I think the Bible is absolutely amazing! The more we study it, the more we see how perfectly God has inspired it. We can see that in the Lord’s Prayer. And I think Jesus is absolutely amazing! His wisdom blew people away – and still blows people away. When He was asked by one of the disciples, to teach them to pray, Jesus listed five prayer topics. I think He knew, without having to think about it, very clearly what our main prayer foci need to be – in fact, what is core to Christian living.
Let’s have a look at that and you can see if you agree with me or not.
We started with “Hallowed be your name”. That is about God’s honour or God’s glory and if we were to sum it up in one word, that word might be “worship”. May all creation worship You.
The next petition is: Your Kingdom come. Annie-Kate talked about God reigning and transforming society as He establishes His Kingdom. Where God is king, our lives get turned up the right way again. One word for that? There could be several but I wonder if that is primarily about “lordship” – God being allowed to rule in our lives and in society.
Then we talked about “Give us each day our daily bread”. Jesus invites us to bring our daily needs to our generous heavenly Father. Maybe the key word there is “trust”. We can trust God for our ordinary, daily needs whatever they are. But, as Annie-Kate reminded us, Jesus taught us to pray not just for ourselves but for us: Give us each day our daily bread. We pray, and we act, for other people’s needs to be met as well. We care about other people. Maybe the key word there is “compassion”.
Look at those words: worship, lordship, trust and compassion. Are they not core concepts for Christians? Are they not big biblical themes? And Jesus says, “Pray about these things. Focus on these priorities.”
So, what about the remainder of the prayer? The remaining two petitions are both about sin. Two out of five, 40%, of the prayer is about sin. “Forgive us our sins” is about past sins that need to be forgiven. “Lead us not into temptation” is about future sins that we don’t want to commit. Is sin so important that it should occupy 40% of our prayer?
I’m going to try to not use the word “sin” because people say it is not helpful. They are not suggesting that we abandon the concept of sin but just express it differently. So I will talk about “not obeying God”. Is that OK?
Forgive us for not obeying you, for we also forgive everyone who has treated us in ways that are not Your will. One line in this prayer is about having not obeyed God and the next is about wanting to obey Him.
Why would Jesus suggest that 40% of our prayer should be about obeying, or disobeying, God? Isn’t that negative?
Jesus knows what the priorities should be and He says that 40% should be about our obeying, or not obeying, God. Today let’s focus on the just first of those two petitions: forgive us for not obeying You.
This is in Jesus’ top five because sin damages relationships and relationships are important to God. In the Lord’ Prayer, Jesus, quite specifically, identifies two dimensions of relationship: our relationship with God Himself – and so we seek God’s forgiveness – and our relationships with one another – in which we are to extend forgiveness. Sin damages relationships; forgiveness allows reconciliation. And the prayer is for reconciliation.
Do you remember the story of Jacob and Esau? They were brothers; twins in fact. But their relationship was not good and it is not surprising really because sin had divided them. Even in the womb they “jostled” (Gen 25:22). Their mother, Rebekah, asked God what was going on. God replied that two nations – two peoples – were in her womb and they would be separated, with the older serving the younger. That was the beginning of the whole Jewish/Arab split which continues 4000 years later.
Esau was born first but Jacob was born holding onto Esau’s heel. The name “Jacob” means “he grasps the heel” but it became a phrase in Hebrew for a deceiver or a liar or a cheat. My middle name is James which is an Anglicised version of Jacob. I have a grandson whose name is Jacob. So, our names mean “liar” – which I am not all that happy about!
You will remember that Jacob, the younger brother, asked Esau to swear an oath selling him his birthright. Esau didn’t have to do that. He was foolish. But Jacob was obviously self-centred and conniving.
As if that wasn’t enough, Jacob later pretended to be Esau so that his blind father would give him the blessing that rightly belonged to Esau. He repeatedly lied, saying that he was Esau and he took what was not his.
When Esau found out, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry. He clearly felt deeply aggrieved. Understandably.
Genesis 27:41 Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. He said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.”
Consequently, Jacob fled to another land to live with his mother’s brother, Laban. There he fell in love with Rachel and he worked for seven years for Laban in order to marry Rachel. But Laban deceitfully gave him Rachel’s sister, Leah, to be his wife instead. Then Jacob had to work for another seven years in order to marry Rachel as well. It is all complicated and again people did not obey God. Laban cheated Jacob financially. When Leah had children but Rachel could not conceive, she became jealous. Then she gave Jacob her servant, Bilhah, to be yet another wife. Bilhah had children so then Rachel gloated that she had defeated her sister. So then Leah gave Jacob her servant, Zilpah, as yet another wife and she started having children as well. Then Leah gloated about how happy she was. Then she expressed her jealousy that Rachel had taken her husband. There was ungodliness all over the place and broken relationships all over the place. It was a proper mess.
