This article is an excerpt from my new book, The Prayer that Turns the World Upside Down: The Lord’s Prayer as a Manifesto for Revolution, which releases today.
We long for revolution. Something within us cries out that the world is horribly broken and must be fixed. For centuries, the word revolution was scarcely heard, buried under ages of oppression. The word itself was feared and speaking it was treason. And then, revolutions seemed to appear almost everywhere.
Some historians have gone so far as to identify our modern epoch as “The Age of Revolution.” Is it? Perhaps it is more accurate to refer to our times as “The Age of Failed Revolution.” Looking across the landscape it becomes clear that very few revolutions produce what they promise. Arguably, most revolutions lead to a worse set of conditions than they replaced.
And yet, we still yearn for radical change, for things to be made right. We rightly long to see righteousness and truth and justice prevail. We are actually desperate for what no earthly revolution can produce. We long for the Kingdom of God, and for Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We are looking for a kingdom that will never end and a King whose rule is perfect.
This is why Christian’s pray the Lord’s Prayer. This is the very prayer that Jesus taught his own disciples to pray. So Christians pray this prayer as a way of learning how to pray and what to pray – as Jesus teaches us to pray.
The Lord’s Prayer is the prayer that turns the world upside down. Are you looking for revolution? There is no clearer call to revolution than when we pray “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” But this is a revolution only God can bring … and He will.
This short prayer turns the world upside down. Principalities and powers hear their fall. Dictators are told their time is up. Might will indeed be made right and truth and justice will prevail. The kingdoms of this world will all pass, giving way to the Kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ.
It all comes down to one of the shortest prayers found in the Bible. The Lord’s Prayer takes less than 20 seconds to read aloud, but it takes a lifetime to learn. Sadly, most Christians rush through the prayer without learning it – but that is to miss the point completely.
Perhaps this is part of a larger problem. Gary Millar, who has written some enormously helpful resources on prayer, goes so far as to argue that “the evangelical church is slowly but surely giving up on prayer.”[i] The statement is shocking, but the truth of his assessment is even more shocking. Why are evangelicals giving up on prayer?
Millar suggests that life is easy for most evangelicals – perhaps too easy. Some of us lack the desperation that most Christians have experienced throughout church history. Desperation leads to prayer. We are also incredibly distracted and busy. Both are enemies of prayer. But giving up on prayer is not only a sign of evangelical weakness. It is disobedience.
Jesus did not only teach his disciples to pray – he commanded us to pray.
I think there is another big reason behind the fact that so many Christians do not pray. Many Christians simply do not know how to pray.
In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us how to pray.
We remember Martin Luther as the great Reformer, nailing his famous 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517 and leading the Reformation of the church. What we do not so often remember is that Martin Luther was also a man who regularly needed a haircut. We should be very glad that he did.
Luther’s barber, Peter Beskendorf once asked Luther for advice on how to pray. Luther responded by writing instructions on prayer he called “A Simple Way to Pray, for Master Peter the Barber.”
Luther pointed his barber to the Lord’s Prayer, and he offered this incredibly helpful advice:
“So, as a diligent and good barber, you must keep your thoughts, senses, and eyes precisely on the hair and scissors or razor and not forget where you trimmed or shaved, for, if you want to talk a lot or become distracted thinking about something else, you might well cut someone’s nose or mouth or even his throat.”[ii]
We get Luther’s point immediately. We must learn to pray, and to resist distractions in prayer. Advice about cutting hair or shaving is easy to understand. A distracted barber is a dangerous barber. Luther applied the lesson well: “How much more does a prayer need to have the undivided attention of the whole heart alone, if it is to be a good prayer!”[iii]
We have much to learn about prayer, and the Lord’s Prayer is the right place to start. This is no tame prayer for safe times. This is the prayer that turns the world upside down.
[i] Gary Millar, Calling on the Name of the Lord: A Biblical Theology of Prayer, New Studies in Biblical Theology, ed. D. A. Carson (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press/Apollos, 2016), 231.
[ii] Martin Luther, “A Simple Way to Pray, to Master Peter the Barber,” in Luther’s Spirituality, eds. Philip D. W. Krey and Peter D. S. Krey, Library of Christian Classics (New York: Paulist Press, 2007), 222.