The Lord’s Prayer in Holistic Perspective

Alex K.Chandy

Alex K.Chandy

By Alex K.Chandy – Dept. of Church Research & Studies- OCP News Service – 28/8/16

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The Lord’s Prayer, sometimes known by its first two Latin words as the Pater Noster, which means Our Father, is the most well-known prayer in the Christian religion. The Lord’s Prayer epitomizes the essence of prayer as to what prayer should be. The Mathian and the Lucan versions differ in context and in textual form. The apparent contradictions in the context and text do not affect the content in its essence. Essentially they are the same. Whether the prayer was ‘taught’ to His disciples (‘One day’ in answer to their request) as in Luke (11:1), or to a larger crowd (Matt.5:1) during the Sermon on the Mount ( Matt.6:9-13), it is a paragon of prayer from Our Lord.

In both Matthew and Luke, the prayer is interlaced between the long, verbose and showy prayers of the gentiles and hypocrites as a sharp contrast to ‘prayer exhibitionism’.

Superficially, it is a simple prayer. But if one delves deep into it spiritually, it is an exuberant prayer of the mortals to the Heavenly Father in total supplication and praise in most intimate terms. If one prays in ‘spirit’ and ‘truth’ (John 4:23-24), as it ought to be, it is an outpouring of the heart. He will be enlivened spiritually by every word of it.

Today it is used as a liturgical prayer without fully understanding its deep meaning and significance. Words are rattled off just like in any liturgical prayer learnt by rote. This is making the Prayer descend from the sublime to the ridiculous, at times at least. One must understand that the Prayer is not about and for the trifles of everyday living. It is a deep spiritual interaction with God with more serious and significant eschatological undertones. Bible scholars disagree about Jesus’ meaning in the Lord’s Prayer. Some view it as “existential,” referring to man’s present experience on earth, while others interpret it as “eschatological,” referring to the coming Kingdom of God. The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer which only a ‘disciple’ can pray from the heart; and only on the lips of a disciple has the prayer its full meaning.

1. Our Father :
The prayer begins by calling God, Father. This was the characteristic Christian address to God in the early Church.The ‘paternity’ of God (‘Abba, Father’:Mk.14:36) is gracefully conferred on us by Our Saviour Jesus. Mercifully He condescended to call us to ‘sonship’ also; ‘ heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ’. ‘One God and Father of all.’ (Matt.23:9,Rom.8:14-17, Gal.3:26,29;4:5-7, Ephe:4: 6-7;1Pet.1:17) He is a common Father to all mankind by creation. (Mal 2:10)

According to Adam Clarke, The word Father, placed here at the beginning of this prayer, includes two grand ideas, which should serve as a foundation to all our petitions: First, that tender and respectful love which we should feel for God, such as that which children feel for their fathers. Second, that strong confidence in God’s love to us, such as fathers have for their children.

He is our Father, who will pity us under our weaknesses and infirmities (Ps 103:13-14), will deny us nothing that is good for us. (Luk. 11:11-13) We have access with boldness to him, as to a father. When we come repenting of our sins, we must eye God as a Father, as the prodigal son did (Luk. 15:18). It is an encouragement that we come to God, not as an unreconciled, avenging Judge, but as a loving, gracious, reconciled Father in Christ. As William Barclay says, “It settles our relationship to God. It is not that it makes God any the less; but it makes that might, and majesty, and the power approachable for us.”

Again, as Barclay puts it, “If God is Father, he is Father of all people. It is very significant that in the Lord’s Prayer the words I, me and mine never occur; it is true to say that Jesus came to take these words out of our life and to put in their place we, us and ours. God is no one’s exclusive possession (Matt.12:50, Mk.3:35). The very phrase Our Father involves the elimination of ‘self ’. The prayer is self-effacing and manifests our Universal Fraternity and fellowship in Christ.

