Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” From the Gospel according to St. Luke.
Teach us to pray. That is at once a simple request, and profound statement. It seems odd to me that the disciples would ask such a question. Surely they would be familiar with prayer. The Old Testament is filled with references to prayer, which is really nothing more than conversing with God. The first reference I can find is in the 4th chapter of Genesis. “Then men began to call upon the name of the Lord.”
Later in Genesis, in chapter 28, Jacob had an encounter with God at what we call Jacob’s Ladder. After the encounter, Jacob amade a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the Lord will be my God. This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.”
In the book of Exodus, Moses prays to God when the LORD is more than put with the people.
The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. “Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.” Then Moses entreated the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and call this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ” So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.
In this instance, Moses is able to persuade God to change his mind! That is pretty powerful if you think about it. Moses’ prayer affects God.
Keep this in mind when Jesus answers. With the very first words Jesus upsets the current order. The Names of God are clear. Adonai, Hebrew word for Lord, is one. God, the Almighty, or El Shaddai in Hebrew is another. Jesus tells his disciples to say, “Our Father in heaven.” I bet someone in the crowd was thinking, “What did he just say?” He said, Father. He made the Almighty God of Heaven personal. He gave them, and us, permission to call God, Father. St. Paul reminds the Romans in Chapter 8, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”
The Greek version of this is Abba ho pater. which could be translated Abba, who is Father, or which is Father. Abba is thought to be an aramaic word, from the language Jesus spoke. Aramaic was an ancient language that preceded Hebrew, Syriac and Arabic. It is still used as the liturgical language of many churches in the Middle East. Including the Syrian Catholic Church, and the Maronite Church, which was founded in the 5th Century in Lebanon.
The Greek word pater is the root of such words as Patron, patristics, so Paul is making the point that Jesus called God his father in his native language. This makes it more personal for him, and for us, and when Jesus taught the disciples to pray, he invited them to call God, Father, too.
He followed that with the statement, “Hallowed be thy name.” Your Name is holy, sacred, precious. This is an example of praise.
The next section begins with petitions. “Thy kingdom come.” Matthew’s version of the Gospel adds this line, “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This means make God’s kingdom present here and now, where his will is done, just like it is in heaven. This is a petition asking for God to be the Lord of our lives, where our will is set aside, and his alone is done.
The next petition is, “Give us each day our daily bread;” We need food to live, of course, but more than that, we need sustenance on a spiritual level. Remember that Jesus said, I am the Bread of Life. Whoever eats this Bread will never die.
The next petition is, “forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” In our version, it is “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The main thing to remember here is that we are to forgive those who wrong us, because we will receive forgiveness from our Father. Don’t forge the lesson of the Amish.
The next petition is; “lead us not into temptation.” In our version, we also have “but deliver us from evil,” which is included in most Greek translations. In other words, lead us away from any temptations that may be put before us, and save us from any evil which may befall us.” We need the protection of the Lord every day.
The next section of the Gospel reinforces for us that prayer works. “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” These words are some of the most familiar in the Bible, but are they fully accepted? How many times have we doubted that the LORD would come through for us the way we wanted? Most of the time the LORD comes through for us in ways we don’t expect.
How is your prayer life? I know you pray here at church, but how about after? I know it’s difficult to carve out some prayer time in our busy lives, but it’s very easy to do, even if you have less than a minute. How could it be that easy? Just follow the words Jesus gave the disciples; Start with, “Our Father, who art in heaven.”