Do we pray the Lord’s Prayer wrongly?

The Lord’s Prayer must surely be the central devotional text in the Christian faith. Tom Wright (in his short book The Lord and his Prayer) comments:

When Jesus gave his disciples this prayer, he was giving them part of his own breath, his own life, his own prayer. The prayer is actually a distillation of his own sense of vocation, his own understanding of his Father’s purposes. If we are truly to enter into it and make it our own, it can only be if we first understand how he set about living the Kingdom himself.

It is a regular part of most public worship in most churches around the world. When we decided we should teach our eldest child something about prayer, we thought this might be a good place to start. Aged 2, she replied ‘I already know that’ and recited it to us—the fruit of hearing it as part of the opening ‘all-age’ section of our weekly church services. (If you don’t teach your children and young people to say it every week, you should.)

But do we pray it correctly? Do we express the words aright, as Jesus taught us?

I am not referring to the contrast between tradition- and modern-language versions. (If you have ever led a group or congregation in saying the prayer, you will have realised that the traditional-language versions starts with these two words ‘Our Father…’ [pause] whereas the modern-language versions start with these two words ‘Our Father-in-heaven’. If you pause after ‘Father’, people will naturally slip into a traditional version!)

I am referring to the relationship between the opening clauses of the prayer. This is the way most English speakers (using either version) pray the prayer:

Address to God: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

Request to God: Your kingdom come and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

The second clause of the prayer, ‘hallowed be your name’ functions here as part of our devotion; this is a personal statement, reflecting our own honour of and devotion to God. Our prayer for the world then becomes limited to the following pair of invocations, that God’s kingdom come and that his will be done. These have become separated from the idea of God’s name being revered as holy.

There are two problems with this. First, it does not reflect what Jesus actually taught. But secondly, it allows the growth of a distorted view of the kingdom of God and mission.

The shape of the Prayer in English has been deeply influenced by the tradition of Authorised Version of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. The ‘traditional’ version of the Lord’s Prayer as currently used is actually slightly different from the historical version found in the BCP, which is slightly different again from the version of Matt 6.9–13 in the AV. But they share a very particular poetic shape in the first half, and this determines both the rhythm by which the prayer is said and also affects the way many people understand it. The shape consists of a two sets of three phrases:

1a    Our Father
2a       who art in heaven
3a           hallowed be thy name

1b    thy kingdom come
2b       thy will be done
3b           on earth as it is in heaven

The detachment of clause 3a from 1b is emphasised by the inversion of noun and verb; in the first we have the verb (hallowed) followed by the noun (name), but in the next two lines we have the noun (kingdom, will) followed by the verb (come, done). What is truly fascinating is to see the way that modern versions of the Lord’s Prayer attend to some aspects of the actual text, but (constrained by the weight of tradition) do not correct them all. So we have lost the relative clause ‘who art…’ but we have retained the change in word order between the first and the second of the three invocations. This is even found in actual Bible translations, so (for example) the TNIV retains the form of the modern Lord’s Prayer inherent from the traditional form, rather than actually translating the Greek text faithfully as you might hope.

All this contradicts the structure and poetic form of what Jesus taught—and these change the way we make connections between the ideas. As David Wenham explored in his article in Expository Times 121.8 (May 2010), the Greek text reads as follows:

1. Father ours the-one in the heavens
2.       Hallowed-be the name of-you
3.       Come the kingdom of-you
4.       Done the will of-you
5.             As in heaven even on earth
6. The bread ours the coming-day give to-us today
7.       And forgive to-us the debts of-us
8.             As even we forgive the debtors of-us
9.       And not bring us to temptation
10.     But deliver us from the evil

As Wenham points out, the structure then is:

1. 6 words        Opening address
2. 4 words             First invocation in relation to God
3. 4 words             Second invocation in relation to God
4. 4 words             Third invocation in relation to God
5. 6 words                   with second clause
6. 8 words       Invocation for our needs
7. 6 words             First invocation in relation to ourselves
8. 7 words                   with second clause
9. 6 words             Second invocation in relation to ourselves
10. 6 words           Third invocation in relation to ourselves

