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The Lord’s Prayer, Well, Sort Of

June 14, 2021 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – Luke 11:1-4 (NRSV)

[Jesus] was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.
+++Your kingdom come.
+++Give us each day our daily bread.
+++And forgive us our sins,
++++++for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
+++And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

Focus

Christians often pray a prayer that Jesus taught his first disciples. The Lord’s Prayer, also known as the Our Father, comes to us in various versions, all of which faithfully convey the meaning of Jesus. By paying close attention to this prayer, we can learn from Jesus how to pray with greater depth, truth, and intimacy. Through the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus invites us into a deeper relationship with our Heavenly Father.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.

A Note from Mark

Friends, this summer I’ll be teaching a one-week online course at Regent College. The course is called: The Bible and Work – Going Broader and Deeper. I’m looking forward to digging into Scripture with my students and auditors. We’ll be spending three hours each afternoon (Pacific Time) during the week of July 12-16. If this sounds interesting to you, you can take the course either for credit or audit. And if you’re over 65, you can get a 50% tuition discount! For more information about the course, click here. To learn about how to register, click here. It would be fun to have some of our Life for Leaders readers in this course with me. – Mark

Devotion

I spent my first six years of life as a Methodist. In my Sunday School classes I learned to pray the Lord’s Prayer. Thus, I also learned one of the biggest words I knew at that time: “trespasses.” Methodists, among many other Christians, render one of the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer in this way: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” I have no idea whether I knew back then what “trespasses” meant. But I did learn the “right” words to this prayer. In fact, I started saying the Lord’s Prayer every night before bed.

When I was six years old, however, my family moved and my parents started taking us to a Presbyterian church. There, much to my chagrin, they said the Lord’s Prayer, but with the wrong words! Instead of “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” those renegade Presbyterians said, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” I didn’t like that. I didn’t like the sound of the words “debts” and “debtors.” And I didn’t like having to learn a new version of the Lord’s Prayer. But I did, and before too long, I forgot about my old version with its “trespasses.”

Even today, it can be unnerving for us to hear or say versions of the Lord’s Prayer that are unfamiliar. Mainly, the differences are in the “trespasses” or “debts” petition, with an increasing number of churches going instead with “sins.” (Of course many churches don’t say the Lord’s Prayer regularly, these days.) Highly liturgical churches sometimes break what they call the “Our Father” into two sections, separating “Deliver us from evil” from the ending, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.” Anglicans and Episcopalians add an extra “and ever” after “forever,” to emphasize the point.

Now, if you’re one of those who isn’t fond of variations in the Lord’s Prayer, you might well have raised your eyebrows when reading today’s passage from Luke. After all, the prayer that Jesus prays in Luke 11:2-4 sounds a whole lot like the Lord’s Prayer we know and love. Yet it’s different. Mainly, it’s much shorter. Lines we have memorized are left out. So Luke 11 gives us the Lord’s Prayer . . . sort of. It’s the Lord Prayer . . . yes and no.

Most of us are much more familiar with the version of the Lord’s Prayer found in the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew 6:9-13 includes what sounds much more like the Lord’s Prayer with which we are familiar. (And, for the record, it uses “debts” and “debtors.”) But Matthew’s version of this prayer doesn’t include anything like the traditional conclusion of our Lord’s Prayer: “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.” We might want to ask, “Excuse me, Lord, but didn’t you memorize your own prayer all the way to the end?”

Scholars have different theories about why Luke’s version of this prayer differs from Matthew’s version. I’m convinced that Jesus himself prayed different forms of this particular prayer at different times, and that these various forms were passed on in the early church. Clearly, there was not one, set-in-stone form of the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples and that they memorized word for word. (In fact, in the first-century Christian document called the Didachē, there is yet another version of the Lord’s Prayer, one that sounds more like what we pray in church today. See Didachē 8.)

Why might this variation in forms matter to us today? The fact that the Lord’s Prayer comes to us in different forms gives us the freedom not to fret over our own varieties. We don’t have to argue about whether “trespasses” or “debts” or “sins” is best. We don’t have to worry about getting all the words just right. We can let this prayer of Jesus teach us to pray, without feeling as if we must rigidly repeat the words Jesus actually said. (Of course, it’s likely that Jesus’s words were originally in Aramaic. There are very few people among us today who are able to say anything in Aramaic, besides perhaps abba, hosanna, and maranatha. So repeating the exact words of Jesus, even if we knew them, isn’t possible for most of us.)

Today I’m beginning a multiple-day devotional study of Luke 11:1-4. I invite you to join me as we let Jesus teach us how to pray. We’ll pay close attention to the words he uses in Luke 11:2-4, not because these words are magic or need to be repeated precisely, but rather because these words draw us into a deeper, truer, and more intimate conversation with our Heavenly Father. Of course, if you wish, you might even choose to memorize the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer. You might experience something new praying these particular words. But the main point is not to get all the words absolutely right. Rather, it’s to let those words tell us more about God and how God wants us to talk with him. Through the words in Luke 11:2-4, we can learn from Jesus how to pray.

Reflect

When did you first learn the Lord’s Prayer? In what context and with what version?

How often do you pray the Lord’s Prayer in your personal devotions? In church? In other contexts?

How did you first learn to pray? Who taught you? How did this happen?

How do you feel about your prayer life? Are you in a season of intimate communication with God? Or are you in a time of dryness? Or something in between?

Are you eager to grow in your prayer life? If so, why? If not, why not?

Act

Read the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer several times, letting its words sink in to your soul. What strikes you about this prayer today? What words or lines resonate with you? Why?

Pray

Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive our sins,
+++as we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial. Amen.


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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. A devotional on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: How To Pray For Your Work (Devotional)


One thought on “The Lord’s Prayer, Well, Sort Of

  1. I first learned to pray the Lord’s Prayer in my Presbyterian Sunday School, and then was given a lovely illustrated book of the Lord’s Prayer that included that big word, “trespasses,” which, even as a preschooler, I preferred the big, fancy word to the simpler “debts/debtors.”

    As a Reformed Episcopalian, I helped our Rector with a new Book of Common Prayer, a trial version for the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC) published in 2011, using the ESV Scriptures. Side by side, we have the “trespasses” version with the second-person familiar (although they sound formal) forms “Thy” and “Thine” along with the more familiar modern (yet grammatically formal) “You” used with “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” It’s nice to be able to choose, but I much prefer calling a sin a sin, rather than a debt or a trespass, despite my continued love for big, expressive words. 😉

    Soli Deo Gloria,
    Susanne 🙂

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