Understanding The Prayer That Jesus Taught Us
A Study by Pastor John ę 1996 (revised 8-7-2006)
- Dear Jesus: Master, Guide and Teacher, We thank you for the opportunity to approach your throne of grace through prayer, yet we confess our ignorance of how to do that. We crave ever closer communion with you and so we request: Master, please teach us how to pray.
- There are two versions of the Lord's Prayer contained within the Bible. The King James Version presents them this way:
- The first, at Luke 11:1-4 says:1 And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.
2 And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.
3 Give us day by day our daily bread.
4 And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.
- The other, more familiar version, is found at Matthew 6:9-13:9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
- This is one of the most beloved prayers in the world. Prior to this generation, virtually everyone in the West knew it by heart, whether they were Christian or not.
- The prayer was originally spoken in Aramaic, Jesus' native tongue to first century Hebrews living under the boot of Roman occupation. We know Jesus spoke it in Aramaic because Matthew later presented it in its original Aramaic form in his book karosootha D'mattai.
- We need to understand right off, that Jesus wasn't talking to Westerners, and so when we translate his teachings into modern English, through the lens of Greek copies of copies of still older Aramaic fragments, we must make allowance for this fact, understanding that no translation can convey all the subtleties and cultural imports of any given text, whether that text is inspired or not. So in order to get the most from this important teaching, some familiarity with New Testament Aramaic language and culture will prove helpful.
- When seeking to understand this prayer we realize right off the bat that there's a language problem. Jesus had never heard the English word "prayer." That being a given, the disciples did not approach the Master and ask, "Teach us how to pray," not in those words anyway, they all spoke Aramaic.
- The English word "prayer" is used here to translate the Greek word Prôs-═uch┘mai, which the author of Luke chose to convey the Aramaic word SLOTHA, follow that? So then, the disciples really asked Jesus to teach them how to SLOTHA -- Sounds like fun, eh? -- anyway, a lot of important instructions have been lost somewhere between SLOTHA and PRAYER!
- Now, think about it for a moment, how would Jesus, the undisputed Master of Parables (Matthew 13:34) respond to such a question? Why, with a parable of course, or at least a simile. And that's exactly what he did:
- SLOTHA comes from the root word sla which means, "to set a trap" as when hunting. This was the simile Jesus employed: prayer is like setting a trap for God.
- There are of course many kinds of traps, but to set a simple one like I used as a child, one takes a box and props it open with a stick with a string tied to it. The hunter then conceals him or herself in the bushes and waits for the prey. When the prey finally comes and enters the trap to get the bait, the string is pulled and the box falls, thus trapping the animal inside.
- Likewise, when the disciples went to the Master and asked how they should PRAY or SLOTHA, they were given technical information on how to "trap" God.
- Throughout the ancient world rabbis, dervish, gurus and the like offered systematic instructions on prayer and meditation to their disciples. This was one of the main jobs for a teacher. In olden times prayer was much more than just closing one's eyes and "talking into the darkness." In the Luke text, the disciples referred to the fact that John the Baptizer had such teachings in their request for instruction.
- Now, considering the way most people pray today, this question might seem a bit odd. We might reply to their request by saying, "Well, you just close your eyes, if you want to, and talk to God like you would to anyone else."
- And certainly there is an important place in spiritual life for this type of prayer: Our car begins to sputter going over the hill [the Santa Cruz Mountains] and we quickly pray -- hopefully with our eyes open -- "Oh God, please don't let it break down here!" And often God kindly intervenes and we make it home all right, just ask Andrea. But this isn't the type of prayer the disciples were asking about here.
- "Master, teach us to pray," they asked. Teach us how to set a trap in which we can catch God's thoughts and wisdom. Teach us how to recieve God's will for our lives and then, as John the Beloved Mystic described it at Revelation 10:9, teach us how to 'eat up' that council, fully incorporating it into our lives, our very essence. Or, in the terminology of Stranger in a Strange Land we might say, "Teach us how to grok God!" -- I love that book! I just finished reading it again this past week.
- Their very request implies the existence of such techniques. It suggests that there's more to prayer than just closing one's eyes and rapping with God. We must prayerfully set our trap -- fasting often helps in this process, as does kneeling or laying prostrate before God, joining our palms and similar techniques -- then, as effective spiritual hunters, we enter the 'bushes' of our prayer closet and wait patiently for God's Spirit to enter into the trap of our contemplation. This process was called Alter Sitting by the old Appalachian Pentecostals when I was a kid. They would often remain on their knees or bellies throughout the night patiently waiting for God's holy presence to enter them like 'tongues of fire.' And you know what? The Holy Ghost came! There were powerful spontaneous revivals in those days unlike anything the new techno-ministries of today contrive by artificial means.
- And when the Spirit blesses that patient faith and finally does come 'into our box', the worshipper is transported into the Dominion of unspeakable glory which "no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor human heart conceived; they experience that bliss that the Christ has prepared for those who love God," (I Cor. 2:9), and their souls bathe in the "peace that passes all understanding" (Phil. 4:7). They experience the transcendent 'kingdom of God in our midst.'
- How seldom do we spend more than a half hour or so in prayer, waiting for God's personal Word for us? Then we wonder why we don't hear from God so often.
- How to set our spiritual trap and capture God's heart is the subject matter of the Prayer that Jesus taught us. They requested, "Master, teach us how to pray."
- So, to begin with, the Master said to pray: "Our Parent who is in heaven: a-waan d'wash-mayi" in Aramaic.
We aren't taught to pray to el-shaddai, the All-mighty God, or to el-elyon, the Most High God, but to seek a-waan d'wash-mayi, our Parent Who is in heaven.