In terms of overall structure, the first half (concerned with God) comprises three invocations of four words each, with a longer addition to the third. The second half (concerned with ourselves) comprises three invocations of six words each, with a longer addition to the first, thus mirroring the first half. (This careful structure is prima facie evidence that Jesus taught in Greek with memorable rhythm and structure; this is historically plausible because the culture was, like many in the world today, polyglot, with local, international, and legal languages all being used, in this case Aramaic, Greek, and Latin respectively).

It is immediately apparent from this that the opening address consists of a single phrase, that the basic word order is the same in the three sayings about the name, kingdom and will of God, that these three belong together, and therefore that the concluding invocation to the first half (‘as in heaven even on earth’) would naturally be read as applying to all three.

Interestingly, many other European languages manage to follow the structure of the Greek text; in French, Spanish, and Italian the grammatical structure groups the three phrases together. The exception is the German form, which follows the English in change the structure between the first invocation and the second.

Notre Père, qui est aux cieux,

que ton nom soit sanctifié,

que ton règne vienne,

que ta volonté soit faite

sur la terre comme au ciel.

Padre nuestro, que estàs en el cielo,

santificado sea tu Nombre;

venga a nosotros tu reino;

hágase tu voluntad

en la tierra como en el cielo

Padre nostro, che sei nei cieli,

sia santificato il tuo nome,

venga il tuo regno,

sia fatta la tua volontà,

come in cielo così in terra.

Vater unser im Himmel,

geheiligt werde dein Name.

Dein Reich komme.

Dein Wille geschehe,

wie im Himmel so auf Erden.

And it is possible in English; there are additional versions in Australia and New Zealand which match the Greek text by restructuring the opening petitions ‘Your name be hallowed, your kingdom come, your will be done…’ This is how I now pray the Prayer; you can too with a bit of practice!

Why does all this matter? Simply because the detached of honouring God’s name from the actions of the kingdom in the world are reflected in some common approaches to mission in the C of E and elsewhere. The oft-repeated phrase describing mission as ‘seeing what God is doing and joining in’ suggests that God’s actions in the world happen anonymously; I have never heard anyone say ‘We found that people knew all about God and who Jesus was and the Holy Spirit without us telling them!’

The Five Marks of Mission were developed by the Anglican Communion, and have been used more widely. The set out the elements of the mission of the people of God in the world as:

  1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom (‘Tell’)
  2. To teach, baptise and nurture new believers (‘Teach’)
  3. To respond to human need by loving service (‘Tend’)
  4. To seek to transform unjust structures of society… (‘Transform’)
  5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation… (‘Treasure’)

I think each of these has a good scriptural and theology warrant. But the problem comes when they are separated from one another—as they often are. I have even heard people say ‘I [or our church] is good at one of these, but not good at the other. So we will stick with what we can do.’ Curiously, this almost always means focussing on 4 and 5 and leaving 1 and 2 to others!

But these things cannot be separated—as is shown by the Lord’s Prayer in the form Jesus taught it. The worship and hallowing of God in our lives cannot be separated from the other dimensions of what the coming of his kingdom means. So in the New Testament we repeatedly find that those who witness the work of God through and amongst his people respond by praising God. And, conversely, those who even witness the healing that Jesus brings, but did not then acknowledge who he was, did not ‘enter’ the kingdom.

A few years ago, the Church of England released a video focussing on ministry and mission in outer estates. Stephen Kneale, who is himself involved in ministry in this context, offered some observations from his own perspective as a non-Anglican. He was impressed to see the testimony of those willing to engage:

Now, there is so much right about it. There are people going into deprived communities, clearly wanting to love and serve the people there. I liked the focus on ‘accompanying’ people and taking on some of their issues and bearing their burdens. I really liked the emphasis on living in and among the folk on the estate. There is loads to like.

