Our church journeyed through January with a focus on prayer. Our preaching series was “Questions of Prayer,” which aimed to be honest about questions we share about prayer and give us orientation points for our praying. An optional step past Sunday morning is working through Steve Harper’s book, Talking in the Dark: Praying When Life Doesn’t Make Sense.
In the previous post on this book, we covered the first half of the Lord’s Prayer. Let’s complete our look at this prayer today.
By way of introduction, Steve Harper points out that when we transition from the phases that center our petitioning in God and what he wants, we see how the first three petitions “set the boundaries that enable us to then move into making specific requests for ourselves” (p. 105). The “us” phrases that follow are clearly focused on our needs, but “are correct and safe only when preceded by the view of God and ourselves that he first section of the prayer provides.”
Give us daily bread
Notice the plural, “us.” Now that we are formed by the first half of the prayer and re-oriented around God’s character and what he desires, even when we pray for ourselves, we pray not only for our needs, bur for the needs of “us” – all who are in need of God’s provision. Steve points out that “we pray for the bread we need, not necessarily all the bread we want. That is, we pray as stewards, not consumers.” (p. 106)
Again with the “us.” We may not speak in terms of sin and guilt, but they are real. And we need forgiveness. We are obsessed about guilty feelings, which are not insignificant. But it seems to me that our interest in not being made to feel guilty about something we’ve done, are doing, or want to do, serves as a distraction from discerning whether or not we are guilty. So Jesus teaches us to forgive and to seek forgiveness.
Lead us away from temptation… deliver us
Think about this: Everyone has “a ‘first day’ of temptation—a moment when the temptation resembled a flicker more than a fire, or a pesky fly more than a savage beast” (p. 108). But temptation grows when it is not resisted, when it is not dealt with. Steve points us to the classic prayer from Psalm 139:23-24 as a way to deal with temptation before it has its way with us: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Praying “deliver us” acknowledges that God can deliver, can save. That’s why “despair,” as Steve says, “is not the final word in the Christian’s vocabulary; hope is.” (p. 111)