2.In Heaven: This phrase in the Scriptures is used to express:
(a)His Omnipresence (1 Kings 8:27)
(b)His majesty and dominion over His creation (2 Chr.20:6)
(c)His power and might (2 Chr.20:6)
(d)His omniscience (Ps.11:4: 33:13-15)
(e)His infinite purity and holiness ( Isa.6:3; 57:15)

3. Hallowed be thy Name:
We find seven petitions in the Lord’s prayer. The first three are relating more immediately to God and his honour and are about His character (“Hallowed be thy name”) and spiritual concerns (“Thy Kingdom Come”, “Thy will be done”). This prayer teaches us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and then to hope that other things will come to us in addition, by default. (Matt.6:33)

In Hebrew, the name means the nature, the character, the personality of the person as it is known and revealed to us. The psalmist says: ‘Those who know your name put their trust in you’ (Ps.9:10). Matthew Henry’s Commentary has it rightly when he says, “ We desire and pray that the name of God, that is, God himself, in all that whereby he has made himself known, may be sanctified and glorified both by us and others,………….” We ask for that which our Saviour (Jesus) did and prayed, I have glorified You on earth; I have completed the task You gave Me to do (Jn.17:4).

William Barclay elaborates on this: “Therefore, when we pray ‘Hallowed be your name,’ it means: ‘Enable us to give you the unique place which your nature and character deserve and demand.’…………Let God be given the reverence which his nature and character deserve.” Dr.D.Babu Paul says, in his recently-published work, Christhubhagavadgita, an exposition on the Sermon on the Mount, “ In every walk of life we should behave like the children of God. When we exhibit those godly qualities, we ‘hallow’ the adorable name of God.” The ‘Holiness Code’ of Leviticus is an unequivocal exhortation of this .(Lev.11:44;19:2; 20:26; 22:32) In the N.T., Peter explicitly affirms this call to holiness in 1 Peter 1:15-16

4.Thy Kingdom come:
This petition has plainly a reference to the doctrine which John the Baptist had preached alluding to Christ, which Christ preached at his time, and which Jesus afterwards sent his apostles out to preach—‘the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’

The eminent Swiss theologian, Dr. Wetstein, says: “It is a curious fact that the Lord’s Prayer may be constructed almost verbatim out of the Talmud.” The Talmud is the central text of Rabbinic Judaism, which contains hymns of praise to God yearning for the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. “Let thy kingdom reign over us now and forever. For thine is the kingdom, and thou shalt reign in glory for ever and for evermore.”

“What God has promised we must pray for; for promises are given, not to supersede, but to quicken and encourage prayer. When the accomplishment of a promise is near and at the door, when the kingdom of heaven is at hand, we should then pray for it the more earnestly; thy kingdom come”,says Matthew Henry. Likewise, in the closing verse of Rev.22:20, the promise and the echo of the sentiment is seen in the ardent prayer of St.John “Yes indeed! I am coming soon!” Amen! Come Lord Jesus!” Again, we see it in the early Christian exhortation and watchword of the early persecuted church, ‘Maranatha.’ (1Cor.16:22)

The Kingdom of God signifies the ‘ kingly rule’ of God’s ‘ sovereignty, royal power or dominion’ where God’s virtues of love (agape), peace (shalom), truth and justice prevail. This will be a replica of ‘heavenly scenario’ on earth. Probably a ‘spiritual utopia’ on earth, but very much a ‘spiritual reality’ in heaven. In its spiritual and apocalyptic sense, ‘…….we wait for what God has promised: new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.’ (2 Pet.3:13) This what Jesus teaches us to pray: Thy kingdom come!

5.Thy Will Be Done:
“Thy Kingdom Come” and “Thy Will Be Done” are double petition of the Lord’s Prayer, understood better when they are juxtaposed. It is a fine example of the Hebrew literary style of what is technically known as parallelism – a thing is said in one way and then in another way which repeats or amplifies or explains the first way. Here, the second petition –“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”- explains, amplifies and defines the first: “Thy Kingdom Come” . We then have the perfect definition of the ‘Kingdom of God’,as Barclay says, “ the kingdom of God is a society upon earth where God’s will is as perfectly done as it is in heaven”.