But he also had concerns about what was being expressed:

Three particular things stood out. One was the vicar arguing that people simply need to know that ‘they’re loved and forgiven by God.’ Now, unless I am badly misreading my Bible, that is not the message people need to hear. They need to hear that they are loved and can be forgiven by God…Second, the same vicar insisted that people need to know they’re loved and forgiven ‘rather than come to church and go on about sin.’ But if they don’t know about sin, what exactly do they need to be forgiven for? If all that matters is God loves them, what on earth is he doing forgiving them when they’re alright as they are?

Third, there was a repeated emphasis on ‘doing good’. Now, I’m all for doing good. I think loving people is important. Here is the nub of the problem: Social action and evangelism are not the same thing. The video emphasises good works and yet says nothing of the gospel. It is all doing good (which is noble in a sense) while incorporating none of the gospel.

Social action and evangelism are inseparable. So, nobody is arguing that doing good is a bad thing. In fact, unless our gospel is backed up by a genuine love for the people we are reaching – and that necessarily includes meeting their physical and emotional needs too – then we may have the right message but it will seem hollow to those we are trying to reach. We need both the right gospel message and the right gospel action to support what we are saying. But to offer people only good works with no gospel is to comfort them in their immediate need, whilst failing to do anything about their deepest need.

Why do we need to say the Lord’s Prayer in the way that Jesus actually taught? Precisely so that, each time we say it, we are reminded that ‘we need the right gospel message and the right gospel action to support what we are saying.’

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72 thoughts on “Do we pray the Lord’s Prayer wrongly?”

  1. “Done the will of-you” is not right. ‘done’ is a past participle in English. English can’t do one-word passive jussives.
    I agree with your last point, that acknowledgment of the Father’s holy name (and not denial of it in the contemporary fashion of some who refuse to use God’s name and pronouns) goes hand in hand with His kingdom and will. But sadly you do hear that trope about ‘anonymous Christians’ today.

  2. I found all this very helpful – though I still believe that the modern translation has unchurched many for whom saying the Lord’s Prayer is the beginning. When GS debated this dilemma there was a 50/50 split between those who thought the new translation essential and those who believed the traditional version essential.
    My own take on the Prayer includes the perspective that, like the Decalogue and the Summary of the Law, the first part is about God and the second about our responsibilities personal and social.
    Best wishes.

    • Thanks Andrew. I presume you mean that the change from a known tradition has been unsettling.

      But what are we do to when the tradition people know is in itself unhelpful or misleading in some important respects…?

    • Can (should?) we call it “modern” anymore?

      At 74 it’s been around in the CofE easily for most of my lifetime.

  3. The traditional Welsh form has :
    sancteiddier dy enw (hallowed be your name)
    deled dy deyrnas (come be your kingdom)
    gwneler dy ewyllys (done be your will)

  4. I’m not convinced that this is a corporate prayer. That is too readily assumed by those who point to the plurals in it – ‘us’. But it could equally well be one person praying in solitude for others. That is, moreover, what Jesus had in mind, for look at Matthew 6:

    when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven…”

  5. Another reason for the pause after “Our Father” is that for centuries the prayer was referred to as the Paternoster.

    Here’s a speculative rendering of its meaning:

    Our Father in heaven, may your name be hallowed, your kingdom come, and your wish be done on earth, as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread; and forgive our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Do not lead us into ordeals, and rescue us from evil.

  6. I confess to being a bit confused about this, because I never imagined that The Lord’s Prayer was something we were supposed to recite verbatim. I thought he was teaching us how to pray, the God-centred attitude towards prayer that we should have – and, very importantly, lead us to understand that if we seem to be selfishly praying for self-centred things that don’t fall within the framework, then there is something wrong with our prayers. The ‘This is how you should pray’ would indicate this – it should encompass all our prayers, which are not restricted to parrotting off 5 verses from Matthew 6.

