What Would the Lord’s Prayer Sound Like Today?

 In Influence, The Bible

The language of the Lord's Prayer is slightly less out-of-date than White Jesus here.Most people who’ve been in Church at any point in their lives are familiar with the Lord’s Prayer (or the “Our Father” for my Catholic readers). We find a lot of meaning in reciting the prayer together as a corporate body. For those who love the Church, the language of the Lord’s Prayer can be quite comforting.

But the language of the Lord’s Prayer can be impenetrable and archaic. And that’s not what Jesus intended.

The Lord’s Prayer is part of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon is good news to the impoverished peasant class that comprised Jesus’ Galilean audience – farmers and fishermen. And as such, it’s packed full of practical teaching and illustrations lifted right out of his listeners’ daily lives. He talks about relationships, lust, money, worrying about the future and more.

And right in the middle (6:9-13) of this practical, relevant sermon, Jesus talks about prayer. He says (in verse 7),

When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him! — Matthew 6:7-8

In other words, Jesus is inviting his listeners into a prayer life that’s as concrete and practical as his Sermon.

Jesus wants their prayers to have more to do with their regular world than their sacred worship spaces.

Not like this. At all.More accurately, Jesus wants the religion they experience when they gather to worship to be the same life they live when they’re working, enjoying their friends or at home with their families. Jesus wants their religion to be integrated into the whole of their lives, not sectioned off into special days with special language.

So he taught them a different way to pray.

But then us professional church people got ahold of it and turned the Lord’s Prayer back into the disconnected, ritualistic language Jesus specifically told us to avoid when he taught us the prayer!

How many of us actually know what “hallowed be thy name” means? When was the last time any of us talked about food as our “daily bread”? Or used the word “trespasses”? (and let the Trespasses vs. Debts battle begin!)

Jesus knew that how we learn to pray matters.

Prayer BeadsThe language we use to talk to and about God will shape whether faith is an integral aspect of our whole live, or if it’s a privatized, sectioned off corner of our lives we only visit occasionally. And the way every church I’ve ever been a part of uses the Lord’s Prayer is backwards from Jesus’ intention for it.

Rather than drawing on plain, everyday language to connect us to the God who’s working in our plain, everyday world, the now-archaic, pseudo-King James language we English-speakers use to quote the Lord’s Prayer ensures that each new generation of Christians continues to find prayer a daunting, intimidating practice.

So why don’t we rewrite the Lord’s Prayer?

Why don’t we translate the language of Jesus’ prayer into practical, plain language? As you’ve no doubt guessed, I took the liberty of doing just that (with a good bit of help from several friends, and Eugene Peterson’s excellent Message version. Here’s how I imagine Jesus would teach us to pray if he came to my neck of the woods today.

Our father, who created and rules the universe,
show us your perfect love so that we may emulate you.
May the world run the way you want it to – just like heaven does.
Keep us healthy with three square meals today
And forgive the wrongs we’ve done the same way we forgive the people who’ve wronged us.
Keep us safe – from ourselves and from the evils in the world.
All the political power and authority and fame belong to you, from now until the end of time.

YOUR TURN: What do you think of my reimagining? How would update the Lord’s Prayer?

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  • Matt Turner

    I understand the importance of the holiness of Jesus’s words & how we should pray but you hit it right on the head of the nail about the need to maintain the realness of His prayer. I like the way you worded the prayer because of how it is similar to what Jesus was trying to convey but said in a way that any person could say it towards God. And I think that doing this is consistent with the whole point of Jesus’ ministry: to make a way for all kinds of people to approach God through Him.

  • Thanks, @disqus_7Ufiy3gqW6:disqus! That’s exactly what I was going for. I couldn’t get away from the thought that when Jesus first gave us this prayer, it was in the everyday language of his audience. We’ve lost that, and this is my attempt to recapture it. I’m glad it worked for you.

  • Evan Abla

    I was a little reluctant when we first talked about this and I have to admit, this is powerful.

