The Lord’s Prayer is a revolutionary manifesto for God’s eternal reign in heaven and earth, R. Albert Mohler Jr. writes in his new book, The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down.
Most people recognize the familiar refrains of the prayer Jesus taught to His disciples in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. It’s recited at graveside services and before many high school football games. But people often don’t understand the words they’re saying, Mohler writes.
Photo by Emil Handke, SBTS
Mohler hopes readers will see the large-scale purpose of this famous prayer: The Lord alone reigns.
The words in the prayer are the “most revolutionary words human beings could imagine” in calling for God’s Kingdom to come and for His will to be done on earth as in heaven, he writes.
“With those words every empire falls, every throne other than the throne of Christ is shattered. With those words, the world is turned upside down,” Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said in an interview. “That relativizes every earthly allegiance. It puts into context every political power and promises the doom of every political power.
“What we’re saying [when we pray] is, ‘I’m praying that Christ’s reign will be visible on earth right now, that the Kingdom of God will show up right now,’ Mohler said. “So take that, Moscow, Beijing, Washington, Ivy League or NCAA. There is no kingdom that can withstand His Kingdom.”
Mohler notes in the book that the church has historically stood on a three-footed stool of instruction: the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed. This book is the second in a trilogy exploring the three foundational texts, with his 2009 book, Words From the Fire: Hearing the Voice of God in the Ten Commandments, being the first installment.
The book opens with an overview of the discipline of prayer in Chapter 1, then moves to a line-by-line exposition of the Lord’s Prayer in subsequent chapters. It concludes with an epilogue about the doxology (“For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, Amen”), which is likely not original to the text of Matthew but is still right for worshipping Christians to pray, Mohler writes in the book.
Commonly, evangelicals resist formulaic or premeditated prayers, but Mohler sees the Lord’s Prayer as providing a model for all believers to follow, just as the disciples did. Not all prayer has to be spontaneous, he said, nor is it helpful to approach God in a conversational or relaxed way. Rather, Mohler believes the church should embrace established forms of prayer like those found throughout the scriptures – the kind of prayer that recognizes God’s reign over all things and submits to Him as both Lord and Father.
Prayer is one of the means by which Christians can commune with the living God, with the Lord’s Prayer encouraging the follower of Christ to come to God as Father and giving them a unique and intimate relationship with their Creator, according to Mohler.
“This is not an artificial kind of chatty sentimentality in which we insinuate that God is our buddy,” Mohler said. “This is the kind of communion that an earthly citizen would have perhaps with an earthly king. There is always a distinction between the king and the subject. The relationship is no less real – just now the relationship is all the more precious. Who are we that the Lord God, Creator of heaven and earth, would care about us or know us, much less want to hear from us?”
Western Christians will recite one of the central ideas of the Lord’s Prayer – “give us this day our daily bread” – without the daily uncertainty where their meals will come from, Mohler said. But when they read the Bible, Christians need to remember how most fellow believers have read it throughout the 2,000 years of church history, Mohler argued, along with recognizing that even most 21st-century Christians worldwide go hungry.
Still, “daily bread” is a metaphor for God’s provision, according to Mohler, so American believers should always rely on the Father for their daily spiritual sustenance.
One of the dominant forms of prayer in American culture, Mohler noted, is that of supplication and intercession – asking God to use His power on behalf of believers. Many Wednesday night prayer meetings become a laundry list of requests regarding the health of family members or for wisdom in decision-making. That way of praying is not wrong, Mohler said. God commands Christians to bring their concerns before the Father. But prayer is more than that, he said. Prayer is oriented toward the Kingdom of God. It is not merely supplicational; it is eschatological. It is motivated by a desire to see the world made right through the spread of the gospel, Mohler writes.
“We are praying that we want to see persons come to know the one true and living God,” he said. “We want to see Jesus made famous. We want to see the poor taken care of. We want to see the hungry fed. We want to see righteousness prevail. We want to see mercy demonstrated.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Andrew J.W. Smith writes for The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.)