The Disciples’ Prayer: An Intimate Phrase by Phrase Journey through the Lord’s Prayer
Reviewed by Robert P. Mills, and, uh, forgive me for all my sins, Lord, and help me to get that job, Lord, if it’s Your will. And please help John’s cold to get better, Lord, and help me not to catch it. And, uh, oh yeah …”
“Maybe,” Williams observes, “meaningful prayer is something that takes growing into.”
As Williams notes, what we now know as the Lord’s Prayer might more aptly be called the Disciples’ Prayer. For in answering a disciple’s request “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1), Jesus said, in effect, “This is how to approach God; this is how to address Him; these are the priorities you should have when you go to Him; these are the things you should talk about. Take this prayer as a sample and an outline. Take these general petitions and make them personal and specific according to your own personality, needs and experience.”
Williams begins the journey of making this outline personal by considering what it means to pray to a God who has revealed himself to us in very personal terms: “The whole gospel is implied by the Lord’s teaching us to call God our Father. For to address God as our Father is to confess that He can be approached only through the redemption which is in Jesus Christ.
Avoiding the swamp of inclusive language partisanship, Williams focuses instead on the personal and relational implications of addressing God as Father: “Our relationship with God as expressed in prayer is like that of a son or daughter to a good father. We address God as children address their father, not as they address a stranger on the one hand or one of their buddies on the other. It is a relationship of love, trust and intimacy – with a good measure of respect and godly fear.”
A pastoral tone
This pastoral, non-polemical tone characterizes William’s journey through the remainder of the prayer.
“Hallowed be thy name,” he notes, “sets a radical agenda for our priorities. In general, the glory of God is to be the first thing on our minds when we pray … Perhaps the greatest service the Lord performed in giving us this prayer was to remind us that the first concern of heart, mind and soul as we approach the throne of God is not to be our daily bread, not deliverance from evil, not even forgiveness of sin – it is to be, ‘What then will You do for Your own great name.'”
Of “thy kingdom come” he writes, “in our prayers, our study of Scripture and our living, there is to be and active concern with the will of God … an early and heavy priority in our praying is to be the expression to God and cultivation before Him of an active, sincere and fervent desire for Him to show us His will that we may do it.”
Of “our daily bread” he says “it is striking that the prayer for our daily bread, ostensibly the most mundane and least ‘spiritual’ of the requests in the second part, comes ahead of the others for forgiveness of sin and victory in spiritual warfare. It is almost as if the Lord wanted to reassure us that, in the midst of the exalted spiritual atmosphere of much of the prayer, the most mundane details of our lives are legitimate concerns of our praying.”
Of the concluding doxology “for thine is the kingdom,” Williams observes, “Jesus’ prayer began with a concentration on who God is – our Father in heaven whose name is to be hallowed. And the ending supplied by the early Church returns the prayer full circle to that most basic focus. Who is God? He is the One whose nature overflows with kingdom, power and glory.”
The book concludes with William’s poem “The Disciples’ Prayer,” a bibliographical essay discussing earlier treatments of the Lord’s Prayer, and several reviews he has written on related topics.
An intimate journey
The Disciples’ Prayer is exactly what its subtitle indicates, an intimate phrase by phrase journey through the outline Jesus gave to disciples who wanted to grow into more meaningful prayer. Written by an evangelical who is all too well acquainted with the faults and foibles of modern American evangelical spirituality, it is filled with thought-provoking, spirit-tugging insights into a prayer that easily rolls off our tongue without first engaging our hearts or minds.
Donald Williams speaks directly to the struggles so many of us face when we pray. He offers a renewed understanding of, and appreciation for, the depth and power of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, a renewed perspective that just might change the way we pray.