Balancing Dependence Upon God and Personal Responsibility

prayer - 2

The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) is, perhaps, the best known passage on prayer. Rabbi’s had their own prayers that were embraced by their followers. This is Jesus’.

Our Father in heaven,
may your name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth,
as it is in heaven.
Give us today the food we need,
and forgive us our sins,
as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
And don’t let us yield to temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one.

This model prayer contains a reminder to regard God as holy or set apart from the world and the ordinary. That is worship. There is the pronounced longing for his rule and ways to prevail upon the earth. That is prophecy. Closely coupled with it is the expressed longing for his will to be done on earth. That is service, which places a responsibility upon the pray-er to do his part to make the world like it will be when Jesus rules it.  There is a plea for sustenance and his provision of the necessities of life. That is dependence and reminder that every good gift is from him. The plea for forgiveness is a recognition of our tendency to make decisions that dishonor him. That is confession. Interestingly, the plea for confession is tied to our forgiving people who have wronged us. That is forgiveness. The last plea of this prayer is to avoid the lure of temptation and the evil one, a plea for strength to avoid bad decisions.

The overall mood of the prayer is one of dependence and humility as we ask God to help us keep our head and heart right.

There is a fascinating coupling of dependence and personal responsibility in the prayer, sometimes stated and sometimes implied.

  • He is holy. We should regard him as holy.
  • His kingdom is coming. We should be about furthering his ways here and now.
  • We ask him to provide our basic needs. Implied elsewhere in scripture: We work for to provide them.
  • He forgives our sins. We forgive those who have sinned against us.
  • We ask him to protect us from temptation and the evil one. Implied elsewhere in scripture: We have personal responsibly to understand how temptation and the evil one works, and to make responsible decisions.

I love the practicality of this prayer. It saves us from two extremes: acting like God doesn’t exist and everything is totally up to us or shirking personal responsibility and essentially blaming God for it.

This is a beautiful prayer, repeated in many church services, and that is fine. But, it a model for prayer. It is not magical prayer. It is not the only words to pray. It must not become a mindless ritual. Other prayers in the Bible are very different than the Lord’s Prayer. Remember, prayer is conversation with a God. It would be more than little odd, if every time you talked to your husband or wife, you followed a formula and said the exact same words.

The Lord’s Prayer, which really is the disciples’ prayer, because it is for them (and us) gives us words to say when we don’t know what to say, and they are beautiful words, at that. It gives a balanced way to pray that can unite a group of people in prayer.

About Glenn

Glenn Hager is a blogger, former newspaper columnist, and author of two books, An Irreligious Faith and Free Range Faith.
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