The way Jesus and his disciples prayed and how they understood their roles in praying The Lord’s Prayer are very different from the ways we pray today. We must learn our role in prayer before learning about the meanings of the Hebrew words Jesus taught his disciples to pray. Below are some key insights about prayer in Jesus’s Jewish culture.
1. Prayer is the human side of an unending dialogue between God and humans.
2. God speaks to people through the grandeur of nature, the drama of history and the Jewish Scriptures.
3. God speaks to humans of his love for them, of his purposes for creating them, and of the ultimate goodness of all existence.
4. Humans speak to God through prayer – ongoing personal dialogues and collective (community) prayers.
The Lord’s Prayer is a collective prayer -- our Father, our daily bread, forgive us, our sins, we forgive, do not bring us, and protect us.1 The entire prayer uses the plural. It’s not a prayer about me and my; it is about we and us.
In the Jewish culture, collective prayers play an educational role in the community. They teach enduring values, wisdom, principles, laws, commandments, etc. that educate those praying about the things that are shared by members of Jewish communities throughout the world. The ultimate purpose of prayer in the Jewish culture is this -- bring people closer to God so they may more faithfully perform his will.2
In my religion and culture, when we said “Amen!” at the end of a prayer – that was it! We had done our part. We had made God aware of something we wanted or needed – now it’s up to Him!
In Jesus’s religion and culture, the “Amen!” signaled the beginning of the next phase of prayer – becoming actively involved in making the words they had just prayed a reality! This is the most important step in rediscovering the power of The Lord’s Prayer, so I will repeat it.
Immediately after saying “Amen!” the disciples became actively involved in making the words of the prayer a reality in their lives and world!
When the disciple asked Jesus to teach them how to pray -- he was asking Jesus to give them instructions about what they are supposed to do. Praying The Lord’s Prayer repeatedly was an educational exercise as well as reminders of their roles in making the Kingdom of Heaven a reality on the earth. This is doing God’s will. God’s will is something that humans do. God expects -- and empowered those created in His image -- to do their parts too, not only in this prayer, but in every prayer they pray.
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1 A Prayer to Our Father: Hebrew Origins of the Lord’s Prayer by Nehemia Gordon and Keith Johnson, © 2009; p. 146.
2 The Prayer Book: Weekday, Sabbath and Festival; translated and arranged by Ben Zion Bokser © 1983; Behrman House Publishers, Inc., New York, NY; pp. viii, ix.