THE DISCIPLE’S PRAYER
In this manner, therefore, pray: 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 forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Before we begin to think about the Lord’s Prayer in detail there are certain general facts which we will do well to remember about it.
We must note, first of all, that this is a prayer which Jesus taught his disciples to pray. Both Matthew and Luke are clear about that. Matthew sets the whole Sermon on the Mount in the context of the disciples (Matthew 5:1); and Luke tells us that Jesus taught this prayer in response to the request of one of his disciples (Luke 11:1). The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer which only a disciple can pray; it is a prayer which only one who is committed to Jesus Christ can take upon his lips with any meaning.
The Lord’s Prayer is not a child’s prayer, as it is so often regarded; it is, in fact, not meaningful for a child. The Lord’s Prayer is not the Family Prayer as it is sometimes called, unless by the word family we mean the family of the church. The Lord’s Prayer is specifically and definitely stated to be the disciple’s prayer; and only on the lips of a disciple has the prayer its full meaning. To put it in another way, the Lord’s Prayer can only really be prayed when the person who prays it knows what they are saying, and they cannot know that until they have entered into discipleship.
We must note the order of the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer. The first three petitions have to do with God and with the glory of God; the second three petitions have to do with our needs and our necessities. That is to say, God is first given his supreme place, and then, and only then, we turn to ourselves and our needs and desires. It is only when God is given his proper place that all other things fall into their proper places. Prayer must never be an attempt to bend the will of God to our desires; prayer ought always to be an attempt to submit our wills to the will of God.
The second part of the prayer is the part which deals with our needs and our necessities. It deals with the three essential needs of people, and the three spheres of time within which people move.
First, it asks for bread, for that which is necessary for the maintenance of life,
Second, it asks for forgiveness and thereby brings the past into the presence of God.
Third, it asks for help in temptation and thereby commits all the future into the hands of God.
In these three brief petitions, we are taught to lay the present, the past, and the future before the footstool of the grace of God.
But not only is this a prayer which begins the whole of life to the presence of God; it is also a prayer which brings the whole of God to our lives. When we ask for bread to sustain our earthly lives, that request immediately directs our thoughts to God the Father, the Creator and the Sustainer of all life.
When we ask for forgiveness, that request immediately directs our thoughts to God the Son, Jesus Christ our Savior and Redeemer.
When we ask for help for future temptation, that request immediately directs our thoughts to God the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Strengthener, the Illuminator, the Guide and the Guardian of our way.
In the most amazing way this brief second part of the Lord’s Prayer takes the present, the past, and the future, the whole of man’s life, and presents them to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, to God in all his fullness. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus teaches us to bring the whole of life to the whole of God, and to bring the whole of God to the whole of life.
Our Father which art in Heaven.
(i) It settles our relationship to the unseen world.
(ii) It settles our relationship to the seen world.
(iii) If we believe that God is Father, it settles our relationship to our fellow-men. If God is Father, he is Father of all. The Lord’s Prayer does not teach us to pray My Father; it teaches us to pray Our Father. It is very significant that in the Lord’s Prayer the words I, me, and mine never occur.
(v) If we believe that God is Father, it settles our relationship to God
Hallowed be thy name (Let your name be held holy.)
To hallow, means to regard as different, to give a unique and special place to. The name is the nature, the character, the personality of the person in so far as it is known and revealed to us. Therefore, when we pray “Hallowed be Thy name,” it means, “Enable us to give to you the unique place which your nature and character deserve and demand.”
Let your Kingdom come:
Let your will be done, as in heaven, so also in earth.
It is evident that the Kingdom of God was central to the message of Jesus. The Kingdom of God is a society upon earth where God’s will is as perfectly done as it is in heaven. To be in the Kingdom is to obey the will of God.
From what we have already seen it becomes clear that the most important thing in the world is to obey the will of God; the most important words in the world are “They will be done.” But it is equally clear that the frame of mind and the tone of voice in which these words are spoken will make a world of difference.
A person may say, “Thy will be done,” in a tone of defeated resignation. You may say it, not because you wish to say it, but because you have accepted the fact that you cannot possibly say anything else.
A person may say, “Thy will be done,” in a tone of bitter resentment.
A person may say, “Thy will be done,” in perfect love and trust.
Give us to-day bread for the coming day.
One would have thought that this is the one petition of the Lord’s Prayer about the meaning of which there could have been no possible doubt. It seems on the face of it to be the simplest and the most direct of them all. But many interpreters have offered many interpretations of it. Before we think of its simple and obvious meaning, let us look at some of the other explanations which have been offered.
The bread has been identified with the bread of the Lord’s Supper.
The bread has been identified with the spiritual food of the word of God.
The bread has been taken to stand for Jesus himself. Jesus called himself the bread of life (John 6:33-35).
Although we need not agree that any one of these explanations is the main meaning of this petition, we need not reject any of them as false. They all have their own truth and their own relevance.
When we see that this is a simple petition for the needs of the everyday, certain tremendous truths emerge from it.
(i) It tells us that God cares for our bodies.
