“And don’t babble on and on when you pray like the foreigners who worship false gods do! They think that something will hear them because they talk a lot. Don’t pray like they do because your Father already knows what you need long before you ask for it.
“So pray like this:
Our Father in heaven,
Make your name holy!
Establish your Kingdom!
Make what you want to happen,
Happen on the earth, exactly like it happens in heaven!
Give us, this day, the bread we need for today!
And forgive our debts,
In the same way that we forgave our debtors!
And don’t bring hard times upon us!
But keep us safe from the evil one!
“If you forgive others when they do something wrong, your Father in heaven will also forgive you whenever you do something wrong. But if you don’t forgive others, then your Father won’t forgive you.
~ As Matthew Tells It
The New Peace Treaty: A New Translation of the New Testament
Jesus says that I am not to pray like those who either only have “faith” when they are in need ” those who use prayer as a last resort after they have tried all other options ” neither am I to pray like “Gentiles” or “foreigners” who throw a lot of words at God, hoping that something will stick. Words are unnecessary because God knows what I need before I ask for it in prayer.
This raises an important point: not everything I ask for in prayer is something I need. God knows what I need long before I ask for it, and God knows how to distinguish what I need from what I want. I often confuse the two – I can convince myself that what I want is what I need. So, I go to God, asking for my will to be done, when I should be asking for God’s will to be done.
What do I need? There are material needs — shelter, food, clothing – yet, the shelter I need may not be the shelter I want; the food I need may not be the food I want; and the clothes I need may not be the clothes I want. What I need most of all is God’s grace, God’s love, and God’s forgiveness – these are the things that God knows I need, long before I ask God for them, long before I even realize I need them.
So if God knows what I need before I ask, why do I need to ask God for it? Why doesn’t God just give me what I need? There are a lot of ways to answer that. One way is simply: “It’s nice to be asked.” Nobody, not even God wants to be taken for granted.
Another way to answer that is that all prayer is an act of humility. When I go to God in prayer and ask for my needs to be met, I am acknowledging to God, and admitting (confessing) to myself that I am not all-powerful, and that there are many aspects and arenas of my life that are beyond my power to influence, control, or even fathom. So when I pray and ask God for the needs that God already knows I need, I am humbly taking my rightful place as one dependent on God instead of taking a too often familiar place of playing God, or treating God as if God is somehow dependent on me.
Still another way of answering the question is that God has formed a partnership with human beings. Everything God does is done through people or a human agent. God parted the Red Sea, but Moses did his part of raising his staff over the sea. If Moses refused to do his part, the sea would not have parted and the Bible would have been a very short book. Prayer is the staff I wave over the turbulent sea of my life; prayer is my part in the partnership with God that parts the waters and allows me to pass to safety. God’s grace, God’s love, and God’s forgiveness (the things I need) can remove every barrier and conquer any foe.
But how should I pray? Jesus says I am to pray like this:
1. Our Father:
The first word reminds me that God is Father to all, not just to me and the people I love or like. God is not just Father of my denomination, or church, or jurisdiction, or even of Christians. God is “OUR” Father – Father to all, even those who do not, or will not, acknowledge God as such. God is the Father of my enemy. God is the Father of the person I may despise. God is even the Father of those I feel are unworthy in some way. This means that every person who lives, and who has ever lived, and who will ever live, is a child of God, no better and no worse than I am.
If God is “OUR” Father, and all are God’s children, then any basis of rejection, hatred, prejudice, or contempt is contrary to the very opening words of the prayer Jesus taught. If God is “MY” Father and not “YOUR” Father, then maybe I would have some basis for bigotry. But I confess in the very first word that God is “OUR” FATHER; therefore, with the uttering of that very first word I declare to myself and to God that there is no room in my life and in my world for rejection, or hatred, or prejudice or contempt of any kind based on race, nationality, ethnicity, skin color, gender, sex, sexual orientation, social class, religion, economic status, or anything else.
IF I CANNOT ACCEPT EVERY SINGLE PERSON AS A BROTHER OR A SISTER, THEN I CANNOT PROCEED ANY FURTHER IN THIS PRAYER!
2. Make your name holy:
I do not make God’s name holy. God and God’s name are holy regardless of what I may think about it. I am asking God to remind ME that God’s name is holy, so that I will live my day with the utmost respect for God. I am also praying that others may learn who God is – not who I think God is or who I want God to be, but who God REALLY is – and that the lives of others are transformed and blessed through that knowledge.
3. Establish your Kingdom:
This is asking that God comes to rule on the earth. Of course God is King of the Earth because God is King of the Universe and the earth is a part of that universe. Nevertheless, there are many forces and people and things on the earth that compete with God’s rule, or actively work against it. Jesus is telling me to pray for the time when all competitors, counterfeiters, and enemies of God will either bend their knee to God, or vanish from the earth. I am asking for a time when everyone and everything will come to live under God’s justice that is rooted in love.
This also means that even if there are those who work against God’s justice in the world today, I, who am praying for God’s justice to be the universal reality and norm for the world, am making the commitment to work for that justice in all that I say and do. I am confessing that the world is not as it should be and making the commitment to do my part to make the world what it could be. I am making the commitment to bring love, justice, and peace into the world by bring those things into my life – for if we all brought these things into our own lives, then the world would be filled with love, justice, and peace.
God works through people. I am in a partnership with God. Therefore, when I ask God to establish God’s Kingdom on earth, I am agreeing to do my part to establish it anywhere and everywhere I can – and the most immediate place I can establish it is in my own life and among my own family and friends.