    The prayer is clearly for those who are already ‘in Him’ and therefore don’t have to think about their ultimate salvation – the perspective of the prayer assumes that that problem has already been solved, otherwise the only reasonable prayer would be that of Luke 18:13. The assumption of the Lord’s prayer is that it is a prayer for those on whom God has already had mercy – and they know that they are forgiven sinners.

    So it tells us that our prayers are, first and foremost God centred, praying that His name be hallowed, that His kingdom comes, that His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Only after that do we move onto three petitions for ourselves, which are first person plural and not first person singular. We’re praying for the minimum necessary (give us our daily bread for this day, forgiveness for past sins, not to be tempted into future sins).

    For a believer, this prayer covers it all – and when our prayers don’t fit clearly into this framework, we can be sure that our prayers do not correspond to the will of God.

    • What is wrong with committing to heart the words and instructions of Jesus? And what is the problem with having fixed forms of words of prayer?

      This was common in Judaism and therefore in Jesus’ own devotion.

      • Ian – well, nothing wrong with it if it helps; I wonder if reciting it through does help us to what we’re supposed to be praying for (and not praying for).

        With reference to other threads – I wonder if the ‘if it isn’t in the Lord’s prayer then we shouldn’t be praying for it’ might help resolve the PLF issues.

  7. “But the problem comes when they are separated from one another—”

    Exactly this. It gives a free pass to those (Eg but annoying in these parts) to those who want us to spend a significant amount of time on “the environment” as if “conversion” isn’t a prior importance for the ultimate change in the world’s mess…

      • We are presently trying to address them via the UN, which is disastrous and will hasten the return of Jesus. But I am not convinced that these problems are as bad as many say. Our cities have literally never had cleaner air, for they stank of sewage from their foundation to the 19th century, then smog, then leaded petrol. All sorted now. As for carbon dioxide, I am not convinced that the problem is anything like as acute as the IPCC insists (and I’m a research physicist who has bothered to educate himself on the subject). But perhaps that’s for another day.

    • What though does “conversion” mean? Perhaps something to do with striving to live in the kingdom of God, and knowing that is God’s will for us? And a part of living in God’s kingdom is being a good steward.

      • Nope – conversion has nothing to do with us striving to live in the kingdom of God. It has everything to do with coming to believe in Him – as Saul of Tarsus did on the road to Damascus (although perhaps in some perverse sort of way his persecution of Christians before that point was in some sense him striving to live in the kingdom of God – based on a deluded idea of God’s will for him).

        Striving to live a Godly life is a necessary consequence of conversion.

        Conversion is coming to faith in Him; when one hears the Word of God and is conquered by it, that is faith.

      • Exactly so. Thank you Simon. Jim Wallis, in ‘The false white Gospel’ is very moving about his conversion in relation to this.

      • I’d say “yes” you’re describing the converted life.

        But the foundation of this is the personal decision (however that’s arrived at) of “accepting” Jesus as Lord and Saviour. First things first, however much that first step will grow and produce good fruit in time.. As in John 13.

        The Anglican Articles make clear that “good deeds” done without this are, by comparison, “dirty rags”… I think that’s the quote.

        My point really is that churches sometimes avoid the call to proclaim a saving Gospel…. “believe and repent”… because it’s easier and more acceptable in a public forum to talk about secondary (if important) things.

  8. Matthew 6:13 NIV has “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” but ESV has “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,”

    Which is correct? It seems on this occasion NIV has it—1 John 2:14 has “the evil one” for the same Greek in both NIV and ESV.?

    Satan in much of the OT (e.g., Job 1:12) carries the definite article as the Greek does here.

    • The Hebrew word satan means simple ‘adversary’ or ‘accuser’. Unlike Greek, the definite article is not used with names in Hebrew (as far as I know; the article is used to make definite which would not otherwise be so; names are definite by themselves). So, the logical reading of this in Job 1 is “the accuser” or “the adversary”.

