The noise of our world makes it hard for us to hear what Jesus was saying. Even in the most familiar bits, we miss his message.
Here’s an example of from a best-selling author:
Even before I get out of bed I begin praying the Lord’s Prayer. …
Our Father who art in heaven … may Your name be hallowed in my duties today … as Your name is hallowed in heaven.
Thy kingdom come … may you reign in my life on earth as You rule heaven.
Thy will be done … in my studying … teaching … counseling … as Your will is done perfectly in heaven.
Give me daily bread … for my physical strength … for all my needs this day.
Forgive me my sins … and the consequences of my sins … including my actions and intent … and forgive others as you have forgiven me.
Lead me not into temptation … don’t let sin overwhelm me, but give me victory today.
Deliver me from the evil one … protect me from physical and spiritual harm.
For thine is the kingdom … I recognize Your sovereign control of my life.
For thine is the power … I recognize Your ability to do these things.
For thine is the glory … I give You credit for every answer.
In Jesus’ name … Amen.
— Elmer L. Towns, Praying the Lord’s Prayer for Spiritual Breakthrough (Ventura, CA: Regal; Gospel Light, 1997), 15–16.
Did you notice how he personalized the prayer? My duties. My life. My studying. My strength. My needs. My sins. Forgive me. Don’t overwhelm me. Give me victory. Protect me. I recognize. I give you credit.
It’s okay to adapt Scripture to your own situation, provided you realize that your adaptation misses most of what Jesus said. Jesus’ prayer was for the kingdom. I am not a kingdom: the kingdom is a community of people, and I’m only an individual. If my prayers are for me and not for the King’s community, I’ve missed the point of Jesus’ prayer.
What’s the first word in the Lord’s Prayer? So it’s a communal prayer? Even when I’m praying alone, I am never alone: I’m part of our Father’s family. And we uphold our Father’s honour when we treat each other as he desires. Jesus wants the rest of the world to see the family’s good deeds and recognize our Father (Matthew 5:16).
There’s a world of difference between “Reign in me” and “Your kingdom come!” If you ever meet the Queen of England, please do not say, “Reign in me. I offer you the throne of my heart.” She already has a throne, and her reign is so much bigger than you. Such an offer, however well intended, would be an insult. You show honour for your sovereign in the way you treat her people.
What Jesus calls us to pray for is the recognition of God’s reign throughout his earthly realm. We’re asking that all his subjects here give him allegiance, just as his heavenly subjects do. What a magnificent picture! Can you imagine our world functioning like that? What will it be like? It will happen. Every knee will bow to his anointed ruler. Every tongue will give him allegiance. We pray for that day. And we model it, bringing honour to our sovereign’s name.
Praying for my daily bread is almost the opposite of what Jesus taught. He says that our Father provides enough sustenance for all the living things on earth, even birds and plants. Birds don’t store food in barns; they trust Father’s daily provision. Trusting Father’s providence sets us free from what everyone else is seeking, to seek his kingdom instead (Matthew 6:19-33).
When we accumulate resources while others starve, we dishonour our provider. Let go. Trust our sovereign’s provision each day. Wasn’t that how God provided the manna in the wilderness, enough for each day?
Elmer Towns just skipped over the whole idea of forgiving each other because Jesus’ prayer won’t work as a “me” prayer. Misapplying it to the individual makes God sound monstrous, as if Jesus meant, “If I won’t forgive, then God won’t forgive me, so I’ll be eternally damned.”
What Jesus actually said was, “If we won’t forgive each other, then we together cannot be the community that experiences God’s forgiveness.” In other words, unwillingness to release each other from obligations means we are not released; we’re still held in slavery to those obligations, so we cannot experience the communal life our king intends for his kingdom.
The final phrase of Jesus’ prayer is a cry to our heavenly sovereign to lead us into a better future than the troublesome oppression we know in the current world, to deliver us from the reign of evil that enslaves his earthly realm. Like the Hebrews crying for God to deliver them from Pharaoh’s oppression, we cry for God to complete his project of restoring us all from oppression under evil, into his governance, as his kingdom.
What Jesus called us to pray for is bigger than we imagine. A me-focused vision won’t do. We need Jesus’ vision of a world restored as community under God’s governance, the kingdom of God.
Jesus’ kingdom vision
In our language, what Jesus asked us to pray could sound like this:
Our Father, as sovereign who rules earth from heaven, may your regal name be honoured, recognizing your unerring devotion to your earthly realm.
May your kingship be unfurled, so we do what you desire on earth, just as your heavenly servants do.
Provide us with fresh sustenance for each day, as we honour our Provider.
Release us from failing to fulfil our obligations to you, our king. We’re now ready to live as your community: we’ve already released each other from obligations incurred against each other.
As our ruler, lead us out of crushing experiences. Deliver us from evil’s reign, into life under your governance, for ever and ever.
Read Matthew 6:9-15