Unseen yet apparent: insights into the Lord’s model prayer

It is almost embarrassing to admit that (1) traditions surrounding the Lord’s model prayer and (2) my own distaste for repetition have kept me from considering the place of this prayer in early Christian thought—and presumably in the very mind of Jesus.  As set in Matthew’s gospel, this prayer can lead to important insights, including focus on the Father’s purposes and the art of simple, trusting request.

I am also struck by the material that flanks the prayer.  Consider the immediate context:

  1. [Prior to the prayer]  Counsel about doing good things with the Father in mind, not to be seen by others
  2. [After it]  Words about (a) spiritual forgiveness, which occurs without physical evidence, (b) the secretive, non-observable side of fasting, and (c) treasures on earth vs. treasures in heaven

Do you notice the unseen element that appears (!) in Matthew’s material?  It’s really quite apparent, but that didn’t stop me from ignoring it until very recently.  Matthew seems concerned here with what’s spiritually real (not what’s physically observable).¹  I wonder whether we might say that the Lord’s prayer is, a sense, a prayer that relates the unseen kingdom to the here and now.  That one proposition deserves repetition (but not quasi-monotone recitation).

There is yet more in this prayer.  I could, for instance, draw on the insights of Gary D. Collier about the prayer’s compelling grammatical and syntactical structure.  (I’ve never seen a published English translation that comes close to rendering this aspect well.)  Surely, serious study of the prayer would last a year or two, and working it more into my heart, a lifetime.

Image result for lord's prayer in greek

For now, please simply consider with me the place of this prayer within the “Sermon on the Mount,” as the Matthew-gospel gives it to us.  There is much in the context of Matthew 6 that clues us in to the unseen, yet very present nature of God’s will and God’s reign.  Consider also the following quotation that ties the conclusion of the “Sermon” to the will of the King:

I like what Dr. Larry Chouinard writes in his pamphlet, The Kingdom Manifesto:  “Jesus expects his followers to take seriously his words (Matt 7:24-27), and embody Kingdom values and priorities in the here and now. . . the modern church seems to have lost its earthly mission to embody and practice the way of the Kingdom as a concrete expression of God’s heavenly will.”  – David Fiensy, Ph. D., https://www.kcu.edu/economics-christian-ethics/

¹ Those who are convinced that Jesus will yet rule on an earthly throne in Jerusalem should probably deal with this “unseen” aspect in some way.


2 thoughts on “Unseen yet apparent: insights into the Lord’s model prayer

  1. I have always found myself drawn to the unseen, and sometimes especially its interaction with the seen [I’m currently looking out at trees swaying in the wind.] I don’t want to reduce myself by saying I’m more a person of unseen thought than concrete action, but I think the fact that the bulk of my spiritual growth has taken place in the “inner room” can account for the way I balance the two.
    For me, the connection is so strong (can it be too strong?) between thought/attitude/priority and action that guilt is easy – there is so much to care about, and so much that should be done. And then I realize that I need to wash the dishes, and endeavor to find the presence of God there.
    If there is anything I am grateful for about Christianity (as the way of being Christ established), it is that it encompasses all of life, in every mundane detail and inconvenience. It gives every act the potential to be a place where the unseen Kingdom can bleed through to our physical surroundings.
    Maybe this is why I struggle to pray directly for what I need or desire; I have seen too clearly how right it is that the unseen be considered just as strongly as the concrete. I can pray to ask for what I think I need, but perhaps what is needed after all is a change in attitude, a different perspective, an uncomfortable situation, a time of grief, or a conflict I’d rather avoid. What we need first of all and most of all is not “daily bread” or to not be lead “into temptation”, but “our Father”, who knows our truest needs “before we even ask Him.”

    {Is this rambling? Probably. But maybe it makes sense and was good to say. I’m never sure.}

    Liked by 2 people

    • I have re-read this comment just now to make sure I got the fullness of it.

      I like the idea of the interaction of the unseen and seen very much. Back when I was reading Max Lucado’s books, I used to say that he brought together the heavenly and the earthly very beautifully at times. I think Fernando Ortega’s music does that, too. But comparing and contrasting unseen with seen seems deeper than “heavenly” and “earthly.” In a very real sense, Jesus was the seen “edition” of the unseen God; Jesus interacted with the seen, showing us how to live here, and calling us ultimately to the unseen.

      Liked by 1 person

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