The Lord’s Prayer (Part 1)

Last night Rebecca and I were invited by a friend who is living in Austin to a small group gathering.  We attended church with her that morning during which she encouraged us to come for dinner, bible study, and prayer with a small group of friends that meets weekly.  We enjoyed beef brisket tacos, great conversation, and then dove into the Sermon on the Mount.

We read Matthew 6:5-15 with the express intent to digest it slowly, reflect together about the words, ideas, and teachings, and then find concrete ways to bring this passage to life in our own lives.

Jesus’ teaching in this particular passage contains instruction on how to pray, including an exhortation to avoid haughty habits like praying loudly in public to garner attention and prestige.   Jesus offers a version of what is often called “The Lord’s Prayer” or “Our Father.”

The closing verses focus on forgiveness where Jesus offers that hard saying:  “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

We wrestled with this passage in a variety of ways.  I was struck by the concern to keep private in prayer, avoiding loud, prideful forms of prayer.  And I was reminded how simple yet provocative and mysterious the Lord’s prayer can be.   What does it mean for us to pray “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”…?

At the end of our time together we prayed for a way to make this passage of scripture come alive in our own lives.  I was drawn to the forgiveness dimension, realizing how easy it is for me to offer and seek after forgiveness with others.  But I struggle to live a forgiven life, that is, I struggle to live each day knowing in the bottom of my heart that I am one who is forgiven.  My days are so often marked by an eager energy to prove myself “good enough” in the eyes of others; be that as a husband, student, or future pastor.  I fail to hear the gracious whisper of God sharing the hope of forgiveness:  by the mercy of God I am good enough and accepted into the abundant life of God.  In light of this awareness, I resolved to keep divine forgiveness at the fore-front of my life, to live as one forgiven so that the forgiveness I offer and receive from others is empowered and directed by God’s merciful love.

Strangely, after feeling so renewed by the scripture passage and our small group  discussion, I was left with a degree of “holy dissatisfaction.”  The words of scripture lingered with me, and I wondered if there wasn’t more for me to find.  As I continued to prayerfully reflect, I was convicted to focus on the Lord’s Prayer and to digest it slowly for an extended period of time.  I speak the words of the prayer so often in Sunday worship, and they carry a lot of power and meaning for me, rarely drying out and feeling stale in my mouth.  Still, I felt a need to plum the depths of this prayer, to let it wash over me in a fresh way.

So, over the next week or so, I hope to reflect on a line or two of the prayer, offering what I hope will be a creative and new comment on what these words might mean for me and for us as people of faith.  I hope you’ll share your thoughts as well.

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2 thoughts on “The Lord’s Prayer (Part 1)

  1. I’m late in reading your most recent blog posts but just saw this one on the Lord’s Prayer. Took me back to a conversation we had over lunch once about forgiveness. Very provocative discussion!

    Curious for your thoughts on this: Are we immediately forgiven by God for all sins and transgressions? Or only when we truly show remorse? In the in-between, is God ever ‘disappointed’ in us?

    In the human sense, forgiveness so often comes only after a period of time, and is sometimes the next logical act only after someone has expressed anger or disappointment in someone. Presumably God doesn’t go through the same healing steps as we do when we’ve been wronged. But is that forgiveness immediate? And if not, what does God do while he waits for your remorse?!!

    • Jeff, thanks for your insightful questions. I do remember that conversation fondly, and I am grateful that questions continue to emerge from it.

      Briefly (am I really ever brief?), I’ll hit two points, the first point having two sub-points:

      1) My understanding of that long-held Protestant principle “justification by grace through faith” implies that divine forgiveness always precedes human action. Our remorse, however genuine, cannot elicit God’s forgiveness, divine forgiveness is always already there (I love the “always already” character of God).

      1a) That being said, I’m not sure that excludes God’s disappointment and sadness in our failures, whatever their shape or intensity. I believe God suffers with us, even in our gravest moments of shame and moral weakness. That conviction, for me, is rooted in the person of Jesus Christ–“God with us.”

      1b) In addition, we should not thereby extrapolate that we can rest easy in God’s forgiveness, as if our actions are utterly meaningless. As Paul said to those who misinterpreted his proclamation of the gospel: “does that mean I should go on sinning all the more, so grace may abound? Nonsense!” Forgiveness is there, but embodying that forgiveness is our life-long struggle–that is, learning to understand how that divinely unbreakable forgiveness thoroughly makes over our lives for the better, if we let it. It’s a slow and painful process of accepting our own acceptance by God, even as we continue to stumble and fall.

      We are notoriously good at seeking justification in ourselves (needing to be right enough, or good enough, or worthy enough that we harm others or ourselves through actions flowing from that preoccupation) because we just can’t accept that we are forgiven children of an infinitely loving, gracious God. That means, I think, that the practice of repentance (and the showing of remorse) retains its value and purpose. It’s a pivotal way we realize the meaning of God’s forgiveness for us and come to accept it fully.

      2) Human forgiveness, in my estimate, mirrors that complexity: we can forgive in the midst of pain while not ignoring the consequences that follow. I think our pictures of forgiveness matter, and the popular picture can stunt our lives. We too often imagine that forgiveness must mean we are entirely “okay” (without anger, fear, resentment, etc)and so requires a (seemingly) immeasurable timespan to achieve. I believe that we can forgive in the midst of terrible, enduring pain–I’ve known people who have. And I also believe we can forgive without ever receiving the remorse/repentance package (though I admit that helps greatly). This is not to say human forgiveness should always be immediate or take a uniform shape. Just that forgiveness is more possible from the start than we so often let it be in our lives.

      The reconciliation part only makes matters more tricky, for me. I think that reconciliation (the healing of a broken relationship) is distinct, in my view, from forgiveness, and not always merited on the human plane–think sexually abused children who forgive their parent but can not be “reconciled” to the previous kind of relationship because of the trauma (it is better for them to live apart from their parent). I think that the remorse/repentance piece fits much better in the process of reconciliation–of which forgiveness remains a necessary component.

      Brief enough? I didn’t think so…

      Needless to say, there is a lot going on with all this forgiveness/repentance/reconciliation stuff, whether we are talking God-human or human-human. We can muck it up even more when we recall that those two “sides” of forgiveness are not, in truth, separate. They are intimately linked. But now I’m preaching, again…

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