Scripture for this Sunday: Hosea 1.2-10; Psalm 85; Colossians 2.6-15; Luke 11.1-13 (Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer)
The walk of faith of a Christian life challenges us to be agents of God’s purpose. As Teresa of Avila wrote: “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours; yours are the eyes through which is to look out Christ’s compassion to the world; yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good; yours are the hands with which he is to bless mankind now.”
Where do we find guidance for this walk of faith? Surely in prayer. Which is why Jesus’ disciples sought instruction from him, resulting in the Lord’s prayer, a very contracted version of which is found in Luke’s gospel.
“Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
That’s it. Apparently it was sufficient to sustain Jesus’ disciples. Yet this short rendition of the Lord’s prayer, if prayed earnestly and carefully, can be life-transforming.
So: how do we hallow God’s name? Do we make worshipping God our first priority? Do we give thanks? From On Prayerby Kahlil Gibran: “You pray in your distress and in your need; would that you might pray also in the fullness of your joy and in your days of abundance.”
And then, following: Your kingdom come. How is it to come, if not through our efforts, in concert with God? The words of Teresa of Avila echo in this: ours are “the hands with which he is to bless mankind now.”
We pray for daily bread: how can we connect ourselves with those for whom this is a really vital prayer? What if we prayed for spiritual nourishment with the same kind of intensity that would accompany physical hunger?
And forgiving … well, there’s plenty of room for reflection! How many people pray, “… as we forgive those who sin against us,” with the equivalent of fingers crossed behind their backs? We might benefit from repetition in prayer of the questions: “Who have we forgiven? Who have we not forgiven?” Until we have really delved into our own faith history of forgiving, or lack of it, what business have we in asking for our own debts, or sins, to be forgiven?
Being asked to be spared from trial is a long-term petition. There is nothing about being led into temptation in this version (and “time of trial” is, incidentally, much closer to the meaning of the original text than anything about being led into temptation – and the Spanish version, for example has, “Do not let us fall into temptation.”) This is about serious times of being tested and tried.
Daily reflection on each one of these could well support a prayer discipline for an extended period. Why not try praying Luke’s version of the Lord’s prayer as a personal discipline – one phrase at a time, one per day – for a couple of weeks? And then listen, in quietness, to what God has to say.
All of this presupposes that we can offer God the quietness of an open heart and mind. Each of us will find a different way to approach this. The late American writer and poet, Mary Oliver, gave a helpful summary. She was rooted in the spirituality to be found in connection to and through God’s natural, created order. She wrote: “It doesn’t have to be the blue iris, it could be weeds in a vacant lot, or a few small stones; just pay attention, then patch a few words together and don’t try to make them elaborate, this isn’t a contest but the doorway into thanks, and a silence in which another voice may speak.”