We have been studying “The Lord’s Prayer” as found in Luke’s gospel – Luke 11.1-4. I hope you have had the opportunity to follow our study through the past few months as we have looked at this very familiar prayer. If you have missed those columns, please email me and I will send them. With regard to email, many of you may have questions about things in the press or on the internet that have been reported about Presbyterians recently. Sadly, not all Presbyterians continue to believe the Bible is the authoritative word of God. Let me assure you that the Presbyterian Church in America does believe the Scriptures to be God’s word. Again, please feel free to email me with your questions.
Now in August, we come to the last two petitions of “The Lord’s Prayer”. The first has to do with sin and our need for forgiveness. The second has to do with the real danger that daily confronts us – “evil” or “sin.” We recall that the first two petitions regarding the name of our heavenly father and the kingdom look outside of ourselves for God to complete his mighty purposes for this world.
The last three petitions are rooted in our own experience of need. We need sustenance, forgiveness and protection. Those three might seem to be in reverse order. Physical needs are followed by spiritual necessities. I think they are though obviously Jesus intended them to be prayed in the way that we read them. The Hebrew world understood things in linear fashion. Life progresses from a significant beginning (God created) and with purpose moves to a great end (the new creation). That is a marvelous difference from the circular reasoning of the other nations who believed “Whatever will be, will be” or “Whatever goes around, comes around.” Hence those things most important in Hebrew verse often come at the very beginning and at the very end.
That is true of The Lord’s Prayer. The reverence due to God’s name is parallel to the freedom we need from temptation. The coming of God’s kingdom is parallel to the forgiveness that is fundamental to the spread of that kingdom. Let’s flesh that out. When tempted to sin we are incited either inwardly or outwardly to disbelieve God concerning sin, righteousness and true happiness. Such disbelief questions his integrity and truthfulness. Genesis chapter three tells of the first temptation. Satan’s “Did God really say?” became the emphatic “You will not surely die!” Eve accepted the notion that God was not truthful, so she chose to sin. You and I do the same thing. When we sin we essentially declare to the whole world that God’s word is not true. Jesus teaches us to pray “Lead us not into temptation” so that we will cry out in dependence upon God’s fatherly love to keep us from this greatest of evils.
The petition for forgiveness is short and to the point. We need God’s forgiveness or we are damned. The reality of sin in each of us is without dispute. Many think little of sin, but I have yet to meet someone who claims to be perfect. So being sinners, we are taught to seek forgiveness. God is a forgiving God and the coming of the Kingdom of God is rooted in his gospel work of forgiveness. The proclamation of the necessity of reconciliation with God and the announcement of the good news of Jesus’ saving sacrifice is the way that God’s kingdom comes. Through God’s transforming power our sin is atoned for and we are enabled to live according to God’s will, “on earth as it is in heaven.” It hardly needs to be added that while our salvation comes in a moment, our transformation takes place over a life time. Why ask for forgiveness if we have attained perfection.
Now The Lord’s Prayer is a very short prayer and Luke’s version is even shorter than Matthew’s. But it would be wrong to think our prayers should be so short. Rather, like Jesus who spent whole nights in prayer, we would do well to see The Lord’s Prayer as an outline to follow. Cover the bases and dwell on the deeper reality that each of the five petitions embraces. Surely we can see that prayer is a privilege that ought to draw forth holy desires expressed in requests sent heavenward to our father.
Roger G. Collins, Grace Presbyterian Church, Byram; *English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society. Exported from Logos Bible Software; Originally published in the August 2014 Byram Banner, Byram Mississippi.