The Lord’s Prayer in Luke is a five-fold petitionary prayer that intends to teach Jesus’ disciples how to pray. Having said “when you pray, say,” Jesus leave little room for change or manipulation. This is a directive for how to pray and with some digging helps illuminate what prayer is and what prayer does.
The initial greeting of God as Father indicates a certain view of who God is. This is an approachable God, a God whom willingly gives us an audience and mercifully listens. What follows is the kind of talking a child may have with their parent because it is primarily focused on what the child wants the father to do. Below are some thoughts on each of the petitions, my understanding of what prayer is and does, and some concluding thoughts.
- Petition 1: “Hallowed Be Thy Name”
The first petition is “hallowed be thy name” or “sanctify your name.” This petition is not about us as the “pray-er” but about the one to whom we are praying. A petition to sanctify or make holy God’s “name” is to ask God for revelation of God’s mysteriously, majestic self. In our culture God’s name is used when we drop something on the floor or get hurt. The word “God” often has become a merely exclamatory remark when something really good, really bad, or particularly painful happens. This happens among people of all sorts of theological bent. This kind of exclamation of God’s name is in fact a reduction of who God truly is. We do not address the one true God who created all that exists, we simply yell out a word as a crass exclamation equal to “wow,” “oh no,” or “ouch.”
The prayer Jesus teaches his disciples in Luke in regard to the first petition is to reclaim “the name which shall not be spoken,” that is the great I am, YHWH, the name that we cannot ever claim to have mastered. In doing so, this first petition acts as a reorienting of the mind for all who pray. We exclaim “father” because God is one who willingly hears us and then we ask that our Father’s name would be made holy in this world. The significance of God’s name being holy is tremendous as this, indeed, acts as a petition for not only a reorienting of our own minds as the one praying but as a grandiose hope of God’s name being made known throughout the world. We ask through this first petition that the reduction of “Oh God” equated to “Dang it” be removed and that when the name above all names is somehow spoken of, whether through words we understand or otherwise, we recognize “the name’s” inherent holiness. In other words, we pray that God’s nature be fully acknowledged and that God’s work of redemption and reconciliation be recognized throughout the earth.
- Petition 2: “Your Kingdom Come”
The second petition for God’s kingdom to come is often understood as describing our work in the world. Oftentimes this phrase makes Christians believe that we are the one’s who will establish God’s kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven,” making use of the Matthean account of the Lord’s Prayer and the one which is found in the Didache. Though we are to be ambassadors in this world and live out the “heavenly” principles established by God’s work through Jesus, we are not to be so arrogant as to think that we are the ones who will make it happen and we certainly do not want to import Matthew’s version into Luke!
Rather than this being something by which we bring about God’s kingdom, it is a petition for God to bring about the kingdom. Luke’s understanding of God’s kingdom is that it is established in some other realm and that God is the only one who can bring it about. Taking the whole of Luke-Acts into account, Lukan theology shows that God’s kingdom comes at the “Parousia” or end-times, when Jesus returns as king to reunite the new heavens and the new earth. As such, this petition gives the Lord’s prayer in Luke an eschatological bent whereby the focus is on God’s action in the future, not merely our work today.
- Petition 3: Give us each day our daily bread
At first glance this petition seems to clearly speak of giving us our daily sustenance to get through the day. This would mean the prayer has shifted from a primarily eschatological bent of God’s name being made holy throughout the whole earth (as will happen at the Parousia) to a focus on getting by with our daily needs, just like the Israelites collecting mana in the wilderness. This is often the view that is preached and may certainly be the proper interpretation, but I would like to offer that this petition may be just as likely an eschatological statement.
The first thing to note (thanks to Oxford’s Study on the New Testament), is that the word “daily” is not frequently used and hard to translate fully in context. As such, the notion that “daily bread” means a physical sustenance by food is not entirely validated. An alternative way of seeing this petition in terms of eschatology is not to think of the phrase as “give us each day our basic needs” but “give us a taste of the bread of heaven for which we are praying to see.” In the latter phrase, the request is seeking to encounter God’s established heavenly realm each day. This petition, then, seeks to continue a sustenance, but it is not focused on a daily living-type sustenance but a foretaste of God’s kingdom as it will be in the end-times.
