“Jesus said, “This is how you should pray: “Father, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. Give us each day the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation. ””Luke 11:2-4 NLT
Two things stand out from this short prayer that Jesus taught his disciples: the first is what we should pray for, and the second is the order of importance of these things. Notice God comes first, and we come second. How easy it is for us, overwhelmed by our own needs and desires, to reverse this order, even to forget God altogether. God becomes simply our provider, and we become central to our universe.
The model Jesus gives reverses this order, making him central to our prayers: the centre of our affections, our admiration, our reverence, our hearts and minds. It is the same order as Jesus reinforced when he spoke of the formula for “inheriting” eternal life: Love the Lord your God with everything you are, and love your neighbour as yourself. And remember that other sermon of Jesus, the “sermon on the mount?” Seek first the kingdom of heaven, and all these things will be added to you…
Is Jesus saying we should we pray for God? We usually think of praying to God, but praying for God? Yet that is what he seems to be saying. Does God, our Father, need our prayers? Perhaps not. After all, he is God, and does not need us to ensure that his name is honoured, that his kingdom is established. He is quite capable of achieving these ends without our prayers.
So why does Jesus instruct his followers to make this the first priority of their prayers? Surely it is simply because our prayers are not so much for God’s sake, so he will know what to do (he knows what we need before we ask for it), as for our sake, that we will know what to do, where to focus our efforts in this life. The Lord’s Prayer indicates that the number one focus of our lives must always be God and his kingdom. Is that true for me, is it true for you? By praying as Jesus taught us we constantly re-centre our lives in the same place.
Of course, the Lord’s Prayer does not end there. It is not just praying for the honour of God’s name and the establishment of his kingdom. It is also praying for ourselves – for what we need, and for freedom from the price of our sinfulness, and for strength to face the temptations of every day. In addition we are to pray for our relationships with others – that we would forgive those who sin against us. It may be a short prayer, but it is comprehensive.
The order of priority in this prayer is simple: God and his kingdom first, our needs and our problems second, and our relationships with others last. Another expression I remember sometimes is the pathway to JOY: “Jesus first, Yourself last, Others in between.” Not quite the same order as the Lord’s prayer, perhaps, but perhaps the point of that acronym – JOY – is not quite the same as the pattern for prayer. And God and his kingdom is still first, in the person of Jesus. In any case, the disciples asked Jesus how they should pray, and this is the outline he gave them. It may not be the natural order of priorities in our minds, but it is God’s order, and I believe it is helpful for us to follow the same pattern.