Wisdom of Wesley: the Lord's Prayer

Matthew 6:1-15

Showy religion

6 “Be careful that you don’t practice your religion in front of people to draw their attention. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

2 “Whenever you give to the poor, don’t blow your trumpet as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may get praise from people. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. 3 But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing 4 so that you may give to the poor in secret. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.

Showy prayer

5 “When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. 6 But when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.

Proper prayer

7 “When you pray, don’t pour out a flood of empty words, as the Gentiles do. They think that by saying many words they’ll be heard. 8 Don’t be like them, because your Father knows what you need before you ask. 9 Pray like this:

Our Father who is in heaven,

uphold the holiness of your name.

10 Bring in your kingdom

so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven.

11 Give us the bread we need for today.

12 Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you,

just as we also forgive those who have wronged us.

13 And don’t lead us into temptation,

but rescue us from the evil one.

14 “If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you don’t forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your sins.

 

 

Thoughts on the passage:

The Lord’s Prayer is often one of the first things we memorize in our faith. Even many non-Christians know some, if not all of the words. While we have some disagreements on the language, like sins vs. trespasses and how many “evers” we need at the end, this is a prayer that is known by everyone. We say it every week in our church and yet the danger is that we get so use to the words that we stop actually listening to them.

John Wesley did a series of sermons on the Sermon on the Mount, which spans several chapters in the Gospel of Matthew. One of those sermons, or discourses as he called them, was focused on this passage from Matthew we read today. In it he looked at the meaning behind this prayer that Jesus taught us. As I read his discourse and thought about the prayer, I was reminded just how much is packed into those seemingly simple words we speak each week.

Wesley felt that there was great meaning in the Lord’s Prayer. He felt it contained everything we could ask of God and everything we should ask of God. He even took it further, stating that there was nothing we should desire that we would not ask of God.

“We may observe in general concerning this divine prayer, first, that it contains all we can reasonably or innocently pray for. There is nothing which we need to ask of God, nothing which we can ask without offending him, which is not included either directly or indirectly in this comprehensive form. Secondly, it contains all we can reasonably or innocently desire; whatever is for the glory of God, whatever is needful or profitable, not only for ourselves but for every creature in heaven and earth. And indeed our prayers are the proper test of our desires, nothing being fit to have a place in our desires which is not fit to have a place in our prayers; what we may not pray for, neither should we desire.”

This idea of Wesley’s really struck me: “What we may not pray for, neither should we desire.” Think about the Lord’s Prayer for a minute. We ask God to give us our daily bread. I take this as broader request for God to give us what we need to be sustained. Sometimes I think it is easy to lose track of what that really means. For many of us, we have far more in our lives than what we need to just sustain ourselves.

Over the summer, members of our congregation have taken part in a couple of different food packing events. These events gather large numbers of people together to pack complete meals that are meant to be used by people in need around the world. One of the events was sending food to Somali which has been ravaged by famine and drought. Another event packed food to be used right here in our own community. What is striking to me is the nature of the food that is packed. While it contains the essential nutrients, it is not a very exciting look meal. It contains everything we need to eat, but probably not everything we want to eat.

For people like me, who love food and never say no to dessert, that distinction between what we need and what we want is a familiar one. My own waistline is a testament to how often I default to those wants rather than the needs. Maybe that is why I find Wesley’s statement so powerful and so challenging. How much do I align my desires and my wants with what my needs are or what God’s wants and desires are for me?

Another place we see this same tension is when it comes to money. We all know that money cannot buy happiness and so being rich is not going to make us happy. At the same time, we all also know that we are not rich. The reason for this is simple, we all know people who are richer than us. The reality however is something quite different. According to Care International, my salary is enough to put me in the .2% of people by income in the world. I might not feel rich, but compared to the rest of the world I am.

Interestingly enough, there have been studies on this question about money buying happiness. In fact, the truth is, money does buy happiness. Studies have found that there is a strong correlation between how happy a person is and their income. Money however can only buy so much happiness. Once a certain level of income had been reached, more money did not necessarily mean more happiness. The point where that correlation stopped, $10,000 a year. In case you are wondering, $10,000 a year would still be more than 83% of the world.

Where does this leave us? Well for me, with my big television to watch the Vikings, my faithful old Prius to get me to work, and ample selection of books to read, clothes to wear, and food to eat, it leaves me feeling a little guilty and a little convicted. I have no problem asking God each week to give me my daily bread, but when I look at what I have, it is far more than just what I need. So what can I learn from this?

First, I know that I need to do better at thinking about what I have and how it is connected to God. I have been doing some financial planning recently and so have been thinking about what my needs are in retirement. Like most people, it is fun to imagine what I might do in retirement such as travel and to think about the money that I might need to do that. In order to get that money, I start thinking about what I need to do to save that money. Pretty soon, I have a great plan put together about how I am going to provide for my retirement. What I have done though is forget about God. I have a created a plan for how I am going to provide my own daily bread and left God out of the occasion. Now I am not saying I should not save for retirement and just trust that God is going to provide. I would argue that God is already providing for my future daily in the money that the church pays into my pension plan and in the salary the church gives me that I use to save for retirement. All I need to do is remember that all of this is not because of me, but it is a part of God’s providence.

Second, I need to ask myself those hard questions about what is it that I really need. A member of my youth group in my first church went an entire month eating only a cup of rice each day. He did it along with two friends to raise awareness, and raise funds, for starving people who had only a single cup of rice to eat each day. While he would not suggest such an experience to others, it is a powerful reminder of how much we have than what need. While we all need more than just a cup of fortified rice to survive, what I need is probably less than what I have.

The reality is that God has given me more than I need. I have been praying for my daily bread and God has given me an abundance. I could use this to satisfy my own desires, or I could use this to God’s work and God’s glory. If I think of it as my money, then I know what I will use it for. If I think of it as God’s gift, then I will be better at using it to benefit more than just myself. When I can do that, then I will be able to better align my desires with God’s and say with more conviction, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

 

Questions to Ponder:

What is your daily bread that you need in your life?

How do you see God providing for you in your life?

What challenges do you face in aligning your needs and your desires with God?

Prayer:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and glory forever. Amen