- Petition 4: “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us”
This petition, even more than the petition for daily bread, seems to be focused on daily living. The first clause of this petition is asking God that the times which we have missed the mark in living a godly life be forgiven or sent away. This is intended to free us to continual obedience in faithful living in the present but also functions in an eschatological manner. Forgiveness of sins (or debt) is liberating in the time we currently experience but it is also liberating in terms of our acceptance into God’s “kingdom come.” So, the petition of God’s forgiveness is two-fold: a) forgiveness for continued faithfulness and b) forgiveness for inheritance into the future kingdom.
In the Matthean account, many make the connection that we are asking God to forgive us as much as we forgive others. This connection to the Matthean version is not helpful when studying Luke directly so put it out of your mind for a moment. Luke’s version separates these two clauses and does not confuse them as the one we say in our churches every week. Rather than import a notion that God forgives in relation to our forgiving, this prayer is a challenge to remind us to forgive. Just as we ask God’s forgiveness, we should forgive those who ask it from us. Luke’s second statement, then, is connected in the petition of God’s forgiveness but also operates as a reminder that we are to forgive others because God forgives us.
- Petition 5: “Do not bring us to the time of trial.”
The “time of trial” in Luke’s account is connected to the time in which a person is most vulnerable to being led by the accuser and not of God. This final petition, again, is not merely a focus on today’s “temptations” or trials of the moment but is pointing toward the eschatological end, whereby believers find themselves most vulnerable to falling away from God. The “time of trial” was considered to be the time before God’s Parousia where falling away from God is most likely. The prayer is petitioning that this “time of trial” not be wrought about, that God would deliver believers from such burdensome time. Again, this is not a focus on temptations we have in our daily lives to love God less than we ought, but an eschatological petition that God act in a loving manner to those who are praying for the end-times.
What is Prayer and What Does It Do?
The Lord’s Prayer is a foundational prayer for Christians for good reason. It is used as both a model for prayer and includes all things necessary for prayer, just as our Lord has taught us. Luke’s version is abbreviated and focuses primarily on the eschatological coming of God’s reign and should not be mistaken to focus merely on our every-day occurrences. Though the prayer is focused primarily on the future hope of God’s renewal of all things, it is not an error to pray for daily needs as well. However, it would be an error if our focus were exclusively “in the moment” and never on the end-times, where our hope is ultimately placed in God’s redemption of all creation.
So what is prayer? The Lord’s prayer as presented in Luke shows that prayer is focused primarily on God and God’s work, not on ourselves. In all 5 petitions we are requesting God’s action in our lives on a global scale. Though calling God “Father” makes the prayer more personal, the prayer is universal in nature. So the Lord’s prayer in the context and theology of Luke is about God and God’s work in and through all creation and not a mere personal request – though personal requests are not inherently improper to bring before God.
And, what does prayer do? I think it is good to first be clear that prayer is not a passive acknowledgement of what God will do or is currently doing. Rather, prayer is a petition requesting that God carry on God’s work in universal manner, thereby instilling in those who pray a desire to orient their hearts and minds to the work God will do and is currently doing. Prayer affects those who pray by shifting their mind from self to God, from small picture to big picture, from the present day to the eternal. Prayer brings about a shift in not only our thinking but our living. Prayer moves us away from living in a way that satisfies our current situation and fulfills the status quo to living in a way that deeply yearns for God’s parousia, when all things are made right.
Our ancient Christian saints said it this way: lex orandi, lex credendi (what we pray is what we believe). This shows the first part of what prayer does. Later theologians added lex vivendi (what we live) to the phrase, thereby extending that prayer informs how we live. I affirm this addition as is evidenced in the former paragraph, but would like to add lex orandi to the end of the phrase, completing the circle. So, I think it should be as such: lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi, lex orandi… I believe that what we pray informs our belief, which impacts how we live, and thus influences our prayer, and so the circle continues.
It is of great importance that we take seriously the nature of prayer and especially the way Jesus taught his disciples (and thereby us) to pray. Prayer is to be focused primarily on God and God’s work in the world as it will ultimately be manifest in terms of eschatology. Through such adherence to eschatological prayer our lives are shaped from living only for the moment to living for God’s ultimate work in the world. As we persevere in prayer our beliefs come in line with God. As our belief comes in line with God, the way we live comes in line with God. As our daily living comes in alignment with God, our lives become prayers, which shape our belief, our lives, and our prayers all over again.
So, what else do I have to say? Pray.
(Photo Credit: turnbacktogod.com & Google)