We often think of the Lord’s Prayer as a succinct way to pray. It touches on all the basic needs of our lives: food and shelter, forgiveness, personal holiness, and kingdom advancement. Many of us are also familiar with Martin Luther’s amplification of the Lord’s Prayer in his famous little book written for his barber called A Simple Way to Pray. Yet recently I came across a new and fresh take on the Lord’s Prayer that left me breathless.
I’ve been reading a book by Franciscan author Richard Rohr entitled Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi. This is not so much a book that you read as it is a book you ingest, line by line, because every line seems to be such a profound statement.
As I was reading the other day, I came across this simple idea, “Every petition of the Lord’s Prayer is a renunciation of self.” Now I can’t remember if this was me reflecting on something he said or something he more explicitly said. At any rate, I wrote that phrase down on a piece of paper I am using for a bookmark, but did not explore it further at that time.
Last week I picked that book up again after a few weeks and I saw what I wrote on the bookmark, “Every petition of the Lord’s Prayer is a renunciation of self.” This struck me. So I began to reflect on each phrase of the Lord’s Prayer and flesh that idea out.
Every petition of the Lord’s Prayer is a renunciation of self:
1. Our Father—not my Father; we are a part of a family.
Yes we do have an individual relationship with God, but for many of us, our faith is only about “me and Jesus.” But the Lord’s Prayer teaches us that this is not so. We are in a family. I need that family, and that family needs me. We must renounce our individualism.
2. In heaven—there’s more going on than what my eyes can see, and it’s better and greater than what my eyes see.
We often get overwhelmed by our daily circumstances, whether it is the death of a loved one, the inescapable nature of our life situation that seems to be drowning us slowly, or whatever it is. We also become so consumed with this world, and especially our possessions that we place all our worth on what we possess. The shopping mall is the Therapist’s Couch of our culture. Yet the Lord’s Prayer teaches us that there is more to this created universe than we can see. There is a heaven, and there is a God in heaven, and He is Lord of all. That heaven and that Lord are really real, and the Lord’s Prayer reminds us that this heaven is real, and that it is constantly, through the power of the Spirit, breaking through into our reality. We must renounce our materialism.
3. Hallowed be your name—not my name.
In our culture we are consumed with our self image. We are constantly worried about how others view us. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us that it is only His name that matters. My name is insignificant. I gain my own significance through being called by His name. We must renounce our unhealthily seeking for a name.
4. Your kingdom come—not mine
We all have plans and hopes and desires for our lives. We have been given dominion over a sphere in this world—whether it is work, family, social, church, government—whatever it is. This is our “kingdom.” We can often get caught up in our kingdom and the success or failure of that kingdom. But what the Lord’s Prayer teaches us is that the success of our kingdoms do not matter. What really matters is the success of God’s Kingdom. And so that is what we pray for. That is also what we should ultimately live for. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” We must renounce our own kingdoms.
5. Your will be done—not mine
Our wills are often so very stubborn. I want it all, and I want it now. I want it my way. My desires, my hopes, my fears—these are the things that shape my will. We can be ruthless in pursuit of the desires of our own wills and devastated when the desires of our wills do not come to pass. Yet the Lord’s Prayer teaches us that we must renounce our own wills. It is not my will that must be done, but His will. And if His will is done, then His Kingdom will come and my heart will get what it needs, not what it wants. We must renounce our own wills.
6. On earth as it is in heaven—see #2
The same idea under #2 applies here, except for this petition puts an eschatological and missiological dimension to it. We pray and work and hope for the Name of God, the Kingdom of God, and the will of God to be spread to this entire world. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us that this is happening and will happen. Jesus doesn’t pray for something that won’t come to pass. We must renounce our despair.
7. Give us this day our daily bread—everything I have is a gift from the Lord. He is the provider, not me.
This petition really hits home for those of us who are part of American culture. We as Americans pride ourselves in our self-sufficiency. We place our hope in our ability to provide for ourselves. We see what we work for as our own property because we’ve earned it, and we have a fundamental right to our own property. Yet the Lord’s Prayer teaches us that this is not so. We pray to the Lord for such a simple thing as bread. In this we acknowledge that not even the most basic things of life come to us through our own efforts or abilities. God is the provider. He is the one who grants to us all that we have. And as such, nothing we have actually belongs to us. Everything that we “own” belongs to God. We measure ourselves by our possessions and we treasure and hoard our “stuff.” But the Lord’s Prayer teaches us that none of it is ours by right. It all belongs to Him. We must renounce our own self-sufficiency and our possessions.
