Permit me to indulge in a little of my faith history.
I grew up in the Serbian Orthodox church, which means a rich heritage of “religious traditions” (aka big parties) that involved massive amounts of eating, drinking and kissing. The kissing included big wet ones delivered by distant aunts, as well as man-to-man ones that had a tendency to shock newcomers. The first man kiss my husband ever received was from a Serbian named Mischa; it was repeated three times and accompanied by an abundance of facial hair. (Now he knows how I feel when he doesn’t shave).
The church we grew up in had stained glass windows, clouds of incense, hardly any English, and an open bar in the reception hall. As a child I observed that a few of the adults always left the service early, and only later understood why.
When I was baptized as a baby, my mom thought the priest might have tipped a few before the service began, because I was in that holy water for quite a while. When I came up I looked like a fish gasping for air, with big bulging eyes and a look on my face that was only slightly less panicked than my mom’s. (I secretly wonder if getting drenched in all that holy water had an effect on the path I ultimately chose).
Somewhere in the midst of this semi-religious (yet meaningful) upbringing, there was one prayer I memorized, and took with me the rest of my life. I didn’t learn the prayer in Serbian, however I did memorize it in the King James version, which should count for something. To this day I have a hard time reciting it without saying my “thees” and “thous.”
It’s a prayer that is recited in church services, funerals, weddings, and bedtime rituals– often by people who are half asleep or half aware of what they are actually saying. But this week I preached on it. (If you are interested, here’s the link: http://www.oceanhills.org/media/video-sermons/)
Working my way through the words of this prayer made me realize that if we take the time to understand it, we may think twice before we pray it. Because The Lord’s prayer is dangerous. It calls us to a bigger life.
The prayer begins with “Our Father in Heaven” and we become aware right away that this is not MY God I am praying to, but Ours. He is the God of the child who sleeps comfortably in my home, and the God of the girls who were kidnapped in Nigeria. He is the God of people who live in Santa Barbara, and the God of people who live in Port Au Prince. He is the God of my friends who have their health, and the God of my friends who have cancer. He is Our God– and His eyes are on us all. His care for others helps me understand what His dreams are for me.
When we say “Hallowed be your name” we are acknowledging there is Someone we bow to who is greater than us. A paraphrase might be: “You are God, and I am not.” This is a good reminder on the days when we feel we are the center of the universe. All it takes is a diagnosis, a catastrophe or tragic loss to cause us to realize how not the center of the universe we really are. The world does not revolve around us. It revolves around Someone a lot bigger than us. Someone far more capable of being at the helm.
Your kingdom Come– scholars agree that this is not a specific territory you are praying for, but God’s presence in whatever territory you are in. “Bring your presence into this place” is what you are praying here- which likely means you are the one called to bring God’s presence into where you are. Be ready to be it before you pray for it.
And then we get to the line that stops me in my tracks.
“Your will be done.”
This just might be the scariest line in the whole prayer- and I can’t think of a more perfect line to pause on as we celebrate Memorial Day weekend. The time set apart to honor our military men and women who have given their lives for our country- who daily obey their commanding officers with these very words.
Most of us live “Your kingdom come, My will be done”, but saying this prayer as it is written invites the Great Editor to adjust your will to match His. “Your will be done” means I am acknowledging that there is a bigger story going on than just me- and I am submitting my story to be part of it. It means trusting that if God alters my plan, He’s doing it is because of all the things He wants to do through me. And in me. Our circumstances produce our character. And I’ve noticed that it’s not usually the good ones that do the trick.
So we are only half way through the Lord’s prayer. And we haven’t even gotten to the request part yet. But I’m going to stop, because there are some big thoughts here. and I don’t know about you, but I need to pause and think about them.
I’ll do the second half in another blog.
In the meantime, I want to take some time to think about how many times I’ve gone through the motions of this prayer, said my thee’s and thou’s, and had no idea what I was actually saying.
I need to see if I can pray even the first half of this prayer.
And mean it.