How quickly we can rattle through our prayers! ‘Our Father in heaven … for ever and ever, amen.’ ‘Excellent,’ we think, ‘Done that’. But this will not do.
Before winter I swam laps at the pool, using the time to pray one line of the Lord’s Prayer per lap. It was only through slowing down as I prayed that I saw what I’d been missing by galloping over the words. I was forced to ask, ‘What does it really mean to pray “Hallowed be your name”?’, and ‘When I pray “Your kingdom come”, is this a prayer for Jesus’ return, or more? When I pray “May your will be done”, what is gained by adding, “On earth as it is in heaven”?’ … and so the questions went on.
Here are three reflections gained by praying the Lord’s Prayer slowly:
1. Mission is God’s top priority
To ask for God to ‘hallow’ (or ‘sanctify’, or ‘set apart’) his name (or reputation and honour), is to ask that God would cause his reputation to be revered and glorified in the hearts and minds of an increasingly larger number of people. It is a prayer for mission, and for conversion. Similarly, to pray ‘May your kingdom come’ is more than a prayer for Jesus to return—it is also a prayer that Christ would be made Lord in the hearts and minds of an increasingly larger number of people. To pray ‘May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ is a prayer for Christ to be enthroned as Lord. These are the first three requests that Jesus taught us to pray. Mission is God’s top priority.
2. We are in a spiritual battle
In contrast to what happens in heaven, God’s will is not always obeyed on earth, and the first thing we’re to do about this is to pray. For us to pray every day ‘Lead us not into temptation’ reminds us that we daily need strength and help from our own sinful desires from within, and to stand against adopting the mindset of a world that views God as non-existent, or not worth following. To pray for forgiveness reminds us that we will always need forgiveness, because sin will continue. To discipline ourselves to pray ‘Deliver us from evil’ reminds us that this world is under the control of the evil one, and—whilst the cross gives us assurance of forgiveness and of ultimate deliverance—we live our lives in a spiritual battle. Indeed, the traditional ending of the Lord’s Prayer reminds us of a reality presently hidden from our eyes. Jesus calls us to do more than to remember that we’re in a spiritual battle—he calls us to engage in it through prayer!
3. God re-orders the priorities of your heart
It’s been said that we can know someone’s priorities by listening to their prayers. True. By praying—and really praying—the Lord’s Prayer, God re-orders our priorities to bring them in line with his priorities. For when we slow down to think about what we’re asking, God increases our desire for what we pray. We long for what he longs for. Increasingly, God’s priorities become ours, which means that one of the ways God’s Spirit sanctifies us in an ongoing sense is through prayer.
May our God keep sanctifying us through prayer! May we fight the good fight by praying! May God increasingly change our hearts to match his, and answer our cry: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name!’