There is a common prayer used in solemn contexts in our society. Protestants tend to call it “The Lord’s Prayer” and Catholics call it “The Our Father”. They are said mostly the same and I get a lot of affirmation in either set of wording. As a substance abuse counselor in a residential setting, I hear it a few times a day. In fact, it has been lately dominating as a chosen prayer more than the Serenity Prayer which is also a very meaningful set of words to pray and live by. I have thought, though, that maybe The Our Father has been dominating because God is tapping me on the shoulder as I approach this crucial part of my blog series of the Sermon On The Mount.
Jesus sat in the position of a rabbi and taught his disciples (not just the apostles) how to pray. The themes in this prayer have echoes of salvation history in understood doctrine and turning point events all before Jesus came. But the words here also point to the expansion of truths in the context of the atonement in Jesus and the apostolic unfolding of its ramifications through two thousand years of teaching. I hope to do as much justice as I can with some of a bible study feel but also where my own growth as a child of God has been tied deeply to this tightly wound, beautiful Swiss watch of truth. Well, without further adieu, here it is.
This is how you are to pray:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread;
and forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors;
and do not subject us to the final test,
but deliver us from the evil one.
If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions (Matthew 6:8-15).
I like thinking about how and why this prayer is in a substance abuse recovery context. “His will” is instead of life as the client has wanted it in their addiction. “Our daily bread” works well because when someone is working through the complications in their life from addiction it is easy to be trapped in shame in the past and worry about the future. Being mindful for today is a way to pace ones soul in the now. “ Forgive us” works with dealing with the guilt and getting a second chance. These applications are all beautiful and all legitimate. But the lessons I learn from my professors are only some of the values someone can draw from. In fact, this is milk.
When people die and Jesus is looped in there are funerals. It is common in those funerals where people will pray the Our Father there. Some will know and say it by memory with the passion of tying ones shoes. Others reflect on the meaning and will center on God being in heaven. With this God in heaven they will hope, depending on the deceased, that God is forgiving. And if this funeral attender is reflective enough on their age, moral deficits or both they will hope the same for themselves too. In fact, they could have that moment of remembering this loving God is who can deliver them from the evil one. But will He? Insert shiver here.
A practical setting where I personally see it the most is when my wife and I tuck in our kids for bed. I can only guess what they pick out the most from it since the kids old enough to pray it with us are 5 and 4 years old. My wife and I have our own concepts of it and hope the values we emphasize will percolate in their hearts and minds as they develop their own personal journeys in Christ. We start and finish it by crossing ourselves and open our hearts to the presence of God in our lives and hope the kids can model themselves on that.
The most common public place I have experienced this prayer prayed with reliable regularity is in The Catholic Church. This makes sense in that the Catholic Church overlaps with that through all the lines but especially through “on earth as it is in heaven”. This is because in a Church that endeavors to reach for Jesus in communion, or the Eucharist, there is a connection to God in view of the work of the cross. The desire is to worship in spirit in truth through humble vessels like us while a continual worship is already happening in heaven. A mirror image is crucial in the worshiper there and The Our Father ties that up in a bow. Therefore there is the communion every mass with the Our Father every mass and spirit and truth work together.
Do you feel a goose bump like I do? Great! But that is not enough. What I try not to forget is that Jesus is never supposed to be convenient because He never stops challenging those who call themselves disciples to action. With that in mind, I plan to unpack this prayer verse by verse. Sometimes I will come at it with a general Christian lens. Sometimes from my family relationships. Sometimes as a Christian who had a redefined Christian faith two years ago by being received into The Catholic Church. And last, sometimes, as a social worker who has seen the best and worst in humanity. What I hope is that in learning to take the values of the Our Father taught by Our Lord is that the reader will join me in Jesus’ call to action and the grace to do it.