I often think that my will is what is best for me, and God’s will feels like a punishment or a limit to the joy or fun I want to experience in my life. For a long time I viewed “Your will be done” in the same way as when my mother told me as a child “You’re going to do it, and you’re going to like it!” to which the only response I had was “I’ll do it, but I won’t like it.” That, for a long time, is how I viewed God’s will.
I now know that when I am praying for God’s will, I am praying for the very best. I believe that above all else, God wants me to be happy. So when I pray, “Your will be done,” I am praying “Let me be happy.” But since I have been asking for God’s name to be holy everywhere, and for God’s love, justice, and peace to be established everywhere, I am also praying for everyone to be happy. So, once more I am making a commitment – a commitment to do my part in fostering the happiness of others.
So it is no longer like “Your will be done” is some spiritual equivalent to “Clean your room” and “You’re going to do it and you’re going to like it”; it is now more like the spiritual equivalent of “I may not want to clean my room, but a clean room makes my mother happy, so I’ll clean it to make her happy – and I’ll even do it before she tells me to.”
5. Give us, this day, the bread we need for today:
Jesus tells me elsewhere not to be concerned about tomorrow, but only be concerned about today. So I pray for what I need TODAY. But since, I am praying “US” and not “ME,” I am praying that God meets the needs of all God’s children, one day at a time. Tomorrow – if there is a tomorrow, and if I am in it – I will ask again.
This reminds me of when I was a chaplain at the University of Louisville Hospital after my first year of seminary. I somehow found myself in an argument with the woman who ran the oncology ward. My “turn the other cheek” muscles were not yet very well developed, so when she started yelling at me, I started yelling back. It did not matter that I was right, she was the boss, and I left work that day thinking that she was going to have me fired from the hospital. I called a friend and told him that I argued with her, that I was going to lose my job, and since my job was part of my seminary requirement, I was going to be thrown out of seminary, and lose my place to live, and I was going to be homeless and hungry and miserable.
My friend listened calmly as I ranted all my fears at him, and just asked me:
As far as you know, do you still have your job right now?”
Yes,” I replied.
“Do you have a place to live right now?”
“Do you have food to eat right now?”
“Well it sounds like right now you are okay, so why don’t you try living in right now instead of living in the future?”
Give us this day our daily bread is me asking God “Let me be okay right now, and let me live right now.”
As an Old Catholic, I also like to think of this as applying to the Eucharist. Those in Catholic traditions usually have access to the Eucharist every day if they wish to avail themselves of it. So I also think of this petition as being a continual, daily reception of the Body and Blood of my Lord Jesus Christ.
6. And forgive our debts, In the same way that we forgave our debtors:
This is a dangerous request to make. I AM ASKING GOD TO TREAT ME IN THE SAME WAY THAT I TREAT OTHERS! So the question I have to ask myself is: “How do I treat others?”
Again, I am making a commitment. I am committing to no longer hold peoples’ pasts, or lives, or words, or wrong-doings, or anything else against them. If I cannot do this from the simple reality that this is part of God’s will that I prayed for, then I hopefully can do it from the purely practical and even selfish reality that if I do not want to be condemned by God, then I cannot condemn anyone else. I need God’s grace, love and forgiveness, and it is God’s will for me to have those things; yet, somehow, if I refuse to extend God’s grace, love, and forgiveness to others, I lose them for myself. The only way I get to keep what I need is by offering it to others.
Jesus tells me in another place to treat others as I want them to treat me. When I make this petition, I am committing to live in a way in which I will treat others in the same way that I want God to treat me.
7. And don’t bring hard times upon us! But keep us safe from the evil one:
God’s will is for me to be happy. God’s enemy wills for me to be miserable. God’s will is for me to forgive. The enemy’s will is for me to hold grudges. In short, the evil one (whether you want that to mean a literal devil or a metaphoric devil) is anything that stands in the way between my relationship with God. The “evil one” is a wedge that inserts itself into my life, and cuts me off from God, who wills me to be happy.
So whatever else I may be praying when I say this petition, I am asking God to remove anything from my life that cuts me off from God, or stands in the way of God. It may be spiritual things and it may be material things. Money, jobs, people, so-called friends and acquaintances, worry, addictions, and so on can get in the way and block me from God. When those things wedge themselves in my life, or when those things become a replacement for God as well as a barrier to God, my life often gets “complicated” and difficult.
So, I am praying for God to be first in my life. This means I am making the commitment to place God first in my life. I have my money, I have my job, I have my friends and family and whatever because I place God first in my life and God wills me to be happy and those things make me happy. Whenever I place any of those things before God, I cut myself off from God, I cut myself off from God’s will for me to be happy, and sooner or later, I find myself in hard times, losing not only God and happiness and peace, but even that thing I placed before God. This petition reminds me that I am going to lose whatever I put before God, and I am going to lose everything else, or almost everything else along the way – even God. So I make the commitment to put God first, knowing that when I seek first God’s Kingdom and God’s will, all other things are taken care of for me.
So the Lord’s Prayer is not just a series of requests on my part for God to fulfill, neither is it a series of hopes or wants, it is a declaration of a partnership. It is, for lack of a better word, a contract between me and God. I am making a series of commitments to do my part for the prayer to be answered. I am committing to living in such a way that I reject and condemn no one, that I treat everyone as equals, that I work for the happiness of others, that I work for love, justice, and peace, that I live one day at a time, that I place God first in my life, and that I agree to let God treat me the way I treat others.
This is not a sweet sounding prayer, but a prayer of power! This prayer has the power to change lives, and to change the world. But it requires me to do my part. I live up to my commitment, and the world has to change because how I live in the world will change. I change the world by changing myself – and the Lord’s Prayer is the change I want in the world; therefore, it is the change I want for my life and the change I want to be.