The Lord’s Prayer (Part 1)

The most iconic prayer in Christian lore is the Lord’s Prayer. After Jesus finished praying in a certain place one of his disciples had approached him with a simple request: “Master, teach us to pray just as John (the Baptiser) taught his disciples.” Perhaps this disciple was expecting guidelines on the length, vigour and techniques of public praying. But Jesus taught the antithesis of the prevailing culture of prayer promoted by the religious leaders.

Prayer for the Pharisees was an act of showmanship, Jesus said. A “theatrical production” and quest for “stardom”.  The key to prayer he went on, is to be able to direct focus from oneself to God. One must mitigate distractions: “Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.” Matthew 6:6 MSG. When our gaze is heavenward and focused on God and God alone, we will sense His grace. Grace is perceptible. The state of our heart determines God’s responsiveness to our prayers in effect. There are no formulas to prayer. The key is sincerity of heart.

There are too many prayer technicians, Jesus said. They reduce prayers to techniques. If only they were not pathetically ignorant. Listen to Jesus: “The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need” Matthew 6:5-8 MSG.

We can approach God with simplicity of heart because He loves us dearly. “You can pray very simply.” This is HOW to pray, Jesus taught: “Our Father which art in heaven. Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:9-10. In these two verses we are taught celestial geography and spiritual political science. Our Father is a King who heads a political kingdom situate in a celestial realm called Heaven. His name is hallowed – venerable and sacred. We must approach such a powerful potentate in awe. It is the intendment of this King to extend his hegemony to our terrestrial sphere, the prayer says. This entails the propagation of his social, cultural, ideological and economic policies and tenets.

Jesus enjoins us in the Lord’s Prayer to ask for three specific things from God. The three are food – for keeping alive, conditional forgiveness, and safety – from ourselves and the evil one: “Give us today the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.” Matthew 6:11-13 NLT.

The first of these three – food, we often take for granted. Yet Jesus says it is a prayer point. If Jesus is telling us to ask God for food it means food is a provision of benevolence.  It is not a purchase made with the currency of the monetisation of our effort.  It is not the natural order of man to ask God for something as basic as food. We only do in desperate situations. When last did you ask God for food?!  Even though we do not ask yet God provides. Mercy triumphs over judgment. The man who has a job assumes he provides food for himself. Jesus implies this is oblivious of mercy. Jesus wants us to VOLUNTARILY acknowledge the provisional role of God in our lives by asking Him for something as basic as food. He wants us to know we’re dependent on God for the most basic things in life, to acknowledge grace. To the extent to which we feed through our jobs, a job is a tool of mercy by which Jehovah provides.

The idea of a “self-made” man must therefore be a hyperbolic fallacy, a huge misconception. We are beneficiaries of mercy. Inherent in the Lord’s Prayer is the need for gratitude for mental health. The ability to process God as the source of sustenance is presumptive of mental health, literally and literarily. To ask God for food presumes cognitive capability – the CAPACITY to recognise self, need and Creator. Our Lord’s Prayer is therefore a loaded capsule. We must ask God to open our hearts to content analysis.

Jesus goes on to introduce something new – mercy relativism: “Forgive us our sins, AS WE HAVE FORGIVEN those who sin against us.” Relativism! In other words, the degree of mercy we show others is the degree of mercy we receive. There is God’s sovereign mercy. He dispenses it to ALL irrespective of righteousness status. It’s wholesale. But at a local level, on a retail scale mercy is tied to mercifulness. This is relative mercy. It is vividly illustrated in the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. Matthew 18:23-35. It is one of the many illustrations of the Kingdom of God.

In that story, a servant was owing perhaps $1m and unable to pay. At the threat of being sold off as a slave, along with his family and all he had to settle the debt he begged for time to pay. Seeing his plea his master forgave him the entire debt. This was way beyond the plea. The same man was hardly out of the room when he met someone owing him ten dollars – a fellow servant. The fellow pleaded for time to pay but the forgiven servant threw him into jail, until the debt was paid! He actually grabbed the man by the throat to demand the money! This was an outrage! When the master heard what transpired he threw him into jail too, unforgiving his debt.

Compassion and forgiveness are huge subject matters in the policy blueprint of God’s Kingdom. If God has forgiven you so much, why can’t you forgive others? This parable came about because Peter asked, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?” Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.” God DEMANDS we forgive. Forgive slights. Slights are ten a dollar. You owe God a fortune. You owe God your very life.

If you’ll like to acknowledge your debt to God, please pray this prayer: “Father I acknowledge I’m a sinner and undeserving of mercy. Jesus died for me. Please forgive me. Amen.

© Leke Alder |