I never realized how self-centered my prayers were until the pronouns in the Lord’s Prayer were pointed out to me by the author Scott McKnight. The Lord’s Prayer never says ‘I’ or ‘me’ or ‘my’. It is always ‘we’ and ‘us’ and ‘our’. My version of the Lord’s Prayer is quite jarring in its selfishness if you think about it.
[My] Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, you will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give [me] today [my] daily bread.
Forgive [me] my debts, as [I] also have forgiven my debtors.
And lead [me] not into temptation,
but deliver [me] from the evil one.
When you pray the Lord’s Prayer my way, you wind up trying to manipulate God in order to get what you want. God, I’ll worship you and I’ll even pray that your will is followed on earth as it is in heaven, but this is only a warm up for what I really want to say, “give me this day my daily bread.” I will give you yours, if you will give me mine. That unfortunately is the definition of a pagan prayer, an orphan trying to manipulate a day’s survival out of a powerful authority figure.
But Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed, played a pivotal role in reshaping my understanding of prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is the way we live out the Great Commandment, love God and love others, in our prayer lives. We love God by worshiping him and by wanting what he wants for the world. We love our neighbor by caring as much about their needs as we care about our own. That is why Jesus commanded us to pray, “give us this day our daily bread.”
We are encouraged to bring our needs before God, but we never do it apart from the needs of our brothers and sisters around the world. When we pray, we ask God to protect our children, but we also ask that he might protect the innocents caught in the Syrian civil war. When we ask God to meet our financial needs, we are also praying for the victims of the Haitian earthquake. When we ask God for comfort, we also pray for the family down the street that is losing their father to cancer. We cannot ask for my daily bread, without asking God to provide for my neighbor. Why? Because the Lord’s Prayer is the way we love our neighbor through prayer.
“But who is my neighbor?” We are not the first ones to ask this question. A rich young man posed this question to Jesus two thousand years ago. Jesus’ answer startled the young man and, if we are honest, it rattles us today (see Luke 10:25-37). Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan teaches us that our neighbor includes all of humanity even the immoral, even the wicked and especially our enemies. To pray “give us this day our daily bread” with integrity means that we pray that God will provide the daily needs for even a member of Al Qaeda and his family while praying for our own. You cannot love your neighbor without loving your enemy. You cannot pray “give us this day our daily bread” without praying that God will bless our enemies.
How can we pray in this way? Only when we realize, as Tim Keller once pointed out, that we were the enemy once, and Jesus loved us and prayed on our behalf even when our sins had nailed him to the cross.
Luke 23:34 Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’
Romans 12:14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.