One day when Jesus had finished praying, one of his disciples asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Lk 11:1). And Jesus taught them the Our Father. Just what does the Lord teach us in the Lord’s Prayer?
If we start at the end, we realize that even the least God-minded person at times is moved to pray. And what prompts that prayer is the burden of evil. Think of how the churches in America were packed the days following 9/11. Those people were convinced of the existence of Something Even Greater than evil, and they put their belief in it through prayer. We cannot abolish evil, but Jesus teaches us a way of not being alone with it.
We need run-ins with temptation to show us where we are weak. Trials purify us. In the petition “lead us not into temptation,” Jesus is teaching us to use the experience of temptation well: not overestimating our capacities, not becoming discouraged or despairing. Jesus teaches us to recognize the limits of our strength so that we can entrust ourselves to his strength with confidence.
Jesus teaches that forgiveness is the heart of the disciple’s prayer. We are to ask for forgiveness, and to offer forgiveness even as the Father does on Calvary (Lk 23:34). If God is love, the world comes to know it through the mercy we both embrace and spread.
In instructing us to ask God to give us each day our daily bread, Jesus teaches us that holiness is dependency. We cannot be ourselves without Another. To be a disciple is to be abandoned to divine providence, moment by moment, with a certainty and trust that nourishes us like nothing else. The bread we ask for is our happiness.
Jesus teaches us that there is a way out of the misery that comes from being stuck in our own ideas and plans. Thy will be done expresses the joy of surrendering to God’s designs. Discipleship means following Another in sacrificial obedience which is more like likeness to him than submission.
By praying the petition thy Kingdom come, Jesus teaches us to put to the side the preoccupations and struggles of our own personality which distract and deter us so that God and his goodness — his governing power — can reign in us. The Lord is teaching us to claim the awesome unity made possible only in him.
Jesus teaches us that we are not to live left to ourselves: that we are part of a belonging, an identity, a Name from which we draw unfailing sustenance, blessing, order, and grace. In the Father’s name is our authentic self. Jesus teaches us to pray Hallowed be thy name in order to lift us out of our own limitations so to live in the Truth.
To pray Our Father is to imitate Jesus himself as he enters into his Passion (Mk 14:36). We are God’s children. When we pray calling out to the Father, even the full powers of hell unleashed against us stand no chance. Jesus teaches us to confide in the mystery of the Father’s name so that, enfolded in intimacy with the Father, the hundredfold harvest of heaven will be generated in our here and now.
Follow Fr. Cameron’s series on prayer here.