The Prayer That Jesus Taught Us
The prayer that Jesus taught the disciples appears in only two of the gospels, yet it is one of the most widely used and influential parts of the Western Christian tradition. We still pray the prayer the way that our ancestors learned it in the 17th century, finding comfort in the beauty and poetry of Stuart England and Scotland. Because the King James translation used language and cultural concepts that are not part of everyday life and culture in the 21st century, it is useful to pause every now and then and think about its meaning, both when Jesus taught it and in our lives today.
This series looks at the prayer that Jesus taught in depth, phrase by phrase, and invites us into a deeper relationship with the prayer and how we can deepen our relationship with God and with God’s calling when we pray. We will also look at a variety of translations, paraphrases and versions of the prayer, exploring how changing the language changes its impact on us.
During this series, you are encouraged to pray using the prayer Jesus taught three times every day, in the version we use in worship for the week. In the early church, the custom was to pray upon rising, at 3:00 in the afternoon, and at the end of the day. You may prefer to pray at mealtimes, or to choose other times.
April 24, “Teach Us to Pray” [view on YouTube]
Lord’s Prayer version: from the New Zealand Prayer Book (upcbgm.org/lordsprayer/nz)
This first week, we looked at the two stories that describe Jesus teaching a prayer to his disciples. In Matthew, it is part of the great Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus lays out his vision for building the reign of God. In Luke, the disciples go to Jesus and ask him to teach them a prayer “as John taught his disciples”. We’ll talk about the similarities with the Kaddish, which was written about that time, and look at the first words of the prayer as we learned it: “Our Father, who art in heaven.”
May 1, “Keeping It Holy” [view on YouTube]
Scripture: Ephesians 6:10–20
Lord’s Prayer version: ecumenical, based on Common English Bible (upcbgm.org/lordsprayer/ceb)
What is holiness? Why do we pray that God’s name will be made or kept holy? This second part of the prayer focuses our attention on the ways in which we understand God as complete and all-encompassing, as well as on the ways we can live and act so that others can see God’s amazing goodness. The reading from Ephesians tells us how to prepare ourselves to live in the reign of God in a world that seems far away from the love and mercy that God’s holiness shows and brings into creation.
May 8, “Thy Kingdom Come” [view on YouTube]
Lord’s Prayer version: The disciples’ prayer (enfleshed paraphrase) (upcbgm.org/lordsprayer/disciples)
In this short text from Luke, Jesus tells us that God’s reign is already among us. We have everything we need to build a new world, if only we have the eyes to see and the heart for the work. And in the beautiful vision that Micah describes, “they shall all sit under their own vines and fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid”. Can we imagine a world where no one is afraid? Can we find the courage to pray for it to come into being?
May 15, “What We Need for Today: Bread and Forgiveness” [view on YouTube]
Scripture: Matthew 5:23–24, 43–48
Lord’s Prayer version: paraphrased by the Lake Street Kids, Evanston, IL (upcbgm.org/lordsprayer/lakestreet)
It may seem strange to put these two petitions together, so that we are asking “give us the food we need for today and forgive us as we forgive others”. But they are linked together in the gospels consistently, especially in John’s gospel, where it seems that God’s grace is the bread of life. The human temptation is to require people to earn forgiveness, bread and healing, and Jesus turns this around, offering people what they need so that they become empowered to build a new world.
May 22, “Testing Times and Outright Evil” [view on YouTube]
Lord’s Prayer version: paraphrased by Open Door Community, Atlanta (upcbgm.org/lordsprayer/opendoor)
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil… the strangest of the petitions, and the most confusing in King James English. What do we mean by temptation? What is evil, and how do we know it? We humans find ourselves tempted by our strengths and our desire for perfection, but we imagine that we only do harm when we are weak. Asking God to save us from being tested is another way to pray that we will trust enough to follow where God leads, and not try to improve on “doing justly, loving kindness, and walking humbly.”
May 29, “Kingdom, Power, Glory”
Lord’s Prayer version: Mother’s Prayer by Rebecca Solnit (upcbgm.org/lordsprayer/mothers)
These final words of the prayer as we have learned it do not appear in the gospels. The “power and glory” appeared in the second century; the “kingdom” first appeared in the divine liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, in the fifth century, and by the ninth century the closing of the prayer had reached its final form. On Ascension Sunday, we will be considering what it means to say that our God has “the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever.” Is that a supremacist claim, or a challenge to believers about how they set priorities in their lives? Do we find comfort in the formula, and how might we pray differently in a world where there are no absolute monarchs?