  • Luis Segura

    I liked it a lot! Actually the “hallowed be thy name” part is something I like a lot of the Lord’s prayer. I might be wrong but what I’ve always understood about that part is the expression of the desire that everywhere and everything proclaims the name of the Lord. Hallowed be thy name then can be let all creation say you are God, as Paul said. And Hallowed be thy name can mean let every tongue confess you are Lord. For me it also means let every action on earth displays to the cosmic audience that you are God. Another part that I would add, and again I might be wrong, but it seemed to me “let your kingdom come” does not only meant that things should function as you want it to. But it seemed a real concern for early Christians to talk and pray for the Lord’s second coming. I do find that kind of prayer lost or scarce in today’s church prayer. People seem to don’t like to pray urgently that the Lord should come again quick. It seemed to be a paramount urgent issue to the apostles. Maybe we should add that? Thanks!

  • johnwleek

    What you are doing is probably in line with what Jesus was getting at anyway. He was giving what we need to pray for, not necessarily the form.

    I’ve prayed in public and private using adaptations of the Lord’s Prayer. I didn’t tell folks I was doing so.

    I don’t know anybody who regularly prays for their enemies who doesn’t use the Lord’s Prayer.

    It’s possible your version could be refined, but I think it misses out on a lot of meaning in the original.

    Two quick examples:

    1) “Keep us healthy with three square meals today” instead of “give us this day our daily bread.” Jesus knew his Bible well and I think he may have been quoting Proverbs 30:8 which also asks that God give not too much and in verse 9 elaborates “otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ I wonder how a paraphrase can capture “enough, and only enough” simply.

    2) Evil, I don’t know you so I don’t want to assume anything about your theology. I do wonder if your replacement for “deliver us from evil” covers a lot less than Jesus’. Does “Keep us safe – from ourselves and from the evils in the world” include spiritual warfare and the danger of satan? I guess those are “evils in the world,” but it would seem to be a bigger reach than that in the original.

    I also worry that with rapid contextualization the church could lose some of the last things that the church still largely uses across denominations. Yes, it is through Jesus that we are one, but it’s nice to be able to invite people who don’t attend my church to pray and know there is at least one prayer that all Christians present will likely know. This could also serve to further divide generations in worship.

    The project is a good one and language barriers are real. (For example: I have NO CLUE why the church I currently serve uses “bewail our manifold sins and wickedness” in our communion liturgy.)

    The biggest issue is that we (church people) have done a bad job at explaining why we do what we do and what it means. Better catechesis is clearly needed, but that’s a broader topic for another time.

    Side note: When I introduce the Lord’s Prayer I have often (learned from others) introduced it as “our family prayer.” I’ve seen folks eyes light up. 🙂

    I wish you well.

  • Philip Tallon

    Cool. One tweak I’d make might be to show the eschatological dimension of the prayer: God’s kingdom is coming – God’s future reign is breaking in here and now, and the “daily bread” (epioúsios) is partly an enjoyment in the present of this eschatological reality.

    So, I might translate it something like: May the world run the way you want it to *now* – just like it will when you return. Feed us now, give us a taste of the heavenly celebration.

  • Joanna Sormunen

    A very good modernization of the Lord’s prayer. I think you are right. Jesus and the apostotles used modern language to talk to the people and words and expressions that were actual and spoke to them. We should do the same.

  • Thanks Joanna! That’s exactly what I can’t get away from: how can we as the Church speak spiritual truth in the language everyone uses today?

  • Nice. I like that a lot.

  • Hey John!

    Love all this feedback. Very helpful. I would suggest that all the problems you highlight with my version at minimum hold with the more archaic version we all repeat together – I don’t know very many people who know the Proverbs connection, and devil theology is all over the place in every church.

    All that to say that your final point about the necessity of better catechesis is right on.

    I also thought about your point about losing the commonality when we rewrite, but this is already a problem when we consider the international church. And the original prayer was written in Greek, (translated, I assume from Aramaic). So I’m not quite so bothered by retranslating it, particularly if it adds meaning to the ritual.

    Thanks again for your comments. Awesome stuff.

  • Absolutely – the Greek prayer at the end of Revelation – “maranatha” means “come soon”. A common, simple prayer of the early church.

    I definitely see a lack of eschatological hope in this version of the prayer. When I go back to revise it (at some point), I would try to figure out a way to add that in.

