© Douglas Beyer 2001
"I bet you don't know the Lord's Prayer," one boy challenged his
"I bet I do!" the friend replied.
"I bet you a dollar you don't."
"I bet you five dollars I do."
"Okay, let's hear it."
"Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take."
"All right, here's your five dollars. I didn't know you knew it."
I bet you don't know the Lord's Prayer. In fact, I would be willing to risk five dollars to challenge anyone to recite the Lord's prayer. Before you take me up on this bet, however, let me remind you that the prayer that begins with "Our Father, which art in heaven...." is not the Lord's prayer. It is the disciples' prayer. The Lord's prayer is found in John 17 and is twenty-six verses long.
But even I have given in to two millenniums of uniform tradition and continue to call the disciples' prayer the Lord's prayer.
"Our Father which art in heaven...." These first six words hold the whole prayer. The other sixty words are explanation. If we could fully understand the implications of "Our Father which art in heaven" we could deduce the rest of the prayer.
These six words identify God as our Father. But for us this is an imperfect identification because all our fathers are imperfect. There are many disturbed and angry people who reject God because they are angry with their fathers. They have suffered as victims of physical, emotional and sexual abuse from cruel father. God is, indeed, their Father, but he may be unlike any father they have known.
God is our Father which art in heaven. "Which art in heaven" expresses God's perfection, not his address. He is the perfect father, the ideal of which all earthly fathers are but pale imitations.
SETTLES OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
When we say "Our Father which art in heaven," we settle our relationship with God. We are his sons and daughters. That puts us into the same family as Jesus who is also God's Son.
Jesus is God's Son by nature. He is the only begotten Son (John 3:16), who was in the beginning with God, by whom all things were made (John 1:2,3). He is the second person of the holy trinity (Matthew 28:19). The scriptures tell us that the Jewish authorities sought to kill Jesus because he called God his Father, thus making himself equal with God (John 5:17-23). Jesus is God's Son in a special way. He is God's son by reason of his very nature.
We are God's Sons and daughters by adoption. Paul says, "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (Romans 8:14-16).
The word, "Abba," is a babbling sound--the first word a tiny infant would say. It is means "Da Da" or "Daddy." It is an intimate family term which signifies the first bond of relationship between a parent and child. Have you grown in your relationship with God to the place where you can address him as Jesus did, saying "Daddy!"
John exclaims, "Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us that we should be called the children of God" (1 John 3:1).
Imagine that! If I am a son of God, then I am not just a little higher than the apes, I am just a little lower than the angels, and made so only that I may be crowned with glory and honor (Psalm 8:9). If I am God's son, then I am God's heir--an heir of God and a joint-heir with Christ (Romans 8:17).
Martin Luther said, "If I thoroughly appreciated these first words of the Lord's Prayer--"Our Father which art in heaven"--and really believed that God who made heaven and earth and all creatures and has all things in his hand, was my Father, then should I certainly conclude with myself that I also am a lord of heaven and earth, that Christ is my brother, Gabriel my servant, Raphael by coachman, and all the angels my attendants at need, given unto me by my Heavenly Father."
Unfortunately, too many of us who say "Our Father" on Sunday live the rest of the week like orphans.
Said the Robin to the sparrow,
"I should really like to know
Why these anxious human beings
Rush around and worry so."
Said the Sparrow to the Robin,
"Friend, I think that it must be
That they have no Heavenly Father
Such as cares for you and me. (Author unknown)
Knowing God to be our Father settles our relationship with God and it....
SETTLES OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH OURSELVES
During World War II Leslie Weatherhead was an air raid warden during the terrible days of the London blitz. After the city suffered a terrible night of destruction he found a ten-year old boy crying his heart out. He asked him, "Where is your father?" He sobbed, "He's overseas fighting." "Where is your mother?" "She was killed last week in an air raid." "What about your brothers, sisters, aunts uncles?" "I don't know," the boy replied. "They have all been scattered." Weatherhead leaned closer to the boy and said, "Who are you, son?" The boy began to weep compulsively and said, "Mister, I ain't nobody's nothing."
What the boy said of himself can be said of everybody who feels alone in an empty universe without a Heavenly Father
Without God the Father we don't know who we are. But when we can turn to him and say, "Our Father which art in heaven," we know who we are: we are members of a family. We are children of God, made in his image, placed in his world for his purposes and destined to live eternally in his glorious presence.
The thing that breaks this relationship and destroys our identity is sin. Sin leads to guilt and guilt to self-hatred and self-hatred to dividing self against self.
The way out of this loss of selfhood is to turn to God and say, "Our Father." If you can say it and fully mean it, you will find that it is absurd to hate the self that the Father loves. If God accepts you as his son or daughter not because you look like it, or feel like it, or even act like it, but simply because of his free and sovereign grace, then you can accept yourself on the same basis. Within the security of this familial relationship with God, you are truly free to enjoy all creation. If you are a son or daughter of God, you know who you are.
An old Norwegian fable shows the difference this can make in the way we live. A boy found an egg in nest deep in the woods. He brought it home and put it with some other eggs under a goose to be hatched. It was born a freakish creature. It had deformed feet, unwebbed and clawlike, which made it stumble when it tried to follow the other geese. And its beak was not flat, but pointed and twisted. Instead of soft cream-colored down, it was covered with ugly brown feathers. Instead of saying "Quack, Quack," it screeched in a piercing cry.
Then one day a great eagle flew across the barnyard. It swept down so close that the strange, awkward little bird on the ground lifted its head and pointed its crooked beak to the sky. The misfit creature stretched out its wings and began to waddle across the yard. It flapped its wings harder and harder until the wind picked it up and carried it higher and higher until it began to soar through the clouds. It discovered that it was born an eagle! And it had been trying to live like a goose.
