Equipping Christians & churches for whole-life discipleship in the world.

The Lord’s Prayer (10): Now and Forever

July 30, 2012
30 Jul 2012

Yours, LORD, is the greatness and the power
and the glory and the majesty and the splendour,
for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
Yours, LORD, is the kingdom;
you are exalted as head over all.
1 Chronicles 29:11

‘For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.’

Although it has been used from early Christian times, the best manuscripts of the Lord’s Prayer do not contain the doxology. It certainly echoes biblical sentiments, however, and it’s no surprise that it worked its way into the church’s liturgy. It somehow seems a richly appropriate way to end. As we work through this prayer, using its words as given to us, or using it as a pattern for our praying, how else should we end but with unconditional worship and praise? As we pray about our daily needs, our daily repentance, our forgiveness of others, our daily temptations and trials, the doxology allows us to offer a final act of trust and faith.

We know that some pray for daily bread in times of desperation and hunger; that some have betrayals and sins that are hard to confess, and even harder to forgive in others; that the temptations and addictions some face are overwhelming. Yet, ending with this shout of praise echoes Habakkuk’s great ‘whatever’:

‘Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen or cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Saviour’ (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

For some time now I have only used the words of the Lord’s Prayer communally in church. I wonder whether we need to be stopped in our tracks before we pray it together publicly, and challenged to think about what we are saying before we start. And should we not use the words as a pattern for our own private prayers? Do we hear Jesus saying, ‘Pray then in this way…’, and ‘When you pray, say…’?

As we follow its pattern, this prayer shapes us as disciples – putting God’s name and kingdom first, acknowledging him as the one who provides for our daily needs, asking him for forgiveness even as we forgive others, recognising that he is the one who will preserve us in moments of testing and keep us from the evil one.

For the kingdom is his, and the power is his, and the glory is his, forever.

 

Margaret Killingray

The Lord’s Prayer (9): Deliver Us From Evil

July 23, 2012
23 Jul 2012

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your fellow believers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
1 Peter 5:8-9

The Christians addressed by Peter may well have had few options in the face of evil. Whether it involved persecution with the possibility of torture and martyrdom, extreme poverty and the inability to feed their children, or slavery in the mines or galleys of Rome, they were being urged to be disciplined, alert and steadfast in their faith – to resist the urge to cry out against God, and resist the urge to collaborate and cooperate with the evildoers to save themselves.

Historically many Christians have been faced by the powers of evil, and some have willingly collaborated: 19th century factory and mine owners who employed small children for long hours; 18th century Christians active in the slave trade and in using slaves on their plantations; 20th century Christians actively involved in total war with the slaughter and imprisonment of thousands of innocent people.

Deliver us from evil. What are we asking for, as we pray this week by week? To be protected from all harm? Is it, for some, a ‘lucky charm’ kind of prayer? As we have looked at the phrases of the Lord’s Prayer over the past few months, we can see that we are accepting a call to active participation in God’s purposes for his world; to be kingdom builders, to be salt and light. And this will sometimes mean enduring evil without participating in it, and resisting evil that seeks to involve us. That might mean challenging the actions of work colleagues and losing face if not losing our job; it might mean calling the police to a situation when we would dearly wish to turn away.

We pray for ourselves, and we pray for those in the forefront of today’s battles against evil – against child abuse in care homes, against the sex trade in women and girls, and the use of torture by governments. Around the world we can see the forces of evil unleashed by fallible humans with total power, and we thank the Lord for the provisions of democratic government, justice and laws, that seek to protect us from evil. But stay alert!

 

Margaret Killingray

The Lord’s Prayer (8): Lead Us Not Into Temptation

July 16, 2012
16 Jul 2012

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
Matthew 6:13

No temptation at all? Are we praying for that? But how can that possibly be the meaning of this petition? Every step of our way through this wonderful but challenging and deceiving world is hedged with testing and temptation. John Stott suggests a paraphrase: ‘Do not allow us so to be led into temptation that it overwhelms us, but rescue us from the evil one.’

James certainly didn’t think we could be completely protected from temptation. ‘When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each of you is tempted when you are dragged away by your own evil desire and enticed’ (James 1:13-14). Anything, it seems, can become a snare – sex and money, food and fame; all our emotions can tempt us and test us – irritation and boredom, sentiment and competitiveness.

And Paul makes it clear that temptation comes to all of us. ‘No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to us all. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it’ (1 Corinthians 10:13). And that too is what we are praying for.

So this prayer involves us in various commitments. We need to know our own weaknesses, be aware of the places where we are most vulnerable. We should never put ourselves deliberately in the way of temptation. Nor should we ever be responsible, personally or corporately, for others being tested and tempted beyond their ability to cope.

