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Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your Name.
Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. (Matt. 6:9-13)
The Lord’s Prayer is one of the most well-known passages of Scripture. It’s also one of the most misapplied. First, we ignore context. The Lord’s Prayer was part of the Sermon on the Mount—a long speech by Jesus which was intended to strike terror into the hearts of Jews who were blowing off the importance of reverentially submitting to God. Second, we get hung up on the fact that Jesus is the One doing the talking. Even though Jesus is God, we aren’t open to Him having a variety of agendas when He speaks. We try to make everything Jesus says a direct message for sincere Christians, when in reality most of Jesus’ recorded words were directed at rebellious adherents to Judaism. Ignoring Jesus’ original audience is guaranteed to lead us astray with our applications of what He said. But the third mistake we make is not asking Jesus Himself to help us properly apply His words in our lives today. It’s not like Jesus has ceased to exist and the biblical records are all we have to remember Him by. No, Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are all actively involved in our lives today and They encourage us to come to Them directly with our questions. When we skip the step of asking Them, then we just end up eavesdropping on what Jesus said to a bunch of Jews 2,000 years ago and deciding that anything He said to them must apply to us as well.
If we liken your pursuit of God to a race, then praying the Lord’s Prayer is going to be like you strapping some anchor to your leg which greatly hampers your ability to keep moving forward. The Lord’s Prayer is a terrible prayer for sincere Christians to pray because if you really think about the words you’re saying, you’re going to be forced to go down the road of fearful striving while you abandon all hope that God really cares about you. You’re also going to be forced to choose between unbounded arrogance and an unresolvable fear that you’re going to Hell, because the wording of this prayer clearly teaches that salvation is dependent on how gracious you are to your fellow humans. As you ask God to forgive you only to the point that you have forgiven other humans, you’re effectively damning yourself to Hell, because as a human, you are a miser of mercy and a miserable flop when it comes to totally forgiving those who wound you. Oh, sure, you can tell yourself that you’re not holding any grudges, but you are, and that is why there are certain types of sinners who you feel very hostile towards. You see your “debtors” aren’t just the guys who owe you money. They’re anyone who bothers you in any way shape or form. Does it bother you when you read in the news that some guy in your neighborhood is a child molester? Of course it does. Do you instantly forgive him? No, you feel justified in viewing him like a scumbag. How about the terrorists you read about in the news—where’s your merciful attitude towards them? Jesus said:
“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt. 6:14-15)
This was how Jesus told people to apply the Lord’s Prayer. So how are you doing with the Islamic State terrorists? As they go around in their hoodies bombing, raping, and torturing, are you being a perpetual fountain of merciful love towards them? Not hardly. When guys act that sick and malicious, we all feel justified in hating them. And yet Jesus told His people that if they didn’t forgive everyone for everything, they weren’t going to be forgiven by Yahweh.
You really don’t want to dip your toe into the waters of having to earn your salvation on your own merits. Towards those who try to claim perfection, God is a ruthless, merciless Judge. He says, “So, you think you deserve to be in My Heaven? You think you’ve actually succeeded at meeting My demands for moral perfection? We’ll see. I’m now going to review every moment of your life and if I find one thing wrong, you’re going to start doing laps in that fiery lake.”
No one can pass the test that Jesus puts out in the Lord’s Prayer. The whole point of that prayer was to blast people out of the arrogant delusion that any of us can claim moral perfection. Salvation has never been acquired through works. But by the New Testament, the Jews had decided that salvation was entirely a matter of works and they were treating submission to God as irrelevant. To get the Jews back on track, Jesus fired off many parables and sermons which emphasized how delusional they were being to think that they could get saved on their own terms. There is no salvation without submission.
If you’re going to listen to Jesus, you need to listen to Him all the way, not just cut Him off mid-speech and blow off the rest of what He says. Today Christians promote the Lord’s Prayer as some positive, God-honoring speech when it’s really nothing of the kind. In the first place, salvation is not attained through works, so it really doesn’t please God for you to pretend it is by asking Him to forgive you only to the degree that you forgive others. In the second place, the Lord’s Prayer makes some very insulting insinuations about God’s Character, and this is the point we’re going to focus on in this post.
REJECTING THE GOODNESS OF GOD
In Psalm 23, we find David praying to Yahweh. The way David speaks to Yahweh in that psalm is extremely pleasing to God because David is declaring great confidence in God’s goodness. Psalm 23 begins like this:
Yahweh is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake. (Ps. 23:1-3)
Wow, what powerful imagery. If you understood sheep the way David did, you’d be even more blessed by his description of nervous animals feeling so secure and relaxed in the Presence of Yahweh that they lie down in open fields, unafraid of being assaulted by wolves or lions. Sheep won’t drink out of streams that are moving—they need their water to be still. As a good Shepherd, Yahweh understands this so He leads His sheep to still waters. David says that being in the Presence of Yahweh has a calming, restorative effect on his soul. He describes himself as not wanting and not fearing because Yahweh is so on the job. And then there’s you, a modern day Christian, praying to the same God that David is praying to in Psalm 23, only look at the vast difference in your language:
Give us this day our daily bread. (Matt. 6:11)
Wow. So much for Yahweh being a Good Shepherd. David said that Yahweh made him feel relaxed, safe, and fulfilled. But here you are begging Yahweh to give you enough food for today. You don’t ask Him to feed you for all time—just for today. What’s that about? Are you afraid He’ll be angry with you if you ask Him in advance to keep caring about you? Apparently so. And as you pray this prayer every day, you are clearly demonstrating your total lack of confidence in Yahweh’s love for you. Clearly you’re not lying down in green pastures, because there aren’t any. You come to God from a position of emptiness, begging Him to give you enough food to get you through the next 24 hours. You talk to Yahweh like He’s your miserly Master, not your good Shepherd.
In Psalm 23, David says:
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. (Ps. 23:4-5)
Notice how David describes Yahweh as a proactive Provider. David doesn’t have to beg Yahweh for grass—Yahweh leads him to it. David doesn’t have to plead for Yahweh to be with him: Yahweh’s already there, emanating a strong, comforting aura. David doesn’t ask Yahweh to prepare him a meal—Yahweh just does it. Yahweh anoints David. Yahweh gives David so much that David’s cup runs over with blessings. David’s loving life in the Presence of a generous, kind, comforting, proactive Shepherd. But then there’s you. You’re talking to the same God, but your view of Him is shockingly different. While David fearlessly follows Yahweh through the valley where his enemies lurk and finds great comfort in Yahweh’s Presence with him, you’re begging Yahweh not to lead you into any situation where your enemies might attack you because you don’t trust Yahweh to help you. After all, if you have to beg Yahweh for your daily bread, how much can He be counted on in some battle situation? If Yahweh has to be reminded that you need food, then it’s quite reasonable to assume that He’ll just abandon you in the clutches of Satan while He goes off to have lunch somewhere. Thus you feel the need to pray:
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (Matt. 6:13)
First you beg Yahweh not to let you get into a situation where Satan can attack you. But you clearly expect Yahweh to fail you in that area, so you go on to beg Him to deliver you when Satan does get his evil clutches on you. It’s hard to believe you and David are talking to the same God, isn’t it?
Dependency is a soul attitude which says, “God, I recognize that I am totally dependent on You for all things. I can’t do anything apart from You.” This is one of the four soul attitudes that we’re always mentioning as being critical to pleasing God. So when you acknowledge that God is the Source of your daily bread and that you need God to save you from your enemies, that’s a good thing. But when you get so obsessed with dependency that you drop the soul attitude of trust, then you end up groveling at God’s feet like some abject worm, begging Him to care that you’re alive. This is not the kind of dynamic that God wants you to be focusing on. Instead, God is going to push you towards a Psalm 23 mentality by encouraging you to practice trusting in His goodness.
God loves human beings. He enjoys taking care of us. He doesn’t view us as a bunch of annoying burdens who He’s trying to engage with as little as possible. When you pray the Lord’s Prayer as a Christian who sincerely cares about pleasing God, you’re rejecting the goodness of God. Just asking God to give you your daily bread reinforces the lie that God can’t be counted on to provide for you or that God doesn’t care enough about you to pay attention to what your needs are. When you then ask God not to just abandon you into the clutches of Satan, you’re totally rejecting His deep love for you. You’re rejecting the idea that God is always taking the best possible care of you by putting you through experiences which He knows are best for your soul.
The Lord’s Prayer encourages you to embrace a totally wrong view of trials. By praying for God to never lead you into temptation, you’re discounting the fact that wrestling with temptations is a critical part of spiritual growth. God has no intention of shielding you from all trials. Instead, He is going to intentionally force you to go through a wide range of trials in life, yet those trials will be designed by Him for the specific purpose of benefiting your soul. You see, Yahweh is really not the indifferent God that you’re making Him out to be when you pray the Lord’s Prayer. Yahweh is a very good Shepherd—One who proactively cares for His sheep while keeping in mind what is going to be best for them in the long-term. Rather than view yourself as being abandoned by God when demons are hassling you, you need to be recognizing that God is allowing demons to harass you as a means of helping you mature. Creating trials in your life is one of the ways God demonstrates how deep His love for you is, but you’re never going to reach the point of asking God to help you learn the lessons He wants to teach you as long as you’re praying for Him to rescue you from Satan.
David ends Psalm 23 with these words:
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of Yahweh forever. (Ps. 23:6)
You end your prayer by begging Yahweh to save you from Satan. Hear the difference? While David describes Yahweh as the embodiment of goodness and mercy, you’re making Yahweh out to be stingy, uncaring, unloving, and faithless. David doesn’t present Yahweh with a single request in Psalm 23—instead he’s celebrating what he already has. But in the Lord’s Prayer, you’re throwing out one anxious request after another. While David’s resting, you’re stressing. While David’s confident, you’re full of fear. And yet the two of you are talking to the same God, so how is it that David is in such a better place than you are? It comes down to soul attitudes.
David is balancing the soul attitude of dependency with the soul attitude of trust. David gets that he desperately needs Yahweh in all things, but he’s also trusting that Yahweh can be counted on to love and care for him. David is trusting in Yahweh’s goodness—something which you are totally rejecting in your prayer. It is trust that takes the fear out of our absolute dependency on God. Without trust, our dependency frightens us—it makes us realize how vulnerable and defenseless we are and it drives us to cry out to God over and over again without any certainty that He’s even listening. It is because the Lord’s Prayer teaches you to reject the goodness of God and abandon all efforts to trust Him that it is such a faith crippling prayer.
But wait—if the Lord’s Prayer is so bad, then why did Jesus ever suggest it? Because He wasn’t talking to you. This prayer was presented to a crowd of spiritual rebels and slackers—folks who needed a swift kick in the tunic to get over the delusion that they could coast into Heaven on their own terms. The Lord’s Prayer was always intended to upset people and undermine their confidence that they were in a good place with God, because the people Jesus was originally talking to were not in a good place with God. As a Christian who sincerely cares about pleasing God, you are in a totally different place than the folks who Jesus originally gave this prayer to. And yet if you insist on praying it, you’re going to end up getting dragged down into the muck of fear, only in your case, it won’t be a productive fear that gets you off your pride trip and makes you realize how much you need the mercy of God. In your case, you’ll just end up losing all confidence in God’s goodness and His great love for you. For you, praying the Lord’s Prayer over and over is going to drive you far away from ever being able to embrace the Psalm 23 mentality.
If you want to go far with God, you need to take a hard look at all of the religious rituals you’ve inherited from other Christians and ask God to show you if any of those rituals need to leave your life. Over the centuries, Christians have come up with a lot of rituals which sound good at first, but in practice they only lead us to reject soul attitudes and truths which God wants us to embrace. Your walk with God is a personal, private thing, so don’t just imitate what other Christians are doing. Ask God to help you improve the way that you treat Him. Ask God to teach you ways to pray that will actually help you instead of dragging you down. And the next time you’re reading something Jesus said in the Bible, read the context and ask Jesus to show you if the stuff He said to other people a really long time ago even applies to you in your relationship with Him today. When Jesus talks to rebels, He dishes out lessons that rebels need to learn. But when He talks to souls who are sincerely seeking Him, it’s a whole different deal.
Psalm 23: Yahweh is a Good Shepherd
Soul Before Earthsuit: Understanding God’s Priorities
Treating God Like God: Simple Steps to Improving the Way that We Pray
2 Chronicles 6-7: Why We Shouldn’t Ask God to Heal Our Land
Christian Prayer Groups: Why God Isn’t a Fan
Rethinking Your Christian Rituals
Soul Attitudes That Please God: What They Are & How We Develop Them