Childhood Prayers and Names and Kingdoms
When I was a child we prayed the same prayer before every meal:
Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest. Let this food to us be blessed. This we ask in Jesus name. Amen.
It was a simple prayer which could be said in three different speeds. If the food was really good, we would speed through the prayer. If we weren't as excited, but not too bummed, about what was for dinner we would speak the prayer at normal speed. But if the food was was less than our favorite, we spoke the prayer slowly and with greater hope, hoping when we opened our eyes the food would be miraculously changed. No matter how fast or slow we prayed, the food set before us was always the same, and no matter what we thought of it the expectation was the same: eat it without complaining.
It didn't take long for our parents to realize what my sisters and I were doing. We were told a number of times to slow down when we prayed, and sometimes told to try it again. We thought it was punishment, after all why else would they make us repeat what we've already said? In reality our parents were teaching a discipline.
Now that I'm a parent, praying before a meal is something we do. The temptation is for our children to rush to the table, especially when they're hungry or when the food is the favorite, and begin nibbling. "Can I just..." is the beginning of many questions pre-dinner prayer. And yes, there has been occasion for us to repeat a prayer or start over. Not because I'm trying to be mean, nor because it's just what my parents did to me, but because I truly believe there is something holy and beautiful about taking time to acknowledge both our need and our gratitude.
As You Prepare...
There's a lot of questions we have about prayer. What is prayer? How does prayer work? Are some of the common questions we might have. There's nothing wrong with these questions, they simply reveal our inquisitive human nature, and I'm certain there have been many who have come before us who have asked the same questions. But we do have to be carefully aware. While these questions can help us to understand prayer in a more powerful way, they can also be the same questions which lead us to avoid praying altogether.
Both Matthew and Luke's Gospel tell of the time when Jesus' disciples ask Him to teach them to pray. His response, in Luke's Gospel, begins in a way which is familiar to many:
"When you pray, say: 'Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.'"
While a familiar prayer, this can easily become a rote prayer due to our familiarity without our understanding. The truth is that this one sentence is filled with power-filled words and requests.
First, hallowed be your name. The term hallowed is not a term we often use in our language today. In its simplest form it means set apart. It comes from the same root word as holy.As we've discussed a number of times, Jesus and His disciples are living in a polytheistic world, meaning there are many gods who are being acknowledged and worshipped on a daily basis. So as Jesus is teaching His disciples to pray, He begins by identifying there is only one God and He is the holy One, Yahweh.
The second immediate thing Jesus speaks about in His prayer is the Kingdom of God. In the same way we don't use the word hallowed on a daily basis in our world today, we also don't speak much about kingdoms. But kingdoms in the Old and New Testament times meant everything. If you wanted to demonstrate your power and your worth, you built your kingdom. And how did you build your kingdom? By overpowering other kingdoms. And the Jewish people knew about kingdoms, they spent centuries under the brutal oppression of kingdoms: The Egyptians, Persians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Greeks and Romans. This is also why so many wanted Jesus to be a king who will liberate them. But Jesus comes to establish a new kingdom, the Kingdom of God, here on the earth. His Kingdom is different. Instead of oppression it brings freedom. Instead of brutality it has at its center love. So after Jesus proclaims there is but one God, Yahweh, He says may the things of your Kingdom be experienced here on this earth.
This is important for us to know for three reasons. One, we too live in a polytheistic world. We made not make idols with our hands to directly worship them, but we do have other idols in our lives which demand more of our time than we devote to God. If you don't think that's true, just look at your cell phone usage over the past week as compared to the time you've spent with God. Which is greater? The second is that we do live in a kingdom-driven world, but fail to acknowledge it. A kingdom-driven world asks the question, "how does this ultimately benefit me?" Another way of asking that question is, "how does this increase my value?" Very few people spend their life thinking they want to be a nobody, and that's not entirely a bad thing. But we must consider what it means to be valuable and from where and how do we get our value. The final thing this teaches us is that prayer is not our way of getting God to fulfill our agenda, but asking God to be a part of His. The theologian Bruce Ware once wrote:
"The relationship between divine sovereignty and petitionary prayer can be stated by this word: participation."
So as we pray, we do not do so as a child rushing to eat what he knows will satisfy his hunger, but as image-bearers of the Living God who desire to be a part of their Father's work.
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