily. Truly. Let it be. So be it. I’m in.
Thanks be to God!
† † †
Well, there you have it. A one-word-at-a-time reflection on the Lord’s Prayer. This is by far the longest Disciplehood post in history, so thanks for sticking around for the whole thing – or at least skipping ahead to the epilogue. I hope you found some of the text to be insightful, interesting or challenging, but really, I’m glad to have done this even if I’m the only one who benefits.
But don’t let me have all the fun! Do your own one-w0rd-at-a-time meditation on this prayer. And maybe other familiar (but probably short) passages in the Bible, too. Psalm 23, for instance, while you’re at it. You probably don’t have to hit all of the prepositions and conjunctions like I (mostly) did, and it’s probably not necessary to publish your thoughts (or even write them down).
The experience provided some great one-on-One time with God, and any time spent with God is time well spent.
Peace be with you.