Those who wait upon the Lord will mount up with wings like the eagles (Isaiah 40:). To know God is our Father settles our relationship with God; it settles our relationship with ourselves; and it....
SETTLES OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH OTHERS
Notice that we say, "Our Father," not "My Father."
We cannot pray the Lord's Prayer
And even once say, "I"
We cannot pray the Lord's Prayer
And even once say, "My."
We cannot pray the Lord's Prayer
And not include another.
We cannot pray the Lord's Prayer
And not include our brother
For others are included
In each and every plea
And from the start to finish,
It never once says, "Me."
(adapted from an unknown source)
Our Heavenly Father not only gives us himself, he gives us family. Everyone else who is born again into the family of God becomes my brother or sister. It is impossible to have a good relationship with God and a bad relationship with the rest of his family. To rupture your relationship with your brother or sister severs your relationship with the Father. It denies the "Our" in "Our Father," and substitutes "My."
John says, "Here is the clear difference between God's children and the Devil's children: anyone who does not do what is right or who does not love his brother is not God's child" (1 John 3:10).
A father returned home to his children who were competing for his affection and attention. When he held the youngest in his arms, the little fellow hugged his neck, looked over his left shoulder and stuck his tongue out at his older brother who was waiting his turn. The father discovered it and put the little body down with these words, "You cannot hug your father's neck and stick your tongue out at your brother."
What he said to his son, God is saying to us: "You cannot hug your Heavenly Father's neck and stick your tongue out at your brother."
When we say, "Our Father which art in heaven," we settle our relationship not only with him and ourselves, but with all our brothers and sisters, too.
One joke that has been told in many different forms is the story of the two drunks in a hotel who are looking for the bar. They open a door to what they thought was the bathroom but instead it was an elevator shaft. The first one stepped in and fell down to the floor below with a thud. His friend peered down into the darkness and called, "Are you all right?" A voice below responded, "I guess so, but watch that first step. It's a long one!"
There is more in that story than the obvious humor. First steps are always "long ones," regardless of the occasion. The way you begin something affects the shape and direction of all that follows.
Notice that the Lord's Prayer begins with three petitions concerning God and his interests and concludes with three petitions concerning our needs and concerns. The order is important. Our first consideration is thy name, thy kingdom, thy will, and then, give us, forgive us, lead and deliver us.
The first step is not us and our needs, but God and his grace. We begin by saying, "Our Father which art in heaven, hollowed be thy name." Prayer begins with worship, and worship begins with reverence.
One of our priceless family treasures is an annual tape recording we made of our children growing up. When one of our daughters was about four years old and learning to say the Lord's Prayer we recorded her saying, "Our Father who art in heaven, how would it be thy name?" How would it be thy name, indeed!
The name of God was so reverenced by the ancient Jews that they refused to pronounce it even when they read the Holy Scriptures. Instead of saying the name of God, they said "Lord." This continued for so many centuries that they even forgot how to pronounce it. "Yahweh" is the scholar's reconstruction of the ancient holy name of God.
WE WORSHIP GOD BECAUSE WE FEAR HIM
Our modern age has almost forgotten the ancient concept of the fear of God. Fifty years ago H. Richard Neibuhr accused the social-gospel movement of misrepresenting the Christian message: "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross."
Most people prefer a "Superman God" who flies in when we need him and is never in the way. Elizabeth Burrows in her poem, "God al a mode," writes:
They tell me God is very great,
Immeasurably deep and high;
I want a simple, friendly God
Above a near and tender sky;
I want him to be wise, and not
Too much more wise than I
I want a God who takes away
My sins, as soon as done or said,
A God who gives me what I ask,
Of cake, as well as daily bread
And lets me take him out at night
And pat him on his head!
Our generation has lost a sense of fear, of awe, of reverence for the Lord God Almighty. Instead, we have created for ourselves idols of a safe, tame God which has little resemblance to the God described in Hebrews 12:25-29. "If those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape who turn from him who warns from heaven...Let us show gratitude, by which we may offer God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire."
A "god-fearing man" used to be an honored title, but now it sounds quaint, if not downright morbid. At the risk of seeming to be out of step with the times, I propose we take another look at the fear of God before it consign it to some dark forgotten corner of a theological museum. It has been around a long time, not just in the Old Testament, but in the words of Jesus. "I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot afterward do anything worse. I will show you whom to fear: fear God who, after killing, has the authority to throw into hell. Yes, I tell you, be afraid of him!" (Luke 12:4-5).
God is dangerous to the unrepentant person. Just as iodine destroys germs, just as light destroys darkness, not because they are in a furious temper about it, but because it is their nature to do so, in the same way, God's presence means instant death to all that is contrary to his nature.
The fear of God keeps the love of God from becoming saccharin sentimentality. To teach the love of God without the fear of God makes the cross absurd. It is to know that Jesus died without know why he died. It is like talking about penicillin without mentioning bacteria.
If the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10) the love of God is its conclusion. We worship God not only because we fear him, but also....
WE WORSHIP GOD BECAUSE WE LOVE HIM
It is the love of God which keeps the fear of God from becoming pagan superstition. There is an old legend of a woman who was discovered carrying a burning torch in one hand and a bucket of water in the other. When asked what she was doing, she replied, "With this torch I will burn down the mansions in heaven, and with this water I will quench the fires of hell so that people will love God for his own sake, and not for the desire of mansions or fear of fire."
She has a point. We worship God primarily because we love him. To know him is to love him.
You ask me why I love the Lord?
Well, friend, just let me say,
Life wasn't worth the living
Till the Savior came my way.
You say I miss so much of life:
Yes, friend, praise God I do!
I miss the sin and sorrow
Which was all I ever knew.
I miss the days spent seeking joy,
The nights so full of fears;
I miss the heavy burden
That I carried through the years.