8. Forgive us our debts—I am indebted to the Lord. I owe Him. I am not self-sufficient.
Again, this petition similarly strikes at our self-sufficiency. It also strikes at our self-righteousness. In our culture we pride ourselves in not being in debt to anyone: whether it is financial or otherwise. We refuse help because we don’t want to be seen as weak. Yet, whether the wording is debts or trespasses (sins), the Lord’s Prayer teaches us that we are in debt. We are greatly indebted to God and our neighbors because we are sinners. We are fallen. We are broken and inadequate. We are weak. None of us has it all together. We are all in need. The Church is a hospital for the care of sinners, not a museum for pristine saints. We come to God needing grace. We are all poor beggars. We must renounce our own wealth.
9. As we forgive our debtors—it’s not about who has wronged me
In our culture we love to be wronged. We revel in being offended. We throw pity parties or lash out. We call customer service and we scream. We rant on social media. This is universal across generations, the political spectrum, and regardless of socio-economic status. Yet the Lord’s Prayer teaches us that it is not about who has wronged me. The Lord’s Prayer teaches me that I am weak and broken and fallen—that I am the chief of sinners. Therefore, in loving my neighbor as myself, The Lord’s Prayer calls me to view my neighbor with compassion, because I understand what a wretch I am. There’s no way that I can exact my pound of flesh on others when the Lord is due a ton. This is the essence of the parable of the unmerciful servant. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us to forgive. We must renounce our love of being offended.
10. Lead us not into temptation—I am weak and susceptible. I can do nothing in my own strength.
We seek security by believing we are strong. We believe we have it all together. Strength is our most highly valued virtue, and perhaps the second one is a stoic demeanor. We pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We succeed by our own strength. We overcome obstacles through the exertion of our own power. When we sin, we muster up our strength to try harder next time. Yet the Lord’s Prayer teaches us that this is all silliness. We have no power in ourselves to withstand anything. God alone has the power to come to our aid. This is why at the beginning of each day at morning prayer for the past two millennia the Church has opened her prayers with these words, “O God, make speed to save us. O Lord, make haste to help us.” We do not have the power to withstand the time of trial or overcome sin (the Greek word means trials generically, which includes temptations to sin). The Lord is our Warrior. We cry out to him for deliverance. Without His aid we are hopeless. We must renounce our own strength.
11. Deliver us from evil—I am powerless. I need deliverance, even from my own self.
Like the previous petition, this petition teaches us that we are powerless to deliver ourselves. But it also teaches us that we also need deliverance from our own self. There is real evil in the world that we are powerless to combat with out God’s aid. We must renounce our own power to deliver.
12. Yours is the kingdom—not mine
This last part of the prayer, the doxology, is contained in some manuscripts but not others, yet the idea is biblical (See this blog post for more information). Here again we reaffirm that our own little “kingdom” is not what matters here. We get so caught up in our own kingdoms. We spend so much worrying and executing our little dominions. But the Lord’s Prayer teaches us that it is not our own fiefdoms that matter. His is the kingdom. We must renounce our own kingdoms.
13. And the power—not mine
Again, like 10 and 11 above, we are powerless. His is the power. We must renounce our own power.
14. And the glory—not mine
Wow. In our culture we are drunk on glory, aren’t we? Our celebrity culture with our gods of athletes, actors, and recording artists is drunk with glory. The sheer amount of resources we dedicate to these gods (we even use the word “idol” unrepentantly here) is staggering. Now, I’m the chief of sinners here as I pine over my favorite athletes and sports teams. But not only do we seek the glory of these gods, we also seek our own glory. We lust after it. We love to bask in the glory of the praise and attention and adulation of others. It matters not where we are at in life, we love glory. Yet the Lord’s Prayer teaches us that our own glory is tarnished. It is worthless, but it is not harmless. God’s glory is the only glory that matters. His is the glory. How often do we seek after glory that will fade and die when we could be seeking after glory that is eternal? His is the glory. We must renounce our own glory.
15. For ever and ever—my self will never be enough. I will always need you.
In our culture, even if we resign ourselves to being dependent on others in a time of great need, we place hope and consolation in the fact that we will not always be in need and that one day we will be self-sufficient and powerful enough to provide for ourselves and return the favor. We may renounce ourselves when we are in dire straights and have a special need from the Lord, but afterward we return to our selfish ways. In fact, we would see it as a weakness of character and morals and of being itself if we (or someone else we observe) was in a perpetual state of brokenness, weakness, and need. Yet the Lord’s Prayer teaches us that our need is not temporary. We will always be broken. We will always be powerless. We will always be dependent. My own self, and even that of my family, will never be enough. I will always need God. I will always need the Church. This will be so forever and ever. Yes brokenness will cease in the eschaton. But we will never stop needing God and His people. Never. We will never, even in our glorified resurrected bodies, be self sufficient. We will always gain our strength, power, glory, sustenance, and significance from God and God alone. World without end.
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