It is often said that “the Lord’s Prayer,” really ought to be called “the Disciple’s Prayer.” Is that the best title? In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus gave us a template for, and teaching about, our prayers as his disciples. Yet I don’t think “The Disciple’s Prayer” is the best title either. Read on to find out why.
We have considered Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and recognized that Jesus was not really giving new rules to add to the old ones, but rather was teaching us about becoming a certain kind of people. Here too, with prayer, it is not so much about techniques, or practices, or even words, but about the kind of people we are as we pray.
We have already looked at not being a people who pray to put on a show in Matthew 6:5,6. Let’s move on to verses 7 and 8:
When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Matthew 6:7-8 (NRSV)
“Do not be like them.” The people who were practicing pagan religions are not the kind of people we are to be when we pray. They could be very superstitious about prayer, thinking the gods need to be manipulated through certain words and prayers. We are not to be superstitious people when we pray.
As Christians we can fall into superstition. For example, while some people may find it a meaningful and symbolic experience, the idea of burying a statue of St. Joseph upside-down in one’s front yard, then praying to St. Joseph in order to sell a home, is basically superstitious. Look again at what Jesus said in verse 8; “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (italics added). We don’t need superstition in our prayers when we have a relationship with God. We are not to be a superstitious people, but a people who know and trust that God is a caring, and helpful heavenly Father who knows us well. Prayer is not about manipulating the divine, which is what superstition is about. Rather, prayer is about relationship.
To give an example; imagine if I was not already a motorcyclist, but now wanted a motorcycle. However, I am married, so I am aware that my wife may not be pleased. I know what to do, I will put a St. Christopher, the patron saint of travel, on a toy motorcyle in the garage, and boom, my wife will come up with the idea! Will that work? Obviously not. Wouldn’t it just be better to talk with my wife? Superstition does not work. Conversation does. This is also true with God. Superstition in prayer does not work. Honest conversation does. God is not a smartphone, that we use, that we manipulate, that we poke in certain ways to get certain results. God is personal, he is a Person we relate to, he is our heavenly Father. Likewise, we are not smartphone apps, that we hope God will find useful and not delete. We are His children, in a relationship with a good Father. We pray as people who are in a love fuelled relationship with a devoted and committed heavenly Father.
In teaching us the Lord’s Prayer Jesus goes on to teach us more about the kind of people we are to become as his disciples. As we pray;
- “Our Father” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of, and who desire, a father-child relationship with God.
- “Our Father” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of, and who desire, a family relationship with others.
- “in heaven” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of the transcendence of God, and who desire of the presence of God.
- “Hallowed be Your Name” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of, and who desire, the glory of God.
- “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of, and who desire, God’s Kingdom in the world. Therefore we are to be the kind of people who value servanthood over power, justice over injustice, and good over evil, to give some examples.
- “Give us this day our daily bread” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of God’s provision, and who desire to grow in contentment and trust.
- “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” – we are to be the kind of people who desire and are aware of the need for reconciliation and forgiveness, both to receive and give. We recognize where reconciliation is needed, between ourselves and God, and between ourselves and others.
- “And do not bring us to the time of trial” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of God’s help, who desire God’s presence, in the time of trouble.
- “but rescue us from the evil one” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of evil in the world, and who desire something far greater.
In a recent email I received from “the FOR company,” pastor Jeff Henderson highlighted how pivotal a moment in history it was when Jesus taught us to pray. God’s people would never pronounce the actual name of God when they came across it in the Hebrew Bible. Indeed we continue that tradition when our English translations use “LORD,” all in capitals, instead of using God’s name, “Yahweh.” Jeff points out that when Jesus taught us to pray, we went from not even daring to use the name of God, to calling him “Dad.”
What kind of people are we to be when we pray? We pray neither as people who are performers, nor superstitious, but as people who know God as a Father who is for us and not against us. We pray with an awareness of being, and a desire to be, God’s child.
So what is the best title, “The Lord’s Prayer” or “The Disciple’s Prayer.” I think it should be “The Much Loved Child-of-God’s Prayer.”