Jesus said, ‘Pray then in this way: 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 also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.
The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, but teaching someone to pray isn’t like teaching someone how to change a wheel, or how to bake a cake. For many the Lord’s Prayer can easily become a habit. We may say the words without thinking about them sometimes, but a habit is good. Most of the really important things we do in life, we do out of habit: eating, sleeping, shaking hands, hugging our children. Some things in life are too important to be left to chance, and too difficult to be left to spontaneous desire, and one of those things is praying. So, we do them out of habit. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he didn’t tell them to go off and sit quietly until something spiritual came to their minds. He didn’t ask them, “well, how do you feel about God?” He said, “Pray like this. ‘Our Father…‘
One of the most difficult aspects of meeting new people is not knowing what to say at first. How should we address them? What subject should we bring up first? In giving us this prayer, Jesus has not left us to our own devices in our relationship to God. We need not struggle to think of something to say to God. All we have to do is to pray these words out of habit, by heart.
The Lord’s Prayer is not for getting what we want, but rather for bending our wants towards God’s, because it is distinctively related to the one who teaches us to pray. It is the enactment of the story of a God who called a people into existence through Jesus. The Lord’s prayer makes us closer to the people that God has called us to be in Jesus. It is the fount from which all Christian belief and action ﬂows, the daily bending of our lives towards a God who has, in Jesus, so graciously leaned toward us.
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 also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.
The Rev’d Michael Hopkins is Minister of the Spire Church, Farnham, Elstead URC, and serves as Clerk of the General Assembly.