Then Jacob wanted to return to his homeland. But Laban didn’t want him to because Laban had been blessed because of Jacob’s presence. They came to an agreement that Jacob would take all the sheep or goats that were speckled but Laban then took all of those ones so that there were none for Jacob. But then Jacob came up with a plan whereby he would become rich and Laban wouldn’t. Then Laban’s sons got angry because Jacob had effectively inherited all of their father’s wealth. And Jacob noticed that Laban’s attitude towards him had changed. Not obeying God destroys relationships. Then we find out that Laban had cheated Jacob out of his wages by changing them ten times. And that Laban had disowned his daughters. Then Jacob gathered up all his family and possessions and ran away without telling Laban. And Rachel stole her father’s household gods. What a mess of dishonesty and selfishness and broken relationships. Laban chased after Jacob but God warned him not to harm him and so they came to an agreement that they would no longer harm each other. There was some semblance of reconciliation and they parted on good terms.
But, remember Esau, Jacob’s brother who was determined to kill him? And now Jacob is returning home. READ Genesis 32:3-16.
You can feel the tension. Jacob was scared. He sent a message ahead wanting to find favour in Esau’s eyes. But when the messengers returned they simply reported that Esau was on his way with 400 men. Jacob was terrified. He divided up his family and his flocks into two groups so that, if one was attacked, at least the other might be saved. He prayed. He confessed his unworthiness of all the goodness God had shown. He prayed that God would save him and reminded God of His previous promise. He then prepared a huge gift for Esau and sent it to him. But he still did not know what Esau’s attitude would be.
READ Genesis 33:1-4
Reconciliation! Instead of threats and fear, there was weeping, hugging and kissing! It is a dramatic example but it illustrates how not obeying God destroys relationships. People can be divided and fearful, or angry, for many years – maybe until they die. Jacob and Esau had been estranged for 20 years. I am sure we can understand Jacob’s fear coming home. We experience people’s hostility. Relationships are broken and there is tension – or at best uncertainty – certainly not warmth and joy in each other’s company.
But disobedience also damages our relationship with God. Even as Christians, and this prayer was taught to Christians. This is not a salvation prayer. This is a daily prayer for Christians. When we do not obey God, we become estranged. There is not intimacy and joy. Instead that relationship becomes distant and formal and awkward. We know we cannot come freely into God’s presence and talk with Him as if to our Father. We know we are out-of-sorts. We know we have done wrong. We know the relationship is damaged and we cannot pretend that it is alright. Well, we might pretend to other people but we know, deep inside, that it is not right and that we are not close to God.
God says, “I don’t want that. I do not want this estrangement. I want to love you as my child. I want us to be close.” And we can be. God is ready to forgive, just as Esau was. But are we ready to humble ourselves and seek that reconciliation, like Jacob did? Jacob’s confession was in the appeal that he might find favour in Esau’s eyes. He was humble, referring to Esau as “my lord” and to himself as Esau’s servant. He committed it to prayer and paid a personal price in giving gifts. Most importantly, he was willing to face Esau again, despite the fear and uncertainty. Do we know what that is like – approaching God when we have done wrong? Jesus says, “Do it! This is a top five thing. Pray that prayer. Ask for God’s forgiveness.” Keep a very short account with God. Do not allow a build-up of unforgiven disobediences. If there is something there, deal with it. God is full of mercy. The reconciliation is possible. Reconciliation with God is to be one of the top five items for prayer. Are you and God close?
But, again, the prayer is not just about my relationship with God. Jesus instructs us to be concerned about other people’s relationships with God as well. We are to pray that other people will be forgiven, just as Jesus did when He prayed that those executing Him would be forgiven. Are you praying about other people’s salvation and other people’s intimacy with God?
Our relationship with God. Keep it intimate. But also our relationships with one another. We who have received mercy are also to extend mercy. We are to be like God and that includes being merciful. Again, God says, “I don’t want you being estranged from other people. I am a God of reconciliation. I want relationships mended. Don’t hold grudges. Don’t carry unforgiveness. Maybe someone has hurt you. Maybe someone was thoughtless or tactless. Maybe they did take what wasn’t theirs. Maybe it was very serious. Maybe it did destroy the relationship. But I am a God of reconciliation. I want to see that relationship healed. That can happen only if you are willing to forgive.”
By praying the Lord’s Prayer, we are saying, “Lord, I want to be close to you. I confess all of those things that I have put between us. Please take them away so that our relationship might be unhindered. And Lord, I am serious about my relationships with other. I have hurt You but you have forgiven me. I chose to forgive those who have hurt me too.” There can be other Jacob and Esau reconciliation moments.
This line of the Lord’s Prayer is about our relationship and our relationships – our relationship with God and our relationships with one another. Jesus here hits on another core theme of Christian discipleship. Think how much of the Bible is about relationships. The two greatest commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your being, and love your neighbour as yourself. Jesus wants us praying about those two relationships. Use His model prayer as a template for your prayers. Pray about the topics of worship and lordship and trust and compassion and your relationship with God and your relationships with other.