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.