Nutshell

Jesus said…

“This is how you should pray:

Our Father in heaven,
let your name be kept holy.
10         Let your kingdom come.
Let your will be done on earth
as it is done in heaven.
11         Give us our daily bread today.
12         Forgive us as we forgive others.
13         Don’t allow us to be tempted.
Instead, rescue us from the evil one.

Matthew 6:9-13 (God’s Word version)

Short. Simple. To the point. It encapsulates everything that is truly important for us about prayer, and about life.

I would also suggest that it is Jesus’  complete “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7) in a nutshell.

I don’t know how novel of an idea this is or isn’t, but I think it’s worth contemplating. Jesus was a masterful teacher and knew how to organize and present his thoughts. He used vivid stories to lock his teachings into the imagination of his hearers. He distilled truth down to its essence. And I think in this case he was providing a simple, memorable framework for prayer that followed the overall structure of his “kingdom manifesto”.

Audience

Jesus first starts off by clarifying who his audience is and who is blessed to be included in this new society he is founding. It’s the marginalized, the stepped on, the abused, the misfit, the hassled, etc. These people he called the “salt of the earth” and “light for the world”. These are the people who by their very nature will help preserve and enlighten the world, making it a place with zest and vitality.

Jesus also makes it clear that the whole point of the Torah – the way to the good life in harmony with God’s universe – is something he is upholding; he isn’t missing the real point of the Torah (the ancient euphemism is “abolish the Torah”) but rather he is  “gets the point” (the ancient euphemism is “fulfill the Torah”) and wants people to understand what the real point is. He calls out the Pharisees and scribes; these were the self-assured conservative religious types who insisted their interpretation was right and if you didn’t follow their way then God wasn’t pleased with you. Jesus said that what God deems as “right” is much higher and better than their way; later on he says that his interpretations of the Torah (the ancient euphemism is his “yoke”) is not burdensome, but rather it is very light and easy. The rest of his kingdom manifesto clarifies what he means by that…

Anger vs. Forgiveness & Understanding

“Forgive us as we forgive others.” Jesus’ first stop is the topic of anger. We live in a very angry and violent world these days. Turn on the radio, TV, view the comments section of any news article online or blog… people are angry and unkind. People are condemning, lashing out with words and sometimes worse. Anger is the doorway to murder.

The Buddha once said, “To understand everything is to forgive everything.” So often we are angered by perceived wrongs, furious at what seems to be a totally unjust action toward us. We seldom seek to understand what provoked the action, rarely consider how we might have triggered the response, and hardly ever have a grasp of the back story going on in the offender’s mind.

Jesus recommends we pray to be able to forgive those who wrong us, those who are indebted to us. Don’t harbor grudges, don’t jump to anger and condemnation. This is how things are handled in heaven, and it is how God wants it to be on earth. This change in us and in our civilization is something critically important for us to pray for.

Lust vs. Respect & Restraint

“Don’t allow us to be tempted.” We’re hard-wired with appetites and urges. It’s part of what makes us human. These instincts when observed with some degree of discipline are very good. And thankfully God made them pleasurable.  Eating, sleeping, making love – these are wonderful things to be enjoyed. But like anything else taken to an extreme, when we become their servant rather than their master, we spiral out of control and destroy the shalom God intended.

When we become slaves to our lusts, it is an injustice against nature that then can anger others who feel the brunt of it. People become victims, objects to be used and manipulated, dehumanized. And any hope of long-term relationships built on trust, faithfulness, care, and mutual respect go right out the window. Divorce becomes rampant, and sooner or later becomes “acceptable” in society because of its mere prevalence. But this is not the way of Jesus.

He understands our weakness, our tendency to give in to what is pleasurable and to become its slave… and he encourages us to pray that we will not be tempted to go to these extremes. He also recommends we pray for rescue from “evils that befall us” and from the clutches of  “the evil one” (the active spiritual agent bent on our destruction). God delights to rescue us, and we encouraged to seek his assistance.

More of the Same

What else does this passage of scripture say? Essentially more case studies to apply what we’ve already be taught:

  • Love your enemies. In other words, forgive them.
  • Do good, give, pray, fast, etc. quietly. It’s not about us, it’s about God’s name being kept holy and revered.
  • Don’t worry and don’t strive for riches. Simply trust God for your “daily bread”.
  • Don’t condemn others. Be understanding. Forgive them.
  • Don’t force good things on those who can’t appreciate it – it’s just another form of manipulation.

We’re encouraged to pray – asking, seeking, knocking – realizing that most of this “kingdom prayer” is about “us” (collectively), not merely “me” (individually). Be concerned, sure, but trust God to do the work needed in God’s time. And be on the lookout for when God does indeed open or close a door in your life. Trust God and don’t be afraid to walk through that open door.

God’s will on earth is that we treat one another the way we’d like to be treated. That’s the way it is done in heaven. That is the focal point of this entire prayer. That is what is means for God’s kingdom to “come” – it is here when we are living in the harmony originally intended by our willingness to sacrifice for each others’ good out of love.

And in that sense, this “kingdom prayer” is not only an encapsulation of the entire “kingdom manifesto”, but it’s also an example of Jesus’ “good news” at work. It’s the gospel of the kingdom. It’s good news for the poor, freedom for the captives, sight to the blind… it’s God revered by all, with everyone enjoying the freedom, peace, and restoration in living God’s way. It’s everyone trusting God for their needs and not shackled by worry. It’s people not enslaved to jobs promising riches and self-made freedom, but rather people serving, loving, forgiving, respecting, helping, caring. It’s what Jesus became a ransom for – to rescue us from the evil one… from the evils out there… from the evils within.

And if the Son sets you free… you are free indeed (John 8:36). Go in peace.

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