The Lord’s Prayer has a very special place in my heart. A few years ago I began an experiment in which I prayed the Lord’s Prayer almost every morning through the lens of persecuted Christians. During my commute to work, I began to imagine what “Give us this day our daily bread” might mean for believers in areas where Christianity is outlawed, as well as in places where poverty rates are high. Overall this proved to be a powerful exercise.
New Testament scholar Wesley Hill has a great resource on helping the reader approach this prayer. In The Lord’s Prayer: A Guide to Praying to Our Father, Hill takes us through a journey to better understand how Jesus’ words and model prayer give hope, meaning, and direction to Christ’s disciples today. While The Lord’s prayer can easily become formulaic and ritualistic (losing its relevance and meaning for today), Hill’s guide is a great resource for avoiding this.
Below are a four simple reminders that Hill provides about the Lord’s Prayer.
1: Jesus Uncomplicates Prayer
If you’ve been in the Church for any amount of time, you’re bound to have been exposed to bad models of prayer. My personal favorite is that God cannot hear quiet prayers, and our prayers must go past the roof of the church, an approach that’s more common in charismatic/Pentecostal circles. In the verses prior to Jesus’ model prayer, Jesus deals with unhealthy (and common) approaches to prayer and the general ways humans complicate prayer. One unhelpful approach is to treat God like a genie who can be manipulated by our prayers to grant us our wishes. Others think that God can be impressed by either how elaborate our prayers are or how long they are. Jesus sees right past all of our theatrics and motivations, insisting that in our prayers we’re to avoid theatrics. “There’s no need for pretentious displays, Jesus insists. Prayer shouldn’t be calculated to impress, whether one is seeking to attract the attention of God or other people” (p. 2).
“Prayer shouldn’t be calculated to impress, whether one is seeking to attract the attention of God or other people.” Wesley Hill, from The Lord’s Prayer: A Guide to Praying to Our FatherTweet
2: God Doesn’t Need Your prayers
The starting point for the Lord’s Prayer is God’s embrace of us and love toward us. We don’t earn God by our elaborate prayers since God cannot be manipulated. God isn’t looking to be impressed and does not reserve his love for some of his children who pray the right sort of prayer. He loves all of his children regardless of their “performance” and their prayers, and this simple truth is a freeing truth. God’s fatherly and whole-hearted embrace is to be the starting point for all of our prayers.
Prayer, and The Lord’s Prayer in particular, is an invitation to rest in the reality of God as our Father. Hill recommends that we “Go find a quiet place where you can relax… Unclench your fists. Breathe deeply. Let your heart rate decrease. Know that you’re already bathed in the Father’s love.” It’s in light of this reality that we’re to bring our hearts and needs before God.
Prayer isn’t to be an attempt to gain or earn God’s favor since as God’s children we already have God’s love. The Lord’s Prayer is an invitation to realize, accept, and finally bask in the reality of God’s acceptance of us and radical love for us. While we don’t merit God’s love, God relentlessly and unashamedly loves us anyway.
3: God is a Listening Father
While modern fathers are often consumed and enthralled more by their IPhones than they are their children, Hill insists that God is not such a father. On the contrary, God stands in anticipation and readiness to hear and listen to our prayers. Our Father is a listening Father, a simple art that is quickly losing traction in our high-speed and increasingly-impatient age.
The Lord’s Prayer is an invitation to bask in the reality of an attentive God who pays attention to his children, their requests, and their needs.
4: The Lord’s Prayer is an acknowledgement of our utter dependence on God
To Hill, “Give us today our daily bread” is a reminder that we don’t just need God daily: we need him every waking moment. Without God, we would cease to exist. When we’re praying for our daily nourishment, we are acknowledging what we are (dependent upon God) and who God is (our divine sustainer).
We’re also reminded of our sheer dependency when praying, “And deliver us from evil.” Here, Jesus is in agreement with how the entire Bible seems to see evil not as some abstract force but as something personal which we call the devil. The Bible tends to personify evil and highlights just how pervasive Satan’s influence is in the world. Satan wreaks havoc within God’s good created order. It’s in light of this that we’re to reverently pray, “And deliver us from evil” or “from the evil one” and his grip.
“What we need to be rescued from isn’t just the devices and desires of our own wayward hearts, as real and dangerous as those are, but also the malevolence of a personal being bent on our suffering.” Wesley Hill on the line, “And deliver us from evil/the evil one.”Tweet
Hill points to the pervasiveness of racism in the world (which is gaining more attention in the West), noting that behind the evil of racism lurks a dark and demonic reality, the driving force of all evil in the world. “The prince of racism” poisons even very virtuous people and deludes their hearts and minds, and we’re in desperate need of an antidote. Will-power won’t cut it. “Stronger medicine is needed. And that is what Jesus urges us to pray for: we must, in the end, appeal to God to deliver us from the grip of the Evil One” (p. 85).
The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer which covers all bases, holistic in all respects. In it, we come face-to-face with our great inadequacies and failures, but more importantly we come face-to-face with a God who provides strength and nourishment to the weary, choosing to include them in his worldwide mission of renewing his cherished creation.
A reminder of the Christian call to simplicity (not least in our prayer lives), Hill invites the reader into the rich world of The Lord’s Prayer which is layered with nuance, beauty, and wonder. A reminder also of the vast richness found within the Lord’s model prayer, Hill showcases what individuals and communities miss out on when neglecting this central piece in Christ’s teachings. I highly recommend this to any Christian who wants a simple-but-robust resource on Jesus’ model prayer for his disciples.
Thank you, Lexham Press, for the copy.