Today I happened to hear a very excellent sermon that had a lot of personal relevance, and so I would like to discuss that personal relevance within the overall framework of the subject of the message, and that was an examination of the depth of the model prayer in Matthew 6:9-13, commonly known as the Lord’s Prayer. To be sure, this was not the first message I have heard about the subject of this prayer, nor is this the first time I have at least alluded to this prayer in this blog . Matthew 6:9-13 is, after all, a straightforward and well known text, so much so that it is easy to gloss over what it is saying: “In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” Today I would like to comment on the personal relevance of the five sections of this particular prayer.
The first section of the prayer deals with hallowing God’s name. Hallowing God’s name is not simply a matter of praising Him, but rather it can often involve a sense of recognition and gratitude for what God has done. Appreciating the works of God is a way to show proper respect for Him. I ponder questions of reputation often. I wonder, and not always optimistically, if the way I live as a model of God’s ways itself shows honor to God and helps His reputation, or if I bring dishonor upon His reputation. Given that my own reputation is a subject of considerable and largely unsatisfactory concern on my part, given the lack of translation between personal honor and its recognition by others, I would not wish in the least that I would through my actions cause any difficulties in the preaching and living out of God’s ways for myself or those around me, or those who simply have to deal with the repercussions of my behavior. My concern is not merely to honor God with my words, as polished and elegant as they may be, but to honor Him with my life, to show regard and the proper honor for those things that God has made. That is a much more difficult matter.
The second part of the prayer deals with a fervent desire for God’s justice and will to be manifest on this earth. To be sure, as long as imperfect human beings are running things, there will be injustices. It is all too easy, no matter what one’s standard is, to seek to justify our will, rather than seeking the best course of action not only for ourselves but for others, and not only for right now but for the long haul. Likewise, our deep grief and anger with the injustice and evil that fills this world should fuel us to seek to live justly and model the ways of God in our lives. To be sure, we will not be perfect either, but our longing for wholeness and godliness, a longing that springs from the presence of God in our lives, is a longing that will lead to frequent moral growth and action that ever more closely helps us to be recognized in the image and likeness of our Heavenly Father. To be sure, other people may not like seeing the image and likeness of God, based on the way that people react to the clear revelation of His ways in scripture, or to their application in contemporary life. Yet this does not ultimately change our responsibility, to be honest and forthright with the truth, and full of love even for those who hate us and attack us at every turn.
When we pray for God to give us this daily bread, it is about more than food. God has promised to supply our needs , and sometimes it is useful to remind God of this promise. Our needs are not limited to food, nor even to the physical aspects of water and shelter, although these are definitely needs that it is painful and harmful for us to lack these things, even life-threatening. Yet we need more than just our physical needs fulfilled. We have a deep longing for intimacy, for love, for affection, for our daily hug or kiss, for respect and honor, for the opportunity to use and develop our God-given gifts to serve others and bring glory to God. Each of these needs can be frustrated, with dark consequences for us. For we were not created merely as physical beings, but beings with needs of the heart, mind, and spirit as well. And as God has promised to supply our needs (if not always in the timing and manner that we would desire or expect), sometimes we have to hold God to these promises and remind Him of them.
When Christ tells us that He will forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors, He is referring to one of the most thorny areas of our lives, and that is the area of forgiveness. It is all too easy to want a clean slate for ourselves. We all bungle much in this life, and it is painful to reflect on the sense of loss that comes from this bungling. There are many people I know I have wronged in some fashion but have found it impossible to communicate to them the depths of painful reflection that has followed those errors, even though I certainly acknowledge that I am still quite imperfect in many ways. Yet I know that there are many people I have to forgive as well, many people who have deeply wronged me, and who may be equally fervent in their desire to have a clean slate and as deeply unable to communicate about such delicate matters openly, as afraid that they will not be able to pierce my own suspicion and mistrust earned through years of difficulty as I am of the exact same thing. Debt is a matter of extreme concern in this life , and yet our debts are not only monetary in nature but also come about because of offenses. If we want a clean slate for ourselves, we have to be gracious with others, to cover over their transgressions through love, even if we may not be able to be around those who continually hurt us with no sign of changing their ways. Yet for those whose heart clearly means well, and whose behavior is imperfect but not abusive, we ought to be merciful to forgive and to treat others with the same sort of graciousness that we wish for ourselves and our own quirks and shortcomings.
In the fifth and final section of the model prayer is an area that is of particular personal relevance both in the moment as well as the course of my life as a whole. One of the more startling, and relevant, insights from today’s sermon was that while temptation and a trial appear to be the same from the person who is being tested, the intent and goal are very different. Temptation is luring someone at a point of obvious weakness with the goal of causing permanent harm, while a trial is designed to strengthen a glaring weakness with the goal of strengthening the character and confidence of the person being tested in doing the right thing even in the face of grave difficulty. To be sure, the last two years have been a time of constant trials, and to be sure there have been situations that could have become temptations, but yet these are situations that have (I hope) refined my character, even if they have weighed heavily on me. Between being a friend to young women who really need to know that they are worth being treated with honor and respect and genuine concern by others and being a friend to unhappily married women without seeking to abuse that friendship and that vulnerability to lead me into adultery, and between the great stress that has resulted from this friendliness, I have certainly been tried in ways that I find deeply upsetting and that cause me constant stress on a daily basis. Yet such a trial is not for my destruction, and I have certainly not sought to tempt any of the women involved either to any kind of sin, so it is my hope that all of our character has been refined, whatever the hardships that have resulted to all of us because of the situations we have found ourselves in. This prayer, for God not to bring us into temptation, is a prayer with a hope for safety. Certainly, not all situations in life are safe, and none of us desire to suffer either from our own vulnerabilities and weaknesses or because of the wickedness of the evil one. Even our sufferings, though, can refine us and turn us into better people than we would otherwise be. Let us rejoice in those times when God keeps us safe from trouble, and let us allow our character to be refined when we are brought into trials, whether because of our own shortcomings or simply because of the accidents of time and place that befall all of us.
So, when we raise our hands to heaven, our concerns are not only selfish, not only concerned with our relationship with God, but also concerned with the interconnections we have with others, as well as of the repercussions of our lives on the service we wish to give to God and to others. Sometimes our prayers may be more filled with gratitude and appreciation for the blessings that God has brought into our lives, for we should never be blind to those blessings and gifts that we have been given. Sometimes our prayers may be filled with our concerns as we cast our burdens upon the Lord, whose shoulders alone are heavy enough to bear the weight of our frustrated longings and heartfelt anguish at the injustice and cruelty that fills so much of life in our fallen and rebellious world. Sometimes our prayers may be for mercy, or justice, or love, or any other number of concerns and cares that so easily rob us of sleep and peace of mind. Yet we pray in the firm conviction that our prayers can be answered, and that it is worthwhile to speak to God and seek His answers, even if He already knows what we want and need from life. Sometimes he wants to hear us tell him anyway.
 See, for example:
 See, for example: