01 Jun June Reverend Reflections
Hello First Presbyterian Church,
We say the Lord’s Prayer together every Sunday and hopefully you are saying it daily on your own during the week. It is the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray when they asked for help in that department. It is, therefore, a vital instrument of our faith—the activity of one armed for spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:16-20).
As with all instruments regularly used, it is, from time to time, helpful to step back and observe the instrument itself as if from a distance. When a person uses a familiar instrument—whether it be a crochet needle or a golf club—they cease to think about the object itself. Instead, the instrument becomes almost as one with the person—an extension of them. If your mind wandered to your golf club mid-swing then you’d be unlikely to strike the ball all that well. You may even miss entirely. Through extended familiarity you do not spend much time thinking about the instrument that has become a part of you.
However, to grow in your use of that instrument it is necessary and helpful to occasionally spend deliberate time thinking about the object apart from your use of it. The Philosopher, Esther Meek, calls this attending to something that we typically attend from. When we do this with the Lord’s Prayer, an instrument regularly used in our corporate and private worship, we must consider many questions that will then hopefully strengthen our use of the instrument when we return to prayer.
One such question that arises when we consider the Lord’s prayer from a distance—when we attend to it rather than from it—is, “Why do we pray for God’s will to be done as if God was not already committed to accomplishing that very thing—as if God was not going to accomplish his will apart from our prayer? In what sense do we ask for this thing to be done?”
The bishop of Carthage in the third century answers this very question in his writings on the Lord’s Prayer. Cyprian asks, “Who stands in the way of God to prevent him [from] performing his will?” He then answers his question by turning it back on us. He writes, “We say [‘Let your will be done in heaven and on earth’] not so that God might do what he wishes, but that we should be able to do what God wishes.” In other words, we are the ones who through sin and stubbornness prevent God from performing his will, and the request for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven is simultaneously a confession as well as a request for help.
Further strengthening his teaching that this request of God is really about us, Cyprian points out that “we are in possession of a body from the earth and a spirit from heaven, [therefore] we are ourselves both earth and heaven, and we pray that the will of God be done in both, that is both in our body and in our spirit.” We are asking God to accomplish his will in us and then, in turn, through us to the world.
It is a prayer we must pray daily for the will of God is a high calling. Cyprian writes that “the will of God is that which Christ both did and taught. Humility in conduct, constancy in faith, truth in speech, justice in deeds, mercy in works, restraint in self-discipline, knowing nothing of doing injury yet willing to endure slight, holding to peace with the brothers [and sisters], devoted wholeheartedly to the Lord, loving him as Father, fearing him as God, preferring nothing whatsoever to Christ because he preferred nothing to ourselves, clinging inseparably to his love, standing by his cross with courage and faith, and, when his name and honor are contested, being a confessor by constancy in what we say, being defiant by fidelity under interrogation, receiving the crown by patience under sentence of death. This is the desire to be co-heir with Christ, this is the performance of the command of God, this is the fulfillment of the Father’s will.”
As you can see, the will of God requires the work and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It is a list so exhaustive that it should send us back to our knees in prayer to ask God to accomplish his will on earth as it is in heaven. We are earthly and full of sin, but may God raise us up and heal us so that we might be able to fulfill his will while we are yet on this earth.
May you find great joy in praying the Lord’s Prayer with this new understanding of the request we have been instructed to make of God.
Grace and peace,