In his only novel, “No Great Mischief, ” Canadian writer, Allistair Macloed, is famous for penning the phrase, “All of us are better when we are loved.” This even included an alcoholic character in the book convicted of murder. “All of us are better when we are loved.”
It sounds a bit like the theme in the Gospel Luke—with Jesus, as the Savior for the lost and outcast of every kind in every place: prostitutes and tax collectors, women and outsiders, the sick and widowed, the lost and enemies, like the Samaritans. I imagine Luke wanted folks to hear and know that all people, even the lost, are loved here, in the Lord’s Prayer, before he went on to record Jesus’ more difficult teachings and parables yet to come in chapters 12 and 13.
Imagine for a moment that you are living in the first century and among the crowds to whom Jesus is speaking. You are poor, like 90 % of the population, most likely a subsistence farmer. As a Jew, the Lord’s prayer would be familiar and similar to prayers you already know: addressing God as holy, and asking for forgiveness as you have forgiven others. Rarely do your prayers address God as, “Father” and the few times they do, it is in reference to the God who has elected and adopted Israel as the chosen people.
Your daily prayers–usually three times a day–connect you to your community, remind you of God’s will in your daily life, help you remember God’s Word. These are lovely aspects of prayer that Jesus builds on when he teaches the Lord’s Prayer; however, God might be more of a distant authority figure over the whole community.
Now, let’s take our imagination a step further and picture ourselves as a member of the community to whom Luke is writing. This community is a non-Jewish–a group of Gentile Christians and they hear this prayer differently than Jesus’ Jewish followers. You may be from Greece or modern day Turkey; you grew up worshiping the pantheon of Olympian gods or practicing many of the pagan religions before hearing about forgiveness and salvation in Jesus Christ.
This new faith is hard to wrap your head around because in your world, fathers and grandfathers have complete control over their children and grandchildren. For example, a father decides whether his newborn child will be raised in the family, or whether they will be sold into slavery, or simply be killed.
Your father made this decision about you–maybe you are in this Christian community as a slave in a household that converted to Christianity, maybe you were a girl and your dad wanted a son, maybe you had an ailment that made you too sickly to be desirable by your family.
Living with men exercising such potentially abusive power…in the home, and in the occupying forces of Rome that seem to oppress everywhere you turn….or living in poverty, experiencing God as a part of life, but distant, watching over the whole nation from afar…
And into this experience, you hear Jesus teach the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus teaches us to pray beginning with one word that is so startling it catches in our throat, and completely bends us out of our experience and beyond culture, with who this God is to whom we pray. It is one word that changes everything and stretches us into a space and relationship:
“Father…” Not a distant deity, but an intimate dad.
“Father….” Not a cold patriarch who would sell, abandon or betray you, but a nourisher, a protector, a provider.
When you pray, say, “Father…” Talk to God as your intimate caregiver who loves and embraces you as his very own child, who listens to you, who knows you, who understands you, who even adores you.
A God who is not far, but close, personal and loving.
A God who does not engender fear based on judgment, bean-counting and score-keeping, but rather a relationship centered in love, giving us confidence and trust that God is always working on our behalf to save us, to bring us closer, to provide us bread, to forgive our errors, to keep us safe.
The radical nature of the Lord’s Prayer to first century ears is not What the prayer petitions say, it is to Whom the prayer is said, which is so transformative to those who hear Jesus' words for the first time. Imagine someone who’s father sold them into slavery hearing that God will be their father and love them like their own father could not?
Who ever heard of a God who is so generous, who cares for each of us like an intimate parent, loves us enough to listen to our needs, and desires what is best for us? Who would send another to show how much he loves us–and to save and redeem us!
Jesus invites us into the same relationship he has with God–one that is personal, intimate, sacred and trustworthy.
Do you see the radical nature of what Jesus is doing with this one word? When you pray, say, “Father.” Jesus bends the image of God everyone is operating with. He takes distance and pulls it in close; he takes the God of a nation, and makes it personal; he takes a controlling, even tyrannical father image, and he makes him loving, constant, nourishing, redeeming.
When Jesus bends the image of God to bring people into an intimate relationship with God, he gives us permission to do the same. So if the “father-parent” image is not one that invites you into a loving experience of God for whatever reason, then use the language and image that does invite you into intimacy with God! (why have Christians gotten this wrong for 2 centuries?). Jesus talked about himself as a mother hen–try “our mother, our grandma, our opa or oma”–try other intimate words or images for God that help you experience love and closeness with God in whom you can put childlike confidence and trust. I know someone who likes the word, “Source.” With what image of God can you experience expansive and personal love?
Because when you experience this intimacy, you can bring everything to God–like a loud neighbor banging with persistence to get some bread for his guests–Jesus’ parable is not just about “persistence” in your prayer—persistence can also be translated, shamelessness. When you have childlike trust that God loves you so much, that God’s love is immense and reliable—you can not only be persistent in prayer, you can be shameless in your requests.
Let God have all of it–all of your needs, all of your questions, all of your middle of the night fears and anxieties.
For if you, who are limited human beings, can respond with love to your children, how much more can the Father and Mother and Source of all give blessings abundant, love and the Holy Spirit to those who seek, ask and knock. If you were to be shameless in your prayers today, deeply trusting in God’s love for you, what would you talk about with God?
That’s what I want you to talk about with God today—and this week—I want you to be shameless, and shamelessly persistent because you are so sure of God’s parental love for you.
I want you to try shameless persistent prayer this week, because you see our fear is that God does not have that much love and attention for us. But God does! And when you trust God does, and are shameless in prayer, you will experience it! Like a kid who will ask 100 times for a cookie, or the same toy for Christmas.
Franciscan priest, Fr. Richard Rohr writes, “People who know God well—mystics, hermits, those who risk everything to find God—always meet a lover, not a dictator. God is never found as an abusive father or a tyrannical mother; God is always a lover greater than we dared hope for. How different from the 'account manager' most people seem to worship. God is the lover who receives and forgives everything.”
Can you believe this with your whole heart? Are you willing to find out with your own persistent shameless prayers? Jesus communicates this truth with just one word of the Lord’s Prayer, “Father,” which revealed an intimate and infinite love not previously imagined. Perhaps this is why the Twelve Apostles, in one of their early Christian writings called the Didache, instructed believers to pray the Lord’s prayer 3x a day. If you do not know how to be shameless and persistent in prayer, you could start there—with the Lord’s Prayer, 3 times/day!
“All of us are better when we are loved.” I would add “All of us are better when we are loved by God in prayer,” for then we truly know there is no such thing as scarcity. There is always enough for all of God’s children, for all of God’s world, for all of God’s creation. When we live in this abundant love through prayer, centered in an intimate relationship with God the Father, our lives embody and exude this abundant love.
So try this shameless persistent prayer this week and discover this close, lovingly abundant, intimate God.