(ii) This petition teaches us to pray for our daily bread, for bread for the coming day. It teaches us to live one day at a time, and not to worry and be anxious about the distant and the unknown future. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray this petition, there is little doubt that his mind was going back to the story of the manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16:1-21). The children of Israel were starving in the wilderness, and God sent them the manna, the food from heaven; but there was the condition—they must gather only enough for their immediate needs. If they tried to gather too much, and to store it up, it went bad. They had to be satisfied with enough for the day.
(iii) By implication this petition gives God his proper place. It admits that it is from God we receive the food which is necessary to support life.
(iv) This petition very wisely reminds us how prayer works
(v) We must note that Jesus did not teach us to pray: “Give me my daily bread.” He taught us to pray: “Give us our daily bread.” The problem of the world is not that there is not enough to go round; there is enough and to spare. The problem is not the supply of life’s essentials; it is the distribution of them. This prayer teaches us never to be selfish in our prayers. It is a prayer which we can help God to answer by giving to others who are less fortunate than we are. This prayer is not only a prayer that we may receive our daily bread; it is also a prayer that we may share bread with others.
Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors
For if you forgive someone their trespasses, your heavenly Father will forgive you too; but, if you do not forgive someone their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Before a person can honestly pray this petition of the Lord’s Prayer you must realize that you need to pray it. You must have a sense of sin. Sin is not nowadays a popular word. Men and women rather resent being called, or treated as, hell-deserving sinners.
The trouble is that most people have a wrong conception of sin. They would readily agree that the burglar, the drunkard, the murderer, the adulterer, the foul-mouthed person is a sinner.
But they are guilty of none of these sins; they live decent, ordinary, respectable lives, and have never even been in danger of appearing in court, or going to prison, or getting some notoriety in the newspapers. They therefore feel that sin has nothing to do with them.
The New Testament used five different words for sin.
(i) The commonest word is hamartia. This means a missing of the target. To fail to hit the target. Therefore sin is the failure to be what we might have been and could have been.
Are we as good husbands or wives as we could be? Are we as good sons or daughters as we could be? Are we as good workmen or employers as we could be? Is there anyone who will dare to claim that he or she is all they might have been, and have done all they could have done? When we realize that sin means the failure to hit the target, the failure to be all that we might have been and could have been, then it is clear that everyone one of us is a sinner.
(v) The next most popular word for sin is the word opheilema which is the word used in the body of the Lord’s Prayer; and opheilema means a debt. It means a failure to pay that which is due, a failure in duty. There can be no man who will ever dare to claim that he has perfectly fulfilled his duty to man and to God: Such perfection does not exist among men.
Not only do we need to realize that we need to pray this petition of the Lord’s Prayer; we also need to realize what we are doing when we pray it. Of all petitions of the Lord’s Prayer this is the most frightening.
“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” The literal meaning is: “Forgive us our sins in proportion as we forgive those who have sinned against us.” In verses 14 and 15 Jesus says in the plainest possible language that if we forgive others, God will forgive us; but if we refuse to forgive others, God will refuse to forgive us. It is, therefore, quite clear that, if we pray this petition with an unhealed breach, an unsettled quarrel in our lives, we are asking God not to forgive us.
If we say, “I will never forgive so-and-so for what he or she has done to me,” and then go and take this petition on our lips, we are quite deliberately asking God not to forgive us.
If we are to have this Christian forgiveness in our lives, three things are necessary.
(i) We must learn to understand. There is always a reason why a person does something. If the person is impolite and cross-tempered, maybe they are worried or in pain. If they treat us with suspicion and dislike, maybe they have misunderstood, or has been misinformed about something we have said or done. Maybe their temperament is such that life is difficult and human relations a problem for them. Forgiveness would be very much easier for us, if we tried to understand before we allowed ourselves to condemn.
(ii) We must learn to forget. So long as we brood upon a slight or an injury, there is no hope that we will forgive. We so often say, “I can’t forget what so-and-so did to me,” or “I will never forget how I was treated by such-and-such a person or in such-and-such a place.” These are dangerous sayings, because we can in the end make it humanly impossible for us to forget. We can print the memory indelibly upon our minds.
(iii) We must learn to love. We have already seen that Christian love, agape, is that unconquerable benevolence, that undefeatable good-will, which will never seek anything but the highest good of others, no matter what they do to us, and no matter how they treat us. That love can come to us only when Christ, who is that love, comes to dwell within our hearts—and he cannot come unless we invite him.
To be forgiven we must forgive, and that is a condition of forgiveness which only the power of Christ can enable us to fulfill.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One.
There are two matters of meaning at which we must look before we begin to study this petition in detail.
To modern ears the word tempt is always a bad word; it always means to seek to seduce into evil. But in the Bible it is often better translated by the word test.
Temptation is not designed to make us fall. Temptation is designed to make us stronger and better men and women. Temptation is not designed to make us sinners. It is designed to make us good. We may fail in the test, but we are not meant to. We are meant to emerge stronger and finer.
All that is true; but it is also true that the Bible is never in any doubt that there is a power of evil in this world. The Bible is not a speculative book, and it does not discuss the origin of that power of evil, but it knows that it is there. This petition of the Lord’s Prayer should be translated not, “Deliver us from evil,” but, “Deliver us from the Evil One.” The Bible does not think of evil as an abstract principle or force, but as an active, personal power in opposition to God.
For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.