The Lord's Prayer and God's Mission
by Jeff Ritchie
Some years ago, I began to look at the Lord’s Prayer and how it relates to our missionary calling as disciples of Jesus. This Lenten Season the church where Megan and I worship is studying and reflecting on the Lord’s Prayer, and it has become an opportunity for me to think again how Jesus’ prayer can form us, his disciples for our worship and work.
The prayer starts off “Our Father.” The God to whom we pray, who is the Father of our Lord Jesus, is “our Father.” He is my God and the God of people from every tribe, tongue, and culture who have turned to the living God through faith in Jesus. These people are my sisters and brothers; they are my family. However dear my nuclear family or my local community and nation is to me, by praying “our Father” I recognize that in Jesus I am in another family. A children’s song in Chinese comes to mind when I think of this part of the prayer: “Zai Yesu li, women shi yi jia ren,” which means “In Jesus we are one family.”
“Hallowed be thy name” sets forth the calling of each follower of Jesus. We live to see that God’s name is hallowed – honored, revered, praised, set apart as special. In worship we honor God by giving the Lord the praise that is due him. In our daily lives we show that we revere the Lord through attitudes, words, and deeds that reflect the character of our Lord. This is our mission, whether we live in the United States or Ethiopia, in Brazil or India.
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” is the missional heart of the Lord’s Prayer. With this petition we join with God’s mission in the world. Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, in Lord, Teach Us: The Lord’s Prayer and the Christian Life, state, “In praying ‘Our Father,’ each of us is being commandeered by God... We are counting for something in the larger scheme of things.” They go on to say, “We become part of a large struggle by praying this prayer.” These phrases are at once foreboding and exhilarating.
Our lives matter to God because through us, God demonstrates his intentions for the world. God’s intention is that people have enough to eat (“give us this day our daily bread”). God intends that people know the blessing of forgiveness and extend that forgiveness to others (“forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”). God intends that people be delivered from temptation and evil (“lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”). The kingdom of God includes all these things and more, and the good news is that we are invited, summoned, even “commandeered” to join in God’s work of making visible this kingdom of love and light.
The earth and humanity are not now as God originally intended, but God has determined to set everything to right, and we have a part to play. Beginning with Abraham, God calls people to receive the good news of the kingdom proclaimed by Jesus and then to herald the kingdom, demonstrate the kingdom, and extend the kingdom among all the peoples of the earth. This is our mission, as daunting and difficult as it may seem in the face of evil and injustice. But it is also exhilarating, for God promises that we can make a difference. God says that we have been “created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Ephesians 2:10).
The goal of the kingdom is the focus of the last phrase of the prayer: “For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever and ever.” Even though the world does not yet reflect God’s future, Christians praying the Lord’s Prayer are, as Willimon and Hauerwas say, “busy leaning forward toward that day” when all creation shall be renewed. We pray, “Thy kingdom come,” and then go out to be kingdom people, do kingdom works, and share what we have experienced of our good and beautiful God.
Just thinking about this prayer as God’s missionary manifesto gets me energized to live it out. Let’s let this Lent become a time of renewing our pledge to be the Lord’s servants as we pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come, Thy 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 lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.”