The Greatest Prayer – November 19, 2017
November 19, 2017
Today we start a two week study on what I’m calling “The Greatest Prayer.” I think that’s true. I think “The Lord’s Prayer” is the greatest prayer! But even if it isn’t, it is certainly the most prayed prayer in all of history. “The Lord’s Prayer,” or as I said a few weeks ago, The “Our Father,” as our Roman Catholic friends call it, has been prayed daily by countless people for more than two-thousand years! Do the Math!
I originally wanted to look at this over three weeks, because recently I’ve heard it described as being a three part prayer. It begins with Worship, it moves to Petition, (Or supplication) and it ends with Glory. That would have been great, with the “Glory” coming next week on Christ the King Sunday. But Stewardship Sunday was set back a week, so I only have two weeks.
So my plan is to look at how the “Worship” in this prayer leads us to “Petition.” And then next week, we’ll see how the “Petition” lead to “Glory.” So far, it looks like that’s going to work well. So here we go!
The Worship part of this prayer starts out “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.” Some more modern versions say, “Holy be thy name.” And notice, as I said a couple of weeks ago, Jesus is teaching us to call God “Father.” That’s an important statement about the close nature of our relationship with God, that Jesus wants us to have. And that relationship permeates this whole prayer!
So we’re saying “God in Heaven – Our Father in Heaven, you are Holy.” That’s worship. So is saying, “Praise the Lord,” or simply “I love you, God.” That’s worship. And starting out a prayer with Worship is so important. It sets our mind on God. Too often we start right in on “O God, help me!” And there’s nothing wrong with that. David often started his psalms that way! But to start by taking the focus off of the self and focusing on God, is an even better way to start a prayer. It sets our minds on God.
A good friend of mine once said. “If you want to see things happen in your prayer life, start by praising God.” And he was right! Praise establishes our mindset. It puts our focus on God and his kingdom. Jesus even suggests these next words as part of that Worship. “Your kingdom come.” Or “Let your kingdom come.” That’s the word that’s implied here. “Hallowed by thy name. Let your kingdom come, O Lord.”
So we start with Worship, and part of Worship is focusing on God, focusing on the eternal, and setting our minds on the heavenly realm.
Now some would say that the “Petition” part of this has begun with those words. “Thy kingdom come.” Because “Petition” is the “asking.” There is a sense of that here. We’re asking for God’s kingdom to come on earth. But do you see that Jesus is teaching us how to “ask” with the focus still on God? The mindset is still there. We’re still in “the heavenly.”
Well, the next part of this “Petition” – or this “asking” – is about “asking” for God’s will. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…” And notice, we haven’t asked anything for ourselves yet. This is still about God. This is still about his worship, his kingdom, and now his will. And notice now that we’ve also asked the greatest, and the most difficult “Petition” of all!
“Let your kingdom come, O Lord.” And now “Let your will be done.” In saying that, we echo the words of Jesus himself in the garden of Gethsemane. If you remember, he prayed “If it’s possible, God, let this cup of suffering pass from me.” “But,” he said, “let your will, not mine, be done.” We’re in good company when we pray that part of this prayer.
However, the hard part of this is, are asking for something we really want? It is so hard to set aside our will, and ask for God’s. Isn’t it? We humans want to be in control of things. And at our core, we want to be in control of our lives! To give up our will, and ask for God’s will, is very hard. But every one of us asks for that every week! I’ve heard you!
So then, let me ask you this. If we start by focusing on God and his kingdom, if we start first by asking for his will, doesn’t that set the tone for our own Petitions? Think about that! If that is truly our mindset, how will that affect what we will ask for? If we’re focused on God, will we pray mainly for ourselves, or will we be more apt to pray for others?
Notice here, thought, that Jesus does teach us to pray for ourselves. “Give us this day our daily bread.” However, notice also that that sentence is plural. It’s “Our daily bread.” This is still the petition of a group, of a community. We’re still praying for each other. And this is a petition about our needs. Isn’t it? Notice also that it’s asking for “bread.” Bread was a staple. It was also synonymous for food, or sustenance. The request is very basic. The prayer is “Take care of us, God.” “Give us what we need to live!”
