Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Thoughts on the Lord's Prayer

Doing a little bit on the Lord's Prayer for last Sunday, I had a couple of thoughts.  Nothing remotely original, but just things that have struck me again.

1.  Prayer can be learned - otherwise what are Jesus' disciples doing asking him to teach them?  And what is Jesus doing in his response to their request?  I commented on this before in relation to Bonhoeffer's book on the Psalms.  Against the assumption that prayer must be spontaneous or the overflow of the heart, the very existence of the Lord's Prayer testifies to the fact that prayer can be learned.

2.  It is significant that Jesus doesn't teach a technique or a frame of mind but a form of words.  Prayer is not a vague openness to God, or a period of meditation (however helpful that may be).  Prayer is an address, an act of speech.  So what is interesting to me is this: we all know how to talk, and what Jesus thinks his disciples need to know is what to talk about when they are addressing God.  In other words, it's an agenda, not a method.

3.  A lot could be made of the fact that the prayer is cast in the first person plural - our Father.  Again, our assumption often is that the purest form of prayer is that done by the individual in isolation.  There is some reason for this - consider Matthew 6:5-6.  Certainly the lack of individual private prayer is an indication that something is seriously wrong, even if there is plenty of public prayer in your life.  Nevertheless, according to the form of the Lord's Prayer, even our individual prayer is done in company - we always address our Father alongside brothers and sisters, and ultimately alongside the Lord Jesus.  So there is a sense in which corporate prayer is primary, and individual prayer joins it.

4.  The prominence given to forgiveness of sins is striking.  Bread and forgiveness are our two great daily needs.  I wonder what is lost when that sense of needing, and being given, daily forgiveness is eclipsed.  It is also striking that this daily experience of forgiveness is conditional, which goes against the grain for many of us; probably because what is ingrained in us is cheap grace and not gospel.


  1. Very helpful insights. Love reading your stuff. Curious if you could expand on the daily experience of forgivenss as conditional? Just curious how you might explain that to someone for whom it would be a shock to use “conditional?” Cheers! -Peter

    1. Thanks Peter. I think to a certain extent you've just got to engage with the text - it is framed as a condition here.Wouldn't we prefer it to say 'forgive us our sins so much more than we forgive those who sin against us'? But that's not what Jesus says...

      Perhaps I might talk about 'enjoyment', in the sense that enjoyment of God's forgiveness requires us to be the sort of people who forgive. And then zooming out, we can put this in a wider gospel context: by forgiving us, God makes us the kind of people who forgive others.

      Other times I might just let people be shocked. That can be helpful too!