Evangelical Anglican theologian N.T. Wright is known for writing very large and weighty books of biblical scholarship. But for those looking for something more pastoral and more manageable, an excellent choice is Wright's book The Lord & His Prayer (Eerdmans, 1996; 89 pages). There must be thousands of books written on the Lord's Prayer, and I have read my share of commentaries analyzing the different parts of this greatest of prayers. But Wright still manages to give, in my view, a refreshing perspective on the historical setting and drama behind each of the petitions in the prayer. Here are a few examples of his many insights.
Even the direct address of "Father"--before any petition is made--is itself highly significant. Wright points out that the "first occurrence in the Hebrew Bible of the idea of God as the Father" comes with the Exodus account (p. 14). So to invoke God as Father is to look forward to a new Exodus, to a "revolution" of hope for an enslaved and oppressed Israel. The invocation of the Father also echoes the messianic promise to David that one of his descendants will be the Son of the Father (p. 15, citing 2 Samuel 7:14). So everytime we begin the Lord's Prayer with "Our Father" we are invoking the messianic promise of a new revolutionary exodus and liberation in the form of the Kingdom of God.
Wright draws for us the implication of this kingdom invocation:
"The one thing you can be sure of with God is that you can't predict what he's going to do next. That's why calling God 'Father' is the great act of faith, of holy boldness, of risk. . . . It means signing on for the Kingdom of God."
Wright, p. 20.
In the Our Father, we also pray that God's kingdom come and that his will be done on earth as in heaven. As Wright will emphasize in his later magnum opus on the resurrection, this prayer is a petition for a new earth (pp. 24, 27, 29, 31). Heaven will come down to earth. Wright also draws our attention to the fact that Jesus preached and taught that he embodied the return of God to Zion (pp. 28-29). And so Wright concludes that Jesus "embraced a crazy and utterly risky vocation . . . [leading him to tell] his disciples to pray" for the success of this astounding vocation. When we pray that God's will be done on earth, we are also asking "to sign on, in our turn, for the work of the kingdom" (pp. 32-33).
Wright then turns to the petition for our daily bread as affirming again that God wants to transform this world, this earth:
The whole point of the Kingdom . . . is that it isn't about shifting our wants or desires on to a non-physical level, moving away from the earthly to the supposedly 'spiritual.' . . . . this clause in the Lord's Prayer, then, reminds us that our natural longings, for bread and all that it symbolizes, are not to be shunned as though they were of themselves evil.
Wright, p. 43.
We pray that our desires "may be sorted out, straightened out, untangled and reaffirmed" (p. 44). We are praying that God's will be done in our own lives and in our own desires so that our desires may "be satisfied in God's way and God's time" (p. 44). That petition includes praying for "the specific things we honestly need right now" in our daily lives (p. 45). The kingdom comes through the small but still important things that we need daily. And, of course, we receive our "daily bread" in the Eucharist where we
"can bring whatever is on our minds and hearts to God . . ., without fear or shame, be our concerns never so agonizing or never so trivial, trusting that, along with the physical bread, the God we call 'Father' will give us all that we need, not least healing, forgiveness, support, and courage, in every other department of our lives" (pp. 47-48).
The author has much more to say in this small (89 page) book. I like best how he quotes another writer, William Temple, who captured what many of us experience as we pray our way through life: "When I pray, coincidences happen; when I stop praying, the coincidences stop happening" (p. 88). May the blessing and consolations of such "coincidences" keep happening for all of us!