7 “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. 8 So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.
9 “Pray, then, in this way:
‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.
10 ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.
11 ‘Give us this day our daily bread.
12 ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’
14 For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matthew 6)
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This prayer, usually called “The Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father”, is probably the singularly best known, most frequently uttered set of sacred words on the face of the earth. Despite our denominational differences, our exegetical attitudes and conflicts of interpretation of Holy Writ, these words, these simple words from the lips of Jesus unite us in worship and surrender to the Lord of Hosts.
They came to me this morning, as I contemplated the first cup of coffee of the day, and as I sat down at this lovely table watching birds hunting worms among the ever heightening grass of the back yard, God asked me a question…
“Do you understand this prayer?”
It really hardly seemed fair. I wasn’t even halfway through this first cup of coffee, and couldn’t claim even to “understand” how to operate my own automatic coffee maker (hence it is programmed the night before), and the Lord asks me something like this…
“I’m going to take a wild shot in the dark, here, Lord… and say ‘no’… ‘no I don’t’… for at this precise moment, that is true. Although I’ll admit, when I move through my typical day, I think I understand it.”
To which He laughed and said, “Ah, I know that. But that’s why I’m specifically asking you right now. Once you attain full speed in your day, you are much more on ‘auto pilot’, and you assume that you understand things just because you’ve heard them over and over again so much that you just credit them as being true. When you are like this… you are actually forced to slow down and think things through. I can teach you better this way. Now, HOW do you understand this prayer?”
I blinked… quite a bit… swallowed some more coffee… tried, as best I could, to think clearly and answer. ‘How did I understand this prayer?’ Well, (I thought silently), it starts off establishing our relationship with God and with each other, it places our petitions and needs before our Father, and it ends with affirmation of His greatness and role in the universe. It sort of “covers all the bases” for our day, our lives… identifies God (“hallowed be thy name”)… identifies His agenda and authority (“thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven)… establishes our dependence on Him (“give us this day our daily bread”)… acknowledges our need for His mercy and for our own (“and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”)… acknowledges our need for His guidance and protection (“and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”)… and states why and how He has the authority and sovereignty to do all this (“for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever,)… and we yield and agree to that (“Amen”).
As I put all these bits together, rather slowly and carefully, the Lord was kind enough to just receive them, relieving me of the need to reframe them into speech. So He nodded in seeming approval, at least of the fact that I could yet construct a train of thought, notwithstanding whether it was correct or not. As He lifted His coffee cup, He said, “Now, Little Monk, consider your ‘verbs’ there…”
Verbs? Ugh, let’s see… verbs, I used to know what ‘verbs’ meant… ah yes, “action words”, “action or state of being”. I could do this… find the verbs, ok.
So I said, thinking more in the modern English, “are, be, come, done, is, give, forgive, forgive, lead, deliver, is.”
“Good,” He replied. “Now remove the ones that describe God and the relationship. Focus on the others. Look at ‘give’, ‘forgive’, ‘forgive’, ‘lead’, and ‘deliver’. In fact, take out that second ‘forgive’ since it refers to what you do not what God does. Now, what do you have left?”
“I have ‘give’, ‘forgive’, ‘lead’, and ‘deliver’,” I said, sitting up straight and tall smiling at successfully surmounting this hurdle and correctly calculating the verbs!
“Very good!” He approved. “Now, here’s My question… As you and most people typically think of those words, in that prayer, aren’t they ‘imperative’?”
Ack! “Imperative”… wait a moment, I know that word, just give me a minute. Grammar… voice… yes, something about types of verbs… um… Ah, yes, and “imperative verb” is one of command, an order, an instruction. Like saying, “Come here”, or “Go there”. Er… I started to see a problem here with the Lord’s question. Of course I’ve always thought of these verbs as “imperative case”, that’s the only way they’ve ever been spoken or taught in my environment, in my life, among the people I congregate with. Of course, we don’t really FOCUS on that little point. Now that He has called my attention to it, it seems to present some… er, “uncomfortable implications”. Of course, He was still waiting for my answer…
“Well, uh, yes, I suppose they are.”
“Now, Little Monk, does that ‘sit right’ with you? Does that even make any sense? Does it seem as if I would teach you, or my disciples, or those who would come after them, to ‘give orders’ to My Father, to Our Father? More to the point, beyond any of the ‘respect’ issues raised by such a possibility, does it even make sense that such ‘orders’ would be NEEDED? I mean, do you REALLY think you have to ‘think up and command’ that Our Father take basic care of His children? Or that I would even permit in My presence, let alone teach or encourage, such an attitude or view?”
“Well, Lord, now that You mention it… um… no, not really. Doesn’t make sense. So… there’s something new here for me to learn, right?” I followed up.
“Yes, I would like you to understand that just as I said, ‘32b your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.’ When you pray this, realize that those verbs are not ‘words of command’ to the Father, nor even ‘words of suggestion’ or ‘words of reminding Him what is needed’… none of that. Those are simple statements of the case, they are affirmation of what IS. Your Father, Our Father, provides all those things for you all the time… provision, forgiveness, safe leadership, and protection from darkness. You need not be anxious about that, but you DO need to realize their availability, the faithfulness of His grace, and your need to look for and receive them.
“The Father gives all these things, does all these things, each and every day. But you can only see them, only receive them, only benefit from them, when you are ‘looking His direction’ and have your hands open or your steps ready to follow. When His children look in other directions, or order their steps apart from Him or following an unworthy lead… those blessings are missed.
“When you pray this, realize that from beginning to end you are simply stating WHAT IS THE CASE… and orienting yourself, your gaze, your steps, your will into alignment with His. That is where and how you will ever find and experience maximum blessing, joy, grace, and safety.”
“Got it! Thank you, Lord.” And we continued drinking our coffee…