The Lord's Prayer
The Lord’s Prayer REVISED!
Christ Church Stannington
Both Services, 28th July 2019
Readings: Colossians 2:6–19
When Jesus wanted to teach something, he usually used what were, at that time, everyday examples, or parables, which made for easier understanding such as; “The Sower” (Matthew 13:3−23) sowing his seed on different types of ground, depicting how different people would react to His teaching; “The Lilies of the Fields” (Luke 12:27−31) telling his disciples not to worry about their everyday needs, because their Father in Heaven would provide for them; The House Built on Rock or Sand” (Matthew 7:24−29) teaching people that they needed to build their lives on the solid ground of His teaching; “The Bridegroom Returning at an unexpected hour” (Matthew 25:13:1−13). Here, Jesus Himself is symbolised as the Bridegroom, who will return at a time no one knows, except God the Father, so those awaiting His return must be ready for when He arrives, no matter how long it takes.
In this morning’s Gospel Reading, His disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. They had certainly asked the right person because He spent so much of His own time in prayer (Too many instances to list). In Matthew’s account of this episode, Jesus started off by telling His disciples how not to pray. He told them, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others” (Matthew 6:5 NIV). Also, “… do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” (Matthew 6:7 NIV).
The Lord’s Prayer, don’t you love that title? We call it that so we never forget where it came from. Jesus prayed many prayers in the Bible but this is the only one He used to teach His disciples, all of us, how we should pray. The one we use regularly is worded slightly differently to the one in our reading and it’s extended a little, but we still try to stick to the basics taught to us by Jesus; not only in our prayers, but in our daily lives.
The prayer starts off, “Father: Now there’s a bone of contention straight away. In our own prayer we begin “Our Father”. There are those who today say that calling our God “Our Father” is misogynistic. But the fact that we do so isn’t for the denigration of women. It’s simply because the role in our lives played by our Gs has traditionally been filled in the normal family by the father of the household. It was like that, when I was a boy and in the time of Jesus, when He taught this prayer to His disciples. The Father was the provider and protector. Paul wrote to Timothy, “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8 NIV).
Whether for good or not, the clearly defined family roles particularly in the Western World have become blurred and/or overlapped, or even reversed.. In my childhood days, and certainly in the time of Jesus, the only person who could possibly fill provider and protector was the father of the family, with perhaps a few biblical exceptions like Jael, she of the lethal tent peg. (You can find out all about that exciting story in Judges Chapter 4). If a chap tends to look after his staff or anyone under his control and treats them well, he might be regarded as a “Father Figure”. I don’t know how a woman or her staff would feel about a “Mother” figure.
Still speaking of the Father, the line goes on, “May Your holy name be honoured.” How good are we at that? Well, right at the other end of the scale to honour His name is the third Commandment, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”(Exodus 20:7 NIV)
I’m sure we’re all aware of how little attention is paid to that these days. If anyone complains that the Commandments are ignored in our modern society, we usually hear the same, lame excuse, “We’re living in the twenty-first century.” Well so is Jesus! So what did He have to say about these “out-of-date” rules that are no longer relevant to our modern society? He said, “Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practises and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19 NIV). Perhaps some people think Jesus is out of touch with today’s people as well.
Is it just in the 21st century that God has had to put up with such people? Thousands of years before the time of Jesus, the Lord spoke through the prophet Isaiah and said, “The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant” (Isaiah 24:5 NIV). We could be reading today’s newspapers.
So, the third Commandment linked to the first line of our prayer means we should never even dream of using God’s name — any of His names — in any other way except prayer, praise, serious discussion, or teaching. If you can think of any other legitimate ways to use God’s name, that’s fine, but I think we get the message.
Is that what we do these days — honour God’s name? Not a lot! For instance, this seems to be an increasingly popular exclamation, complete with dramatic pauses, “Oh….my….God”. This is often used as an exclamation of surprise, or glee, especially when something juicy has been found out about someone, and the discoverer is anticipating being able to spread the gossip to everyone they know, most likely via social media. It’s so widespread now that it’s simply called OMG. Far worse than that, is the fact that one of the most commonly used profanities nowadays is the precious name of Jesus, who died for us and for these ignorant people. For added emphasis, sometimes His full name is used – Jesus Christ!
When we hear these profanities we used to call blasphemies, do we feel a knife twist inside us, or has the old phrase, “Familiarity breeds contempt” changed us to accept it and “move with the times”? In other words, have we become so used to hearing these offensive uses of what we hold dear, that our sensitivities have been dulled — our natural revulsion to such casual, insulting references to our God gradually eroded? The only time we seem to hear the word blasphemy these days is when any faith other than Christianity has been maligned.
The second line of the prayer says, “… may your Kingdom come.” Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Think of it, no more war, illness, hate, envy, cheating, or lying; no more anguish, pain, or suffering of any kind. That will come to pass at the End of Days; after Jesus and His army are triumphant over all the forces of evil. But we mustn’t forget one important thing. For us, the Kingdom of Heaven is already here — within each one of us. That happened when we were born again and received the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” Do we think about that as we go about our daily business in the world? Do we feel we’re showing others by our words, actions and attitudes what the Kingdom of God is really like? Are we influencing them in a positive way to seek it for themselves?
The next line of the prayer says, “Give us day by day the food we need.” This is a reasonable and natural request to our God to make sure we have the food we require to live on. We’re talking of course of the food we need. By the standards of the vast majority of the world’s people, most of us eat far too much. At last I can join the “Me too” brigade. However, this being a healing service, I can’t let this bit go by without mentioning something that made a deep impression on me several years ago. It was at a John Wimber convention and he mentioned this very quotation. He said there is a slightly different translation of this line and you can see it at the bottom of the page of our Gospel Reading on page 92. It says that this can be translated to mean not only the food we need but also food for the next day. John Wimber said that led him to believe that we could ask God for healing now because sometime in the future, the “next day” would give us perfect bodies. Whatever we believe, John Wimber did have an amazing healing ministry in which he always gave all the glory to God.