But, friend, I wouldn't have them back
For all that you could pay
Life wasn't worth the living
Till the Savior came my way.
When you know God, you will love him. And when you love him you will serve him. One of the definitions the dictionary lists for the word "love" is "nothing, no points scored, as in keeping score in a tennis game." Does your service record in the kingdom of God reveal that to be the definition of your love? Does your record say, "Look, Lord, you haven't scored any points." Are you even in the game?
To know God is to love him. And to love him is to serve him.
I wouldn't work my soul to save,
For that the Lord hath done.
But I would work like any slave
For the love of God's dear Son.
We worship God because we fear and love him. Those who don't worship neither fear nor love God and neither can they pray, "Hallowed be thy name."
Over two hundred years ago democracy was born on the American continent. It was a difficult birth. The Declaration of Independence was followed by a bloody Revolutionary War. It was even a questionable birth. The identity of the child was in doubt. Was this new nation democratic--ruled by the people--when large numbers of black slaves and red Indians, and all its women were excluded from its ruling process? When Patrick Henry said, "Give me liberty or give me death," if his slaves had said, "Me too," it would have blown his mind.
I agree with the man who said, "Democracy is the most ridiculous system of government ever invented, except for all the others." The thing that makes it better than all the others is that it makes the ruler accountable to the people. I believe in the fall of man and universal human depravity, which means that even presidents, governors and mayors are sinners like me. And therefore I can never trust anyone with absolute power to rule. I believe in democracy and in making our democracy more democratic.
The concept of a kingdom is offensive to most Americans, and rightfully so. But does it come as a surprise to you to know that the government of heaven is not democracy, but monarchy--not rule by the people, but rule by the king. In fact, this is what we mean when we pray, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
THY KINGDOM COME
There are two definitions of heaven. First, heaven means simply the visible sky. This is what the Psalmist referred to he said, "When I consider the heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast ordained, what is man that thou are mindful of him (Psalm 8:3,4)? Heaven is the sky where we can see the sun, moon, stars and planets. And there God is king. He controls the movement of the galaxies and the growth of trees. In all the universe, humankind alone resists the will of the Creator.
"I sing the wisdom that ordained
The sun to rule by day,
The moon shines full at his command
And all the stars obey." (Isaac Watts)
Mark Twain was right when he said, "Man is the only creature that blushes--or needs to."
Humankind is out out harmony with God. The great harp of the universe has one of its strings out of tune, and that one discordant string makes a jar of the whole. Everything in heaven and earth will be reconciled with this one jarring string is keyed right and set in tune by the hand of the Creator.
But heaven means more than just the visible sky where God controls the precise movements of the celestial bodies. It means the invisible abode of the blessed dead. "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor that it entered the mind of man, what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9). One child had the right idea when on a dark clear night she looked up at the splendor of the star studded sky and said, "If the wrong side of heaven is so beautiful, what must the right side be like?"
In heaven every angel and archangel, all cherubim and seraphim, and every human being does perfectly the will of God. "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
When we say, "on earth," we bring the kingdom of God out of the realm of the ideal and make it actual within the context of our world, our nation, our state, our city and our homes. The kingdom of God is not just an ideal to be admired; it is a job to be done within the real world in which we live. A quick glance at the morning newspapers will show that we are a long way from the kingdom of God. In fact the scriptures tell us that God's kingdom will not fully come until God's Son comes in judgment. It is then that "the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ and he shall reign forever and ever" (Revelation 11:15). Hallelujah!
"Thy kingdom come." Does it make much sense to pray for the Second Coming (as John does at the
end of Revelation) when God already knows when it will be? When I was on away from home and my daughter called me and said, "We miss you, Daddy, hurry home." My schedule might set and my plane ticket bought, so my daughter's petition could not actually make me come home sooner, but as a father I treasured my daughter's love.
That the King is coming someday doesn't release us from our responsibility to do all we can to bring our world under his rule today. We can not earnestly pray, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth," without at the same time doing everything we can to bring it about.
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord, my soul to keep;
If I should wake before I die,
God grant that I'll not sit and sigh
For heaven's blessings bye and bye--
But let me find my fellowman
And give to him the best I can;
No more content to try to shift
Responsibility or drift,
But live and love and laugh and lift! (author unknown)
Let me ask you, what on earth are you doing for heaven's sake? I hear you praying for heaven's sake, but what are you doing for heaven's sake? You pray, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven," but what on earth are you doing about it? What are you doing for the hungry, homeless casualties of our society? What are you doing to abolish race prejudice that values people by the color of their skin? What are you doing to promote peace among people and nations so that they will stop hating and killing one another?
If we are really serious about being good Samaritans to our bruised and bleeding brothers, we will not only bind their wounds, but we will levy taxes to put street lights on the Jericho Road. This is what it means to pray, "Thy kingdom come...on earth...."
And it means something else too. Not only do we pray for the kingdom to come in our world, but also in our hearts. And this is the most difficult. It is easier to pray, "Thy kingdom go in Africa, Russia, China, Iran" than to pray "Thy kingdom come to me."
This is a dangerous prayer. God just might grant it! And to be right honest about it, we actually want everything about Jesus except his sovereignty. We want his comforts, his teachings, his promises, his protection, his support, but not his rule. Nevertheless, if we would earnestly pray, "Thy kingdom come" we will intend it to mean not only to our world, but also to our heart.
THY WILL BE DONE
Just so we won't miss the point, when we say, "Thy kingdom come," we add the words, "Thy will be done." This is the definition of the kingdom of God. It is his will being done. We are involved with the will of God in two ways. First, we ask that the will of God be done for us. This is an act of submission.
