By James Mulholland, Praying Like Jesus: The Lord’s Prayer in a Culture of Prosperity, Harper Collins, © 2011, pages 36-38.
One day, after we had visited with my grandfather, I heard my father comment to my mother, “I hope I can be as good a man as my father.” Sitting in the backseat of our car, I thought, “I want to be as good a man as my dad.” A good parent is always an attractive model for their children. Paul wrote, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love” (Ephesians 5:1). Whenever I claim God as father, I also accept the responsibility to be like him. Jesus taught his disciples to pray with intimacy and responsibility.
I grew up in a small town where everyone knew my grandfather, Spencer, and my father, Royal. This was an advantage when I walked into the bank as a young man and asked for a loan. The bank officer looked at my long hair and torn jeans with obvious suspicion. But when I told him my name, he smiled and said, “You must be Spencer’s grandson and Royal’s boy. I think we can help you.” He gave me the amount I requested without any further question.
Of course, if I had profaned that blessing and defaulted on the loan, I would have abused my relationship with my father and grandfather. I would have dishonored our family. When those of us who are blessed by God fail to imitate his character and compassion, we dishonor God. When we have the audacity to pray “Our Father,” we must also have the courage to live as his children.
I remember occasions when I was tempted to do something I knew was wrong. In those moments, I was restrained by the thought, “I don’t want to bring any shame or embarrassment to my grandfather or to my father.” What I wanted most was for people to see the good things I was doing and to tell my grandfather or father, “I saw your boy the other day.” I wanted nothing more than to make them proud.
What makes God proud? It isn’t rigid compliance with religious rules and ordinances. Jesus was critical of those ‘who strain out gnats and swallow camels.’ It isn’t magnificent religious rituals and ceremonies. Jesus spent more time eating with sinners than sacrificing at the Temple. It isn’t religious organization and efficiency. Jesus collected a ragtag group of religious “nobodies” and societal rejects…
When Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandment, he answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38). Intimacy with God should be our greatest desire. Without this intimacy, we are left to live for ourselves alone.
Then Jesus added, “The second (commandment) is like it; ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:39). In so doing, Jesus moved us from intimacy to responsibility. The primary responsibility of the children of God is to love their neighbors.
Matthew 6:9 — (Jesus said), “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…’”
Ephesians 5:1-2a — Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…
Matthew 22:35-39 — One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Almighty and most merciful God, grant that by the indwelling of your Holy Spirit we may be enlightened and strengthened for your service; and, forasmuch as without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
—Book of Common Prayer