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15 October 2019

The Lord’s Prayer. Make it your prayer.

When it comes to talking with God, Christians get tongue-tied. We don’t know what to say to him! And if we follow the examples of our fellow Christians, we’re gonna get weird about him. We’ll only address him formally, or think we’re only allowed to ask for certain things—or imagine God already predetermined everything, so there’s no point in asking for anything at all.

The people of Jesus’s day had all these same hangups, which is why his students asked him how to pray, Lk 11.1 and he responded with what we Christians call the Paternoster or Our Father (after its first two words—whether Latin or English), or the Lord’s Prayer. The gospels have two versions of it, in Matthew 6.9-13 and Luke 11.2-4. But the version most English-speaking Christians are most familiar with, actually comes from neither gospel. Comes from the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer, which is based on an ancient new-Christian instruction manual called the Didache. Goes like so.

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

The last two lines don’t come from the gospels, but from an idea in Daniel

Daniel 7.14 KWL
The Ancient gave the Son authority, honor, and the kingdom,
and every people, nation, and language, who’ll bow to his authority.
His authority is permanent: It never passes away.
His kingdom can never be destroyed.

—which was shortened to “yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever,” and tacked to Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer. The editors of the Textus Receptus liked the Didache version so much, they inserted it back into Matthew. And that’s why the King James Version has “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” Mt 6.13 KJV Nope, it’s not what Matthew originally wrote. But relax; the idea does come from the bible.

Phrase by phrase.

Yeah, let’s expound on the Lord’s Prayer a bit.

OUR FATHER. Some Christians wrongly claim the idea of thinking of God as our father (or like Jesus called him, ἀββᾶ/Avvá, from the Aramaic אַב/Av Mk 14.36) is something Jesus invented. It’s not.

The LORD called himself Israel’s father, Ex 4.22-23, Jr 31.20, Ho 11.1-4 and treated them as his children. Dt 1.31, 8.5, Ps 103.13, Jr 3.22, Ml 3.17 Moses called the LORD Israel’s father, Dt 14.1, 32.6, as did the prophets. Is 63.16, 64.8, Jr 3.4, 3.19, 31.9, Ml 1.6, 2.10 He also said he’d particularly be a father to certain individuals. 2Sa 7.14, 1Ch 17.13, 22.10, 28.6, Ps 68.5, 89.26 Yeah, Pharisees started to move away from that kind of talk, distancing themselves because God is so great. But not all Pharisees did, which is why the Mishna refers to God as our heavenly Father eight times. It was far from an unknown idea.

Even ancient pagans understood God to be humanity’s Father. Ac 17.28 Literally: Many ancient pagan myths describe the gods as either creating humans, or physically begetting us. The name Jupiter comes from Jovis pater/“father Jove,” and he’s hardly the only god to be called “father.” Or “mother.”

And no, avvá (nor how Christians mispronounce it, “ábba”) isn’t Aramaic for “daddy.” That idea was invented by people… who simply wanna call God their daddy. Absolutely nothing wrong with that, but thanks to the machismo in many parts of our culture, they don’t think people approve of that. So they want a good biblical reason to defend their practice: “Jesus called him Daddy, and you’d never question his masculinity.” No we wouldn’t… but he didn’t. Avvá may be modern Hebrew for “daddy,” but it wasn’t in Jesus’s day. Regardless, you don’t need a biblical justification: Call God your daddy all you want. Anyone who looks down on you for seeking greater intimacy with your heavenly Father is a jerk.

God’s our father. The relevant question is whether he’s a distant or near father. So are we close? Or do we only speak to him when we need stuff?

WHO ART IN HEAVEN. Heaven is God’s throne. Is 66.1 We need to remember our Father, though he’s right here among us, though his Spirit dwells within us, is still far, far above us. It’s a reminder he’s almighty. We aren’t making requests of some weakling.

HALLOWED BE THY NAME. Christians misinterpret this as praise: “You’re so holy,” or “Your name is so holy.” True, we oughta praise God; it matters how we think of him. And we should bear in mind he’s holy, lest we wrongly ask for unholy things. But properly, this is a request for God’s name to be holy. For God to make his own name holy.

Make his own name holy? He’s frigging God; how could he be any holier?

Well, not everyone thinks of him that way. They think holy means good. Not really: It means distinct, separate, unique. Asking God to make his name holy, means we want him to stand out: We want him to draw attention to the fact he’s different from, and better than, anything or anyone in the world. How he’s gonna demonstrate this is by being holy, powerful, good—by doing stuff only God can do. This is a request that God act in power.

THY KINGDOM COME. Often misinterpreted as “I wish your kingdom would come: I wish Jesus would return, take over, and fix the world.” And yeah, we definitely want Jesus to return. Rv 22.20

But the kingdom doesn’t just come when it’s the End Times. It comes now—through us Christians Lk 17.20-21 as we live the way Jesus taught us to, and live in his kingdom already. This is a prayer for God’s help and power as we grow his kingdom in this world. That’s his kingdom, folks; not ours. Nor our political parties’ interpretations of what his kingdom oughta look like.