Unfortunately, we usually think that God's will is to make things distasteful for us--like taking some nasty medicine or going to a dentist. "Thy will be done" are words we customarily associate with ruin, dying friends or natural disasters. They are words we write on tombstones. We say "Thy will be done," submitting to but dreading the will of God.
But to the faithful Christian the will of God is not just an act of submission. It is an act of desire. We seek God's will because we trust God's power and love. We trust God's power (that he can do what he desires) and God's love (that what he desires is good).
Not my will, Lord, but only thine;
Far better thine, than were it mine.
For were it mine, and were not thine,
In sorrow I would soon repine;
But when it's thine, I can recline
This head of mine with joy divine
Upon that hallowed breast of thine,
And we can dine. (R.E.N.)
There is another way in which we are involved with God's will. We seek his will not only for us, but by us. "Thy will be done" means not only that we patiently suffer God's will, but that we vigorously do it. We God's agents as well as his patients.
We need regular reminders of this truth. We secretly suspect that we would be happier if we disregarded God's will. Of course we never say, "I now and forever turn my back on God and his will for my life"--never anything so crude and bold as that! But rather we say, "For the time being, and for special circumstances, I will do what I wish." The result, of course, is the same. Whether we sell our soul to the devil or merely rent it a day at a time, we are just as truly his.
Ultimately there are just two kinds of people in the world: those who say "Thy will be done," and those who say "My will be done." In the end on the day of judgment, those who say "My will be done" will discover they are imprisoned in an everlasting hell of self-destruction. God will finally say to them, "Have it your way." He will give them up (Romans 1:24ff)
I invite you to say, perhaps for the first time, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done" not only for me but by me, not only in heaven but on earth. Give your heart to God, your hand to your neighbor and your life to both. Seek first the kingdom of God before you make another decision, before you do another thing.
I got the Gimme God blues, I got the Gimme God blues
Cus God won't gimme what I want him to gimme,
I got the Gimme God blues....
Wanna be healthy, wanna be wise
Wanna have all that money buys
The best of schools, the smartest clothes
The kind of breeding the thoroughbred knows.
Wanna have talent, wanna have fame
Marry a man with a very big name.
Wanna take everything worth bein' took
Wanna shake down heaven till the heaven's shook....
When I get what I wanna get,
I want what I haven't got yet
And when that's gotten, you can bet
What I got wasn't what I thought I'd get.
I got the gimme God blues
These lines from the musical, For Heaven's Sake by Helen Kromer illustrate the danger of loading our prayers with too many commercials. That's the first of two mistakes we make in our prayers. Some of us think of prayer as chiefly or exclusively petitionary. If you will forgive a pun, we put too many "begs" in one "ask-it." With scarcely a thought given to confession, thanksgiving and intercession for others, we go directly to listing all the things we want God to do for us--as if he were some kind of celestial bell-hop whose business is to run errands for us.
That's the first of two mistakes. The second is even more common. Some of us go to the other extreme. We feel that prayer should ask for nothing, that any petition in prayer is somehow foolish, selfish, or simply useless. There seems to be two reasons for this attitude. We may think that because God already knows everything, there is no point in making a request. Or we may think that God can't actually change anything anyway: whether it rains or not, whether there is peace or war, whether we live or die is simply beyond his control.
The apostle James speaks to both of these mistakes when he says, "You have not because you ask not. You ask and receive not because you ask amiss in order that you might consume it on your own lusts" (James 4:2b-3).
Contrary to these mistaken concepts of God and notions of prayer, Jesus invites us to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread."
A PRACTICAL PRAYER
This is a practical prayer. In it we acknowledge that God cares for our bodies as well as our souls. We must be careful that we don't become more spiritual than Jesus. He said, "Man does not live by bread alone" (Matthew 4:4). These words show his sound sensibility. We do live by bread, of course, but not by bread alone. Most of us started this day with bread, probably toasted. But then we came to worship because we do not live by bread alone. Jesus recognized the hungers of the body as well as the hungers of the spirit. He rendered to the body the things that belonged to the body and unto the spirit the things that belong to the spirit. He invites us to pray for our daily bread as well as for his coming kingdom. He offers us not just soul salvation, but whole salvation.
There is a beautiful balance to Christ's ministry. When he rose up from the grave and found the disciples fishing, he didn't organize a prayer meeting, neither did he display the glorious power of his resurrection body, but rather the scriptures tell us that he prepared breakfast for them (John 21:1-14). Imagine that! Those nail-pierced feet walked on that rocky shore in search of firewood. Those nail-pierced hands cleaned the smelly fish. And when Peter, James and John got to shore, the Lord of heaven and earth had breakfast ready for them. He dealt with the disciples' physical welfare as their spiritual welfare. And he still does.
When we say "Give us this day our daily bread," we direct prayer to the practical, everyday concerns of living. Some people find it easier to trust God for the big things than for the little things. It is easier for them to ask God for a mansion in heaven and everlasting life than for them to ask him for daily bread. They suppose that it is easier for God to provide forgiveness for sin than food for the table. But it is just the opposite. To bring forgiveness and everlasting life to sinners, God had to sacrifice his own Son. To give us our daily bread appears to be a much easier matter.
There are still many who are content to trust God for forgiveness and everlasting life, but who will not trust him for daily bread. It actually takes greater faith to ask for small things than for great things. Even disbelieving heathens may pray for world peace, but only a saint will humbly ask for daily bread.
It all depends on how big you think God is. How big is your God? Is he big enough to be concerned for the so-called trivialities of life as well as world affairs? The One who sees all things from the first moment of creation to the last hour of judgment, the One who holds the seven stars in his right hand (Revelation 1:16), is the same One who is concerned about the falling of a sparrow and the number of hairs on your head (Matthew 10:29-30).
