Our Father

“Pray then like this:
Our Father, who art in heaven
Hallowed be thy name;
Thy kingdom come;
Thy will be done—on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us;
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Why return to an older version of English when praying this prayer? We know that there are no magic words; we know that God does not want to hear us babbling like pagans. Why, then, do so many Christians pray these exact words in this exact way? Why do we memorize these words, teach them to our children, and say them exactly this way when we gather for church services?

Sometimes, as Christians, we pray together. We unite our voices in prayer to God. When we join together for prayer, we find it helpful to say the same words, rather than each believer speaking a different prayer. Jesus himself gave us these words, although Matthew first wrote them in the Greek language. We use a translation into English that is four hundred years old. We do not update these words for the sake of those believers who learned them this way long ago. Moreover, we maintain this antique language and grammar in memory of those who prayed these words before us. The saints in Paradise prayed these words, and their voices from the past mingle with ours in the present when we approach our Father in the prayer that Jesus gave to his one true Church.

When Christians pray together, we unite around these words. When we go into our rooms and close the door to pray secretly to our Father, we are not bound by these memorized words. Jesus does not want to hear us rush through the words of this prayer, saying them as quickly as possible. Instead, Jesus intends this prayer to be an outline upon which we can hang all our joys and worries, hopes and fears, and everything we might want to discuss with God.

Many books have been written about this prayer. Martin Luther once said that, when he prayed this prayer properly, he could not finish in less than an hour. Many times he would pray only one portion of the prayer and leave other parts for the next day. This prayer is meant to be a very personal prayer; yet, it remains our prayer as we talk with our Father and ask him for our daily bread and to forgive our sins. When we pray this prayer, we pray not only for ourselves but for all the members of the Church on earth, those we know and those we have not yet met.

Jesus has us begin the prayer by talking to God about God. We call him Father, remembering that Jesus has paid to adopt us into his family. We celebrate his name, his kingdom, and his will. For many Christians, the hardest words to pray are, “Thy will be done.” We give God permission to do what he knows is best. When Jesus prayed those words in Gethsemane, he knew that his Father’s will for Jesus included the cross. God’s will may permit trouble, suffering, and even death in our lives. Binding the first half of the prayer together, we ask that God’s name be honored and his kingdom come and his will be done “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Then we speak to God about our needs. We pray for daily bread (not mine, but ours)—not cake and ice cream, but bread; not a year’s supply, but enough for today. Tomorrow we will pray about tomorrow’s bread. Next, we ask for the forgiveness of our sins, which is also a daily need. Yesterday’s sins were forgiven yesterday. We prayed about them yesterday; God has already forgiven them and forgotten them, so we do not need to mention them again. We promise to forgive others the same way we have been forgiven, which is also a daily concern. We have already forgiven the sins committed against us yesterday; we do not remember them today. Today we ask God for help to forgive those who have hurt us today. We ask God to lead us today, to keep us far from temptation. We ask God to rescue us today, to keep us safe from evil. We ask these things for ourselves, knowing that we will receive them, because each of them is part of God’s will for us.

Some Christians pray about the kingdom and the power and the glory; others do not. Some copies of the Bible have these words; others do not. Palestinians Jews frequently ended their prayers with a similar expression in the first century. Whether Jesus included these words as he talked about prayer does not matter, because prayer is not a magic formula that must be said in one precise way. These words are fitting because they echo the thoughts spoken at the beginning of the prayer. No harm can come from saying them; no harm can come from leaving them unsaid.

Christians have a custom of ending every prayer with a Hebrew word—“Amen.” This word expresses confidence and hope. It says that we know that God has heard our prayer and is answering our prayer. No magic resides in the word “Amen.” A prayer is no less a prayer if the word is not said. We want to express our confidence and hope, especially when we pray together. We affirm that we agree with all the requests spoken in the prayer, but especially we affirm our faith that God has heard our prayer and is answering it.

If you should pray at bedtime and should fall asleep before you reach the “Amen,” do not fear. God still hears your prayer. He will still answer your prayer. What could be more beautiful than falling asleep in the lap of your heavenly Father? J.

6 thoughts on “Our Father

  1. Yes!!!
    When I practiced Roman Catholicism we said this prayer in “church”
    I had gone back in their building for a mass in remembrance of my husband’s twin sister (which we have never done again) and when I heard them saying this prayer I didn’t hear the words I heard straight up “babble” I don’t know how to explain it-it’s like the words didn’t mean anything but were being said…
    I couldn’t wait to get out of there! I really appreciate this post because it’s so true this is a prayer Jesus said to pray-not just memorizing “words” and babbling them!
    I am going to reblog this!! 🙏🏻

    Liked by 1 person

    • That can be a problem in traditional/liturgical churches, not just Roman Catholic, but Episcopal and Lutheran too. Christian teachers are careful, though, to teach the prayer and explain the prayer, not just to have people memorize the words. Thank you for the reblog. J.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I would go further and say that this can be a problem for ALL Christians, even those who only pray “from the heart” and eschew any sort of formalized prayer.

        Hubby’s whole family is Pentecostal (except hubby, who is Lutheran like me) and they really disdain any prayer that is memorized and recited. It’s not “real” prayer in their eyes. They see it as stale and rote, and advocate for spontaneous prayer “from the heart”.

        I don’t even know where to start with that. Are they not aware of what God says comes from the heart?

        “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9)

        If our hearts were a reliable barometer of what we ought to pray, our Lord would not have had to teach us.

        As for babbling, well, here’s a rundown of the table prayer my brother-in-law gave at our recent Christmas gathering:

        “Father, we just wanna thank you for this time together and this meal we are about to share and we just wanna ask that you bless our fellowship together…”
        And there were a few more “we just wannas” in there and then he closed the prayer in Jesus’s name, the ONLY time he mentioned the Lord in the whole prayer.

        I ask you, how is that NOT babbling? We just wanna, we just wanna, we just wanna. Honestly? I wasn’t even praying along, I was too busy counting the number of times he said “we just wanna”.

        I share this not to bash my in-laws and their heterodox beliefs, I’m just pointing out that so-called “from the heart” prayer can be every bit as stale and rote as a formalized prayer.

        The problem is not with the prayers themselves, the problem is our hearts.

        The Lord has given us a perfect model for our prayer, but we think that we can improve it –
        add something of value to it – with what resides in our wicked hearts!

        That, as you know, is what we Lutherans call the “opinio legis”, the idea that man always wants to turn the promises of grace into laws that we can keep.

        Prayer can be rightly called a work – a good work – but it is not the prayer itself that makes it good – it is the faith *behind* the prayer that distinguishes it as good.

        One form of prayer is not inherently better than the other – the danger of turning prayer into an empty work is present no matter what form our prayers take.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, ourlady! Yes, Christians who pray “from the heart” often develop their own liturgical style, one that lacks the dignity of the Church’s historic prayers. “I just want to thank and praise you….” Then go ahead and do so; but you might find some excellent forms of praise and thanksgiving in the Bible and in the hymnal. As you say, memorized or spontaneous are not better or worse. When the Holy Spirit guides us in our prayers, he often brings to mind a prayer we have memorized or at least have heard in Church. J.

        Like

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