- The Aramaic word d'wash-mayi refers to the material heavens, the sky: a-waan d'wash-mayi is therefore our Divine Parent Who exists within the material universes, Who is everywhere present, not to some God in the nether world who can't feel our sorrows and joys. No, God is here, and "in [God] we live and move and have our being" as Acts 17:28 says.
- As a child can, hopefully, freely approach his or her parents, so too we require no other mediator than the Christ within us. We needn't pray to the "God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob," as Jesus' predecessors did. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews was inspired to advise us to: "approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16). We can pray to our God, to my God, to your God. God is one and the throne of mercy is available to us all!
- Granted God is still known as el gibbor, the Mighty God, as el olam, the Eternal One and so on -- the Names of God are without limit or number! -- but still, a-waan d'wash-mayi, is our loving Parent who is always fully accessible to each of us.
- What mom does at work has nothing to with our relationship. Mom's on our side! Period!
- Now, when we say that "God" is our Parent, just what are we saying? Who is this God Person anyway? Is God some fearsome old bearded man sitting on a celestial throne somewhere up beyond the clouds? Is that the "Our Father" we are told to pray to? Is God the fiercely-righteous judge who casually sentences the vast majority of people to endless torture at the hands of horned demons wearing red spandex?
- Is God a man? Is God a woman? Is God black, brown, red or white? -- aren't these silly notions? -- the things we argue about! The Fundies of all religions reenjoy making God in their own image, with their own prejudices and limitations! Friends, God is utterly beyond anything we can conceive! God is: "I am that which I will be" (Ex. 3:14).
- Our English word "God" was, of course, unknown to Jesus. The word "God" comes from the German word goot which means the "good one."
- When Jesus spoke of "God" he probably employed the word ALAHA, just as the Hebrew speaking people spoke of ALOHIM and Arabic speakers call the Good One ALLAH. All three of these Semitic Names for the One God share the root al or el. Unfortunately, there is no exact translation for "al." The closest would be to refer to one's very breath, to one's very heartbeat. This is the reason for the famous verse in the Koran:Allah is near to each of us:
closer than the very blood
coursing through our veins.
- How intimate is this connection we have with God! It's often said that people are God's hands and feet in the world and this is doubtless, potentially, true, but it's equally true that God is the very essence which empowers those hands and feet.
- Isaiah 42:13 and 14 says, in the Jerusalem Bible:Yahweh advances like a hero
His fury is stirred like a warrior's.
He gives the war shout,
raises the hue and cry,
marches valiantly against His foes.
God is the very essence of maleness, the perfect "Our Father." Yet, the text continues:From the beginning I [Yahweh] have been silent,
I have kept quiet, held myself in check.
I groan like a woman in labor,
I suffocate, I stifle.
- So yes, cultural stereo-types aside, God is equally the very essence of femaleness, the Shekenah, the perfect "Mother."
- There's a song I like that goes, in part:
Our God is not a Woman
Our God is not a Man
Our God is Both and Neither
Our God's the Great I-AM!
- Our God is El-ohym, both Father: El and Mother: o'hym; both God and Goddess, and yet neither: as in the Jewish Hassidic teaching of the En-Soff, the No-Thing, or in the Netti Netti of the Indian Sanatana dharma, Not-This Not-That... but I digress.
- So, when we say that God is our Parent we are suggesting the existence of an incredibly intimate relationship with the Divinity. It was largely this claim that led Jesus to the cross, according to John 10:30-34
- The Master said:I and My Father are one."
Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, "Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?"
The Jews answered Him, saying, "For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God."
Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your law, "I said, "You are gods?"
- This was a reference to the eighty-second Psalm where we are called "Gods, children of the Most High, (El Elyon).
- Jesus explains this wonderful Truth at John 17:21-23 when he prays:...that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.
And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:
I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.
- Did you hear what Jesus said?
- So, when we pray "Our Father who is in heaven" we are addressing the one Being in all of existence who is closer to us than our own breath, more precious than our very lives, who is our eternal well-wisher, our ALAHA.
- Now, some religious types say we humans are vile sinners, worthy of God's wrath, but this isn't what the Master teaches us! God doesn't 'condescend' to hear our prayers as so many believe. The truth is, as Colossians 1:27 says, that Christ in us, is the hope of glory. Alaha, God, dwells within each of us, sharing our lives and always seeking fellowship with us, as the resurrected Jesus assures us at Revelation 3:20.
- So, as we sit in prayerful meditation contemplating this wondrous prayer, waiting patiently for God to enter our 'trap,' we are, for that blessed time, fully dwelling within the Dominion or Kingdom of God, even as the Master promised us at Luke 17:20, 21, 'The dominion of God is within us and among us.'
- So then, in prayer we set our trap for God. We wait, prayerfully, pondering the various points made in the prayer, we allow ourselves to receive what Christ offers us as in time our trap is sprung and God, Alaha, the Holy Spirit, allows us, in the spirit of love, to capture our Beloved in sweet and holy Communion.Our Omnipresent Father-Mother,
hallowed [or honored] be your Name.
May Your dominion [or universal mastery] be established.
May Your divine Will be done, on earth
as it is in the heavens [where the planets travel
harmoniously in their orbits under the Your Direction].
Give us this day our daily bread [and all other needs
as well, so that we can more fully love and serve you
through our service to others].
And forgive us our debts [to all creation],
as we also have forgiven our debtors [knowing that
there's a divine reciprocity between our willingness to forgive others and our receiving Your mercy and blessings].
And do not let us enter into temptation (to prejudice,
greed and other forms of non-loving thought and behavior).
But protect us from error.
For the dominion [or righteous administration] and the
power [the moral authority and ability] and the glory
[or the endless celebratory songs of triumph] are yours forever,
Amen [as has been said, so shall it be].
- Thank you very much. God bless you as you continue Reaching for the One.
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