One of my pet peeves in church is going to happen today, in this service. In fact, I’m going to be involved in leading it. It involves the Lord’s Prayer. I have been attending churches since I was a baby, and I, like many of you, have rattled through the Lord’s Prayer a million times. Many of us are so used to it we can say it backwards in our sleep!
And today, we will canter through it again – and if you are anything like me, autopilot switches on, and you just say the words. The Lord’s Prayer has become a Harry Potter magic spell. Just say the words in the right formula, and all will be good.
No! Although we will go through it with some pace and rhythm today, I really encourage you to think later, in your own times of prayer at home, about what we are praying.
I also want you to consider that the Lord’s prayer is not a magic combination of words: it is a framework. The framework for prayer goes like this:
- Praying for God’s kingdom and will to be done, for him to be exalted in all that happens on earth
- Praying for my / our daily needs
- Praying for forgiveness and that we Christians continue to be merciful, forgiving people one to another
- Praying for deliverance from temptation and hard, painful times
- We then conclude with a doxology of praise: for thine is the kingdom, the power and glory, forever and ever, Amen!
So that’s prayer for God’s will to be done, prayer for our needs, prayer that we will be forgiving, and prayer for protection and endurance.
It should also be noted that Jesus says “When you pray”. There are no Christian disciples of Jesus who do not pray. That should be a wake-up call to everyone, me included!
So in the Lord’s prayer, we pray for three things immediately: that God’s name be hallowed and honoured; that His Kingdom shall come, and that His will shall be done on earth. They all flow from the first point: if God’s name, that is, if God is honoured, then obedience flows. I honour the Queen and Parliament by obeying the laws that are passed in this land. My actions are directly linked to the authorities before which I submit.
Praying for God’s kingdom to come, for His name to be honoured in Britain, is incredibly important. Jesus, who brought in God’s kingdom and began implementing it, targeted hypocrites in politics and the temple (or in today’s world, the church). Hypocrites in politics and the church. Sound familiar? Sound relevant today? How we need the Kingdom of God today!
In modern Britain, according to Cancer Research, about 1000 people are diagnosed with cancer every day. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, in modern Britain, one person every 3 minutes gets dementia. Jesus, who introduced the Kingdom of God, brought healing. How we need the Kingdom of God today!
In modern Britain, Crisis estimates that 230,000 people are homeless. Statista say that 2 million people use foodbanks. Jesus, introducing the Kingdom of God, established the Christian church, which over history went to the poor and sick, washed them, cared for them, and nursed them back to health. We are the inheritors of a Christian faith that has saved more live in history than any other organisation! The church launched health and social care in so many countries across the world! How we need the Kingdom of God today!
In modern Britain, it is estimated on a good Sunday that less than 5% of the population go to worship and ‘hallow’ the name of God. No wonder there are so many confused people out there. How we need the Kingdom of God today!
And this is what we pray for: Father! Let your kingdom come! Father, make your will be done on earth! Father, help us to be agents of your Kingdom! Help us to push forwards worship, prayer and care in this world, bringing it into line with heaven. The more people who hallow God’s name, the more people who love their neighbours, and the fewer people in hospital, in social care, and in need of foodbanks.
You see, the Lord’s prayer is not just spiritual – it is practical. Forgive us our debts says Jesus. Not sins: debts. Of course sin is like a debt to God, one we cannot repay, but as God has dealt with the sin and written it off, so we are to act likewise: be forgiving people.
Don’t encourage or make it easy for people to get into debt, and if they do get into debt, help them get out or look at how they can repay over a longer period. Do not exploit each other but seek the flourishing of each other! This is the Kingdom of God: it is not about profit, but about humans behaving as God made us to behave and living up to the calling God has on us.
Jesus follows the Lord’s Prayer with some examples and illustrations. The first can easily be misunderstood: it is not saying “badger God and eventually he will give in”. It is illustrating the point that persistence is respected and rewarded. If you really have faith, you will keep going back to God in prayer, and you will trust he is hearing and will act.
So, Jesus says, Ask! Seek! Knock! Persist and trust, for God has heard you! Rejoice that he has heard you, don’t be anxious about the things you brought to him in prayer – something is coming! It might be a direct answer, it might be grace to change you: but something will happen.
Jesus then illustrates God’s character. We all know we have good side and bad sides – even the best of us are compromised. Yet we being evil know that a fish is better than a snake. If your daughter wants an egg, you don’t give her a scorpion! If she wants bread, you don’t give her a stone and tell her “get your teeth into that”!
No, we faulty and wicked people can do good. So, logically, HOW MUCH MORE then does God do good!
And the gift God gives is the Holy Spirit – his Spirit to enable, embolden and empower us to do his work. God is a good father, who wants you to be filled with His Spirit, the Spirit who tells you more about how much God loves you, and how God wants you to follow him. His gift of the Spirit is a gift of being known: God sends His Spirit so that you know God knows you!
And if you truly know that God knows you, and God hears your prayers, then you become less anxious. I’ve prayed, and God has heard me. Hallelujah! I need not worry, for He will act, for He has heard, because He is a good father.
I may wish the answer to be different, but I will become less dependent on my own comforts, and more trusting that God does know, is all-powerful, and will lead me into abundant life as I pray “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. Asking for his kingdom to come is saying “It is not about me, but about God. Let my life glorify Him.” Amen