To be the citizen of a nation or country is to obey the law of the land. When we invoke God’s kingdom to come, we pray that we and others may be brought into obedience to all the laws and commandments of God, which is basically His Will .No less, no more, as Jesus said: “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love”(Jn 15:10). ‘ The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.’ (Rom.14:17) To pray for the kingdom of God is to pray that we may submit our wills entirely to the will of God and be ‘perfect’ in goodness and obedience as Jesus. (Matt.5:48)

The will of God is, that men should obey his law, and be holy. The word ‘will’, here, has reference to his law, and to what would be acceptable to him; that is, righteousness. ‘The Law reflects the mind of the law-giver’ is the axiom.To pray, then, that his will may be done on earth as in heaven, is to pray that his law, his revealed will, may be obeyed and loved.Jesus said; “If you love me, keep (obey) my commandments.” (Jn.14:15) His law is perfectly obeyed in heaven, and his true children most ardently desire and pray that it may also be done on the earth.

On a highly personal context, the Gethsemane Prayer also echoes this submission to ‘Father’s will’ in toto ultimately: ‘Not my will, but thine, be done’. The object of these three first petitions is that God’s name should be glorified, and his kingdom established. By being placed first, we learn that his glory and kingdom should have priority over our wants, and that these should be first in our hearts and petitions before God. Jesus exemplified this in his High Priestly Prayer (Jn.17:1-5).

According to Adam Clarke, we can see the mystery of the Trinity in the three preceding petitions. The first being, addressed to the Father, as the source of all holiness. The second, to the Son, who establishes the kingdom of God upon earth. The third, to the Holy Spirit, ‘who reveals the truth about God’ (Jn.14:17) ‘will teach you everything’ (Jn.14:26); ‘guide into all truth’ (Jn.16:13) and His kingdom.

6.Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread:
The next four petitions are related to man, his physical needs (“Give us this day”), relational needs (“.forgive us” etc) and mental and spiritual needs (“lead us not into temptation” and “deliver us from evil”).

The word ‘ bread’ here denotes, undoubtedly, everything necessary to sustain life both physical and spiritual. ‘But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.’ ( Mt 4:4; Deut.8:3) This petition implies our dependence on God for our physical and spiritual needs.It could also mean ‘Give us wisdom (understanding and assistance) for our daily living.’

The bread has been identified with ‘the spiritual food of the word of God.’ So this petition has been taken to be a prayer for the true teaching, the true doctrine, the essential truth which are in the Scriptures and the word of God.This is indeed food for the mind and heart and soul. Jesus himself said, ‘Truly, I assure you, he who believes on me has eternal life. I am the bread of life.’(Jn.6:47-48) As Peter confirmed, ‘You (Jesus) have the words that give eternal life.’(Jn.6:68) ) And in another context, ‘I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly’(Jn.10:10)-Life in all its fullness. As we are dependent on him one day as much as another, it was evidently the intention of our Lord that prayer should be offered every day. We ask for our daily bread; it teaches us to ‘take no thought for tomorrow’ (Mt 6:34) in our worldly life and to be satisfied with ‘enough for the day’. This petition tells us to live one day at a time. It forbids the anxious worry which is so characteristic of the life which has not learned to trust God.

7.And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors:
Debt means a failure to pay that which is due. It also means positive duties left undone. Debts here, therefore, also mean sins, or offences against God. Our debtors are those that trespass against us (Mt 5:39,40) . If we pray this petition with an unhealed breach, an unsettled quarrel in our lives, we are asking God not to forgive us. Human forgiveness and divine forgiveness are inextricably intertwined. Our forgiveness of one another and God’s
forgiveness of us cannot be separated; they are interlinked and interdependent. None of us is fit to pray the Lord’s Prayer so long as the unforgiving spirit holds sway within our hearts. If we have not put things right with our neighbours, we cannot put things right withGod.(Mk.11:25-26) Do we have ‘contrite heart and truthful tongue’ to truthfully pray this great prayer?

8. Lead us not into temptation:
In the O.T., we read how God tested the loyalty of Abraham: ‘God did tempt Abraham’ (Gen.22:1) Its obvious meaning is to submit to a test of loyalty and obedience. Jesus’ Temptation narrative begins: ‘Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil’ (Matt.4:1) If we take the word tempt there in the sense of to seduce into sin, it makes the Holy Spirit a party in an attempt to compel Jesus to sin. When Jesus turns the Devil away, he is resisting the temptation and passing a test of loyalty. The word ‘temptation’, however, (Mt 4:1) means trial, affliction, anything that tests our virtue. “Time and again in the Bible, we will find that the word tempt has the idea of testing in it.”, Says Barclay.