      The angel of the Lord who confronts Balaam is described as Balaam’s ‘satan’, i.e. adversary (Num 22:22).

      In 1 Sam 29:4, the commanders of the Philistines complain that David might become a ‘satan’ to them.

      In 2 Sam 19:22 David complains about the sons of Zeruiah that they would be as a ‘satan’ to him.

      In 1 Kings 5:4 Solomon is able to say that there is neither ‘satan’ nor misfortune. But in 1 Kings 11:14 and 11:23 we read how God raised up ‘satans’: Hadad and Rezon.

      So, clearly in first temple writing we find men described as a ‘satan’, including those raised up by God against others.

      In Zech 3:1-2 we have a court scene as in Job 1, and again we have “the ‘satan'” as a prosecuting council.

      Only when we get to the post-exilic 1 Chron 21:1 do we find ‘satan’ as a possible name:

      “Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel” (ESV)

      However, even here one should note the significant differences between the description of the episode in Chronicles and Samuel, most notably:

      “Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” (2 Sam 24:1)

      Not ‘Satan’ but the Lord incited David to carry out the census.

      It would seem that the use of the word ‘satan’ as the name of a principle adversary (of God or of people?) is a late development. Even then, if one considers the 1 Chron 21 as being related to 2 Sam 24, then perhaps this is with a similar picture in mind to that of Job 1, where the satan is given permission by God to afflict Job.

  9. Thank you for linking to my post from five years ago. I wouldn’t have remembered what I had said there (though, having read it again, still agree with myself!)

    Just a small point of correction, the links you have included don’t work. They are running on my old domain name. The actual links – which are the same except for the domain name at the start – I have included here, which you can update in the main body if you feel the need.

  10. Thanks Ian. I noticed the order of the words in Greek a few years ago and came to the same conclusion as you. However, I didn’t find this factor mentioned in any of the commentaries I own and wondered if I was mistaken. So, great to have your confirmation. Incidentally, I recently heard Tim Macklemore make exactly the same point in a Bible Project podcast.

    An additional thought. I think we all need to emphasise that the Lord’s Prayer assumes that those who pray it are disciples who are living for the mission of God’s kingdom. Otherwise people can end up praying it this way: “Our Father in heaven, it would be lovely if people respected you a bit more and this world was a nicer place, so please get on with your job of bringing heaven to earth. In the meantime, I need to get on with my life so please meet my needs, forgive me my sins and protect me from trials and temptations.”

    In fact, within Matthew’s gospel, Jesus has already called his followers to be salt and light in the world, and he is going to challenge them to seek first the kingdom. Then he is going to send the Twelve out on mission. Imagine how relevant this prayer will have been for them as they proclaimed and demonstrated the kingdom, without taking any resources with them and facing the prospect of both human and spiritual opposition!

  11. As an alternative translation the NASB has “deliver us from the evil one” Matthew 6:13
    The Complete Jewish Bible ,(CJB) has “keep us safe from the Evil One” translation David H Stern.
    Surely the contrast is between the Kingdom of our good Father God, and the god of this this world, satan, the Kingdom of light v kingdom of darkness (sometimes masquerading as light.)
    It is not merely evil as a concept, but a person, the Adversary of God and his influence(r)s behind what God determines as evil. Satan, is the father of lies, tempter to sin.
    The world is “enemy occupied territory” CS Lewis.
    The prayer is to bring in Father God’s kingdom, rule, which is emphasised by v13 (not found in oldest manuscripts) “For Thine is the Kingdom the power and the glory.”
    God is true and truthful, is (uncreated) light in whom there is no darkness 1 John 1:5.

    BTW the CJB translates,
    “Our Father in heaven!
    May your Name be kept holy.”

  12. I don’t know why, but I’ve always considered “hallowed be thy name” as an invocation, not a personal observation.

    I’ve spent most of my life in nonconformity (where the Lord’s Prayer was hardly ever spoken, but merely used as a template for extemporaneous prayer).

