Verses 9 to 13 in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew are familiar to anyone in Christian churches as “The Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father.” Emmet Fox said it was “the most important of all Christian documents;” the best known and most often quoted of all the teachings of Jesus. Easily memorized, it has been recited publically and privately from the early days of the church. “It is indeed, the one common denominator of all the Christian churches.” The Lord’s Prayer is a model for our praying—“Pray then like this.” (Matt. 6:9) It also has parallels to the principles of recovery embedded in Twelve Steps.
In Matthew 6:1, Jesus cautioned his hearers against public displays of righteousness. Essentially he said that if you make a public display of being pious, you aren’t really being spiritual. He then proceeded to look at the three main aspects of Jewish piety: giving to charity (2-4), prayer (5-15) and fasting (16-18).
Matthew 6:5-8 begins: “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites.” Here is the second thing to unlearn if you want to practice true spirituality—don’t make a big show out of praying! In fact, find a way to pray in secret. God sees you. Also, don’t babble on and on, thinking that because you have a lot to say, God is impressed with your eloquence—He isn’t. Then Jesus drops a bomb: “Your Papa knows what you need before you ask him.”
New Testament scholars suggest that when the Greek word for Father appears in the Gospel prayers, the Aramaic word ’abba was originally used in conversation. ’Abba was the equivalent of an infant babbling “Papa” to his father. To his audience, Jesus was suggesting an uncomfortably familiar form of address to God in prayer. Pious Jews wouldn’t even spell God’s name completely, and Jesus was referring to him as ’abba! One commentator said “Christians should consider God as accessible as the most loving human parent.” The hypocrites used flowery, eloquent language when they prayed. Jesus says don’t be like them—come to papa, who already knows what you need.
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” Our Father links the person praying to all other believers. I am reminded here that the first word of the First Step is also plural, We, connecting the individual alcoholic to all others in A.A. The intimacy of praying to ’abba is counterbalanced by His presence in heaven. We can come into the presence of the creator of the universe, knowing He is our ’abba. We can approach the God of the universe in all our prayers.
In the chapter “We Agnostics,” of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill W. wrote that alcoholics were faced with a crisis they could not postpone or evade. They were confronted with the question of faith. “God either is, or He isn’t. What was our choice to be?” Wilson went on to say that deep down in every person was the fundamental idea of God. Faith in some kind of God was a part of being human. “We found the Great Reality deep down within us.” The God of heaven was near to us. In Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Bill ended his essay with the following declaration: “When we drew near to Him He disclosed Himself to us!”
“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” When Jesus heard that John the Baptist was imprisoned, he began preaching as John had in Matthew 3:2, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 4:17) So here in verse 6:10, we are to pray that God’s will be done as perfectly on earth as it is in heaven. Leon Morris said: “In heaven God’s will is perfectly done now, for there is nothing in heaven to hinder it, and the prayer looks for a similar state of affairs here on earth.” Not our will, but God’s will be done.
I hear an echo of surrender to the will of God in A.A.’s Third Step here, where the individual is called to submit their will and life to the care of God as they understand Him. In the entry for August 26th, Twenty-Four Hours a Day said that if we still cling to something, we must sincerely ask for God’s help to let go of it. “We must say: ‘My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad.’” The last paragraph of the “Step Three” essay in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions says:
In all times of emotional disturbance or indecision, we can pause, ask for quiet, and in the stillness simply say: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. Thy will, not mine, be done.”
We’re not finished yet with our look at the Lord’s Prayer, but will stop here for now. Part of true spirituality is recognizing that we can approach the Creator of the universe in prayer as simply and as easily as an infant approaches his or her “papa.” And our attitude in prayer should be for God’s will to be done. I often use the Serenity Prayer in counseling to help people discern the will of God in their life. When I do, I encourage them to not only say it, but to work and apply it. Because if they do, then God’s will shall be done on earth.
Do you approach God in prayer as if you are approaching a loving Father?
See the second part of this reflection on the Lord’s Prayer in “A Daily Reprieve.”
This series is dedicated to the memory of Audrey Conn, whose questions reminded me of my intention in seminary to look at the various ways the Sermon on the Mount applies to Alcoholics Anonymous and recovery. If you’re interested in more, look under the category link “Sermon on the Mount.”