My dad introduced my brother and me to Red Skelton’s comedy shows back in the day. While his sketches still stand out in my mind as some of the funniest I’ve ever seen, one of his more serious moments came to my mind the other day.
During one of his shows, he spoke about a love of one’s country, specifically holding up the “Pledge of Allegiance” to the flag as a model of patriotism. To do this, he simply walked through the well known pledge a word or a phrase at a time, carefully elaborating on the depth of meaning behind each piece of the pledge. This was a simple enough act, but it stuck with me, giving me a newfound perspective on the well known words.
The thought occurred to me that powerful words can easily become commonplace. What was once a statement of conviction or a pledge of devotion and honor can become mundane and superficial if the heart behind the words is lost. This hit home especially hard as I recently read through the Lord’s prayer in the sermon on the mount. There, Jesus simply yet profoundly provides us with an example to follow as we pray. He says,
“Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
God has been convicting me lately as to my need to pray more. I want to know God better, and I know prayer is the road to deeper intimacy with him. Thus, prayer needs to be more of a priority in my life. And thankfully, Jesus gave us this model. Whether through repetition or through complacency, however, these words can become mere recitation, lacking meaning and devotion. But they don’t have to remain that way. Today, I’d simply like to walk through this prayer like Red Skelton walked through the “Pledge of Allegiance.” Though my words can never do full justice to those of Christ, I pray these humble observations, these elaboratory prayers, can help you as they have helped me to refocus and to realign my heart with the Father’s.
“Our Father”: Far from the distant, unreachable false gods of the world, you, God, are near to us, approachable, and loving. You, through Christ, adopt us as your own, making us sons and daughters who can boldly approach you. You are immanent.
“In heaven”: Our Father, you reign on high, exalted above all creation. Your throne is higher than any other throne, far exceeding any earthly ruler. No threat or challenge to your lordship can stand. You are transcendent.
“Hallowed be your name”: Your name, O Lord, is no ordinary name. You are holy, set apart, revered above all else. In a world with innumerable idols and gods, you alone are worthy of worship. May your name receive its due honor.
“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”: Just as you reign perfectly in heaven, your perfect will coming to pass with no opposition, so also may it be on earth. May you be followed and reverenced as completely in our world as you are in heaven, for your reign is the perfect reign.
“Give us this day our daily bread”: Like Agur prayed in Proverbs 30, give me neither too much nor too little. Provide for my needs as you see fit, that I am not tempted by poverty or by riches to dishonor your name. May I daily depend upon you for my needs.
“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors”: Our greatest need is forgiveness of sin. Make us clean. May we reflect your forgiveness by our own. As we forgive others, so forgive us, that the world may see in us reflections of you.
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”: Our hearts are “prone to wander,” as the song says. Keep us from those things that would entice our hearts to sin, and deliver us from all evil that our lives may shine bright for your glory. We admit our weakness; we trust in your strength.
Some manuscripts add “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.”: We remember that we work for the advance of your kingdom, not our own. We remember that we work in your power, not our own. We remember that we seek your glory, not our own. You, O Lord, are the main character of the story. May we humbly and joyfully serve you. And just as your kingdom and power and glory are forever, so may we praise and glorify you forever. Amen and amen.