Moving on then, we see the next line of the prayer is:
“Forgive us our sins, for we forgive everyone who does us wrong.” Before I go into that line, how do we feel about the sins we commit? We come to church on Sundays and usually say one of our various “Confessions” all of which are in the 1st person plural, the "We", which is good because we are praying as a church. But I think it's a good idea to take it home and say it in the first person singular - "I am truly sorry for the sins I commit" etc. If you've never done that, try it and see how it feels.
Back to the line in the Lord’s prayer, in which we say, “Forgive us our sins, for we forgive everyone who does us wrong.” Our own usual prayer and most Bibles say “as we forgive”… This implies that we’re asking God to forgive us in the same way that we forgive others. In the passage immediately following our Gospel Reading Jesus said, 14 “If you forgive others the wrongs they have done to you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done”. (Matthew 6:14, 15 GNB).
Many Christians today think that forgiveness by our loving God is automatic, no matter what we do that we shouldn’t, or don’t do that we should. Well, in this passage, Jesus disagrees with them on this particular point. What should be automatic is our forgiveness of others. Then of course we’d have no worries. But is that what we do? If not, we perhaps ought to read that final verse a few times. “… if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done”.
Next in the prayer, we read, “Do not bring us to hard testing.” A very understandable request! And God hears it, but it is up to Him whether He thinks it is what is needed in any given circumstance. Our own version goes, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” We have grown up with these words implanted in our brains. But the Pope has said recently that he thinks the English translation of the prayer was not correct. He says, "It is not a good translation, because it speaks of a God who induces temptation. I am the one who falls. It’s not him pushing me into temptation to then see how I have fallen.” Instead of saying, "Lead us not into temptation," He wants Catholics to say, "Do not let us fall into temptation." There is a subtle difference in the wording, which switches the whole concept from our God deliberately leading us into wrong doing, to asking him to save us from doing so. I like it.
The Pope has a point. The words Jesus spoke are the ones he spoke but He didn’t say them in English. So it has been up to translators to study and try to get what Jesus said to accurately reflect the meaning of those words as the meaning Jesus was giving them. He has me wondering how the biblical “Do not bring us to hard testing.” morphs into “Lead us not into temptation…”
Before we examine this, we have to understand that there are different kinds of trials that can crop up in our lives. There are many occasions in our Bible that God Himself tested people’s faithfulness. The writer to the Hebrews wrote, “By faith, Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice.” (Hebrews 11:17 NIV). Peter wrote, “We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.” (1 Thessalonians 2:4 NIV). Notice that both of these examples are speaking of God testing our love for Him, not leading us into temptation.
We often face trials by the things around us. These testing times are circumstances that God doesn’t create, but allows to happen. When Jesus was telling the parable of The Sower, with seeds falling in various places and having differing results, He said of the seeds falling on rocky ground, “?Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.” (Luke 18:13)
Of course the other source of our testing as it says at the end of our prayer is Satan himself. Jesus spoke to His people through John on Patmos, when he said, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you … (Revelation 2:10 NIV) God uses trials to build us up, but Satan uses them to try and tear us down. Our response should always be to ask for God’s help throughout whatever kind of trial we face.
One thing about temptation we have to bear in mind above all other things is what Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV).
So, if you find yourself in a situation you can’t bear and can see no way out, pray to God and ask Him to show you a path that you can endure.
The Lord’s Prayer is a simple one. Jesus made it simple so that anyone could not only say the words, but understand them, mean them, feel them and remember them. Also think on this - Any prayer, no matter how eloquent, any prayer, that’s said without feeling and honesty is not only a waste of our time, but an insult to our God.
It’s the most fantastic thing that the Creator of the whole Universe will listen to every earnest prayer we ever make to Him. We must accept that His wisdom is so far above ours that we’ll sometimes be unable to understand why He answers in any particular way. Probably most of us appreciate that sometimes He says “No!” Sometimes His answer is “Wait!” Most of all, He likes to say “Yes”, but only when those answers bring what He knows is best for us. Paul reassured the Romans “… we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him.” (Romans 8:28 NIV)
I’m sure that by now most of you know how I feel about the Bible. I think that every Christian should read it every day. I can never understand why they don’t. It’s the best way to find out about God’s interaction, over thousands of years, with the human race He created.
In a survey by the Church of England in 2017, 55% of people who identify as Christian never read the Bible, 29% never pray and 33% never go to church. Only 6% of adults in Britain said they were practising Christians. What do you think would be the results if similar surveys were carried out for Muslims or Jehovah’s Witnesses? Very different I think.
We can learn about our God from attending courses, reading Christian books or listening to sermons. We can praise our God and even tell Him of our needs and feelings by way of Hymns, worship songs and Liturgy. One thing we must always remember about these is that we should never sing a line of any song of praise or supplication, if we don’t believe it, or don’t feel it. That goes for Liturgy also. Who wants to lie to God in His own House? Coming into this pulpit to speak to you, about what I think God is saying to us, is a very privileged but humbling experience. Would I dare to say something from here that I didn’t absolutely believe in my heart? I would not. Why? Because I’m not alone up here.
So there’s a list of good ways of finding out about, or communicating with our God. Are there others? Could be! But prayer is our direct and immediate line to Him. We can look in the Bible, or we can do the other things I’ve mentioned in order to know our God better, but we can always get in touch any time using the route He’s established that is just for us — prayer. What an honour! Amen.