In his book TheScrewtape Letters, near the end of the first letter, C. S. Lewis talks about the soul-deadening power of “real life.” The familiar experiences of our lives create a kind of hard shell around our awareness. As our lives draw on, it becomes increasingly difficult to believe any perception or intuition that draws our mind beyond its everyday expectations. We become conditioned to the set of experiences that we call “real life,” and we treat everything else as illusion or magic or childish fantasy. The tiny world we can create for ourselves can be quite comfortable, because nothing unusual ever happens in it. We can even start to imagine that this tiny world is completely under our control. This comfort comes at a high price, since it closes our minds to divine creativity and to the power that God is always ready to share.
‘If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?’
What “real life” do you need to break out of?
What grace can you ask of the Lord for mission?
In his teachings on prayer, Jesus shows his disciples how to break through this illusion and encounter divine grace. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus offers these teachings during his journey to Jerusalem. This is especially apt, because it is during this time that he prepares his disciples for their own ministry. Luke presents a version of the Lord’s Prayer as a summary introduction to everything Jesus wanted his disciples to know about prayer.
The first line of the prayer facilitates the “breakthrough.” The Father is so holy that even his name is sacred. For many first-century Jews, holiness was a paradox, implying both separation and nearness. A prime example appears in Ex 40:34-38, in which God, in fire and cloud, takes up residence at the very center of the Israelite camp. God remains an awesome and disruptive mystery, nearby and always at work, but never a part of the human world with its violence and self-interest. Those who call on the Lord’s holy name draw near to this same mystery.
The second petition turns one outward from this mystery to the world. “Your kingdom come” is a poignant prayer. In effect, we beg the Father that the world around us not be the final story, that flashes of love and grace foreshadow a joyful end to the human drama. Jesus caught sight of this beauty because his awareness of God’s holiness never wavered; just so, his disciples must ground themselves in God’s holy name before they can understand the world as a place for God’s kingdom.
Only then do we ask for what we need—a day’s bread, forgiveness, deliverance. In Jesus’ own experience, God provided these things in abundance. When a disciple prays as Jesus taught, “real life” melts away. A stingy world, which offers its benefits only in response to great effort and often capriciously, yields to the reign of God, who is more generous than the best of friends or the most loving of parents.
To pray as Jesus did draws our attention to the subtle evidence of God’s kingdom taking shape. With such prayer, Christ prepares us, as he did the first disciples, to continue his ministry of salvation.