Updated: Feb 18, 2020
In his exposition of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), Eugene Peterson summarizes his understanding of the first three petitions (vv. 9b, 10a, and 10b):
God is in heaven. Heaven is where everything gets started. Jesus starts there. In company with Jesus, we start there. We are not used to this. We have a lifelong habit of starting with a “want list” developed while we are preoccupied with just getting across the street. Indirectly, but implicitly, the three petitions renounce want lists: wanting to be “like God,” wanting to use God as an assistant as we take control of “our” kingdom, wanting to get access to the so-called secrets of prayer (the blueprints) in order to pursue our own wills, our willfulness.
At the heart of what it means to be Christian is that we start with heaven. We start with God, our Father, and not with our own agenda. That’s a wonderful articulation of what it means to have Jesus as Lord. United to Christ, our priorities in life are set by God our Father and not by the natural default, our flesh. Our Father is good, and He cares for us with perfect love and in perfect wisdom. We entrust our lives to Him.
But Peterson also does a masterful job of showing how prayer, and the Lord’s prayer in particular, trains us in such a life. It shapes us into those who renounce our sinful desire to be like God (the temptation of Adam and Eve). It trains us to renounce the desire to use God as a tool to get what we really want. And it trains us to avoid the temptation to view prayer as magic. It refuses to allow us to consider prayer as an incantation that, if performed correctly, will give us what we want. Through prayer what we want becomes what God wants. In the process, we don’t miss out on anything good!