Monday, March 19, 2012

Praying the Lord's Prayer--Part 1

I enjoy praying—most of the time. Sometimes I don't want to pray, but more often I struggle because I don't know what to pray. I don't know what words to use. I wish I came from a liturgical tradition so I had a framework of  prayer to support me. I know I could obtain a prayer book and use that, but because I'm not used to it, it still seems unnatural to me, though perhaps I may step out in that direction yet. Lately I have gone back to the basics and started using the pray Jesus taught his disciples as my basic framework. On most mornings I pray as I walk around a park after dropping my daughter at school. It's a great time and environment, with no distractions and the beauty of God's creation around me.

I want to explore this prayer with my readers, using N.T. Wright's book The Lord and His Prayer as a commentary to guide our thoughts. For the next several weeks I will use the chapters of this book, which each address one section of the prayer, as the focus of our discussion. This week we will look at the opening line:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

Wright looks at this opening expression not primarily in terms of an expression of intimacy between Father and Son. He acknowledges this aspect but claims that it is not as revolutionary in terms of the relationship between God and His people as we are inclined to think. Wright points back further, to God's reference to Israel as his child, a reference that he argues would have resonated with Jesus' original audience. This relationship between God and Israel spoke of God's promise to rescue his people from captivity and slavery. Wright states: “For Israel to call God 'Father', then, was to hold on to the hope of liberty.” With this in mind, he says, “The very first word of the Lord's Prayer...contains within it not just intimacy, but revolution. Not just familiarity; hope.”

By referring to God as his Father, Jesus also reminds us of the type of relationship he has with God and  invites us into the same relationship. He invites us to be sons and daughters of the most high God. There are many dimensions to this, but Wright points to one in particular: in the culture in which Jesus lived and died, a son would normally apprentice to his father and learn from him. Jesus spoke of doing what he saw the Father doing. We see Jesus, the Son of God, learning from the Father. More specifically, as the letter to the Hebrews tells us, he learned obedience through suffering (5:7-9). In inviting us into relationship as daughters and sons of God, Jesus invites us also into this aspect of that relationship; that we would learn by watching what Jesus and the Father do. He invites us to participate in his work.

Jesus, as the Messiah, was the fulfillment of Israel's hope for liberation. However, this liberation comes about not through military victory or power, but through suffering and sacrifice. God the Father's work, Wright tells us, is one of revolution, a revolution to set the people of this earth free and to bring His kingdom to fulfillment on earth as in heaven. “This revolution,” writes Wright, “comes about through the Messiah, and his people, sharing and bearing the pain of the world, that the world may be healed.”

Therefore, argues Wright, when we pray “Our Father in heaven,” we are expressing our desire to learn from him and to join him and Jesus in their revolutionary act of bringing his kingdom to this earth. I really like these words from Wright:

“When we call God 'Father', we are called to step out, as apprentice children, into a world of pain and darkness....if we take the risk of calling him Father; then we are called to be the people through whom the pain of the world is held in the healing light of the love of God.”

As we pray this and as we become his agents of transformation in this world, then his name will be honored, praised and worshiped because people will be set free and this earth will see the redemption of God in tangible ways. When I think of it in this way I feel inspired. I am awakened to the fact that I am a part of God's redeeming work. At the same time I am reminded that I have yet to grow into the fulness of this prayer and the fulness of my relationship with God as Father (or Mother, if you prefer.) As Wright reminds us at the beginning of this chapter, the Lord's Prayer is like a suit of clothes we must grow into, that “it will take full Christian maturity to understand, and resonate with, what those words really mean.” 

What do you think of this understanding of the Lord's Prayer? How do you approach these opening words? How do you understand the relationship between yourself and God as Father/Mother?

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