The Lord’s Prayer (2) – SOTM Series (9)
Having established that in prayer, as in life, the priorities of God must be first and foremost for all believers- even before the basic sustenance of life- we discover that God is both Lord and Father, wanting to provide for our every need.
“Give us today our daily bread”
This simple sentence has baffled Christians for centuries, largely due to the use of Greek word that seems to appear nowhere else in Scripture or other Greek texts. The writer, it seems, coined a term (yes, pun intended). While we cannot get into the fascinating debates around the word “daily”, the general topic of the debate is very telling. Is Jesus teaching us to ask only for the “bread” we need for each day as we face it? The bread for the day ahead? Just enough to survive or enough to be comfortable?
What is interesting is that, in this prayer, the request for our bread is the only explicit request for material provision. This led many early theologians to suggest that Jesus was not speaking of actual food, but rather the Bread of Life, Himself, a foreshadow to the broken bread of the Lord’s Table. While this might be a secondary interpretation, the later references to God’s provision at the end of Matthew 6 suggest that Jesus was primarily responding to the provision of actual food. This affirmation of our physical selves- its care and sustenance- is critical in our understanding of God’s provision for us.
Again, drawing from the rest of Matthew 6, Jesus seems to be suggesting that the provision He offers is day to day. While perhaps not explicitly a 24 hour period, the deeper meaning is that Jesus wants us to trust His provision, freeing us focus on Him (as opposed to storing up for our own survival) and on generosity and hospitality to others (as opposed letting our needs excuse us from charity). This is a practical affirmation and commitment to living our the Great Commandment to love God and love our neighbours. We can embrace this trust because He is our loving Father (Matthew 7:11).
Jesus also teaches us to prayer for “our” bread. As His Body, even as we ask for our basic provision, we ask for all. As we learned in the previous post, this prayer transcended the loyalties of family and race. Our new loyalty is primarily to God and those who we now call brother and sister through His adoption of us. Even after placing God’s priorities first, we are still taught to put aside self-interest for the great good of God and His people. Consider what this means to the money you make from your job. Despite the work we do to earn it, we recognize that God is the provider of all things, therefore even that is subject to the teachings of this prayer. How do we spend, save, give?
As a collective prayer for His provision, we also see that we are not to be ashamed of our need nor proud of our wealth. We must live together in such a way that those in need can ask without shame and those with plenty take no pride or even ownership, for all they have is God’s provision to His people. This cannot and should not be enforced, as this must be voluntary act of free will, inspired by genuine love and familial devotion, not moral, legal or social obligation. However, it should be our ideal. How do we do this without being taken advantage of? What does it mean to affirm the ideal, correct mistakes, yet refuse to enforce? These and other questions are difficult, often the very reason Christians drifted from this kind of commonality. However, they must be explored, tested and tried.
“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors… For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Then, like today, people understood the power and bondage the came with debt. However, unlike today, the penalty for failing to pay your debts was much higher, often resulting in forced servitude and/or imprisonment. This was further underlined by the fact that usury- lending with interest- was forbidden to the Jews. Today, debt is a way of life, taught to be acceptable, normal, even expected. Yet, such debt forces us to make choices that limit our ability to submit to the priorities of God and His Kingdom.
Jesus is obviously talking about more than just monetary debt, likening sin and its bondage to that of debt. Yet He also uses this word, I think, in order to demonstrate that sin is as tangible as debt (and may actually include actual debt), forcing us to look past private moral failings and examine the whole of our lives. Without question, debt itself is seriously critiqued in this phrase and should therefore be among the first of the things we examine as Christians as we seek to truly and actively repent of the debts of sin.
It is also very telling to note the sequence of action in this sentence. We ask for forgiveness, having already extended the same forgiveness to those in our debt. Does this mean that God’s forgiveness is conditional? It is not that God is offering a transaction to us- that if we forgive others, He will forgive us. Rather, He is saying that to be forgiven by God requires genuine repentance and the truly repentant would not- could not withhold the grace that they themselves expected or received. Not only that, but just as Christian died for us while we were still in our sin, so to must we learn to extend forgiveness to others even before they ask for it.
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
Does God willfully or negligently lead us into temptation? Since Scripture teaches that God will never cause us temptation, why would we pray for something already promised to us? Some suggest that we should never take for granted the promises of God and therefore, even when we know He will not do this, we should still ask. Others believe that rather than temptation, it is times of intentional testing that we are being asked to be spared from. Both of these seem unlikely, given that the sentence goes on to ask for deliverance from our the evil one, who is Satan.
Rather, Jesus is teaching us to acknowledge our inability to stand against the enemy on our own strength or righteousness. The enemy cannot be defeated without the intervention of the God on whom we are fully dependent. The provision of that deliverance can take many forms, including the intervention of His people. We must therefore look to those things in our lives that we are seeking to overcome alone and bring them to God and His people with trust and humility.
This prayer cannot be prayed without looking at the way we live our lives, individually and together as the Church. The lines of this prayer presuppose a level of commitment and change already in place. Jesus, therefore, is cautioning us against insincerity and hypocrisy in our prayers, especially in this most wonderful and demanding prayer.
Lord God in whom we are united as one Body, one family, sister & brother,
May Your name be made holy by Your Word & by the witness of us, Your people.
May Your Kingdom be established here and now,
May Your will be our first & most immediate priority, just as it is to the angels above.
Provide for us the essentials for life together and obedience to You.
Let the gift of Your undeserved grace for us overflow from us onto those who have wronged us.
Lead us on Your path, away from the empty promises & hidden snares of temptation.
Rescue us from every scheme of sin & darkness which would take us from that path.
For you are King, this is Your Kingdom and we are Your citizens & servants.
All we are, all we have & all we will do is by Your power and for Your glory alone,
In the past, in the present and in the future.