Prayer is at the core of Christianity. It can mean different things to different people. Fundamentally, however, it is our opportunity to communicate with God.
I have to admit that I am rather poor at praying. I don't do it very often outside of Church, and often struggle for what to say when I do. It got me thinking about the Lord's Prayer, which is often held up as an example of what Jesus gave us to say when we prayed. Who better than Jesus to explain how to pray?
Since I had to memorize it as a child, I often recited without giving much thought to the meaning behind the words. But given its importance, I think it worth evaluating the meaning of each line.
The following comes from Matthew 6:7-15
“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (ESV).
I have obviously played with the fonts a little here, enlarging and italicizing the passages that we use as the prayer itself.
Luke also lists the Lord's Prayer in an abbreviated form:
"Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say:
“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”
Luke 11:1-4 (ESV)
It can be difficult to understand why the prayer appears in such different forms in books by two different Gospel writers. But that just shows how imperfectly much of this may have been recorded after being passed along in an oral tradition for some period of time.
In my analysis, I will be using Matthew's version as it is the longer one with which most of us are familiar.
"Our Father in heaven" We are praying to God the father who reigns in heaven. We do not need to pray to the saints or even Jesus to intercede with the father. We can speak directly with God, whom we were told in the previous line, knows what we need before we even ask. Our prayer is an attempt to communicate directly with God the Father. God the Father is in heaven. His reign on Earth is limited by sin, and denies us the direct presence of God in our lives. Despite that direct presence, he hears our prayers.
"hallowed be your name." God's name is holy and revered. It is not to be used lightly or in vain as the Second Commandment instructs (or Third Commandment depending your religion divides them). While we may speak with God, we should not forget to remain in awe of him. He is not simply a magic genie to do our bidding or grant wishes. He is our master. We are not his.
"Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." As Christians, we wait for the Second Coming, when God will return to earth, do battle with evil and banish it from the Earth. We will once again live in God's Kingdom, free from the pains of sin. Frequently, when I try to pray, I will ask God for something I want, or to relieve some pain or difficulty for me or someone I love. But the more I pray, I begin to think that the want, the pain, the difficulty may be a greater part of some plan that God has. In the end, if there can be some relief great, but I want God's will to be done, even if it involves some apparent hardship.
"Give us this day our daily bread," We pray that God will provide us with the necessities of food to get through each day. We realize that we are wholly dependent on the Lord to meet all of our basic needs each day.
"and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." I have seen "debts" translated as "sins" or "trespasses". I understand it as asking God's forgiveness for our sin, for anything we have done wrong, for anything that could be held against us in judgment. Likewise, we must do the same for others. Just as we ask to be forgiven, whether or not we deserve it, we must also be willing to forgive others who have done us wrong, whether or not we think they deserve it. Forgiveness is one of the most difficult demands of Christians, and not often entirely understood. We expect that God will forgive us, without demanding we pay a price or punishment to compensate for our wrongs. We must also offer that forgiveness to others who have wronged us. We should not seek revenge or even wish them punishment. We continue to love them and hope that they can correct whatever caused them to sin.
"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." Our world is full of temptations to sin. We must constantly strive to do what God wants us to do and to avoid doing evil. This is not to say we will never sin, we will. That we why we must seek God's forgiveness. But when we think or do the wrong thing, we must recognize that as a shortcoming or weakness, not try to justify to ourselves that our sin is somehow acceptable to God. While we will sometimes stray from the path of righteousness, we need to try to get back on the path when we go astray. We want to put our lives on a path toward God and away from evil.
Many people may conclude the prayer with some translation of a line like "For yours in the Kingdom, the power, and the glory, now and forever, amen." In some translations, this line can even appear in Matthews version of the Lord's Prayer. This line, known as the doxology, does not appear in most biblical translations. It was apparently added by some early Churches in the eastern part of the Roman Empire. Some Greek scribes added it to the end of the prayer listed in the Gospel of Matthew, although the evidence is pretty clear that this was a later addition and not part of the original.
Early translators of the English Bible often included the doxology, which then became added to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, where it remains today. As such, it has become a common ending for many English speaking Protestant sects. Since I accept that it was not a part of the original, I don't use it myself. If Jesus gave us the original, it should not need embellishment.