With the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus was trying to give us a model of how to pray. It is a recipe, a framework, a blueprint. We aren’t supposed to repeat these words mindlessly. We are to use them as an example and make them our own.
Here’s the version I was taught. There are slightly different versions. Some don’t include the “trespasses” part. Some add “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.” at the end.
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.
Really, how many people even talk like this today? Jesus sure didn’t. In spite of what some fundamentalists would believe, Jesus didn’t speak English. And Jesus certainly wouldn’t use King James English in the 21st century. Jesus is all about getting down to our level. Jesus talks like how the people he’s with talk.
How many of us even really understand these words? Who knows what “hallowed” means? How many of us just say these words like they are a magic formula? We have them memorized and we say them and we are done. The words have passed through our lips but not through our minds or hearts.
These words of Jesus are a pattern, not a formula. They provide us a framework. They give us topics to cover. If you cover these basic topics, you’ll have prayed in a good way. Jesus isn’t about people mindlessly muttering words to God. Jesus tells us to pray from our hearts.
God made each one of us a little different, and God wants to hear from each one of us in our own special way. That is way we were made different. For us to pray the same prayer all the time makes no sense.
So what is Jesus saying in this prayer? What is Jesus telling us to do?
Perhaps it is something as simple as this:
Dear God/ Creator/ Divine Source of all that is, You are the master of everything and you are the Lord. (Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.)
Help me to remember that You are always in charge, and You know what is going on better than I do. Help me remember that I don’t have to try to control everything – that you’ve got it all figured out. (Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.)
Thank you for taking care of my physical needs, not just food but clothing and a place to live. Thank you for making sure that I have what I need. (Give us this day our daily bread,)
Help me to remember to always forgive other people, because You have already forgiven me. Help me to hold no grudges. (and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,)
I ask that you not test me by tempting me with things that are bad for me. (and lead us not into temptation,)
Please protect me and keep me safe. (deliver us from evil.)
You can formulate it along this pattern. Think about each phrase as if you are seeing it for the first time. Think about each word. Look each one up – not just the ones you aren’t familiar with. What do they mean to you? They will mean something different to you ten years from now.
Some thoughts on this –
The “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever” part is really a repeat of the “hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” part. They both refer to the fact that God is in charge. God is the creator and ruler of everything. God is the beginning and the end and everything in between. God has the master plan. We keep thinking we are in charge, and it is up to us to make sure everything gets done. This is a very unhealthy way to think. So perhaps it is good to refer to this twice in this prayer. It is the key to it all.
In the “and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” part, we need to look at the word “as” – it means “in the same way, or like” but it also means “at the same time” Our mistakes are forgiven when we forgive others their mistakes. It isn’t up to us to judge. We have to let it go and let God be in charge. Jesus came to teach peace and forgiveness. This is something that comes from God to us, but it is also supposed to be something that we extend out to everyone. Consider it trickle-down forgiveness, but the trickle is more like a waterfall.
In the “lead us not into temptation” part, I feel that is there because God often tests us to strengthen us. God is like a personal trainer, and wants us to grow strong. We have to be tested for this to happen. Perhaps part of this is also that we are asking that we see that whatever tests do come our way we see as being from God. Then we will have the strength to endure them.
If we live an easy life then we won’t ever get to test our faith. It is easy to “love your neighbor” if your neighbor is kind – it is much harder when your neighbor is a jerk. But it is exactly that kind of neighbor that we are here to be kind to. I also think Jesus put in the “lead us not into temptation” line because God forgets how hard it is to be human.
God gave us all these rules to follow. And we kept breaking them. God gave us more rules, and we still didn’t get it right. So God came down in human form, and finally understood why we couldn’t get the rules right. God finally understood how hard it is to be human because God finally saw what it was like from our perspective.
It is like a professional race car driver trying to give driving instructions to someone who has an antique VW van to drive. The professional is going to keep getting frustrated – why can’t this person get it? It is easy. Then, when the driver finally gets into the old, clunky, VW van with its impossible stick shift and heater that is always on, even in the middle of summer, and the rusted out floorboards, the driver will finally get a clue as to what is going on.
It is as if God says after all that “Of course you can’t do it the way I’ve been telling you. I see now. Here, let me break it down to just two rules. Love Me, and love your neighbor.”
And really, it is just one rule. Love.
Sometimes that is the hardest thing ever.