    Since becoming an Anglican, I’ve be drawn most to Cranmer’s version. For some reason “which art” sounds stronger than “which art”.

    I’m not a fan of having the minister alone say “Our Father” as a prompt. We all need to know God as our Father (I feel the same about the General Confessions) and we need to affirm that we come corporately, on the same basis.

    The honouring of God’s name seems very much linked to “social action” in Matthew 5:16 “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

    How can they if we don’t lead with the name that we long to see hallowed? It’s not about me.

    The line “say come to church and go on about sin” seems rather tangental. Is it not the work of the Holy Spirit to convict of sin, righteousness and judgement?

    This would even seem to be the case when the Lord Jesus is himself speaking. For example, in Luke 5, who said anything about sin, Peter?

  13. Ian, like you usually pray: “Our Father in heaven, may your name be hallowed, may your kingdom come, may your will be done ” — three petitions.

    Slightly more controversially I say “Give us this day our supernatural bread” as I think that is as good a translation as any (and “daily” makes no sense — it’s tautologous and therefore redundant.)

    Finally, how odd of Jesus to give a prayer with no thanksgiving in.

  14. The Lord’s Prayer is in many ways a summary of the Gospel. In it there are seven petitions to God containing every human longing and every expression of faith found in Scripture.

    Significantly, it begins with us acknowledging our identity as children of the Father. Each Christian is to see the Father as “my” Father. As God’s children we approach Him with the confidence of a child that He loves us. Even when they sin, children know they are still loved. We start with this understanding that God loves us.

    Calling God “Abba” is a prayer to God in the most personal and intimate of ways. It is a term of endearment, showing that God is not just the Almighty or the All-Powerful. God is also my loving Father and I am the Father’s beloved son or daughter.

    To call God “our” Father expresses a new relationship as a result of the New Covenant established in the blood of Christ. This new relationship is one in which we are now God’s people and He is our God. This is a gift from God to which we have no right. It’s a grace and a gift. This grace also reveals our profound unity to Jesus as the Son of God. We can only call God “Father” in so far as we are one with Jesus. His humanity unites us to Him and we now share in a deep bond with Him.

    Calling God “our” Father also reveals the union we share with one another as Christians. All who call God their Father in this intimate way are brothers and sisters in Christ. We are not only deeply connected together; we also are enabled to worship God together. Individualism is left behind in exchange for fraternal unity. We are members of this one Divine family.

  15. Good stuff. I like to see a parallel between the prayer and the Summary of the Law. Love the Lord your God [etc] and love your neighbour as yourself (my paraphrase). Keeping God’s name holy is done by loving God. Loving neighbour means striving to bring about the kingdom, here and now in this world. The rest of the prayer elaborates – in the kingdom all shall be fed (with the bread of the kingdom) and we are reconciled with God and with each other. And finally we pray not to be tempted away, not to fall for the wiles of the great tempter.

    And as I have commented before, Matthew 25 tells us that we love God when we love and care for our neighbour in need, while Luke 10 tells us that our neighbour is whoever needs our help. (I know you disagree on this!). So we keep God’s name holy when we keep God’s commandment to love and care for our neighbour.

    (And to close another circle, the Eucharist should be that meal where in feeding our hungry neighbour we meet the risen Christ. But that’s a discussion for another day perhaps!)

  16. Somewhere in the distant past, I once heard the temptation line explicated as “lead/bring us into a/the place of not-temptation”. So I ask the wiser heads here: is there any textual justification for this reading?

    • No, I don’t think so. Here is the Greek: καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν. The main debate is whether God *can* lead us into temptation..

  17. Martin Luther’s “A Simple Way To Pray” gives a wonderful method for prayerful meditation on the Lord’s Prayer, how to turn each petition into a “garland of four strands” (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication).

