He 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.’
One of my roles in my local church is to organise pulpit supply. In Oxford we are lucky to be able to draw on not only the talents of our congregation and the wider URC, but also a range of ecumenical friends. Working with people from other denominations can highlight ways we are different – for example, Baptist and Methodist colleagues are completely unfazed by our order of service (even though it differs in some details from their usual practice), but some Anglican and Roman Catholic preachers find the thought of the worship leader choosing or writing prayers week by week entirely alien! I often find myself suggesting hymns and songs for such visitors – and one chaplain did remark to me that leading worship for us had taught him the importance of hymns as a vital part of the service in our tradition, rather than just being a filler between the important bits of the service (as he caricatured the Anglican approach). However, just as we learn about our differences when we have these encounters, we reinforce the things we have in common – and the Lord’s Prayer must be one of the most fundamental. The version above from Luke is a little shorter than the prayer we usually say in church – no mention of the Kingdom coming on earth as is in Heaven, for example – and you’ll find a longer version in Matthew 6. But the three key ideas of praying for the Kingdom to come, for daily needs, and for forgiveness are all there. In preparing this reflection I was struck by the modesty of the ask (daily bread rather than wealth and material success), allied to the personal commitment to forgive others, and the desire for the Kingdom to come. Does this reflect our own priorities and practice, or are we tempted to ask God for more, and to commit less?
Lord, you taught your disciples to pray; using simple words, asking your disciples to commit themselves, praying for the Kingdom to come. If we are tempted to hide behind complicated language, if we ask for more than we are prepared to give, or tempted to focus on personal glory, speak to us through the prayer you gave us. Help us hear your call and inspire us to serve you faithfully and make the Kingdom come. Amen.
Gordon Woods is an Elder at St Columba’s URC, Oxford