Matthew 6:7-15In contrast to the flowery and lengthy prayers of others, Jesus teaches us to pray with simplicity. Why? Because God is not going to be impressed with the words we use, and, after all, God knows what we need before we ask.
Jesus said, "When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that 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. 'Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
"Then why pray?" you may well ask. Because prayer is one of the ways we stay connected to God. Conversation builds relationship. Prayer also helps us to get to know ourselves, our lives, our needs, as God does.
Have you ever noticed how The Lord's Prayer covers all the essentials?
First, how are we to address God? Not as some distant deity, but as our Father in heaven, because that is who he is.
C. S. Lewis speaks, in Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, about "festooning" The Lord's Prayer. To "festoon" means to adorn with ribbons, garland, or other decoration. In other words, Lewis attaches to each petition of The Lord's Prayer a personal thought, idea, or request.
When my youngest son was small, he often wanted me to carry him around with his face toward mine. At a particularly difficult time in my life, I felt like the Lord was saying to me: "Let me carry you the way you carry Josh. Let me hold you in my arms, and you just look into my face all day." I often festoon "Our Father" with that image of God carrying me and my staring into his face.
"Hallowed be your name." Is God's name special to us? You can tell when a name is special to someone by the way they speak that name. God has many names in Scripture, and each of those names reveal something special, something valuable, about God's character. Which one of God's names in Scripture do we need to festoon on "hallowed be your name" today?
"Your kingdom come." That is a bigee. Jesus says later in Matthew 6, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you." In other words, we will have everything we need to survive and thrive if we put God's kingdom first in our lives.
"Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." How is God's will done in heaven? I imagine it is done perfectly, promptly, and perpetually. That is what we are working toward on earth by the power of the Holy Spirit. When we pray this petition, however, we are telling God that he can work his will in us, perfectly, promptly, and perpetually, here and now. We are saying, "Look God, you can have your way with us, because we know your way is best."
"Give us this day our daily bread." I don't know about you, but I have had times where I haven't been completely sure where tomorrow's meal was going to come from. I remember a time where my bank account was almost down to zero. That experience put this petition about daily bread into perspective. God really does provide our daily bread. He did then. He does now. And not just our physical needs, he provides for all of our needs.
"And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." This is the one petition Jesus elaborates on and explains. If we forgive others, then our heavenly Father will forgive us. If we do not forgive others, our heavenly Father will not forgive our trespasses. Really, I think what Jesus is saying is that when we do not forgive, we cannot receive God's forgiveness. Why? Because when we refuse to forgive the freezes the conduit between our soul and God. When the pipe is frozen, the life-giving water of God's forgiveness and love cannot get to us.
I guess we better work on forgiving then. "But," you say, "I do not feel forgiveness in my heart towards so and so."
That is when it is important to realize that forgiveness is not primarily a feeling. It is a promise. When God forgives us, he goes on record, saying that he will not hold our sins against us. He won't bring up those sins ever again.
So, by God's grace, we can make the promise of forgiveness even when we do not feel like forgiving others.
The way this has worked for me is as follows. I can think of times when I have had a really hard time forgiving others. During those times I have prayed the Lord's Prayer every day. When I come to "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors" I festoon on that petition: "Lord, I forgive so and so." And I name the person I am having trouble forgiving. I do that every day until I "feel" like I have let it go.
"And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one."
This is a better translation than "lead us not into temptation". God never tempts us, but he does test us, or try us, to make us stronger. Of course, no one likes tests or trials. So we ask God to not lead us into such. But if God does have to do so, we ask him to deliver us from the evil one, to help us not fall or give into temptation when we are going through a time of trial.
I don't know about you, but I find I need to pray all of these things everyday. And Lewis' idea of festooning the Lord's Prayer has really helped me.