A SIMPLE PRAYER
For centuries the Greek word translated "daily" was unknown. It is found in no other ancient writings. In the third century the great classical scholar, Origen, thought Matthew made it up. In the fourth century Jerome translated it "supersubstantial"--whatever that means! But recently discovered papyrus fragments use the word in an ordinary shopping list. It was a reminder to buy supplies for the coming day. What beautiful simplicity! We ask for what we need one day at a time. "Give us this day our daily bread." It is better, after all, to pray for daily rations than for emergency supplies.
And it is bread we ask for, not cake. One mother overheard her child say, "Give us this day our jelly-bread." The child's prayer was probably more honest than our own. For we say, "Give us bread," when we actually have a whole lot more than bread in mind.
"Give us this day our daily bread"
How often have these words been said
By men, when there before them lay
Bread from heaven day by day.
When, had but faith been in their prayer,
Sight had come to see it there.
In simplicity we ask for bread for today, not for tomorrow. We leave tomorrow's trouble to tomorrow's strength, tomorrow's work to tomorrow's time, tomorrow's trials to tomorrow's grace, and tomorrow's God.
Don't try to live tomorrow,
Until you live today;
To live each moment as it comes
Is much the better way,
Tomorrow you may never see,
But surely if you do,
The One who helped you live today,
Will help tomorrow too.
Don't let yesterday's mistakes or tomorrows fears spoil today. God wants you to consider only two points of time: not the past and the future, but the present and the eternal. "Give us this day our daily bread."
AN UNSELFISH PRAYER
The prayer does not say, "Give me my, " but "Give us our." It gathers up in its arms all the hungry, deprived underprivileged people in the world--from the neighbor's hungry child to the famine stricken peasant in Ethiopia. It reaches all the way from your city to Timbuktu, from California to Calcutta. It reunites what should never have been divided: bread and brotherhood. "Give us this day our daily bread."
This is where the spiritual and the material embrace. "The question of bread for myself is a material question, but the question of bread for my neighbors, for everybody, is a spiritual and a religious question....Christians ought to be permeated with a sense of the religious importance of the elementary daily needs of people, the vast masses of people, and not despise these needs from a sense of exalted spirituality" (Nicolai Berdyaev in Origin of Russian Communism).
The problem of our world is not that there is insufficient food to go around. God made the earth exceedingly rich and productive. In America granaries overflow and farmers are paid not to produce. In Brazil locomotives are fired with surplus coffee. The problem is not the supply of bread, it is the distribution of bread.
We cannot sincerely pray "Give us this day our daily bread" and ignore our hungry neighbors. If God has graciously answered our prayer for daily bread by giving us more than we actually need, then he is looking to us to be the answer for somebody else's prayer.
"Give us this day our daily bread" is not only good theology, it is good table manners. The earth is God's banquet table and we are his guests. When one member of the family says, "Please pass the bread," let us be sure that when it reaches the foot of table there are crumbs left all God's children.
When I consider how much I enjoy and how little others have, I sometimes I feel like praying, "Forgive us this day our daily bread." The Lord's prayer reminds me that daily bread was not given to me, but to us.
Bread and water are the most basic human needs. Jesus is the bread of life and the fountain of living water. He meets our needs and through us the needs of others. The gospel is simply one beggar telling another where to find bread. I invite you to turn to Him who is the Bread of Life and say, "Feed me till I want no more."
Does the Lord's Prayer frighten you? If it doesn't, have you carefully considered the words, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors?" Back in the fourth century Augustine called this a "horrible petition"--using the word "horrible" in its original meaning of terrifying. Augustine had not allowed sleepy repetition to so dull his mind that he missed the dreadful implication of what he was asking when he said, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." Who of us is brave enough to ask God to treat us the way we treat others?
Perhaps Jesus anticipated that of all the petitions in the Lord's Prayer this would be the one we would be most likely to miss. To be sure we got the point he amplified it in a postscript to the prayer. In Matthew 6:14-15 he says, "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly father will also forgive you. But if your forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
If that doesn't frighten you, then maybe you have never carried a grudge, or harbored resentment, or become downright angry with someone. On the other hand, maybe you still miss the point of what Jesus said. Or maybe you get the point, but just don't believe it.
To be perfectly honest, this is a petition very few actually pray. We frequently ask for daily bread, we ask for deliverance from temptation, and we may ask for forgiveness--but it is a cheap forgiveness, because we certainly don't want God to forgive us to the same extent we forgive one another.
We are like the guy who rebuked his friend for using profanity. The one who had been cursing said, "Sure I swear a lot, and you pray a lot, but neither of us really means what he says."
How about it? Do you really mean what you say when you ask, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors?"
When a Presbyterian boy visited a Baptist church, he told his mother the Baptists had a different Lord's Prayer. Instead saying trespasses, he insisted they said, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive those who are dead against us." That ain't easy!
FORGIVENESS IS DIFFICULT
Forgiveness is difficult because we want to calculate our care. We want to
manage our mercy. We try hard to keep score.
"If I turn the other cheek, will she slap that one too?"
"If he failed to pay his last debt, will he pay this one?"
"If she disappointed me once, can I trust her again?"
Trying to keep score in complex human relations is like comparing homeruns to touchdowns. Alienated people just don't play the same game. Enemies can't agree on the score because each feels the wounds he or she receives differently from the wounds he or she gives. How many New York Trade Centers equal a Holocaust? How many of her criticisms equal his slap in the face? "I don't get mad, I get even," says the bully. But getting mad is much easier than getting even. We can't even the score when one is making touchdowns and the other homeruns.
We find it hard to forgive because forgiveness offends our sense of justice. We feel that the offender somehow got away with something. He or she doesn't deserve to be forgiven. It seems so unfair. But let's face it; forgiveness that is given only when it is deserved is not forgiveness. It may meet the claims of justice, but it does not meet the claims of love.
