The Blog: Pastor Parsley's Personal Blog Pastor Rod Parsley

The Prayer You Know By Heart

6/17/2014 4:00:00 PM — If you have memorized any single passage of Scripture, it's likely either the 23rd Psalm or The Lord's Prayer. But an intimate knowledge of what the text is can work against us when we try to understand what it means.

Last Sunday morning at World Harvest Church we joined hands and repeated The Lord's Prayer together – something that's not common for us, as it is in many churches – and I asked the members of our congregations to pray it often this week. When it is prayed reflectively, it can be a powerful guide for how to pray and how to live the Christian life. When we pray it on autopilot, though, it's little more than 65 words that allow us to check “pray” off our to-do list. So what should we understand about this popular passage?

Here are three observations that may help you think about this familiar passage of Scripture a little differently:

First, let's be mindful of the context of this prayer. The most common version of The Lord's Prayer is in Matthew, in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount:
“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”
(Matthew 6:9-13, ESV).

You could study the Sermon on the Mount for the rest of your life and never run out of lessons that God would drill into your very soul to make you more like Jesus. Context is important – you need to study a passage of Scripture in light of what is around it, the time it was spoken or written, and a number of other factors. In other words, the frame can often help you make sense of the picture, and so can the wall it's hanging on.

The context for the Lord's Prayer is an overview of how to live a Christian life. If you had to boil the Sermon on the Mount down to a bumper sticker, a pretty good one would be “Do not be like them.” Jesus wanted his followers to stand out from the crowd. That's why, immediately before the Lord's Prayer, he says: “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7-8, ESV, emphasis added).

So Jesus tells us not to repeat prayers over and over, out of some misplaced desire to seem like a good church person, because then the prayer loses its meaning. And then immediately, he gives us a prayer that today often is used in precisely the manner Jesus told us not to use it! It's good for us to pray the Lord's Prayer, but it was given to us as a model for prayer. It involves acknowledgment of who God is, petition for the necessities of our earthly lives and a plea to make us more like Him. Which of those elements is missing from most of your prayers?

Second, the Lord's Prayer is addressed to the creator of the universe and Jesus tells us to call him Father. Your relationship with your earthly father probably leaves either a little to be desired or a lot to be desired. But God is not a man! Don't let your family history stop you from fully engaging with a Father who will always love you just because you're you, and who always desires your company. The God Jesus tells us to pray to will never leave you nor forsake you. You can tell him anything – in fact, he'd like nothing better than to hear from you every day, all day.

Third, this model for prayer continually emphasizes that the Christian life is meant to be lived out in community. We all know the first two words in the prayer, right? They're “Our Father,” not “My Father.” Think of the other phrases that emphasize the notion that we are all in this together:
  • Give us this day our daily bread.
  • Forgive us our debts (or sins, or trespasses), as we forgive our debtors (or, those who sin or trespass against us).
  • Lead us not into temptation.
  • Deliver us from evil.
Tony Evans notes that we may have come to this place on different ships, but we are in the same boat now! One of the greatest things about the Church is that it is a community of believers. Look around you in worship sometime – you might not have anything in common with anyone sitting around you. But you have Jesus, and that's enough.

Community is hard to come by. The world is full of forces that would keep us isolated. The great singer-songwriter Paul Simon tells us, “I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain. It's laughter and it's loving I disdain. I am a rock, I am an island.”

With all due respect to Paul Simon, that's a terrible way to live. The Bible, the Word of God, tells us that man was never meant to be without companionship. The Lord's Prayer is just one example of how Jesus emphasized community.

No matter where you are in your journey of faith or how long that journey has lasted, you can find something new in the Lord's Prayer or any other passage of Scripture you've convinced yourself that you know.

- June 18, 2014