But this is also a request for protection and discernment, not gentle treatment. In the wilderness, Jesus faced up to the use of power to please only himself, to make a grand gesture to impress, and to serve the evil one and gain the world. Indeed, he was ‘tempted in every way, just as we are’, and ‘because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted’ (Hebrews 4:15; 2:18). So that is our confidence and our consolation as we pray ‘lead us not into temptation’.

 

Margaret Killingray

The Lord’s Prayer (7): Unconditional Forgiveness?

July 9, 2012
09 Jul 2012

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Matthew 6:12 

The master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant’, he said, ‘I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’
Matthew 18:32-33

I sometimes think of this parable when driving the car. As I come up to a main road, an approaching driver slows down and beckons me out into the traffic. I acknowledge his kindness and drive on. A moment later, I see another car waiting to come out of a side turning, but, before my conscience smites me, I drive on. I have benefitted from someone else’s graciousness, but failed to be gracious in my turn.

Which brings me to the parable. A servant – or perhaps a steward – owes a king millions of pounds. By an extraordinary act of generosity his debt is cancelled. But he, in his turn, refuses to have mercy on a junior servant who owes him a fiver.

The focus of the parable is our need to forgive others. The focus in the Lord’s prayer is our need to be forgiven. The huge contrast between the two debts in the parable reminds us of the vastness of human sin, the offence of which could only be atoned for with the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:19).

The concept of ‘sin’ may be hard to define, but we are helped by two much more graphic words which are sometimes used in translations of the Lord’s prayer: ‘trespass’ and ‘debt’. Both of these refer to a wrong done to someone else – the one whose boundaries have been crossed and the one to whom an obligation is owed. The Creator placed boundaries on human behaviour, and throughout history we have claimed for ourselves – in things large and small – power and autonomy that belong to God alone. And what do we owe him? ‘My soul, my life, my all.’ Sin is a direct offence against God.

How readily, in our relaxed society, I condone thoughts and actions of mine that are offensive to God. It’s not only daily bread that we need, but daily forgiveness. But to receive God’s forgiveness we need the generosity of spirit to forgive those – at home, at work – who have crossed our boundaries or wronged us in various ways. Recipients of mercy show mercy to others.

 

Helen Parry

The Lord’s Prayer (6): Give Us Today Our Daily Bread

July 2, 2012
02 Jul 2012

Moses said… ‘It is the bread the LORD has given you to eat. This is what the LORD has commanded: Each one is to gather as much as they need…’ The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. And when they measured it… the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Each one had gathered just as much as they needed.
Exodus 16:15-18

After the far-reaching requests about honouring our heavenly Father’s name and longing to see his reign exercised on earth as it is in heaven, the next line in the Lord’s Prayer – ‘Give us today our daily bread’ (Matthew 6:11) – can come as something of a jolt in its seeming mundaneness. And yet it reminds us that God is concerned with the nitty-gritty aspects of life. ‘Bread’, in this sense, is always an appropriate topic for prayer.

For starters, praying this line enables us to become aware that we depend on God for everything. It fits with what Jesus says later about not being anxious about basic necessities, since ‘your heavenly Father knows that you need them’ (Matthew 6:32). In the daily practice of gathering manna in the wilderness, Israel was to learn to trust that God would supply their needs. Like them, we do our bit to bring it in, to turn it into something that nourishes, but we do not forget the ultimate giver in the process of doing so.

Then, we are to ask for bread, as the Israelites were to gather manna, on a daily basis – reminding us that we live in constant reliance on God. Although it is not true for many people in the world, the daily provision for most readers of this email is usually guaranteed ahead of time. For us especially, perhaps, the regular discipline of reaching out to God who reaches out to us will allow us to foster a sense of dependence and thankfulness.

Moreover, that it is our daily bread means I pray it for others too. The work of farmers, bakers, truck drivers and supermarket sellers mean that none of us eats alone. The prayer is an acknowledgement that I am not a self-sufficient automaton. It may also lead me to take some responsibility for making sure others have enough, particularly when I have an excess. Paul makes this clear to the Corinthians in encouraging them to support their poorer brothers and sisters in Christ. Drawing on the account of the manna, he notes that ‘your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need’ (2 Corinthians 8:14).

No less than the opening lines, praying this deceptively simple request becomes a powerful shaper of our everyday lives as disciples of Christ.

 

Antony Billington

The Lord’s Prayer (5): Your Kingdom Come… On Earth

June 18, 2012
18 Jun 2012

At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed… The second woe has passed… The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.’
Revelation 11:13-15

The Christian church has, over the centuries, been tempted by several contrasting ways of living in this world. Some have simply prayed for Christ’s return at the end of time, meanwhile enduring this uncomfortable and disaster-ridden world, where the main task is ‘winning souls’. Others pray for the kingdom to come now, seeing it as their task to get on with the really important and pressing matters of contemporary social concern and action.

