When Jesus had finished praying, his disciples approached him with the request “teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). It was not that they were unaccustomed to prayer, since they observe that John taught his disciples in this regard.
While I was not raised in a church-going family, mother would monitor my evening prayers. These included on occasion the so-called Lord’s Prayer, one aptly enlarging on “Now I lay me down to sleep . . . ,” and concerning certain individuals that came to mind. I subsequently came to the conclusion that the lack of prayer was not simply impious but unnatural.
In reverse order, it was customary to intercede on behalf of family members and friends. I recall questioning the propriety of praying for our feline pets, although Mother seemed to think that it was acceptable.
In greater detail, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, and if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” This prayer troubled me for two plausible reasons. First, I might not survive the night. Second, should that be the case, I had no assurance of what would become of me. Otherwise, it appeared unnecessary to repeat the prayer time and again.
Conversely, I had difficulty understanding the Lord’s Prayer. This led me to inquire of my Mother. She started to reply, only to inexplicably leave the bedroom. She soon returned with my two elder sisters, who attempted to formulate a corporate response. It still left much to be desired.
While employed extensively for liturgical purposes, the Lord’s Prayer originally appears as instructive. So while the former is certainly admissible, it may fall short of its pedagogical intent. In particular, “Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.” Then, as expanded in Matthew’s text: “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (6:10).
The allusion to one’s father is primarily meant to express authority. It was also associated with his benevolent disposition. This, in turn, recalls an instance when my wife and I were visiting in the home of an orthodox rabbi. His youthful daughter came bursting into the room, crying out: “Abba, Abba”; that is, “Father, Father.” At this he swept her up into his arms, and they fondly embraced one another. Such is the disposition we should bring to prayer.
Pray also that God’s name might be rightly honored. Cooperate to this end. Set kingdom priorities, so that his will be more fully realized. Do not let lesser concerns mitigate against the prime directive.
“Give us each day our daily bread,” the text continues. In this regard, the sage petitions: “give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you, and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of the Lord” (Prov. 30:9). In either case, lest he be tempted to discredit the Lord.
“Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” This is a logical extension of the notion to do to others as we would have them do to us (cf. Matt. 7:12). With this in mind, this might aptly be entitled the sinner’s prayer.
“And lead us not into temptation.” As extended in Matthew’s text, “but deliver us from the evil one.” Along this line, the rabbis reasoned that we should erect fences to deter us from evil. On one occasion, an orthodox rabbi questioned me: “What is wrong with building fences?” When I deferred to him, he replied: “Nothing is wrong with building fences so long as you do not worship them.” Otherwise, we fall prey to idolatry.
All things considered, we should pray in keeping with God’s sovereign and benevolent character, that he receive due honor, and his kingdom agenda be advanced. Then, in a compatible fashion, that our needs of whatever sort be met—in contrast to self-indulgence, that we be forgiven our trespasses, and not unduly tempted. Such prayer pleases the Almighty, and legitimately solicits his blessing.
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