How to Live the Words of the Lord's Prayer
- 2009 2 Jul
Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Albert Haase's new book, Living the Lord’s Prayer: The Way of the Disciple, (IVP Books, 2009).
The Lord’s Prayer is so familiar that it’s easy to take the words for granted when you pray them. But if you do more than just say the words – if you actually live them – the prayer will invite God’s power into your life and transform you for the better.
Here’s how you can live the words you pray in the Lord’s Prayer:
“Our Father”: Pray for a healthy image of God that reflects Jesus’ experience as “Abba” – an affectionate term for a Father who loves deeply and unconditionally. God isn’t a cold, aloof Creator who has abandoned His people; nor is He an insensitive judge who nonchalantly rules creation heartlessly. God is close to you, pouring out His love into your life no matter what, and offering you strength and courage whenever you need them. Let your gratitude for God’s deep love in your life motivate you to perform selfless acts of sacrificial love for others – just as Christ has done for you. Recognize that you’re part of a huge spiritual family: All people are made in God’s image, and fellow believers are your brothers and sisters in Christ. Since God is “our” Father, spiritual formation is about God, others, and you. Ask God to give you the love He wants you to have for other people. Intercede in prayer for them regularly. Pray for opportunities to use what you’ve learned through your own suffering to help other people who are struggling in similar ways. Welcome and accept all people – no matter how different they are from you.
“Who art in heaven”: Since the God who lives in heaven has taken on human flesh as Christ, He has made it possible for you to experience the extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary. Ask God to help you be alert to what He’s doing in your life right here and now. Don’t try to limit God to just what you can understand of Him. He transcends all images and descriptions people use to represent Him. Expect that you may learn something valuable about God from interacting with the people He has made in His image. Avoid judging people based on superficial attributes like their appearances. Get to know them and look for the Holy Spirit at work within their souls. Keep in mind that God is just as much at work in people who our culture tends to ignore – such as the disabled, the elderly, and the poor – as He is in other people. Look for reflections of God in every person you meet.
“Hallowed be thy name”: As you walk in God’s constant presence with you, you become aware of your own sinfulness contrasting with His holiness. That leads to humility, in which you recognize just how much you really need God. Recognize your own unworthiness, and remember that God is the source of all of your gifts, accomplishments, and talents. He gave you life and salvation. You owe everything to God, so live each day to please Him, as a way of expressing your love and gratitude.
“Thy kingdom come”: God wants to use you to help bring more of His kingdom to our fallen world. Your words and actions can help bring about God’s intentions for the world. When you pray for God’s kingdom to come, you help answer that prayer by engaging the world and bringing peace, love, and justice to it – one person and situation at a time. Whenever you respond to God’s call in the midst of ordinary moments by planting seeds of peace, love, and justice, they grow and blossom, expanding God’s kingdom on earth.
“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”: Discerning God’s will isn’t about figuring out exactly what God is thinking about every decision you face. Instead, it’s about learning how make faith-based decisions – to let your faith guide your decision-making process so you can choose what’s best. When you become aware that you’re approaching a critical juncture in your life that demands that you make a wise decision, aim to respond thoughtfully and prayerfully, rather than simply react. Try to distance yourself from your ego (your obsession with self-concern, self-image, self-preservation, and self-gratification). Remember and respect the commitments you’ve previously made to God, other people, and yourself. As you reflect on various options, reject ones that will feed into a self-centered agenda and seriously consider those that will help you draw closer to God. Think about which options are consistent with your values and the direction in which your life has been moving. Let Scripture inform the process by reminding you of what God calls you to be. Dialogue with other believers, asking questions and discussing how you and others may be affected by your decision. Consider your energy and passions – whether or not you have a natural inclination to pursue a particular option. Do you want to do it, and are you capable of carrying out that decision? Then take action at the right time (when you’re not experiencing too much emotional stress). Expect that, when you’ve made a wise decision, God will often respond by giving you peace afterward to confirm that you’ve chosen well.
“Give us this day our daily bread”: When you pray for God to provide for your daily needs, you recognize your absolute dependency and existential poverty before God. He has given you everything – from your looks and personality, to your friends and job, and even the air you breathe when you take your next breath. Through teaching you to pray for something as ordinary as bread, Christ teaches you that no concern is too trivial to place before God. Pray about everything that concerns you – no matter how insignificant it may seem – trusting that God cares and will answer in His way and in His time. Pray for humility and childlike faith in God’s providence. Then seek to become what you receive, by serving others every day so God can use you to help meet their needs through your life. Volunteer at a food bank or hospital. Visit lonely people in nursing homes. Tutor children who are struggling in school. The possibilities for you to help bring “daily bread” to others are endless.
“Forgive us our trespasses”: God will free you from debilitating guilt when you pray for forgiveness. No sin is written in indelible ink. God’s mercy has no limits. He will respond to your prayers for forgiveness by forgetting the past, welcoming you home with arms opened wide, and giving you the strength to help you move forward well.
“As we forgive those who trespass against us”: Let your gratitude for God’s forgiveness of your own sins motivate you to obey His call to forgive others who have hurt or offended you. Pray for the ability to avoid judging and condemning others, and the grace to break free of poisonous bitterness. Rely on God to help you through the forgiveness process; remember that it’s always possible to forgive – despite your feelings – with God’s help. Pursue inner healing by: remembering that Christ is always with you offering love and compassion, taking a fresh look at the past event and the feelings it raised inside of you (through praying about it and talking about it with people you trust, like friends, a counselor or a support group), step through your pain to temporarily put yourself in the place of the one who hurt or offended you so you can better understand that person’s heart and the brokenness in his or her life, asking Christ to do His healing work in your heart, and letting your healing lead you to greater compassion for others who are struggling and motivate you to reach out to them to help.
“Lead us not into temptation”: Resist evil thoughts that attack your mind, affecting every part of your life. Pray for the strength to counter tempting thoughts with corresponding saving virtues, turning the temptation of food to self-control, sex to chastity, material things to generosity, anger to patience, dejection to diligence, laziness to perseverance, vanity to humility, and pride to charity. Scrutinize the motivations behind your feelings and desires. Overcome evil with good through the power God will give you when you pray.
“Deliver us from evil”: Encountering spiritual darkness can purify you from your ego and help transform you into a person who’s more like Christ. When your faith is tested, you’re challenged to surrender to God with trust, and when you do, He will give you greater faith. Respond to despair by crying out to God for the hope He offers you. You can always count on God to deliver the hope you need in any situation.
Adapted from Living the Lord’s Prayer: The Way of the Disciple, copyright 2009 by Albert Haase, O.F.M. Published by IVP Books, a division of InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, www.ivpress.com.
Albert Haase, O.F.M. (Ph.D., Fordham University; M.Div., Catholic Theological Union), is adjunct professor of spirituality at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Illinois. He previously served as director of the School of Spirituality at Mayslake Ministries in Lombard, Illinois. Currently he does spiritual direction and leads retreats and parish missions from the St. Gratian Friary in Countryside, IL. He is author of Enkindled: Holy Spirit, Holy Gifts (with Bridget Haase, O.S.U.) and Instruments of Christ: Reflections on the Peace Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi. He is a former missionary to mainland China.
Original publication date: July 2, 2009