So ‘Your kingdom come’ has, for some, simply been about the end of the age, the final coming of Christ as judge and king. And, of course, his kingdom will come totally and completely, and his will will be done in every corner of the universe. But a problem arises if we see heaven as a disembodied realm beyond the physical universe, and expect the final destruction of all evil to include the destruction of the earth. If that were true, withdrawal into personal piety and saving souls makes sense. But we believe in the resurrection of the body; we believe that Jesus rose from the dead in a physical body that was recognisable and indestructible. And the biblical images and metaphors of the end of time speak of a restored earth.

So, when we pray ‘Your kingdom come’, we need to look at our world through God’s eyes – the eyes of a loving Creator, who sees this wonderful world in all its beauty, and who sees humans made in his image, loving their families, creating art and music, building bridges and growing crops. This being the case, we affirm and encourage everything that is good, and pray that the life of God’s reign will be worked out in very corner of our lives.

But we also need to see it through the eyes of a grieving Creator, who sees untold damage done to the earth and its people, through careless waste, violence, corruption and destructive greed; we live in a world of injustice, hunger and evil, and this prayer calls out for justice, bread, forgiveness and deliverance. So, as we pray, we are also making a commitment to do all we can – as subjects of the king – to bring his kingdom’s blessings, his reign of love and forgiveness, into our world now.

 

Margaret Killingray

The Lord’s Prayer (4): Hallowed be Your Name

June 11, 2012
11 Jun 2012

You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD
will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
Deuteronomy 5:11 

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth…
Philippians 2:9-10

John Calvin, I believe, pointed out that the Lord’s Prayer has a certain similarity to the Ten Commandments in that in the first half of the prayer, God’s concerns are our priority – your name, your kingdom, your will – and in the second half our concerns are committed to him – give us, forgive us, deliver us.

There are many names for God in the Bible, revealing different aspects of his character, so that we can know he is our provider, our creator, our sustainer, our saviour and redeemer, a character revealed to us supremely in Jesus. And we pray that his name will be honoured and kept holy – in our lives, our speech, and our actions, in his church and in his world.

When I was taught the third commandment and the Lord’s Prayer in Sunday school, hallowing God’s name and taking his name ‘in vain’, were reduced to ‘don’t swear’ or, more narrowly, ‘don’t blaspheme’. But the thrust of this prayer must be wider than that. We can dishonour his name in some situations by our silence. In public life we can dishonour him by Christian disunity and disagreement. We sometimes dishonour him in our worship – both by cold formality and by casual chatty informality. Should our children sing, ‘Jim is not the boss, Jesus is the boss’, when in everyday speech the word ‘boss’ has a mildly ‘slangy’ feel and sometimes has to do with being bossy? And how should we react to blasphemy from work colleagues and family members? Is it more important to respond to fluent, and sometimes arrogant, belittling of faith, than to casual swearing?

The Lord God is holy. His name is holy eternally, from before all ages. Nothing anyone can say can dent that truth. They are only demonstrating their puny rebellions, but they can sometimes undermine our faith and make us feel fearful and inadequate to respond. We need to remind ourselves that his name will be hallowed totally and completely when the Lord comes to reign, and we are praying for that day to come as well as praying in the difficulties and challenges of today.

 

Margaret Killingray

The Lord’s Prayer (3): Our Father in Heaven

April 30, 2012
30 Apr 2012

See, I will create new heavens and a new earth… be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.
Isaiah 65:17-18

Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth’… I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.
Revelation 21:1-2

If you were to ask your fellow Christians in church next Sunday how they would answer the question ‘Where is heaven?’, I wonder what range of answers you would get.

I have been challenged by reading Tom Wright’s Surprised by Hope (SPCK, 2007). He argues that many Christians have very vague ideas of heaven that have no real place for the resurrection of the body or the new creation of earth. So, what do we understand by the word ‘heaven’? Where is the Lord in his heaven now? Is it a ‘home for little children above the bright blue sky’? Or, when we get there, will it be a recreated recognisable earth?

Several factors contribute to the confusion. Firstly, there are the popular, sentimental ideas of heaven that surface at public demonstrations of grief and in some hymns. Secondly, there is the expansion in our knowledge of the universe we inhabit – space and time beyond human imagination, where telescopes of huge magnitude can probe space to see, not today, but the beginnings of time itself. Changing ideas of cosmology can confuse our understanding of the biblical use of metaphors of ‘up’ and ‘down’. ‘On the third day he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.’ Is heaven up there, then?

