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The Lord's Prayer
by David Hawken
Christians are supposed to be people of prayer. But what to pray ?
The obvious answer is the Lord's Prayer, the "Our Father" that Jesus gave to His disciples as a kind of template for prayer. Yes! You've heard it all before, but just take a few minutes to think about it again, if you will. Maybe God, in His mercy, will give you some new insight.
We recognise God as our Father, a relationship to which no other religion can lay a serious claim. We ask that His name be hallowed; that is, kept special. In praying the word hallowed, we challenge ourselves to live and act and speak as God's people, not taking Him lightly, but taking joy and humility from our fellowship with Him and one another.
We pray for the coming of God's kingdom which Jesus links in this prayer with the will of God being done. If the kingdom, the rule of God, is to be acknowledged even someway towards heavenly status, it demands a great deal of His people on earth. It is personal, it is communal, it is international, crossing boundaries of nationality, age, sex, wealth, even religion. The first words of Jesus at the start of His ministry were "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
(Matthew 3:2). That means, with the coming of Jesus, a start has been made. In calling His disciples, He had a team with Him to continue the message and work of the kingdom, if only in a small way. The prayer gets us involved, too, in what He has started, the culmination of which can only be dreamt about.
The line about daily bread is, perhaps, an extension of the work of the kingdom. The prayer is not just for us, but for the whole world. It is not just for food and drink, but for spiritual welfare. "Daily" implies total trust in God: remember Jesus' references to birds and flowers in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew (5,6 & 7). As a result of that faith and trust, we are extending the kingdom to all, so that all might hallow His name.
Spoiler alert! Now the prayer gets personal. Forgiveness. Not a comfortable topic. When we ask God for forgiveness, what are we really talking about? The old-fashioned (nowadays) word "trespasses" implies the crossing of a line.
For example, the sign outside the convent that said "Trespassers will be persecuted" (and the spelling is correct). The sense of humour there softened a serious truth that God has put down demarcation lines - the Ten Commandments given to Moses and the Two Commands, there in the Old Testament but emphasised by Jesus "Love God and love your neighbour". In a kind of reverse psychology, any failure to love is a crossing of the line, a trespass.
This is not, though, simply thinking about a list of "sins" - I told a lie, I swore, I stole a chocolate bar, I hit my little sister - which might be reflected in a child's thinking. It is more about our attitude towards God and towards other people. St Paul, in his letter to the Church in Rome wrote "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). In this sense, trespassing is not, as we thought, crossing over a line: it is a failure to do or say or think what is right. Looking at it this way, it is an offense against God, of which we are all guilty. Hence the need to ask for forgiveness. Even when we offend against our fellows, we are failing to live up to God's standard, we are opting out of bringing about His kingdom.
"As we forgive those who trespass against us". Does this involve not bearing a grudge? Does it mean forgive AND forget? We hear a lot about justice these days, but are we actually thinking about revenge? Way back in the early days, the scribe of Leviticus wrote this “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the LORD"
Leviticus 19:18) and St Paul echoed it with "Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord." (Romans 12:19)
To be honest, it is likely that we baulk at the idea of forgiving others because we dwell on what we perceive as wrongdoing towards us; we are hurt, and someone ought to pay. STOP! Think how God feels about us - and yet He is still loving and forgiving, or why else would we pray in this way?
There is sometimes confusion over the line "Lead us not into temptation". Surely God wouldn't even think of it - that's Satan's task. What we are praying here is that we will be given the strength to withstand temptation. A bit of testing, from 5 spellings a day to numerous theses and examination papers, are there to help us improve our performance. God gives us strength - he delivers us from evil - so that we can continue to play our part in helping his kingdom.
The rest of the Lord's Prayer, "for thine is the kingdom…." Etc. doesn't appear in the Gospels but you can see why people added it. The words emphasise the importance of obedience to and faith in God who is our Father, for ever and ever, AMEN