The next part of this “Greatest Prayer” is a “petition” about “sin” and “forgiveness.” And this is the bigger part of these petitions in this prayer! (What does that say?) I was told once that I wasn’t leaving enough time for the “silent confession” in the service. I remember saying, “Sorry, I didn’t realize what a sinful bunch you all were!”
As we use this prayer, we “Presby’s” say “debts and debtors.” (But we’re fine with all those “trespassers” out there! Some versions just say “sins.” But however we say it, I believe Jesus wants us to ask God for forgiveness – even though we know that Jesus has paid the price for all our sins! Why do we ask for forgiveness every time, then?
Some people worry about this. They think, “Oh my, is there something I’ve forgotten to confess?” As if whatever it might be hasn’t been forgiven yet. I don’t think the idea is to be digging into our lives and finding all the things we might have done wrong. Yes, there will always be thing we should confess specifically, if it stands between us and God! But the idea of thinking about confession is that it helps us acknowledge our sinfulness and our constant reliance on God’s forgiveness and mercy!! That’s the idea. And that’s a good thing!
Ah, but there seems to be a condition here. “…as we forgive our debtors.” Sometimes we see that as a hard and fast condition. Sometimes we take it as though it says, “as long as we forgive our debtors.” “Oh darn! You mean I have to forgive other people now?” And the answer is “Yes.” But, this is not as much a “condition” as it is a prompting – a reminder – that we are to be forgiving people, and not just in that moment with God, but in our relationships with each other!! And maybe that’s harder!
Jesus continues. And it’s as though he said, “And as long as we’re on the subject of sin… Let’s talk about the ‘temptation’ part of this.” And what is his prayer suggestion? “Lead us not into temptation.” In other words, “Help us not to go there.” I want us to be careful here. “Lead us not into temptation” does not imply that God ever actually “leads us” into it. I want to say that carefully. “Lead us not into temptation” does not imply that God ever “leads us” into it. That’s an expression. This is a plea for God to help us to stay away from it. And I want you to see how that’s a “pro-active” approach to the whole thing.
Have you heard that word, “pro-active.” “Re-active” means “reacting to” something. It is doing something in response to something that has happened. “Pro-action” is something you do before something has happened. It is often a more responsible way of handling something, rather than just reacting – after the fact. So Jesus is giving us a “pro-active” approach to temptation and evil. “Help us to avoid temptation.” “Keep us away from, keep us shielded from, evil.”
Now, I have to say that some people don’t want to bother with that part of this. Oh yes, they want forgiveness. They’re even fine with forgiving others – if that’s what they have to do to get that forgiveness! But the whole business of avoiding the temptation in the first place, well they’re not very keen on that one! They don’t want to have to alter their lives to stay away from the temptation. But that’s exactly what Jesus teaches us to ask for in this prayer.
Ok, so this sounds like this prayer has been more about Petition than it has about Worship. And that’s true. (And aren’t our prayers often that way?!) But remember that they go together. The Worship leads to and guides our Petition. The things we “ask for” are being asked because we love and worship God, and hopefully want his will to be done. That’s still the background “attitude” of this prayer.
The last thing to say today is that this is not just a prayer to repeat – to say verbatim. It’s good for that. This is a great prayer – It’s “the greatest prayer.” But Jesus said here “when you pray, pray like this.” This is a model for prayer.
So your assignment for this week is to pray each day, using this prayer as a guide – a model. Maybe set this prayer in front of you. Start with worship. “I love you, God. You are holy. May the things I do today help promote your kingdom in the world.” Let that move to petition. “Help me, God, to have the things I need.” “Forgive me for ____, (whatever it is) and help me to be a forgiving person.” “Help me to avoid places where I might be tempted. Shield me from evil, the evil that I see and evil that I don’t even know about.”
Try it that way. See if it makes a difference. Se if it makes this prayer more real to you. We’ll finish this next week.
Our Father, you are indeed holy, and worthy of our praise. Help us to focus on your kingdom in our lives. Help us to be gracious and forgiving people. Help us to draw closer to you each day. We thank you and we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.