THY WILL BE DONE. Also regularly misinterpreted as praise. But most of us correctly recognize this is a request for God’s way to become everyone’s way.

A lot of the time we pray this on others’ behalf: “I wish those sinners would do your will.” ’Cause we don’t like it that they sin. But this prayer is just as much for us as them. Arguably more for us, ’cause we need to be reminded we’re seeking God’s will: We don’t just assume we’re carrying out his will by virtue of being Christians.

And it’s important to God that us followers conform to his will. Yeah, sinners need to repent and quit sinning. More importantly Christians need to repent and quit sinning. It’s downright embarrassing when Christians won’t do God’s will; when we act like a bunch of spoiled brats instead of God’s children.

ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN. Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t mean, “God, you get your way in heaven; now make it so on earth.” Actually he doesn’t always get his way in heaven. If he did, Satan would never have defied him—in heaven.

Both spirits and humans have free will. And we all choose to conform to God’s will. Spirits too. It’s not always easy, and every being needs God’s help to do the right thing. Hence this prayer request.

GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD. A request for provision, for our regular necessities. Which is often literally daily food. Only wealthy people assume “daily bread” is just a metaphor for income, resources, and moral support.

FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES. Or “debts,” as the KJV puts it, which is a better translation. It reminds us we’re not in equal standing to God: We owe him.

Debt used to be considered sin. (Hence debtors’ prisons.) It was the result of borrowing money, saying you were gonna pay it back… but then you didn’t, either ’cause you never were gonna pay it back, or because you arrogantly presumed too much and didn’t get the money. Trespass is kinda like that: We went too far. We lived outside our means, sometimes for selfish or sinful reasons.

Debt was a big deal in ancient times. When people couldn’t pay off their debts, their debtors could actually sell ’em into slavery to get their money back. Being forgiven of debt was also a big deal. Same for us. We owe God plenty. But God forgives us—with one caveat:

AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO TRESPASS AGAINST US. That’s the catch.

Since God forgave us, we’re obligated to forgive others. We don’t get to demand payback, hold grudges, plot vengeance, or otherwise withhold the grace God freely gives us. Mt 6.14-15 And—hardest of all for many to accept—this does include literal monetary debt.

LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION. More accurately πειρασμόν/peirasmón, “suffering” or “tribulation.” Mt 6.13, Lk 11.4 We’re asking God to keep us away from awful, evil things. Suffering often tempts us to take the easy or vengeful way out. So this is a request that God keep us away from such “times of trial,” as the NRSV puts it.

DELIVER US FROM EVIL. Some translations have “the evil one,” Mt 6.13 NIV figuring τοῦ πονηροῦ/tu ponirú, “the evil,” means evil personified, i.e. Satan.

Whereas I figure if Jesus wanted to say Satan, he’d’ve said Satan. Jesus doesn’t suffer from the common Christian superstition where the devil becomes “he who shall not be named.” Jesus defeated Satan, empowers us to defeat it too, Jm 4.7 and we needn’t fear it.

But whether this prayer refers to the devil or evil in general, and whether “evil” refers to sin or bad stuff like suffering, we want God to keep it away. And rescue us from whatever evil we’re mixed up in.

It’s all prayer requests.

Notice something about the Lord’s Prayer: It’s all prayer requests.

Some folks teach it’s praise for the first couple lines; then at “Give us…” we get into the requests. ’Cause first you butter God up, then you get to what you really want. As if God’s not gonna instantly see through flattery. Mk 10.17-18 That’s not just bad interpretation and bad theology: It’s really bad advice. Flattery is a form of hypocrisy. Don’t pray like a hypocrite!

Jesus phrased the Lord’s Prayer this way because he wants it made very clear: It’s okay to ask God for things. He expects us to. He even wants us to. We’re to depend on God for everything; we’re to stop worrying because God has us covered. Mt 6.28-34 God must become our first resort, not our last. He’s not overburdened. He’s not short on resources. He’s almighty, remember?

Yeah, there are things we shouldn’t request, ’cause they’re selfish and evil and dumb. God’s no fool; he knows how and when to tell us no. If it’s not gonna help us grow as Christians, if it’s gonna make God look ridiculous for granting it, he’s not gonna grant those requests. (Nor is he gonna grant it, then let us ironically suffer the consequences of our own greed, like a Twilight Zone episode.) God is patient and loving, withholding evil and granting good.

The Lord’s Prayer teaches us we can ask for daily needs. We can ask God to get us out of jams—even when we’ve put ourselves into ’em. We can ask him to push away temptations, suffering, evil, anything bad—again, even if it’s our own fault. God isn’t like the passive, apathetic, irritated parent who responds, “Well you pooped your bed; now you lie in it, and maybe you’ll learn better.” You call Child Protective Services on such a parent; why do we so often assume God is worse? He’s not. God is compassionate and kind. He’s a much better Father. He graciously helps us change the sheets, and wipes our bum.

For all these types of requests and more, this is how to pray. Memorize the Lord’s Prayer. Follow it. Pray it when you don’t know what else to pray. Ask God for anything. Jesus gives you the green light.

Prayer.