“Our Father . . . give us . . . forgive us . . .lead us . . .deliver us.”
This past week I was one of approximately 150 unlikely people drawn together by a mutual desire to support the family of a dear saint who suffered an untimely death. At such times there is an understandable awkwardness, in part due to the diversity of those in attendance and the fact that many, although they knew the deceased, do not know one another. When we gathered in the funeral home chapel, and the service proceeded, as is often the case, one could hear a pin drop save for the voice of the pastor presiding over the funeral.
Toward the end of the service, the pastor invited the congregation to stand and join her in praying the Lord’s Prayer. I must say, given the mix of people in the room, the wide age span, obvious diversity of religious backgrounds and solemnity permeating the room, I did not expect much response – perhaps at best a perfunctory mumbling recitation by a few who knew the prayer and professed a Christian faith. I was genuinely and pleasantly caught off guard. The entire gathering, almost with gusto, prayed the entire prayer from memory without a hitch and the volume and deep resonance of the blended voices filled the room. It was as if the lid of a pressure cooker had been taken off releasing a pent up expression of corporate faith and love.
The atmosphere in the room changed with the confession of that timeless prayer. In some mysterious way it bound everyone together in a shared grief for the passing of a loved one and in a common profession of hope for eternity and the resurrection. It was, at least for me, a holy moment worth treasuring and meditating upon.
Why, in what is increasingly being called a non-Christian culture, does the Lord’s Prayer still have such a wide base appeal and effect? There are probably a number of reasons that could be cited. I will limit my attempts to answer this question to two.
First the Lord’s Prayer reveals some very compelling qualities about the God to whom Jesus was instructing us to pray. These qualities or characteristics, like steel to a magnet, or a thirsty camel to a desert watering hole, draw us unwaveringly and without hesitation as children to a loving father. That is why I believe that the Lord’s Prayer is first and foremost, Jesus’ revelation of the loving and caring nature of God the Father toward His creation.
The prayer begins “Our Father” which is Jesus’ invitation to all of us to share with Him in His Father’s magnanimous, all-encompassing embrace. If we listen carefully, deep within our heart we hear the words “come unto me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 NIV) After all, He is “ours” and we are His children. We are family, and it is not based on our “performance” or on “earning” his love. And, this is important to note in the context of this prayer, all this precedes any talk about forgiveness of sin or forgiving others, temptation or evil. God’s Fatherly love is unmerited, apart from all these variables, as only a fathers love can be for a son or daughter. Given all this, I think we should begin to see how compelling the God and Father of the Lord’s Prayer is to those who recite it.
Secondly, the use the plural “our,” “us” and “we” in the Lord’s Prayer, rather than the singular “me” or “my” links all of us together in a common sharing of the love and grace of God. We find mutual and multiplied benefit and consolation in 1) His provision (give us our daily bread), 2) His propitiation (forgive us our trespasses) and 3) His protection (lead us not . . . deliver us).
The prayer uniquely and mysteriously draws us into the communion of saints where generosity of spirit abounds and even the burden of suffering is diffused. When we pray for “our” daily bread we pray not only for our provision, but also for provision for others. In fact our provision may end up being the provision for others through our generosity. Or when we pray for the forgiveness of “our” sins we are also praying for the forgiveness of the sins of those who sin against us. When we pray deliver “us” from evil we are praying not only for our personal deliverance but also for a collective deliverance which includes even our enemies. Isn’t that amazing?
God’s all inclusive heart is concerned not only for us, but for all of His creation and we are all drawn into a sharing together in that love as we pray the Lord’s Prayer. It has transcendent power to usher us into a unifying experience in which the body of Christ in all its diversity is knit together in the Father’s love. That is why this timeless prayer has such a broad base of appeal and affect.
Can you share what the Lord’s Prayer means to you?
Click Here for an email subscription to this blog