Let me say up front that I am not criticizing any form or habit of prayer. God regularly, powerfully, and lovingly honors and answers prayers from the heart in any language and vocabulary. Prayer is not about saying it right, but about lifting all we care about into the presence of God and then surrendering it to his will.
This piece is about understanding prayer, not about what to say when you pray. It is an understanding that is new to me, though I have been a praying Christian for sixty years. When I published a short piece about the Lord's Prayer in this space six weeks ago, I was still unaware of it; my focus in that column was on debts and trespasses. Nothing I said then is altered by this column.
About two weeks ago I realized that I did not know what Jesus meant when he taught us to ask the heavenly Father for his will to be done "on earth, as it is in heaven." How could I know what I was asking for, since I have never been to heaven? Then the obvious came to me as I was praying the Prayer. (I try to pray it, not merely say it.)
I ran the insight by another Christian experienced in prayer, and it was new to him too. Now I am sharing it with you, not at all sure it is new to everybody and aware that it may indeed be commonplace. "That is pretty obvious, Everett. Where have you and your friend been hiding?"
If so, I will share the obvious anyway, in case you have been missing it too.
In the rest of the Prayer, as Jesus speaks of daily bread, forgiveness, and deliverance, he is explaining as in heaven, so on earth. The will of God for us--creatures of the natural world, bound to it and destined to die in it--is identical to his will for those who inhabit heaven: his provision and protection for all because he is the only one with the power to accomplish them.
Jesus gives it to us as a prayer because God wants us to want him to provide and protect. If we refuse him, we have nobody else to turn to. We can't do these things ourselves because we don't have the resources and are powerless to create them.
Prayer does not give us the resources or the power to create them, but it opens the way for us to receive them.
When we accept our daily bread,
When we allow God to settle the debts we owe him,
When we settle the debts owed to us because we are debt-free ourselves,
When we allow God to lead us from temptation,
When we want God to deliver us from the Evil One,
Then the will of God is done in the impermanence of the created world of earth as it is done in the eternal world of heaven.