    • James – righty ho – got it. Quote from Luther – ‘Destroy and wipe out the abomination,
      idolatry, and heresy of the Turks, the pope ….’ This would certainly add a bit of oomph if it were used from the pulpit on a Sunday morning.

      • You might want to cut him some slack, Jock. The Pope was trying to kill him as the Catholic Church had killed Hus, and the Turks were in central Europe, where, er, they are now – and Islam is in the heart of Yorkshire as well as London today. I would have prayed the same way then.

  18. Writing from a CoE context, you note that many churches prefer to separate the five marks of mission from each other and then focus on 4-5. In the context of The Salvation Army (UK), I find there is a danger of focusing on 3-5. Equally, I think it could be said that churches (and TSA corps) which focus on 1-2 sometimes neglect 3-5

    • David Cavanagh – Points 1) and 2) cannot be separated in that way without trivialising the message. The same Word that brings people to faith also nurtures them in the faith – and those who think the two can be separated usually end up presenting disastrously bad sermons. For those who have been brought into the number of the Saviour’s family, 3) follows directly – otherwise it’s difficult to see that faith is really present.

      I don’t think that those who consider that 4. and 5. can be the focus of Mission are in fact Christians and their mission is not a Christian mission. The purpose of Mission is that the Gospel should grip and master people – and once that happens they’ll have the appropriate mind-set, led by the Spirit, to do the political work of transforming unjust structures of society – but doing such political work is strictly not the job of Christian missionaries. Mission creates the conditions so that this work will be done.

  19. I recall reading somewhere, that a little child when reciting the Lord’s prayer thought that God’s name was ‘Harold’.

  20. I have always seen the phrase ‘seeing what God is doing and joining in’ as primarily a reminder that whilst God chooses to use human agency, he doesn’t depend on it. All too often mission and evangelism consists of human-designed programmes which we pray God will bless (and in his graciousness, he often does) but shouldn’t it be the other way round – mission should follow the initiative of God?

    The Ethiopian Eunuch narrative in Acts 8 is where I would see Biblical warrant for this paradigm. Clearly something is already happening in the official as he reads and reflects on his journey, Philip follows the call of the Spirit to go and ‘join in’ what God has already started, with the outcome of conversion, faith and baptism.

    • … which is evidently about the Word of God (Isaiah 53) in the world and the questions it raises; ‘seek and you will find.’

      ‘Seeing what God is doing and joining in’ can mean:
      – for charismatics, join the popular bandwagon at Church X
      – for liberals, join the popular political cause du jour (climate change, ban the bomb, Kristallnacht etc)

  21. At heart, isn’t this prayer about the doctrine of God- who He is?
    Isn’t it a step along the way in the incarnate life of Jesus revealing , making known God: John 1:18 ?

    • I suppose it is. It’s very much a prayer about God-with-us. An eschatological prayer that God’s name (i.e. God) be honoured by the coming of the kingdom of God here on earth, where the hungry are fed each day and all are reconciled to God and each other. Yes, a powerful expression of doctrine indeed.

      The honouring of God and God’s name is one with the peace and justice of God’s reign. God’s name is dishonoured when we don’t strive for the kingdom – and doubly dishonoured when we say we are honouring God but don’t do God’s will by striving for the kingdom.

  22. Jock… “and you can pray it without reciting it? I’m impressed.”

    All recitation isn’t automatically prayer… But I’d have thought… hoped… you knew the difference.

    Mere reciting has the flavour of “going through the motions”… “the dead hand of habit”

    • Ian Hobbs – yes – I do understand what you are objecting to – and what you are trying to do when you pray The Lord’s Prayer. I saw the prayer made a fool of at school assemblies (which seemed to be mandatory in Scottish comprehensive schools when I was going through). If you study your map of Britain very carefully, you’ll see a very small village, with two or three houses and a railway station there, where some branch line joins the main line, known as Drem Station (which someone at the school had discovered). The prayer went ‘mumble mumble mumble, mumble mumble and lead us not into Drem Station, hee hee hee hee hee’. As a result, I felt that the whole idea of a school assembly was like casting pearls before swine – and that Christianity should be restricted to those who, like myself, were actually interested in it. Through this, I also developed an aversion to set-piece prayers; better to learn what the petitions are all about – and also how to apply them in one’s own prayer life.

