What We Are
“Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.
Something I did not point out when I was preaching about Jesus as Rabbi was the Lord’s Prayer. All Rabbi’s had a summation prayer if you will, of the 18 Blessings. The 18 blessings were was called the Amidah (ah-me-dah) and was to be prayed 3 times a day (morning, afternoon, evening) along with other prayers such as the Shema. The problem was always the afternoon prayer. People were at work or out and about and they needed to be able to pray quickly. So the Rabbis understood that it wasn’t the words of the Amidah that was as important as the intent. This interpretation allowed them to make a summary prayer of the Amidah and this is what the Lord’s Prayer is.
In Luke, where a little different version of the Lord’s prayer is located, he records the disciples as saying this “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” (). So here is evidence again of a Rabbi or teacher giving his disciples a prayer.
So this is important to remember as we unpack Matthew’s version of the Lord’s prayer. The intent or motivation in prayer is more important than the words that are used. as one scholar commented that Jesus expected his followers to adapt and restate his prayer as the other Rabbi’s did.
Now, let’ set the scene here. Jesus is preaching the Sermon on the Mount. The tradition places this occurrence on the side of a big hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee.
This part of Galilee always surprises people because we think of Israel being nothing but desert. Nothing could be further from the truth. Northern Israel is gorgeous and lush. They grow everything there from Citrus fruit and bananas to Okra.
Jesus teaches the prayer in the context of preaching on piety. He starts with alms giving, moves to prayer, then fasting, these three were the three great acts of piety for the Jews. To sum up, his point was that the intent behind this piety was what’s important, even more so then doing them. This can be summed up in what he said in
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
He uses the word hypocrite 3 times in these 20 verses or so. So with this is mind let’s unpack this prayer.
To put this another way, Jesus teaches us how not to pray before he teaches us how to pray. He makes the point that prayer is personal, not for show and the words used does not make a sincere prayer.
“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.
Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
The Lord’s Prayer could be used by Jews and Christians. In fact one Jewish scholar has commented if Jesus had not died under suspicious circumstances this prayer might have been included in the Jewish prayer Book that was developed after 70AD.
Really, this should not be surprising for the majority of the people following Jesus, were Jewish. In fact this prayer is not that much different from other Rabbi’s prayers from that time! Another Jewish scholar commented that almost every phrase has a parallel in Jewish literature.
Jesus starts with “Pray then in this way” he does not say pray with these words only. He first teaches how not to pray, teaches that prayer is from the heart and is a personal activity, one’s heart must be in the right place. Since he says pray in this way, he is giving us a pattern for prayer.
Also notice, that if we say it word for word, this is a communal prayer. Our father, not my father, our daily bread, our debts, our debtors, do not bring us to the time of trial, rescue us! This doesn’t mean we cannot pray this personally, but you can see here and in Luke’s version that this was a communal prayer.
One of the interesting overall characteristics of this prayer is it is looking toward the future. “Your Kingdom come” Forgive us our debts” “Don’t bring us to the time of trial but rescue us from the evil one.” Even the petition for our daily needs can be literally translated as give us tomorrow’s bread today!
Jesus covers it all in this prayer from a personal relationship (Father) to the kingdom and then to the everyday things of food, sins and temptations.
It is not unusual for a Jew to call God father. However, what is unusual here is that Jesus uses the less formal abba or daddy. This is a more intimate term than the more formal Father. It reminds us of last week’s sermon where we talked about Jesus making the pathway for us to have this kind of intimacy with the creator. Jesus is inviting us into the same kind of intimacy that he has with God. This kind of intimacy would have been shocking to any one of the Jewish faith. This was a bold prayer in that regard.
Now, let’s take a look at how we can use this prayer as a pattern which is one of the ways Jesus wanted us to use the prayer. He tells us:
Pray in private, this does not mean that we cannot ever make public prayer. he is reminding us not to make a show of our prayer life!
Don’t use empty words.
God knows what we need before we ask.
Now with that in mind, our motivations and heart in the right place lets look at the pattern.
First lets talk for a moment about the pattern, and then how you could use it.
Now, let’s turn our attention to how one could use this.
We’ve spent a lot time time talking about process here. But let’s not miss the foundation that Jesus teaches about piety in the Sermon on the Mount. It is all about the right heart or motivation. I think this quote from Richard J. Foster’s book “Prayer:Finding the Heart’s True Home sums this up nicely:
"Our problem is that we assume prayer is something to master the way we master algebra or auto mechanics. That puts us in the “on-top” position, where we are competent and in control. But when praying, we come “underneath,” where we calmly and deliberately surrender control and become incompetent. “To pray,” writes Emilie Griffin, “means to be willing to be naive.”
"This is precisely how it is with prayer. We will never have pure enough motives, or be good enough, or know enough in order to pray rightly. We simply must set all these things aside and begin praying. In fact, it is in the very act of prayer itself—the intimate, ongoing interaction with God—that these matters are cared for in due time."
Let us pray: