As we continue our brief commentary on the Lord's Prayer, please read the entire prayer in Matt. 6:9-13, especially vv 11 and 12. I am indebted to A Layman Looks At The Lord's Prayer by Phillip Keller. Quotations from his book will be followed by the page number.
"Give us this day our daily bread"
One area of the Christian faith that I have the most difficulty understanding is petitionary prayer, i.e. making requests of God with faith believing that they will be answered. Divine guidance in moral issues only requires prayerful study of the Bible and maybe counsel from a mature Christian friend. However in non-moral issues, requests for guidance relative to decision making, or praying for material or physical needs to be met - like the request in the Lord's Prayer - is more difficult. Do these kinds of petitionary prayers have objective value, i.e. does God actually hear and answer them, or are they just subjective in value, i.e. do the just enhance our devotion to Him?
By faith we know the answer. Yes, they do have objective value (and subjective value also), because Jesus made requests to the Father and in so doing has verified that we should make legitimate requests to God, albeit with some crucial conditions being met first. We must be rightly related to God as the first line of the prayer suggests - "Our Father..." If we haven't been born into His family, if He is not actually "our Father", then our prayers are essentially meaningless. Another condition - we must not have unconfessed sin in our lives and expect God to answer our prayers - see Ps. 66:18.
There are two main teachings in this request. First, all that we have, all the material blessings we enjoy, both for the believer and the unbeliever, come from God. Our daily bread, the food we take for granted each day, comes from Him but not without our cooperating with Him to supply it. Physical survival, work, by the sweat of the brow, to provide food, shelter, clothing, etc. is the heritage Adam and Eve bequeathed us by their sin in the Garden. Our response to God's providential care should always be one of gratitude, never complacency, pride, or selfishness as though we had acquired our "daily bread" by ourselves (Deuteronomy 8:17,18).
The second thought suggested here is metaphorical in which Jesus tells us in John 6:35 that he is the "Bread of Life". His concern throughout the N.T. for His followers is never just that their physical needs be met. Rather "his outlook and approach to all of men's problems embraced the whole man...And there was as much need for man's soul and his spirit to be nourished daily as there was for his body's metabolic needs to be maintained." (p. 216). Jesus tells us that "man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4). How often do we thank God for His Word, the Bible? Are we consuming enough spiritual "bread' to cause growth in our lives? If so, "There will gradually steal over our lives some amazing changes. Our characters will become like that of Christ Himself. Our conduct (language, actions, motives, thought life) will begin to resemble His conduct. There will be formed in my mind the sort of thoughts that are in His mind - goodness, beauty, peace, contentment, etc.(p 218 - italics added).
"And forgive us our trespasses - our sins"
How often when we pray those five words are we deeply conscious that we truly are sinful, that we really have trespassed God's laws, or that we are truly contrite and broken because of our condition? Are we openly and candidly admitting our sins, the wrongs we have done and are continuing to do, or do we really see ourselves, as thousands do, as righteous moral persons, and certainly not guilty enough to ask forgiveness from God. If any such thoughts are in your mind read the story of the Pharisee and Publican - Luke 18:9ff. If one does not feel convicted of their sinfulness, and their actual sins, then praying this phrase is little more than an empty repetition of words by a prideful, self-righteous, self-satisfied soul.
When I come to my Heavenly Father in prayer, do I feel a sense of indebtedness to Him, that I have trespassed on His love, or have rejected the forgiveness He has so graciously offered me, etc.? "Am I acutely conscious of wrongdoing, of wrong attitudes, of wrong motives? Unless I am, then obviously this prayer is not only pointless but absurd" (p223). God does not desire morbid introspection, but rather for us to be new creatures in Him (II Cor. 2:17), and that by being humble and contrite and penitent we can allow Him to enter our lives to mold and make us as He desires.
"As we forgive those who trespass against us"
Jesus is obviously not only concerned about our relationship with Him but also about our relationship with others (Matt. 22:37-39). Do we hold grudges or bitter resentment or hostility toward others because of some real or imagined injustice we have suffered? If we have not forgiven them, then our relationship with God simply, to use a sailing metaphor, is in irons or in the doldrums, and our spiritual growth permanently stunted. Please read Matt. 6:14, 15 and Luke 7:37 if you want to know how crucial our forgiveness of others is in God's eyes. Read Psalm 32:1-4ff to see what an unforgiving spirit did to David emotionally and physically and what happened when he confessed his sin. May Easter be a blessed life-changing experience, forgiving and being forgiven, for you this year.
Paul Williams is a retired veterinarian. He and his wife, Pat, lived in Indiana for 41 years, where he practiced. They also lived in Drummond Island, Michigan for eight years and in Marietta for seven years and attend Evergreen Bible Church. Thoughts of Faith is a weekly column written by various ministers and lay people.
To participate call 376-5446.