Metaphorical ‘up’ and ‘down’ are deeply rooted in our language – happy and good is up; sad and bad is down; we say ‘my spirits rose’ – or ‘sank’, ‘he’s at the height of his power’ or ‘he fell from power’. Although it’s apparent that these are spatial metaphors, they have spatially shaped our ideas of heaven – and hell.

So, where is heaven? Our Father in heaven is the one almighty, transcendent God, who was before all things, and in whom all things hold together, who created everything out of nothing. And our Father in heaven is the one God, who was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, whose kingly rule has begun on earth. Heaven’s morning will indeed break; but earth’s vain shadows will not flee, but be transformed into a new creation. And the resurrection of Jesus Christ is our assurance that heaven at the end will be very physical and will be here.

Given this, how should we live now, today even, as children of our Father in heaven?

 

Margaret Killingray

The Lord’s Prayer (2): Our Father…

April 23, 2012
23 Apr 2012

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God… for you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father’.
Romans 8:14-15 (NIV 1984)

We are indeed sons of God through faith. But why not ‘sons and daughters’, or just ‘children’? Some, who come to faith having hardly ever read the Bible, are astonished at the use of masculine terms and pronouns for people, particularly in the New International Version, one of the most widely used versions. In more recent translations (NRSV, TNIV, and the revised NIV, published in 2011), alternatives are used in Romans 8:14-15, which refer to ‘children of God’ and ‘a spirit of adoption’. How should we deal with the ‘masculine’ tendency in the use of personal pronouns in older translations?

This issue was covered very helpfully in D.A. Carson’s book, The Inclusive Language Debate: A Plea for Realism (IVP, 1998). Carson looks at the problems of translating gender when world languages differ widely in the way they use pronouns. The French have no problems in calling a table ‘she’ or breakfast ‘he’ when there is no word for ‘it’. The word for ‘spirit’ is feminine in Hebrew and neuter in Greek, but English translations draw back from calling the Holy Spirit ‘she’ or ‘it’. Few would probably want to call God ‘Mother’ over ‘Father’; that, after all, is what Jesus called him – Abba in Aramaic – although some have wanted to recognise that God also mothers us in a wider sense of being a ‘parenting’ God.

In a home group discussion on the Lord’s Prayer, there was some genuine concern with the use of ‘father’ for describing our relationship with God. The patterns of family life, especially in some cultures, but also in the fragmenting and dysfunctional relationships that we sometimes see in our own communities, make the use of ‘fatherhood’ problematic for some people. Yet even those whose fathers fell far short of any ideal had some idea of what good fathering looked like. In all aspects of faith many of us grow into maturity from very tentative beginnings.

It will not always be easy, in this flawed world, for some to think of God as father. But through Jesus, who loved and obeyed his Father and prayed to him frequently, we can all come to his Father and our Father within a relationship of dependence, love, intimacy and trust, crying ‘Abba, Father’.

 

Margaret Killingray

The Lord’s Prayer (1): Familiarity…

April 16, 2012
16 Apr 2012

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This, then, is how you should pray…
Matthew 6:7-9

In one sense this is not the Lord’s Prayer, but the disciples’ prayer. Yet, in another sense, Jesus is inviting disciples to join him in a prayer that echoes his own words and prayers. He, too, prayed to his Father, spoke of himself as the bread of life, gave himself so we might be forgiven, prayed in Gethsemane that he might not be put to the test. He announced the coming of the kingdom that would spread like yeast in the dough until in the fullness of time it would come on earth and he would be revealed as king.

‘Do not heap up empty phrases’ – as the Revised Standard Version translates it – and yet we may know this prayer so well that we sometimes say it, in the fellowship of a Sunday service, for example, without the words engaging our minds at all. Is it a prayer that we need to pray, word for word, as the Lord taught it? Or is it also a model, teaching us patterns of prayer that we need to develop?

It certainly suggests that our praying should be a habitual and daily practice. I suppose we can’t honestly pray ‘give us today our daily bread’ once a week! It is also very straightforward and very simple in its structure. There are times when we need to praise him in the rich poetry of the Psalms, or in the outpourings of our own love and thanksgiving. But Jesus said ‘pray like this’ – a short, thought-provoking, and direct prayer, which demands our complete and undivided attention.

There can be great comfort, and a genuine thrill, in knowing that millions upon millions of people have prayed this prayer over two thousand years, in many languages. Perhaps, just as our Saviour came to surprise us in the ordinary and the everyday, so we might find new insights in these very ordinary and familiar words as we look at them over the next few weeks.

 

Margaret Killingray