Forgiveness is difficult for another reason. It is hard to forgive because we do not believe ourselves to be forgiven. As long as we do not feel forgiven, we tend to defend ourselves by holding others in guilt. To forgive them means we will no longer be able to blame them for part of our own failures.
Whenever we are offended by the behavior or attitudes of others we need to pray three prayers: Father, forgive me. Father, forgive them. And Father, forgive us.
God's mercy to us becomes a well of mercy in us springing up and running over to others. We have received that we might give. We have been forgiven that we might forgive.
"I never go out to meet a new day
Without first asking God as I kneel down to pray
To give me the strength and courage to be
As tolerant of others as he is of me."
Nothing others can do to us can compare with what we have done to God. Nothing we can forgive them can equal what we have been forgiven. We pray forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors knowing that our debt is much greater than theirs. (See Matthew 18:21-35.)
Forgiveness is difficult because we want to give our love only to those whom we judge worthy of it, and because we do not believe ourselves to be fully and truly forgiven.
Forgiveness is difficult. It is super-human. William O. Ward reminds us that we are most like beasts when we kill, most like man when we judge, and most like God when we forgive.
Difficult though it may be,
FORGIVENESS IS NECESSARY.
It is necessary because there can be no forgiveness for the unforgiving. Only the merciful can obtain mercy (Matthew 5:7). Only those who forgive debts can have their debts forgiven (Matthew 6:12-15). Those who will not forgive break the bridge over which they themselves must pass (James 2:13).
Jesus concluded the parable of the unforgiving servant who suffered torture at the hands of his master with these solemn words: "That is how my Father in heaven will treat you if you do not forgive your brother, every one of you, from your heart" (Matthew 18:35).
Forgiveness is a favor you do yourself. To remain angry does no harm to the one who offended you, but it destroys your peace. To forgive is to set a prisoner free and then discover that prisoner is you.
Forgiveness is necessary not just to be forgiven by God and to have peace within yourself, but even to claim title to the name of Christian. It is an entrance requirement to the family of God. Paul said, "If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ" (Romans 8:9).
Since Christ's forgiveness was "from the heart," yours must also be from the heart. Forgiveness begins as a decision, but that is not where it ends. It is not complete until your whole nervous system is re-programmed. When God forgives you, he is no longer angry with you. If that's the kind of forgiveness you want from him, then that's the kind of forgiveness you must give to others. Forgiveness is difficult and necessary for all of us. But I have good news:
FORGIVENESS IS POSSIBLE
Give is the biggest part of forGIVEness. It is not something you can earn, or buy, or achieve in any other way, except to have it given to you. Now that's downright scary to think about. I mean really lying-awake-in-the-dark-of-the-night thinking about it. When you think about the great price Jesus paid for the forgiveness of sin (his death on Calvary), you feel about as big as a worm and about as valuable as half a worm--which is not very.
Forgiveness, you see, comes to us by way of a cross, and betrayal, and love so great you can't begin to comprehend it. And the worst part is that you know that you need this kind of forgiveness over and over again. The harder you try to be good, the more aware you become of your great need for God's mercy. There is nothing you can do about forgiveness except to accept it.
There is not much you can do for forgiveness, but there is much forgiveness can do for you. It can make you ALIVE. I don't mean alive just in the life-after-death way, although that is a part of it too. I mean really alive here and now. It begins when you realize that if God in Christ loved you enough to die for you--which is what he actually did--it becomes possible for you to love and forgive yourself, and necessary that you love and forgive others.
That's really living--living forgivingly. You will come alive as you let God express his mercy to you and through you to your wife, husband, children, parents, neighbors--yea, even the world!
Forgiveness is something you must receive and give. You receive it from God and give it to others. "Freely you have received, freely give" (Matthew 10:8).
A frustrated truck driver parked in a red zone and tucked this note under his windshield: "I've circled this block for twenty minutes. I'm late for an appointment. If I don't park here, I'll lose my job--forgive us our trespasses." When he came back he found a parking ticket and this note: "I've circled this block for twenty years and if I don't give you this ticket, I'll lose my job--lead us not into temptation!"
"Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil," is the wording of the familiar King James Version of the Lord's Prayer. Newer versions more accurately translate the last word as "the Evil One." It is not just evil from which we desire deliverance, but evil personified--the Devil himself.
A boxer was being badly beaten in a match. Battered and bruised, he leaned over the ropes and said to his trainer, "Please throw in the towel! This guy is killing me!" The trainer responded, "No, he's not. He hasn't laid a glove on you." The boxer groaned, "Well, then, I wish you'd watch the referee--somebody is sure hitting me!"
Like the reassuring trainer, some people deny the Devil has laid a glove on us. But if he hasn't, somebody is sure hitting us. Those who don't believe in the Devil must have a very low view of humankind, to believe that we are capable in and of our selves to be so self-destructive.
The Lord's Prayer shows us that there are two great powers in the world: the Father in heaven whose will is that none of these little ones should perish (Matthew 18:14), and the Devil in hell whose will is that all of these little ones should perish. There is an agent of death loose in the world who is trying to undo all that God has done to give us life. Is it only coincidental that evil is live spelled backwards? "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One."
As I struggle with temptation I discern within myself three agents.
THERE ARE THREE AGENTS OF TEMPTATION
Each of these three agents of temptation is described in holy scripture. To begin with, James 1:14 tells us that temptation comes from ourselves. "A person is tempted when he is drawn away and trapped by his own evil desire." Freud was not saying anything new when he announced that in psychotherapy he discovered that we all have a death-wish as well as a life-wish. Psychiatrist Karl Menninger entitled one of his books, Man Against Himself. A bumper-sticker summed up the human condition in these words: "Lead me not into temptation. I can find it by myself." We are often our own worst enemies. Temptation comes from our own evil desire.