It is not that God tempts anyone to sin; but temptations are to be prayed against: ‘Lord, chain up that roaring lion Satan, for he is subtle and spiteful; Lord, do not leave us to ourselves, for we are very weak ’. ‘I know that good does not live in me- that is, in my human nature (that is, in my flesh). For even though the desire to do good is in me, I am not able to do it. I don’t do the good I want to do; instead, I do the evil that I do not want to do.’(Rom.7:18-19) ‘Sin lies at the door.’ (Gen.4:7)

9.But deliver us from the Evil One:
Barclay says, “This petition of the Lord’s Prayer should be translated not as ‘Deliver us from evil’ but as ‘Deliver us from the evil one’. The Bible thinks of evil not as an abstract principle or force, but as an active, personal power in opposition to God.” Barclay explains further, “Satan comes to stand for everything which is anti-human and anti-God. Jesus rebuked Peter: ‘Get away from me Satan.’ (Mk.8:33) It is from that ruining power that Jesus teaches us to pray to be delivered.” David Hill observes that “the Evil One,” is well attested as a designation for Satan in the Greek of the New Testament. Matthew uses “the Evil One” as a designation, title for Satan when quoting the teachings of Jesus: Matthew 5:37; 13:19, 38.

In John 17, his “high priestly prayer,” which includes other echoes of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus intercedes for his disciples: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the Evil One” (John 17:15). In Luke 22:31 Jesus provides a glimpse of the spiritual realities behind that trial: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail”. No wonder, Peter himself witnesses: ‘The Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials.’( 2 Peter 2:9)

10.For thine is the kingdom , the power, and the glory, forever and ever ! Amen:
The prayer concludes with a doxology , its three-fold aspect (“Yours is the kingdom”, “power and the glory”) mirroring the nature of the Trinity. The doxology was not present in the original version of the prayer, but rather was added to the Gospel text of the Our Father when reciting the prayer at Mass as a result of its use in the liturgy of the early church. Evidence of this practice is also found in the Didache (Teaching of the Twelve Apostles), a first-century manual of morals, worship and the doctrine of the Church. Dr.D.Babu Paul confirms this, quoting John Mckenzie, a Jesuit bible scholar, in his book ‘Christhubhagavadgita’. The Didache also prescribed that the faithful recite the Our Father three times a day. The Didache is the main source for the inclusion of the doxology.Greek scribes sometimes appended the doxology to the original Gospel text of the ‘Our Father’. For this reason, it is not included in many modern translations. On the other hand, it is found in all the Syriac versions, even in the Peshitta and in the ‘Visudha Grandham’.

The first part of the doxology, “for thine is the kingdom,” in no way contradicts the earlier part of the prayer, “Thy kingdom come” which will be a worldwide manifestation of God’s kingdom on earth, when God’s will shall be done as it is in heaven. The Heavenly Father is also the omnipotent and glorious God, so it can be added, “and the power and the glory forever.” This doxology is one which has its roots in the Old Testa¬ment, in I Chronicles 29:10-11 where David, in his prayer with which he closed his reign eulogized these attributes and more. Let us forget its originality of composition and ramifications of versions; no praise is too much for His ‘unspeakable’ and ‘priceless’ gifts.(2 Cor.9:15)

Finally, the last ‘Amen’. “ It was of old the practice of good people to say, Amen, audibly at the end of every prayer, and it is a commendable practice, provided it be done with understanding, as the apostle directs (1Cor. 14:16), and uprightly, with life and liveliness, and inward expressions, answerable to that outward expression of desire and confidence.” (Matthew Henry). The word itself implies a confident resting of the soul in God, with the fullest assurance that all these petitions shall be fulfilled.

No wonder, and most appropriately, our Church has made this a Moronaya Prayer in our liturgy,in Holy Qurbana and in all canonical prayers.

About the Author
Alex K. Chandy is a senior pharma professional who began his career in 1967. He is the founder ofMindtrans, an organization for the training and development of pharma and insurance marketing professionals. He holds a Post-diploma from the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Liturgical & Biblical Academy. His areas of interest include theological and liturgical studies. He is a regular contributor to several Syriac Orthodox publications and engages in translating English Liturgical series to regional languages.

Dept. of Church Research and Studies- OCP News Service