  23. An important issue in the Lord’s Prayer is the use of the first person. The way the prayer is structured demonstrates that it is a prayer for the believer, for those who are ‘in Him’, whose salvation is assured – and they know this. Otherwise, the only appropriate prayer would be that of Luke 18:13. The whole tone of the Lord’s Prayer is a far cry from this – it is for those who have already moved from death to life (John 3:16) and who understand this. At the same time, when we use ‘us’ in the petitions ‘give us this day our daily bread’, ‘forgive us our sins’, ‘lead us not into temptation’, ‘deliver us from evil’, clearly we shouldn’t be restricting our prayers to others who are also ‘in Him’; the ‘us’ expresses a solidarity with those who are not in the number.

    • Jock, I 5hink that is an 8nteresting po8nt but to me the whole prayer is one that stands in the breach for everyone. It does exactly what Jesus intended to do, on the cross, for humanity. Thanks for pointing this out

        • Just for interest, at church, when we pray the Lords Prayer, I use the old version, the reader, the ESV version and everyone around me their own preferred version. The result is a lot of discordant mumbling. How to proceed in future?

          • steve – just as long as you all come together for the ‘lead us not into Drem Station’ bit it should be OK …..

  24. Thank you, this is very encouraging and a good challenge to revisit even those practices we *think* we know well.

    I think it’s very interesting that the Prayer Course, which incidentally I really like and think has done a lot of very good work, follows the pattern of the Lord’s prayer for it’s internal session structure, and yet completely omits the two lines about forgiveness. When this was pointed out to me I confess I completely hadn’t noticed. Without wanting to make to big a point of it, your comment about the picking and choosing the parts of the Marks of Mission we like came to mind, and perhaps (a cynic might say..) that praying that we might show others forgiveness just as we have been show it, might have been excised as too unpopular. Praying for God’s Kingdom to come is easy when it doesn’t obligate you to do anything. 😉


    • Also, now I’m done with settlement and the larger part of the academic work from three years at college, I should be back to some regular commenting. Been a bit quiet for the last couple of months…

        • 1. That everything you think is simple, is in truth obscenely complicated,.

          2. I’ll be a happy man if I never have to read anything by Rowan Williams again. 🙂

          I do respect RW, and I think he’s a good speaker, but some of his books and especially some of his more academic prose (looking at you, biography of Aruis), is like pulling teeth.

  25. This discussion, about how to recite (or pray) the Lord’s Prayer, has missed by miles the main issues about what we are supposed to be praying for. For example, AJ Bell (whom I understand to be a man of the cloth) fails to see that under the heading ‘deliver us from evil’, we should be praying for those who are sick (unless he has some weird and wacky understanding of creation and the fall – that sickness is indeed a result of the fall and a manifestation of the evil that we want to be delivered from).

    What about the petition ‘as we forgive those who have sinned against us’? How does that square with David’s prayer in Psalm 139 ‘Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?’ What does forgiveness entail towards those who are completely unrepentant in any real sense – and may only regret that they got caught or that their evil resulted in unfortunate consequences for themselves? In the formulation of the prayer (at least in Matthew’s gospel) our forgiveness of the sins of others is not contingent on their repentance.

    At no point is the prayer framed in first person singular; it is first person plural. Does this have the flavour of Exodus 32:11 where Moses prays on behalf of a stiff-necked and (as the Golden Calf indicates) an essentially godless people (except for a small remnant)?

    AJ Bell’s comment indicates that even clergy don’t seem to have a clue about what the prayer and the various petitions in the prayer mean (although I imagine that they can present it beautifully in a church service). There doesn’t seem to be any discussion of the difficulties of this prayer or their resolution.


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