Adoration. Confession. Thanksgiving. Supplication. Can you guess what these four words have in common?
Besides being five-dollar words to start a sermon, these are worship attitudes that are part of a prayer formula known as the ACTS prayer. This is the form of prayer I follow during the pastoral prayer. Each portion or petition relates back to an act of worship and helps us to focus our thoughts and energies.
The prayer begins with adoration. We give praise and honor to God, because of the glory and holiness of God’s name. From there, the prayer moves to a time of confession. It is an act of confessing the sins we have committed against God’s desires. Confession is not a one time act. It is a continual process of naming our sin and seeking God’s forgiveness. Following the confession the prayer progresses to a time of thanksgiving. We thank God for the gift of forgiveness and the blessings given to us. Giving thanks to God is an important act of worship. The final petition is a time of supplication. Here we raise our concerns to the Lord. In my prayers, I like to begin this by focusing on the needs of the world and then moving inward. It is an act recognizing that we are not most important and that we are called to be a global church.
This is just one example of a prayer formula. There are many others. A prayer formula helps to center our thoughts, which helps us to be attentive to the presence of the Holy Spirit. However, there is a danger involved with prayer formulas. They can become ritualistic to the point where we do not understand what it is we are praying. The words become so common to us that we are not sure what they mean, but we know we need to say them.
One prayer formula that fits this description is the Lord’s Prayer. It is a prayer we are familiar with. We recite it each week in corporate worship. However, the words can be hard to understand. When we pray for God’s name to be hallowed, for instance, what is it we are praying? What about when we ask for the Kingdom to come and God’s will be done? Or to deliver us from evil? What does it mean for us to pray the Lord’s Prayer?
The Lord’s Prayer is found twice in the New Testament in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. Luke’s version is the smaller of the two. In Luke’s description, Jesus is responding to a request from a disciple. The disciple wants Jesus to teach him in the same way John taught his disciples. In those days, a teacher would teach their disciples how to pray. This disciple wants Jesus to teach him how to pray.
Matthew gives us the Lord’s Prayer in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. This is Jesus’ grand teaching on the law of God that takes place early in his public ministry. Before giving the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus said that our prayer time is not about being honored by others, but about being in communication with God.
By giving us the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus is giving us a specific prayer formula. These words give us a clue on how we should pray. The prayer is Kingdom oriented and counter-cultural in nature. It is important for us to understand these words, what they mean, and how they call us to a deep relationship with God.
We are going to walk through the Lord’s Prayer by using the translation found in the New Living Translation. This is the translation that we use each Sunday morning. The reason for this is that it uses words that are common to us. When we recite the Lord’s Prayer, we are saying the words that come from the King James translation. It is a translation that dates back to the 1600s. It uses a form of English that is not used today. The King James was an adequate translation for the time, however we want a translation that we can understand. A good translation is true to the original Greek and Hebrew, is understandable, and helps us to see and hear God’s word.
As we work with the text, the first thing you might notice is that something is missing. The King James includes the words “For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever,” but these words are missing in the New Living Translation. Did the translators ignore part of the Greek, or is something else going on? The familiar phrase is not part of the original Greek manuscripts. It is a part of a doxology that was likely added to the text. Jewish custom held that a prayer ended with a doxology. The early church likely added a doxology, which was an adaptation of 1 Chronicles 29:10-13, in response to this custom.
You might also notice the prayer has different sections or petitions. The prayer has roughly seven petitions. The first three focus on the Kingdom of God and God’s coming reign, when Christ returns in full glory. The final petitions focus on our current needs as we live in the present reality of God’s kingdom.
Jesus begins the prayer with the phrase, “Our Father in heaven.” The word “Father” signifies a family relationship. Jesus is calling us to see God as a our Father. This was the primary way Jesus addressed God during his earthly ministry, and the churched picked up on this description, such as in Romans 8:15, where Paul writes of the Holy Spirit giving us the ability to try out Abba Father. To call God “Father” is to address God with a term of affection. We recognize that God is our provider, comfort, and strength. The Lord’s Prayer is an affectionate prayer with the God whom we love, adore and worship.
After the opening, the prayer moves to a request of “may your name be kept holy.” It is here we often use the word “hallowed.” We pray that God will be seen as holy and loved by all. It is a petition that asks for all to see that God’s name, which is about character, is true, good, and holly. The petition is kingdom focused in it seeks Christ’s return. We desire that God will establish his eternal rule. Something else is going on here. When we pray these words, we desire that God will help us keep his name holy in our lives. It is a petition that God will guide us in our worship, discipleship, and growth, so we may claim the name of Christ in a deep and committed way.
The next petition directly asks that the Kingdom will come and God’s will be done. This is a very counter-cultural prayer. We live in a consumer-driven culture that says it is about us. This view can often affect how we see the church. No matter who we are or how old we are, we can fall into the temptation of believing that worship, and our relationship with God, is about us. It is about what I get out of worship. It is about what God has done for me. It is about my style of worship or my agenda for the church, and so on. None of this is true to Scripture or true to Christ’s desires. This petition calls us to abandon ourselves and to be aligned with the Father’s will. It is not about what we want, but about seeking God’s will in our lives, our churches, and our communities. In praying these words, we desire that God’s desires will be primary in our life and that we will seek and do God’s will. The call of Christian discipleship is counter-cultural to the message of the world that says it is all about us. The call of discipleship is to abandon ourselves, to hear the Father’s will, and to live in obedience.
Following this petition, Jesus moves to petitions of provisions. These focus on our needs in the world and recognizes our dependence upon God for all things.
It begins with the petition to “Give us today the food we need.” This is also counter-cultural. Often, we go to God with a list of our wants. We want the fortunes of life and the joys of the world. How often do we ask God for what we need to survive for this day? In saying these words, we pray that God will gives us exactly what we need to survive and do the Father’s will. We ask that not when we are in deep need, but every day. These words recognize that God is the provider of all that we have. God gives us exactly what we need. The things we have are blessings that come from God, and this prayer is our recognition of God’s love.
After this prayer of need, Jesus asks us to forgive others as we have been forgiven. This petition recognizes we have sinned against God. With these words we confess our sin before God and each other. Sin is our moral debt, as one writer put it, in our relationship with God. We are praying that this debt will be be forgiven. As well, we seek God’s help so we may be able to forgive those who have hurt us. We cannot expect God to forgive us and then not forgive our brothers and sisters who have wronged us. Forgiveness is a two-way street that is both equally received and equally given.
The final petition is a petition of protection. We pray that God will keep us from temptation and protect us from doing wrong. Each of us are faced with temptations on a daily basis. The temptations we face are different, but they are common to us all. Temptations seek to keep us from the kingdom and hinder our relationship with the Father. We need God’s protection and guidance during times of temptation. In 1 Corinthians 10:13, Paul writes that God is faithful in helping us through any temptation we may face. By saying these words, we pry that God will show us the way out and, even more, that we might be willing to take the way out of temptation when it comes.
The Lord’s Prayer is a deep prayer. I hope that after today these are not empty words we say each Sunday, but are meaningful and powerful words. They are words of commitment to the Father. Words that signify we are in desperate need of God’s provisions and care. Words that articulate our desire to live for God’s will and not our own.
When we pray this prayer, allow it to bring you to a deeper connection with the Father, through the life and mission of the Son, through the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit. May these words guide us to a deeper level of faith, as we seek to live in the present reality of the Kingdom of God.