The Lord’s Prayer is the most profound prayer ever uttered. It is short and simple, yet contains everything we need as physical and spiritual beings.
There are no wasted words.
Despite being called The Lord’s Prayer (a title later bestowed upon it) it should perhaps be called The People’s Prayer, for although Jesus taught this prayer, it was not for him but for his followers, including us.
Like many people, I have learned the Lord’s Prayer by heart. I do not remember doing this but expect it was through repetition at school assemblies, then afterwards at worship with my local church. There may have been a time when I purposely tried to memorise it but I am unable to remember, however, memorising it has been of great benefit. In the night, when hijacked by anxious thoughts, reciting and reflecting on the Lord’s Prayer has calmed my mind and enabled me to return to sleep. It is the prayer that I turn to when I am at the end of myself or know not which way to turn. It has the ability to instantly hand over complex and messy situations to God and say all that needs to be said. It is the prayer I recite when I feel distant, ashamed, or alone, or when I need to reconnect to God and put things right.
The prayer begins with two simple words: Our Father.
Firstly, the prayer is the prayer of a community because God is the God of community. In fact God, within him/herself is community (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). The opening words recognise that God is not a ‘Personal Jesus’ manufactured to pander to the needs of the individual, but that God is ‘our’ God. When you recite the prayer on your own you instantly become aware that you are not alone but are part of this wider community that belongs to a communal God. There is both comfort and strength in the knowledge that, spiritually speaking, you are not doing life on your own, and that there are followers of Jesus saying – no doubt somewhere in the world at precisely the same time – the same prayer as you. We are a community connected to God, but not one who is distant and disconnected, but one who is present and paternal; a community that calls God, Father.
I am very conscious that for many of us that have had absent or abusive earthly fathers that the title of father can be loaded with perceptions that can be harmful or difficult to overcome, however, we should at least be able to comprehend that the God to whom we pray is not distant, disconnected, abusive, or absent. God wants us to address him as our dad, the one who should support us, protect us, cheer us on, provide for us, embrace us when we are sad, challenge us to be the best we can be, play with us, spend time with us, and be proud of us.
More than that, in the Jewish culture at the time Jesus taught this prayer, lineage through one’s father was incredibly important. Identity was not found in vocation or talents but in sonship or daughtership. You often find, when reading the Bible, that an individual is referred to as ‘son of…’ or ‘daughter of…’. So important is this family connection for establishing identity, that even Jesus, himself, is referred to as the Son of God. Through asking us to call him Father, God secures our identity as his children, and as God is the ultimate King, in God’s eyes, that makes us royalty. We are literally princes and princesses.
It is difficult to comprehend just how profoundly wonderful it is that we are encouraged to call God Father. When you pray ‘Our Father’ you can do so boldly, allowing yourself to feel the security and comfort of being part of God’s immediate family.
The Lord’s Prayer is not an incantation that needs to be recited parrot-fashion, but it is a genuine, heartfelt, two-way communication between us and God our Sustainer. This week, I encourage you to pray the Lord’s Prayer, and as you do so, to be open to allow the words to form a direct connection between you and your heavenly Father. May the prayer bring you comfort and peace as you begin with those familiar words, “Our Father.”
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and for ever. Amen.