But temptation comes not just from ourselves. Jesus called Satan the "Tempter" (Matthew 4:3). I am tempted by my own lust and also by Satan. Mark Twain said, "The Devil is spiritual leader of four fifths of the human race and political leader of the whole of it." It is humbling and frightening to realize that the same evil spirit that moved Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin to their atrocities also moves me. He is to be guarded like a lion, dreaded like a serpent and distrusted like an angel of light.
But that is still not all there is to temptation. In the last analysis, God is an agent in my temptation. Genesis 22:1 says "God did tempt Abraham" when he offered up his son Isaac upon the altar. And in the Lord's Prayer we ask God, "Lead us not into temptation." That's a problem to many people. Do we have to ask God not to act like the Devil...to put it bluntly?
Though it is difficult to understand, it is clear that in some way God, Satan and self are all involved in my temptation. By that I do not mean that they act independent of each other: that sometimes God tempts me, sometimes Satan tempts me and sometimes I tempt myself. What I do mean is that...
GOD, SATAN AND SELF ARE INVOLVED IN EVERY TEMPTATION
If you look closely at any temptation, you are apt to find the fingerprints of God, Satan and self. They are often hard to distinguish. M. Scott Peck, a best-selling psychologist who takes seriously the existence of Satan, wrote in his book, The People of the Lie, "Perhaps it will be forever impossible to totally discern exactly where the human Shadow leaves off and the Prince of Darkness begins." (Christianity Today, 3/1/85, p. 22)
The involvement of God, Satan and self in temptation is illustrated by a curious incident in the Old Testament. 2 Samuel 24:1 tells us "The Lord was angry with Israel and he made David bring trouble on them. The Lord said to him, 'Go and count the people of Israel and Judah.'" But in 1 Chronicles 21:1 we are told concerning the same incident; "Satan wanted to bring trouble on the people of Israel, so he made David decide to take a census." What is the source of David's temptation to number his troops and thus rely on their strength instead of Almighty God? Scripture gives us two answers: Satan and God. And at the same time Scripture makes it clear that David himself did it and was held responsible for his decision.
From this data I draw two conclusions. First, no human circumstance is so good that Satan cannot corrupt it. Pride stands ready like a monster to devour every virtue as soon as it is born. Even our repentance needs repenting of. On the other hand, I have concluded that no human circumstance is so evil that God cannot work in it for good to those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
The Bible tells us that God causes even the wrath of man to praise him (Psalm 76:10). And in I Corinthians 5:5 there is a remarkable statement that Satan can be used as an instrument of salvation. The German poet philosopher, Goethe, said, that Satan is "part of that power not understood which always wills the bad, but always works the good."
An ancient Persian fable illustrates this. God scattered seed upon the earth. Satan buried it and sent rain to rot it. And up sprang a flower.
GOD WARS WITH SATAN ON THE BATTLEGROUND OF SELF
The Lord's Prayer is very realistic in its view of the world. The world is not a fool's paradise where people can do what they wish without eternal consequences. Life is not a playground where everyone is ultimately safe, but a battleground where opposing forces clash. People surrender too quickly. The average number of times they resist temptation is about once weakly. They had rather request forgiveness than to resist temptation.
We are at war. God wars with Satan on the battleground of self. And that's the reason we pray, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." God does not promise always to deliver us from temptation, but instead he promises always to go with us through temptation and bring us safely out. He did not keep Daniel out of the lion's den nor the three Hebrews out of the fiery furnace, nor Jesus from the cross.
God does not promise that he will not allow us to be tempted, but he does promise he will not allow us to be tempted above what we are able, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape that we may be able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13). Therefore, we can pray in faith, "Lord don't let anything happen which is too big for you and me to handle together."
God converts not only the tempted, but also the temptation itself. In his hands it becomes a test--a test designed not to make us weak, but to make us strong; not to make us fall, but to make us stand; not to make us sinners, but to make us genuinely righteous--doing God's will not as inanimate stones, but as living sons and daughters. Yes, in his hands temptation becomes a test. We may fail the test, but we were not meant to.
Temptation, then, is not the penalty of being human, but the glory of being human. Comets and cabbages do God's will, but they are not tempted and therefore do not choose God's will as you and I do, and consequently they miss the glory which can be ours.
The point of the Lord's Prayer is not to keep God from acting like the Devil but to keep us from acting like fools.
Someday we may count it all joy that we fell into temptations (James 1:2) because under the guiding hand of God they brought us to perfection (James 1:3-4). But for now, we pray with Christ in Gethsemane that God will deliver us from evil fully confident that if he does not, he will supply the power to bear it and the glory hereafter.
"The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away." Education does the same. Sometimes it gives and sometimes it takes away. Learning to read the Bible in the original Greek sometimes adds to our appreciation of the text and sometimes it takes it away. To very honest, we sometimes prefer the English version to what the Biblical writers actually wrote. For instance, my favorite part of the Lord's prayer is not found in the oldest and best manuscripts of the New Testament. It was apparently inserted by a scribe late in the sixth century who when he finished writing, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One," added the words, "For thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever, Amen!" Other scribes continued to copy this paean of praise until it was included in the classic King James Version.
I love it! And even though it was not in the original, it's still true. It answers three important questions about God.
WHAT IN THE WORLD IS GOD TRYING TO DO?
"Thine is the Kingdom"
The most important matter on which you need to make up your mind is, "Who is running things?" Who is the King? If world affairs are controlled by blind chance or human whim, we are at the end of things. There is no hope for survival through the twenty-first century. On the other hand, if world affairs are controlled by the sovereign will of a loving God, we are the beginning of things. And the very best is yet to come.
History is "his story." It is a grand epic with a big beginning, a muddled middle and a fabulous final chapter.
