My Church, Manchester Vineyard Community Church, is going to be taking a journey preaching and teaching The Lord’s Prayer this spring starting today. I have to confess I am very excited.
If there is one section of Holy Scripture that most people take for granted, it’s this one.
If you live in a western culture that developed in light of the European expansion of the 1400’s – 1800’s, then it is likely you learned The Lord’s Prayer as a young child. You have probably repeated its words hundreds or even thousands of times throughout your life. It is a staple of our culture in some ways. A beautiful, sublime expression of holiness, humility and hallelujah.
The Lord’s Prayer is at once a prayer which requires no preparation, no religious ritual, no pious posturing. And, at the same time there is a sense that about this prayer that neither should it be engaged flippantly, casually or with any sense of disregard for Whom it is addressing and for what is being asked. There are two particular teachings in this regard that cut through the familiarity with which we may generally approach this prayer:
In the verses preceding the actual prayer text, Jesus says this:
“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you…” Matthew 6:6
“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words…” Matthew 6:7
Jesus, at the very least, is teaching that when people who follow him pray like him, they should approach their praying with a certain soberness, or perhaps even solemnity. In this way, The Lord’s Prayer reflects its 1st century Jewish context which recognized that there are ways that humans should approach the Almighty and ways that they might want to think twice about. Not because the Eternal Father would be in any way negatively affected by flippancy or disregard, but because the person approaching Him would be negatively affected. This is counter-cultural to the way I think most of approach just about anything and everything. There is a sense or a direction in our culture that wants to strip decorum or seriousness out, and wants to either relativize all events so that any sense of sobriety is done away with or it wants to reduce even sacred things into opportunities for celebrity and the people who do those things into celebrities. The Lord’s Prayer will have none of it.
The second things Jesus teaches about holiness here is actually located within the prayer itself, within its first two lines:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” Matthew 6:9
In this first line of the prayer, Jesus teaches us that familiarity with God, in that we are to refer to Him as our Father, is to be balanced with a heartfelt desire for His name to be “hallowed”. This is a general request. General in the sense that the request is not merely in reference to myself(that I would hallow his Name), but it is in reference to everyone and everything everywhere. That his Name would be hallowed by all. The statement might be better said this way:
“May your name be treated with reverence [by everyone].”
So, we have here a great example of how Jesus encourages both familiarity, warmth and intimacy in addressing God as “our Father”, but also recognition that his name is holy, and should be treated as such. I would call the overall approach Jesus is recommending here as “holy familiarity”.
The entire prayer itself is at once a recognition of my humble place in the world, and of God’s supremacy over all things. It is a recognition of need. And of a particular need for the Father.
I need the ev’ry hour, most gracious Lord!
No tender voice like thine can peace afford!
I need Thee, O I need Thee, Ev’ry hour I need Thee,
I need Thee, I need Thee, I need Thee Ev’ry hour!
~Annie S. Hawks, 1872
As I read through the various personal requests in the prayer, Jesus covers all the general areas that we need help with in our lives. To pretend we don’t need help from outside of ourselves in these areas would simply be the height of arrogance. And too many of us are guilty of it. It starts when we’re about two years old when we respond to an offer from a parent to help us with our coat by saying “No! Me do it!” This is the attitude which kept Adam and Eve from crying out to God in the Garden when they were confronted with temptation. It is an attitude that cries out to be its own boss, it’s own God. It may be the single greatest temptation of them all.
This prayer delineates several needs:
- We need God’s name to be treated with reverence.
- We need God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in Heaven.
- We need our daily bread.
- We need forgiveness.
- We need to forgive.
- We need God to lead us away from temptation.
- We need God to deliver us from evil.
We need God to do these things. We can’t do them ourselves. We are creatures of need, and this recognition of our need is both a result of and a continuing contributor to a proper sense of humility toward God and toward others.
The Lord’s Prayer, taken in its component parts, may not immediately communicate a sense of praise to our modern ears. But, when taken as a whole, the prayer itself is a masterful poem of praise, on par with the greatest verses in the Psalms. In some versions of this prayer, people even recognize this worshipful trajectory by ending their recitation of the prayer with a transition from petition to declaration:
“For yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Though this statement does not appear in all manuscripts containing this chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, I must admit that it seems a fitting end to a beautiful set of verses which lead us not into temptation and sin, but in the opposite direction, into worshipful response to the Father’s loving provision in our lives and His good intentions toward His children.
As a testament to its poetic beauty and this trajectory of praise that has been recognized throughout the centuries, we have this (fast-forward to about 30 seconds into the video):
Hallowed be his Name.