It is often astonishing to me how Jesus instructed his disciples to pray. His instructions seem surprisingly simple, but they are also quite profound. Our constant, and at times thoughtless, recitation of what we call the Lord ’s Prayer—whether in the seemingly sacred spaces of sanctuaries or the periodically profane places of playing fields—has flattened and hollowed out the immense profundity of that for which Jesus instructs us to pray. Jesus’ instruction to his disciples concerning prayer is not trifle or flippant. It is not empty or perfunctory. While being simple enough to be embraced by childlike faith, it is also profound enough to overwhelm the most mature faith. It is the daily and desperate cry of the humble heart for God to do what only God can and desires to do in his world.
“Pray then like this: 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 lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
The depth of what Jesus models here is worth far more than the space of a blog post. But here a few thoughts.
The only thing Jesus instructs us to do is pray, but he says to pray in such a way that recognizes it is ultimately God who is at work.
One of the themes constant throughout is the primacy of divine action—of God’s doing and moving and working. There is nothing in the prayer Jesus models for his disciples that places us in the position of primary actor. The only thing Jesus instructs us to do is pray, but he says to pray in such a way that recognizes it is ultimately God who is at work. Far from producing a disengaged apathy in prayer, this reality should produce a humble desperation because God can and will bring to pass all those things for which Jesus instructs us to pray. To borrow from and summarize David Platt, the prayers of God’s people are the wings upon which the Spirit of God flies to act in God’s world. We should be humble knowing it is God, not us, who is ultimately at work, but we should also be desperate knowing God will work through our prayers to accomplish his purposes.
Additionally, while there is humility in recognizing the primacy of divine action, there is also a boldness in receiving the position of divine adoption. Jesus instructs us to pray to our Father. God the Father has always and forever been and will always and forever be Father to his Son. They have eternally existed together with the Spirit in happy and unending love. And Jesus says he is now our Father. We can approach and access God in the same way that Jesus, being the incarnate Son of God, can. And God will be Father to us as he is Father to Jesus his Son. The eternal God is our Father. This reality cannot be exhausted, its wonder cannot be fully expressed. Yet this reality can and should produce great boldness in prayer.
We can and should be so bold to pray that the piercing light of the glory of God’s presence would break through into this world, that the realities ever present in heaven would be manifested here in this broken mess of hurt and pain where darkness seems like it will never lift.
Chief example of this boldness is that for which Jesus tells us to pray—for God’s name to be hallowed, for his kingdom to come and his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. To the ear dulled by empty religiosity, this may sound like trite spirituality, a mere fanciful incantation. But hear afresh how Jesus directs our prayers: “Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We can and should be so bold to pray that the piercing light of the glory of God’s presence would break through into this world, that the realities ever present in heaven would be manifested here in this broken mess of hurt and pain where darkness seems like it will never lift. It is fascinating that Jesus does not tell us to pray that we should escape the pains of our present reality on earth but instead tells us to pray that the life-giving presence of God would bring restoration to our present reality on earth. Where this seems lofty and unattainable, we have this sure and certain boldness—God is our Father, and it is our Father who is at work in Jesus to make all things new.