    As for your comments about “hallowed be thy name” – you’re right on. My problem with the language is that none of that is obvious on first hearing that phrase. A non-church person would have no idea what that means.

    As a side note, how is that phrase rendered in the Spanish version of the prayer?

    Thanks, Luis 🙂

  • Luis Segura

    In spanish the phrase is “santificado sea tu nombre” in the most traditional translation that an average mexican church use, which is “Reina Valera 1960 (KJV equivalent?). It translates as “let your name be sanctified” or “let your name be holy”. Checking other translations in spanish that I’ve personally found helpful, the phrase is “que sea siempre santo tu nombre” and “que todos reconozcan que tu eres el verdadero Dios”. The first will translate as “may your name be forever holy” and the second as “let let everyone recognize that you are the true God”.

    Unfortunately this translations are not used much. In my personal experience, I’ve found that the mexican church is reluctant to use other translations as the first I mentioned. What do you think?

    Greetings : )

  • Thanks @evanabla:disqus. I’m still chewing on it and revising it in my own mind. There’s been some really excellent feedback in the comments here that’s making me continue to chew on the best way to state some of this. Thanks for your help.

  • I really like the last one. As a churched person I love the word “holy”. But when I talk to those outside the Church, it’s a pretty abstract, foreign concept. Of course we can teach people the language of the Church, but that happens inside.

    I’m particularly interested in recovering the “everydayness” of the Good News Jesus announced. He wasn’t talking to theologians and academics. He spent his time around what we would call working-class people. His language wasn’t fancy or educated (the Pharisees even make fun of his uneducated accent in John 7).

    So trying to get at the meaning of the word “holy” without resorting to the special language of the Church is a challenge, but one well worth our time. IMO.

  • Kristi

    I think you are spot on when you say that we have turned the Lord’s Prayer back into what Christ was teaching us not to do with prayer. However, I think the focus of Jesus’ correction is the emptiness of their words – he flat out calls them hypocrites. If the one praying is highly educated, surely it would be reflected in his language but would not necessitate such a rebuke. So simply modifying the prayer to reflect modern, everyday language should not be the full aim. I think today’s rebuke would focus on the “disconnected, ritualistic” manner in which an otherwise great prayer is
    recited with lack of understanding and emptiness of heart. Therefore, the exercise you are calling us to – to reflect on the meaning of the given prayer and to rework it so that we understand it and genuinely want to pray what we’re praying – well, I think that is truly honoring the intent of the passage. So, very worthwhile post, IMO.

    While I do see value in your point to not resort to special churchy language, especially in a prayer that will be recited publicly, I do not agree that ‘holy’ should be one of those terms. One reason being that there just simply isn’t another term that is able to capture it adequately. (I’m not sure if that was your attempt with “perfect love,” but if so, it definitely falls short. Other facets would include purity and separateness and more.) But the main reason for me is that it is such a major attribute of God. Can you imagine our God being every other trait we ascribe to him, but not being holy? That’d be quite a different god. Also, the connection of ‘holy’ to ‘his name’ is a theme of sorts found throughout the
    Bible. In fact, God has literally chosen that nomenclature for himself with ‘Holy Spirit.’ And for this prayer I think it was a very intentional inclusion, therefore in my version, it stays!

    I did have trouble with reworking ‘kingdom’ and ultimately decided to borrow your language of ‘authority’ from the closing. And finally, I just cannot choose to not throw this out there – The Message makes me cringe! So my truly biggest critique of this piece is with the adjective ‘excellent’ being applied to it! 🙂

    I was fine with some of your wording so I kept it. Here’s my take:

    Our father, who created and rules the universe,
    May your holy name be honored.
    May the world run according to your authority now, the way you want it to – just like heaven does.
    Provide for us what is needed for today.
    And forgive the wrongs we’ve done, while we also forgive the people who’ve wronged us.
    Do not allow us to be enticed by evil, but rather liberate us from it.
    All the power and authority and fame belong to you, forever.

  • Kristi

    I would probably also change ‘run’ to ‘operate’, but my background is business…

  • Keith

    Just a thought, but instead of “Keep us healthy with three square meals today,” we could say something like, “Provide us, today, with everything we need to sustain us.”

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