Most people who’ve been in Church at any point in their lives are familiar with the Lord’s Prayer (or the “Our Father” for my Catholic readers). We find a lot of meaning in reciting the prayer together as a corporate body. For those who love the Church, the language of the Lord’s Prayer can be quite comforting.
But the language of the Lord’s Prayer can be impenetrable and archaic. And that’s not what Jesus intended.
The Lord’s Prayer is part of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon is good news to the impoverished peasant class that comprised Jesus’ Galilean audience – farmers and fishermen. And as such, it’s packed full of practical teaching and illustrations lifted right out of his listeners’ daily lives. He talks about relationships, lust, money, worrying about the future and more.
And right in the middle (6:9-13) of this practical, relevant sermon, Jesus talks about prayer. He says (in verse 7),
When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him! — Matthew 6:7-8
In other words, Jesus is inviting his listeners into a prayer life that’s as concrete and practical as his Sermon.
Jesus wants their prayers to have more to do with their regular world than their sacred worship spaces.
More accurately, Jesus wants the religion they experience when they gather to worship to be the same life they live when they’re working, enjoying their friends or at home with their families. Jesus wants their religion to be integrated into the whole of their lives, not sectioned off into special days with special language.
So he taught them a different way to pray.
But then us professional church people got ahold of it and turned the Lord’s Prayer back into the disconnected, ritualistic language Jesus specifically told us to avoid when he taught us the prayer!
How many of us actually know what “hallowed be thy name” means? When was the last time any of us talked about food as our “daily bread”? Or used the word “trespasses”? (and let the Trespasses vs. Debts battle begin!)
Jesus knew that how we learn to pray matters.
The language we use to talk to and about God will shape whether faith is an integral aspect of our whole live, or if it’s a privatized, sectioned off corner of our lives we only visit occasionally. And the way every church I’ve ever been a part of uses the Lord’s Prayer is backwards from Jesus’ intention for it.
Rather than drawing on plain, everyday language to connect us to the God who’s working in our plain, everyday world, the now-archaic, pseudo-King James language we English-speakers use to quote the Lord’s Prayer ensures that each new generation of Christians continues to find prayer a daunting, intimidating practice.
So why don’t we rewrite the Lord’s Prayer?
Why don’t we translate the language of Jesus’ prayer into practical, plain language? As you’ve no doubt guessed, I took the liberty of doing just that (with a good bit of help from several friends, and Eugene Peterson’s excellent Message version. Here’s how I imagine Jesus would teach us to pray if he came to my neck of the woods today.
Our father, who created and rules the universe,
show us your perfect love so that we may learn to imitate you.
May the world run the way you want it to – just like heaven does.
Keep us healthy with three square meals today
And forgive the wrongs we’ve done the same way we forgive the people who’ve wronged us.
Keep us safe – from ourselves and from the evils in the world.
All the political power and authority and fame belong to you, from now until the end of time.