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    The Lord's Prayer

    Introducing the Petitions (Mat. 6:9-13)

    by Rev. Ralph Allan Smith (1999)

    The Lord's prayer begins, as we pointed out before, with a preface that reminds us of who we are and who God is, so that we may approach Him with a right heart and mind. After a brief preface, the Lord's prayer continues with six brief interrelated petitions. It is vital to understand the relationship between these petitions and the general flow of thought before we consider the individual petitions in detail.

    The general structure is clear and simple. Of the six petitions, the first three concern the things of God and the next three concern the things of man. But the petitions are also interrelated so that the first three petitions which are focused on God Himself nevertheless concern life in this world and the last three petitions which concern our needs in this life are subordinate to the glory and kingdom of God. The whole prayer, then, presupposes a covenant (when you see the word "covenant", think "oath-based bond of love") relationship and exudes the true spirit of worship.

    A Covenantal Prayer

    The Lord's prayer is a covenantal prayer because it is a prayer that assumes a relationship of love between God and His people. This is evident from the very beginning for we call upon God as our Father. Also the petitions themselves are concrete and covenantal. The first petition (Hallowed by Thy name), which seeks the glory of God's name, is only satisfied when the second petition (Thy kingdom come), for the coming of God's kingdom, is fulfilled. But what does that mean, other than that which is expressed in the third petition (Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven), God's will being done on by men earth as it is in heaven? Thus our prayers for the name of God to be praised are connected with the concrete realities of earth history and the everyday lives of the mass of men. Until the human race as a whole learns to seek the praise of God's name, this prayer will not have been fully answered.

    The covenantal nature of the prayer is also seen in the fact that the petitions seeking the glory of God and those seeking the blessing of man mutually presuppose and include one another. When we seek the glory of God and the manifestation of His praise among men, we are also, obviously, seeking that which is best for man, that which brings to men the highest blessings conceivable. What could bring greater blessing to the whole human race than God's will being done on earth as it is in heaven?

    At the same time, when we ask for our daily bread -- not, by the way, for riches, luxury, or ease -- we are not asking simply to have our stomachs filled, but seeking the sustenance we need to live for His name and kingdom. Unless He sustains our lives, we cannot work in history for the glory of His name to be manifested.

    Thus, when we seek the things of God, we are also seeking the blessing of man, and when we seek the blessing of man, we are seeking the kingdom of God. Such is covenantal prayer. It transgresses the philosophers' wicked dictums and it exposes the pagans' selfish folly. On the one hand, the philosophers demand that true morality be utterly disinterested. The good man does what is good for the sake of the good and not for the sake of any reward, nor for any other interest outside of the good itself. This may appear to be noble, but it is, in fact, simply a subtle form of man seeking to make himself God, for if man is a creature of God, created in His image and for His glory, then in his prayer and in all of his life, he should do what is good, including prayer, in order to please God. Christian ethics is not the ethics of the abstract good, but the ethics of personal relationship.

    On the other hand, we must not pray like pagans who simply use God for their own good. True prayer seeks Him because it is the expression of covenantal love.

    The covenantal nature of this prayer is seen also in the fact that it follows the structure of the ten commandments and the summary of the law revealed by Christ. In the ten commandments, the first five commandments primarily concern God, the next five, man. In our Lord's summary of the law (Mat. 22:37ff.), the first and great command, is the command to love God with all of our heart, mind, and strength (Dt. 6:5). The second command is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Lev. 19:18). Just as the ten commandments of Moses and the two commands of Christ are interrelated, so too, the petitions of the Lord's prayer mutually involve one another. To truly seek God's kingdom is to seek the blessing of our neighbor.

    Worshipful Prayer

    When the Jews came before God to offer sacrifices, they offered what is called in most translations a "whole burnt offering" as one of the five basic sacrifices. The whole burnt offering, which is better called an "ascension offering," symbolized the total surrender of the worshipper to God. This is the very essence of true worship and the beginning of the Lord's prayer, for when we say, "Hallowed be Thy name" we are offering up ourselves unto our Creator and Lord to seek His glory and praise. We are not saying "let everyone else honor You" but, first of all, "enable me to devote myself to Your glory."

    Seeking God Himself in prayer touches the deepest truth of who and what we are as God's image. Solomon taught us that God "set eternity" in men's hearts (Ecc. 3:11). He has made us, in other words, for Himself. He has given us infinite longings that can only be satisfied in a relationship with Himself. Prayer and worship in which we seek His praise and honor are the very heart of that relationship.

    Man was created to become hungry in body and spirit. God put Adam in a Garden and surrounded him with food and animals. But the first hunger that he felt was hunger for human companionship, someone like himself with whom he could share his life of fellowship with God. We can see in the Genesis narrative how man's hunger for another person and his hunger for food are related, but both of these are expressions of the most fundamental hunger, man's hunger for God Himself.

    It is this hunger that finds expression in David's prayer: "O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary. Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name." (Ps. 63:1-3).

    We are taught in the Lord's prayer to seek God Himself, to seek His praise, His kingdom and will, first and foremost, before and above all other things. This is only right because God is God, the Creator and Lord of all. But this is also right for us psychologically. It is only when we seek Him and rest in Him that we find ourselves. It is only when we devote ourselves to His glory and praise that we find transcendent meaning in our own lives. By seeking first the kingdom of God and His glory, we become what God created us to be. Contrary to what some say, it is when we seek Him that our individuality, creativity, and personhood are most fully developed. In the true worship of God we grow into mature persons, we become our true selves.

    The Lord's prayer, then, begins with God and teaches us to seek Him. When we learn to pray this prayer truly, we will know what it means to feed on the living bread. God has made us to be hungry but He also offers Himself to us to satisfy the hunger of our souls. As our Lord said: "I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst." (Jn. 6:35).

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