Prayer: Learning from Our Lord

Our Father in heaven, Reveal who you are. Set the world right; Do what’s best – as above, so below. Keep us alive with three square meals. Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. You’re in charge! You can do anything you want! You’re ablaze in beauty! Yes. Yes. Yes.

Paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer by Eugene Peterson in The Message

Whenever I read Luke 11, I’m always intrigued by the request made to Jesus by an unnamed disciple at the beginning of the chapter. “Lord, teach us to pray.” It’s a request I often pray myself when I begin a time of prayer and feel as if I don’t know what to say. The lesson in prayer that Jesus gives in this chapter of Scripture is what we now call The Lord’s Prayer. The Spiritual Formation workbook I’ve been going through included an exercise in meditating on Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer (quoted above). I appreciate a lot of the insights Peterson gives through it. Here are each of the petitions in the “traditional” translation side by side with Peterson’s paraphrase along with some of my thoughts on how the paraphrase enriches the meaning.

Hallowed be Thy name -> Reveal who you are

“Hallowed be…” is from the King James Version, and is an archaic way of expressing a request for God’s name to be considered holy. God’s name is most “hallowed” by those who see Him most clearly. In the visions of the heavenly throne room in Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4, those around the throne never cease to cry out, “HOLY! HOLY! HOLY!” When we pray this petition, we’re asking God to reveal himself to ourselves, to the Church, and to the world, that we might cry “Holy!” with authenticity and passion.

Thy Kingdom come -> Set the world right.

The Kingdom of God is equivalent to a “right” world; a world without hunger or poverty, without sickness or disease, without sin or injustice. This echoes of Mary’s Song in Luke. When I pray this petition, I want to have in mind particular, specific, situations in the world that are not right at the present, and ask God to set it right.

Thy will be done -> Do what’s best.

There can be nothing greater than God’s will. Praying this with faith requires a broadened perspective. I intuitively want what’s best for myself. I need to pray for what’s best from God’s perspective. As we grow in faith and in relationship to the Father Son and Holy Spirit, we understand more clearly God’s will, and can pray for God’s will to be done in very specific and concrete ways.

Give us this day our daily bread -> Keep us alive with three square meals.

Of all the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer, I take this one the most for granted (as I’m guessing most Americans who pray this prayer do). Even as someone right out of school and in a career that I’m never going to get rich in, I live in considerable abundance compared to most of the world. Frankly, I have difficulty even imagining the situation being different. In a lifestyle of abundance, it’s difficult to perceive dependence upon God for daily sustenance. Like Job, though, my plenty can be taken away at any time. At no point does my plenty exceed my need for God’s provision.

Forgive us our debts/trespasses/sins as we forgive our debtors/those who trespass/sin against us -> Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.

I find it fascinating that Peterson translates this petition in terms of sustenance – “keep us…” – just as he translates the previous petition. Forgiveness is sustenance. For God to withdraw His forgiveness from us, or for us to withhold forgiveness from others, would be as detrimental and malnourishing to us as deprivation from food. Praying this petition ought to lead us to asking, “Who am I withholding forgiveness from?”

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil -> Keep us safe from ourselves and the devil.

I don’t think I’ve ever before thought of temptation as me imposing a threat on myself. But this is what Peterson’s paraphrase implies. This would make sin a form of sadomasochism. In our desire to sin, whether it’s a deliberate sin against someone else or a sin of self-indulgence, the temptation to commit any such sin poses an ominous threat to our own well-being. What if we really considered the danger our own sin imposes on ourselves?

“Lord, teach us to pray” is a prayer we ought to pray, and a prayer our Lord is eager to answer. Next time you pray the prayer that is the answer to that request, slow down and consider all that those petitions connote and imply.


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