Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Lord's Prayer

During my daily walk with the Lord I spend considerable time pondering the prayer that I utilize the most, the one that we call the "Lord's Prayer". Actually, the Invocation is the prayer that I use the most, in connection with every prayer, but the Lord's Prayer or the Our Father is the longer form of the Invocation. Dear Dr. Luther teaches us to use this prayer given to us by the Lord Himself in connection with nearly all of our prayers. He suggests using it with our morning and evening prayers, with our mealtime prayers, with our prayers of confession of sins, with our prayers of confession of faith.

This is after all the prayer that the Lord Jesus gave us as the one by which we know how to pray. We have two accountings of the gift of this prayer, one in Matthew 6 and the other in Luke 11. Matthew records that the Lord says, "You all's Father has known what needs you all have, before of yourselves you asked Him. In this way, therefore, pray, all of you." Luke simply records that Jesus says, "Whenever you pray, say: . . ."

Can the Lord put it any more plainly or more simply? This is the prayer that we are to pray. It may be used with more or less words, depending upon our circumstances, but this is our prayer. This is the prayer that we are to be praying continually. Thus it seems appropriate that we should be pondering its form and substance continually. Truly there is much for us to learn about true prayer.

We call it the Lord's prayer, because He gave it to us. It is His prayer because it originates with Him as His gift to us. He speaks the prayer to us so that we have a true prayer to speak to Him. He tells us His will so that we may pray confidently the will that He has revealed to us in His own holy words. Since it is His prayer given to us for us to pray, we may indeed pray with absolute confidence.

Thus we find that even though this prayer has seven petitions, there is not a question or request included in the prayer. Each petition is a statement of fact, a statement of what God Himself has declared His holy will to be for His children. Thus we are not taught to say "please" in praying God's will, but to pray as though we believe it is already granted from eternity, from before the existence of time, from before we even realize that we have need to pray. Thus our Lord teaches us that we do not receive because we pray, but that we pray as we become aware of what we receive. We ask, knowing that our Gracious God has already granted it, even before our hearts knew to ask. Nevertheless God commands us to ask so that in receiving we learn to know God's loving attitude toward us.

We also learn in this prayer that it is OUR prayer. Prayer is not the possession of an individual to use apart from God's purposes. It is not a matter of individual request. The prayer is ours as God's family and so our Lord teaches us to pray "Our Father."

Notice that from this perspective it is not Jesus' prayer, for He Himself never prayed it. Jesus never prayed "our Father." He always prayed as the only-begotten Son from eternity. God is His Father, first. Then, in connection with Him as we are conjoined to Him into His body through Baptism His Father is also declared to be our Father. We do not come to the Father on our own, but always in connection with Jesus. We come as those who have been regenerated as members of His body. Thus God is OUR Father and we pray as one in Christ. When any one Christian prays in accord with Jesus' name, that Christian prays with all the saints of all places and all times. No matter where or when we pray, we all pray the same prayer. This is true if we pray in true communion with Christ in His body joined to Him by His saving name. If we truly are praying in the name of Jesus, we are praying as He teaches us in this perfect prayer from eternity. Such praying is never selfish or self-serving.

Therefore we begin by acknowledging our mutual dependence upon God as our Father. We pray for His holy name to be holy in our lives as we grow in the holy communion of the saints, becoming evermore aware of God's holiness and the gift of sanctification imparted in the one Baptism in concert with the one Faith. Thus we rely not upon our own faith but the faith, the one true faith in which the Holy Spirit unites us in the one true Church. Together we are and pray as the una sancta. If we truly are praying in the name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit then we share in one universal prayer that is founded upon God's pure and holy will. The next two petitions reiterate and emphasize these very points. Then we pray in acknowledgement that the things about which our sinful hearts worry and fret, selfishly trying to hoard for ourselves, have already been appointed to us by our Father in heaven. We acknowledge that our bread and needs are supplied to us each day according to what our Father knows that we need. Rather than worrying, when we pray together according to our Lord's Prayer, we rejoice in His providence and join in continual thanksgiving. Naturally, as we pray and come to know God's goodness to us more and more fully, we are moved to be gracious and generous with one another as well. And so what our Father provides to one He provides to all. This is especially true regarding forgiveness. In Christ we know beyond any doubt that our Father desires to forgive us and to make His forgiveness the basis of our daily living. So we pray with full expectation that God forgive us our sins even as this forgiveness changes our hearts so that we will forgive those who do wrong to us. Next we pray that by the Holy Spirit's leading that we will not follow the way of temptation. While temptations will surely surround us throughout our daily journey, these temptations will have no power over us. Our hearts and minds will be fixed on things above and not on the earth and so we will not be led into temptation by our sinful nature. Finally we pray God's clearly revealed will that we are delivered from evil. Through the suffering and death of Christ evil has been overcome. As long as the Holy Spirit keeps us in the one true faith, the evil one has no power to harm us. We are safe, even as this prayer teaches us to believe. After all, the kingdom, the power, and the glory belong to our heavenly Father. Why on earth should we have doubt concerning anything?

Truly this is the one prayer worthy of being called the Lord's Prayer. Certainly there can be only one thing better than having this prayer given to us for our possession, and that one thing is that we should actually use it.

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