What we have just heard from the Scriptures is a very early version of what we no call the Lord’s prayer. When I call us to pray this prayer here at the Church, I usually say; “let us pray in the words our Savior taught us.” or words similar to those. Although the prayer has changed, and other Gospel record this event just a bit different, the meaning behind those words has not changed. This is in some ways the perfect prayer and the only prayer we need.
I have spent a significant portion of my ministry involved in teaching people about prayer. Notice I did not say teaching people to pray that is something you have to do all on your own. But there is a certain way that we should pray, and that is what Jesus is teaching his apostles in this Scripture today.
The prayer starts out with an address; Jesus address this prayer to God the Father. This is a classic Christian start to any prayer, just like a letter you might be writing it is important that the prayer is addressed to the right person. But I want to point out that we are addressing not some tyrannical being on some distant shore or sitting on a cloud, but we use the intimate term of father because God is a parent who delights to supply his children with what they need, not what they want, but what they need.
I always remind people that it is okay to pray for people, we do it here in church during the pastoral prayer, and I hope we do it daily in our prayers. But we pray that God’s will be done in each and every situation and in each and every life that we encounter. God knows what we need before we do and so our prayer should be for us to walk in the will of God and that God’s will, and not ours, be done. We do say, “your will be done.”
But I want to point out another thing here, the prayer beings by addressing God because before we ask for anything we have to give God the glory that God so deserves. Only when we give God the glory and put God in his rightful place in our lives will all the other things in our lives start to come together.
I like to think that I am a person of prayer. Sure I run hot and cold like most people and some days I spend time in prayer and other days it’s nothing more that “O God it’s morning again.” But I can tell when I have spent time with God and when I have not spent time with God. Maybe I am short with other people, perhaps I am aggravated all day, it could be anything. But on the days I take the time to spend with God things seems to be just a little bit better. It puts my mind and my thoughts in the right place and sets my feet on the right path.
Our prayer should cover all of life but should also focus on the present reality and our current needs. We pray “give us this day our daily bread.” This harkens back to the time in the wilderness as recorded in Exodus 16:11-21. God had led the Israelites out of their captivity in Egypt, and they spent time wandering in the desert. They asked God to supply their needs, and God sent them manna. Manna was a sort of dough like substance that they would make all kinds of things out of. God warned them to take only what they needed for that day as the rest would spoil. Each morning new manna would appear, and they would gather. This required trust, faith in God that God would supply what they needed. Those who did not trust found out that what was left rotted overnight.
We pray in the present moment for current needs. Only the needs of the day should be gathered in prayer, we are not to worry about the uncertain future, but we are to live in the moment one day at a time. We trust that God will help us each day to live that day the way God wants us to live. When we do not trust God, we are saying that we know better than God, and we can do it ourselves. We pray that “Thy will be done.” And we trust in God and leave it to God.
Prayer covers past sins, and we ask for forgiveness, and we also seek the grace to forgive others and ourselves. You have heard me mention this before, and I am sure you will hear me say this again, but forgiveness is essential to the Christian life. “forgive us our debts, trespasses, sins, as we forgive those who are in debited to us, who sin against us, or who trespass against us.” We forgive because we have been forgiven!
Forgiveness is a struggle but our entire life as Christians is a struggle. Jesus never once said, and I think we tend to forget this, that if we follow the way our life will be easy. It will not be easy nor was it meant to be easy. Following the way of Christ is challenging and forgiveness is part of that journey. Forgiveness is not about the other person, and it does not matter if they accept forgiveness or not or if they apologize to you or not. Forgiveness is about you. The withholding of forgiveness darkens the soul.
Remember years ago there was a TV commercial about lungs and smoking? There would be this beautiful pink lung and then a nasty black one. Our soul can get like that when we withhold forgiveness; it darkens it just a little, and it makes the rest of our life just that much harder to deal with. When we withhold forgiveness, we give power over us to the other person or persons involved.
Shortly after the shooting incident at Virginia Tech, I was asked to travel to the campus to be part of a team of clergy that would be available to students that had been involved that day. We came from all parts of the country to be available on the quad outside of the main administration building and also to hold group sessions in the evening. On the quad was an impromptu memorial to those who had been slain that day. As I walked around the circle, I was struck by the fact that the shooter was also included, and the saying on campus was “32 are gone because one was lost.” They were not letting him off the hook, they did not forget what happened, they were saying that they were not going to allow hate to rule their lives. Holding back forgiveness leads to hate and hate leads to destruction.
Perhaps one of the most challenging parts of this prayer comes with the words, “lead us not into temptation.” Perhaps a better word here would be “trail” rather than “temptation.” Again, we have not been promised that life will be easy. We face trials each and every day and what we are asking here in this prayer is that we will not go through it alone, in fact, we never do. I want to make this point clear; God will never abandon us, EVER! God loves you; God cares for you, and God made a promise that he will never abandon us. Sure we might leave God, but God is always there, standing right beside us all along the journey. Friends will come and go in our lives, but God is the one constant, God is always there, there is nothing we can do to make him leave us or abandon us. EVER!
There is an old saying, “God answers every prayer, sometimes the answer is no.” Prayer is a conversation, a conversation between God and us and yes we have to listen God speaks to us, but we have to hear the voice.
There is a story of man who hears that the flood waters are coming. The TV news tells him to evacuate, but he says that God will protect him. As the flood waters are rising, his neighbor comes and offers to take him to a shelter. He tells the neighbor no, God will protect him. The flood waters continue to rise, and a man in a boat comes and offers to take him to safety, the man replies that he trusts in God, and God will take care of him. He ends up on the roof, and a helicopter comes, and the pilot says he will drop a rope and pull him to safety. The man says no thanks; God will protect me. Well, the man dies and standing at the pearly gates he is mad at God. He yells at God he thought God would protect him. God responds I sent you a TV newsman, a neighbor, a boat, and a helicopter what more do you want?
God speaks to us in all sorts of ways we just need to be listening for his voice. To listen to God is to listen deep within ourselves, to hear to God is to listen with our very souls. Prayer needs to be more than a laundry list of what we want or what we need; prayer is conversation. Take time to have the conversation; it will change your life.