By Dorothy Field
For some time, I have felt saddened and challenged by the omission of the Lord’s Prayer in some schools and also in some churches. The Lord’s Prayer (the prayer Christ gave his followers when they asked him how they should pray) was the focus for one of Radio 4 daily services in August. I thought its meaning was unpacked in a helpful way for anyone not used to knowing its relevance for Christians today. Listeners were reminded it is in fact six prayers with a doxology at the beginning and the end. The Revd Dr Sam Wells went on to say: –
‘Our Father who art in heaven’: These words tell us there is one who is in another realm from us, who relates to us not as a despot or manipulator but as a parent to everyone united in one great ‘We/Our’: One who hears our sighs too deep for words.
This opening is in the ending of the prayers: for thine is the kingdom. These words don’t come from the gospels but from First Chronicles in the Old Testament. The story of everything isn’t about us, it’s about God, but in contrast our praise to God is never in vain.
Secondly, there is a difference between things that last for a limited time and things that last for ever. We are in a ‘forever’ story! The first of the six prayers:
1. Hallowed be thy name
By saying God’s name is holy we are shaping our lives in relation to God. If only God lasts for ever and what lasts for ever is the only thing of value, everything in our lives is valued according to how much it relates to God. To say, Hallowed be thy name, is to reappraise the value of all our commitments, projects and desires.
2. Thy kingdom come
This expresses all our longings for a world in which justice is done, goodness is honoured, mercy is shared, cruelty is ended, selfishness is dismantled, and kindness prevails. It also acknowledges this won’t happen if we are in charge! My kingdom come has to dissolve if ‘Thy kingdom come’ is really going to be our prayer.
3. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven
The hardest of the six prayers sincerely to pray. There’s only one thing worse than not knowing God’s will for your life and that’s knowing it. Then you have no excuse not to live it.
The last three prayers turn from what we owe God to what we want in return.
4. Give us today our daily bread
This question haunts the Old Testament. Will God be enough for Israel? Sometimes God is too much, too holy, too demanding, sometimes too little, too distant.
We want security, we want to eat, have shelter, clothing, work. This is a prayer that God who’s done great things in the past will be what we need today. In six words it simply asks God to provide.
5. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us
Forgive those who trespass against us and our guilt about what we have done. What prevents us living freely and abundantly in the present is two things about our past: the bitterness about what’s being done to us and our guilt about what we’ve done. We plead for justice about the first but long for mercy for the second. We just want to focus on what others have done to us, but we can’t hide from what we’ve done to others. This is a prayer to heal our past, not just OUR past but the past of those we’ve hurt and those who damaged us.
6. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
If ‘give us’ is about the present, then deliver us is about the future. Temptation is about those things we think we can manage but get bigger than us, we become trapped in them. Evil is something that threatens to engulf us and we know we have no power to resist it. Only God’s protection can deliver us from evil. Our lives are dominated by anxiety about the future, the things we can anticipate like temptation and the things beyond our imagination, like evil. This is a prayer to be free from the fear of the future.
Radio 4 listeners to the service were then invited to pray the whole prayer together along with Revd. Dr Sam Wells, realising its full significance:
Our father who art in heaven
Look on our insignificance with kindness and mercy.
Hallowed be thy name
Give us a true perspective on what matters and what doesn’t.
Thy kingdom come
Recast the world in your image.
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven
Give me the humility to live in your story not mine.
Give us today our daily bread
You are enough for me, be enough for all your children.
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us
Heal my past from hurt.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
Free my future from fear.
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever, Amen
Show me how to live your forever in my today.
The service ended with this blessing: May the God who has given you enough for the present, healed your past and transformed your future, be with you now and always in the power of the Spirit and in Union with Christ. Amen.