One of the most revered Christian traditions has been the learning and recitation of the The Lord’s Prayer. Born and raised in the Roman Catholic Church, I had memorized this prayer by the time I was 7 years old. Today, it continues to be a mainstay in Christian traditions throughout the world. That is because it was the way Jesus taught his original disciples to pray. In the Sermon on the Mount, he said,
“This then is how you should pray:
“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 the evil one.” [Matthew 6:9-13]
Catholics and Protestants alike have included The Lord’s Prayer in differing forms in their church liturgies for centuries. Most of the faithful have it memorized. However, it is often recited with little or no reflection. Thus we miss the significance of the message Jesus was attempting to impart to his followers. In this post, I will give you a segment by segment interpretation of the prayer’s contents. In this way, we can gain a greater understanding of and appreciation for the true meaning of the prayer.
Before we start, a basic principle of interpretation must be emphasized: God is spirit [John 4:24]. So we need to interpret the prayer in terms of spiritual principles. That being said, let’s get started.
The prayer begins by addressing God as “Our Father”. Jesus did not say “my father” or “your father.” To do so would imply that he was in some way separate from us. Rather, he said, “Our Father” because we all stem from the same root. So Jesus starts out by emphasizing our common bond and our common Source of Being.
He once told a crowd of people that included his disciples,
“And do not call anyone on earth ‘father’, for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.” [Matthew 23:9]
Our parents brought our bodies into existence, but here Jesus is speaking instead of the core of our being: our minds and our spirit. In that sense, the Father of all of us is God. Just as children reflect the physical characteristics of their parents, Jesus says that our being is to reflect the character of the one Father of all.
He then states that our Father is “in heaven”. What is heaven? Contrary to what most of us have been taught, heaven is not a place. So what is it? A Course in Miracles tells us.
“Heaven is not a place nor a condition. It is merely an awareness of perfect Oneness and the knowledge that there is nothing else…” [T-18.VI.1:5-6]
Heaven, therefore, is a state of being. It is an awareness that only perfect unity exists. Looking at our world, where we see separate people, living separate lives, in separate places, heaven appears to be a totally different place. But it’s not. Jesus describes heaven (or in his words, the Kingdom of God) as follows:
“The coming kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is’ or ‘There it is’, because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” [Luke 17:20-21]
Heaven, where our Father dwells, is in our midst. Think about it. Why wouldn’t it be? Doesn’t a loving father want to be near the children he loves? But if God is in our midst, why are we unable to see Him?
Fundamentally, we are unable to see God because we have erected barriers that keep Him from our sight. God exists in the present moment. He is omnipresent. In contrast, science has demonstrated that we spend as much as 95% of our time focusing on the past (that is, functioning subconsciously). When past thoughts obscure the here and now, the presence of God is blocked from our view. Even though our Father is in our midst, we are totally unaware of His presence. We live as if He’s not there.
If we are to see God, we must turn our attention to the present moment. This action is called “raising our level of awareness”. How do we do that? It begins with the next step in The Lord’s Prayer: “hallowed be your name”.
The word “hallow” is derived from the Indo-European root “kailo”. From this same root, we also get the words wholeness, whole, holy, health, and heal. When the Bible refers to someone’s name, it is speaking of their character or reputation. So when Jesus says, “hallowed be your name,” he is calling on his listeners to recognize the Father as the Source of wholeness and healing. He is whole, He always has been whole, and He can be nothing but whole. Since we are part of God and belong to Him, we must also be whole.
But the world we live in appears far from whole. It seems fragmented and ridden with conflict. Consequently, humanity appears to be far from whole, healthy, and healed. Since our world is in desperate need of healing, the question becomes, what can we do to restore the human race to its intended state of wholeness? The next phrase of the prayer has the answer: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
We have seen that the Father’s kingdom (heaven) is a state of being that is characterized by wholeness. His will is that His wholeness permeates all of us here on earth. This phrase then is a commitment to personal transformation, which extends to everyone in the world. The Bible refers to this activity as repentance. Repentance means a change in direction or a change of one’s mind. How does repentance work in practice? The next phrase in the prayer tells us: “Give us this day our daily bread.”
Remember, throughout the prayer, Jesus is referring to state of mind. Therefore, this phrase does not refer to physical food or physical needs of any kind. The Bible teaches,
“Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” [Deuteronomy 8:3, Matthew 4:4]
“Give us this day our daily bread” simply means that God’s presence within us will teach us on a daily basis how to be restored to wholeness. It’s His presence within us that directs the course of our transformation. But we also have a role to play. Our acknowledgement and acceptance of His guidance provides us with the strength we need to do our part in this transformation. And what do we need to do? The next line of the prayer explains: “Forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors.”
The fundamental underlying principle behind the transformation of the human race is forgiveness. Following his resurrection, Jesus said to his disciples,
“This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” [Luke 24:46-48]
According to Jesus, repentance (a change of mind) is necessary prior to engaging in the practice of forgiveness. That’s because the ultimate purpose of forgiveness is to affirm your neighbor’s innocence and, in the process, to also affirm your own. By doing so, you then fulfill the royal law: love your neighbor as yourself. As each of us wholeheartedly engages in this activity, we each do our part in transforming the world.
The final phrase of the prayer, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” is best interpreted by A Course in Miracles:
“‘Lead us not into temptation’ means ‘Recognize your errors and choose to abandon them by following my guidance.’” [T-1.III.4:7]
In this final statement of the prayer, Jesus is admonishing us to remain mindful of our need for healing. And, as we persistently follow the guidance of God within us, the evil we now see will eventually disappear forever.
The Lord’s Prayer, then, is a summary of Jesus’s message to the world. It identifies the Source of our collective being and our true nature. It acknowledges that humanity has not reflected who we really are, and it provides us with the process for restoring wholeness to ourselves and our world. Thus, the meaning of The Lord’s Prayer could be expressed in the following way:
Humanity comes from God and is united with God. (Our Father)
He appears separated from us and us from each other. (in heaven)
But God remains whole. Therefore, we are not separated as we appear to be . (hallowed be your name)
The goal now is for humanity to abandon the illusion of separateness and accept the reality of its wholeness. (your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven)
To do this requires that daily we learn from God a different way of thinking that heals our broken relationships. (Give us this day our daily bread)
That healing is achieved through practicing forgiveness. (And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.)
Humanity must recognize its errors, abandon them, and accept the guidance of our Father’s Spirit within us so that the evil we currently see will no longer exist. (And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.)