Ancient Israel kept forgetting who the King is. They wanted an earthly king like the other nations. Despite stern warnings by the prophets, they enthroned a series of kings who as inept in their rule as other nations, including our own. They and we have to learn the hard way that if our ultimate hope is in political leaders, we will always be disappointed.
"Who is the King of Glory? The Lord of Hosts, he is the king of glory" (Psalm 24:10). And through out history he has been building his kingdom. Granted, it has been a long, slow process and he is no where near finished. But he is is no hurry. "With the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day" (2 Peter 3:8). He can cram into a single day the work of a thousand years. He doesn't count time the way we do.
Jesus came preaching the good news of the long awaited Kingdom of God (Luke 4:43). But people were still not ready for it. They crucified the king of Glory shouting, "We have no king but Caesar" (John 19:15). The problem was Jesus was not the kind of king they wanted. They wanted a political ruler who would feed them (John 6:10-15) and lead them in victory over their enemies. When Pilate asked him if he were a king, Jesus said, "'King' as you use the word or as the Jews us it?" (John 18:34 Living Bible). Then he explained, "I am not an earthly king. If I were, my followers would have fought when I was arrested by the Jewish leaders. But my kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36 LB).
What in the world is God trying to do? He is building his kingdom. Where is it? The geography of the kingdom of God is not in heaven, that is only its capital; it is not in the Bible, that is only its road map; it is not in the church, that is only part of its subjects. "The kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21). It is God's reign in the hearts and lives of his creatures.
The commerce of the kingdom of God (its exports and imports), is not meat and drink. Kingdoms of men provide for that. The commerce of the kingdom of God is justice, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). These are three commodities which the kingdoms of men cannot provide. Philosophers can't agree on what is justice. Politicians can't deliver the peace they promise. Psychologists can't give the joy of the Holy Spirit. Justice, peace and joy are exports and imports of the Kingdom of God.
What in the world is God trying to do? "Thine is the kingdom."
HOW IN THE WORLD DOES GOD HOPE TO SUCCEED?
"Thine is...the power"
Just as we forget who the true King is, so we forget where the real power lies. Paul said, "I proclaim a message of wisdom to those who are spiritually mature. But it is not the wisdom that belongs to this world or to the powers that rule this world--powers that are losing their power" (1 Corinthians 2:6 TEV). There are two kinds of power in this world: material and spiritual. The material powers are "powers which are losing their power." They are powers all right. They crucified the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 1:8), but their days are number and coming to an end. They are toothless tigers: fearsome to look at, but ultimately harmless.
P. T. Forsythe said, "We have grown in our power over everything except the power to control our power over everything." The international nuclear arms race is beginning to look like a do-it-yourself annihilation kit.
Meanwhile, God turns our power-hungry generation on its ear. For he uses the small things to overthrow the great things and the weak things to overthrow the mighty (Zechariah 4:6-10; I Corinthians 1:25-28). With God there is more real power in Bethlehem's manger than in Rome's Senate.
He is the King of Kings, the Lord God Almighty. With him "all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26.) With him "nothing shall be impossible" (Luke 1:37). Our God is able. He is able to perform that which he promised (Romans 4:21). He is able to deliver us (Daniel 3:17). He is able to give us grace to bear temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13). He is able to subdue all things. He is able to keep that which I have committed unto him (2 Timothy 1:12). He is able to save to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25). He is able to keep us from falling (Jude 24). He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think according to his power that works within us (Ephesians 3:20).
When a Sunday School teacher asked her class if there was anything God
couldn't do, a little boy said, "Sure. I know something God can't do."
"What is that?" the teacher asked?
"He can't keep everybody happy!"
"Thine is the power." Therefore, "be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might" (Ephesians 6:10).
WHY IN THE WORLD DOES GOD BOTHER ABOUT IT?
"Thine is...the glory forever."
Earth's glory is temporary. Listen to Thomas Wolfe's character in You Can't Go Home again: "There came to him an image of man's whole life upon the earth. It seemed to him that all man's life was like a tiny spurt of flame that blazed out briefly in an illimitable & terrifying darkness, and that all man's grandeur, tragic dignity, his heroic glory came from the brevity and smallness of this flame. He knew his life was little and would be extinguished, and that only darkness was immense and everlasting."
"Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day.
Earth's joys grow dim; its glories pass away." (Henry Lyte)
From the sixteenth century John Webster reminds us:
"Glories, like glow-worms, afar off shine bright,
But look'd too near have neither heat nor light."
Those who provide for this life, but make no provision for eternity are wise for a moment, but fools forever. Earthly glory is temporary, but...God's glory is forever. "Unto him be glory in the church by Jesus Christ throughout all ages world without end, Amen" (Ephesians 3:21).
"O worship the King, all glorious above,
And gratefully sing his power and his love;
Our Shield and defender, the Ancient of Days,
Pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise."
God seeks our praise of his glory not because he is a superegotist, but because our failure to do so diminishes us. Those who fail to respond to the genius of Shakespeare, or the artistry of Michaelangelo, or the music of Vivaldi are impoverished by their inability to respond. We stand at the singing of the Hallelujah chorus not just for Handel's sake, nor for the conductor's sake but for our sake. It enriches us. If our soul spontaneously resonates to human excellence, how much more to divine excellence. Either we glorify God, or our name is Ichabod, "the glory has departed" (1 Samuel 4:21).
"All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces and that same glory, coming from the Lord who is the spirit, transforms us into his very likeness, in an ever greater degree of glory" (2 Corinthians 3:18).
What in the world is God doing? He is building his kingdom. "For thine is the kingdom." How in the world does he hope to succeed? Through his almighty power. "For thine is...the power." Why in the world would he bother about it? To bring glory to himself through his people. "For thine is...the glory forever, Amen."
In name of God I invite you into his kingdom, power and glory forever.