How to pray: a review of Justo Gonzalez’s *Teach Us to Pray: The Lord’s Prayer in the Early Church and Today* (Part 3)

Read this entire review series here.

We have now come to the first petition in the Lord’s Prayer: “give us this day our daily bread.” Gonzalez writes, “interpreters generally agree that the bread of which Jesus speaks in this prayer has to do with the physical bread that nourishes us, as well as with all that it represents: physical sustenance, clothing, and so forth.”

Once again, the use of the word “us” is important here. When Christians seek God in prayer they pray as part of a global community of fellow believers. They ask not only for their own “daily bread,” but for the “daily bread” of others. Here is Gonzalez: “…when we ask for ‘our daily bread’ we are not asking only for ourselves, nor even for our sisters and brothers in the church, but for the entire human race , even those who may not know our Lord.”

This makes the patriotic and political prayers of many conservative evangelicals so disturbing. Americans a literally lining-up for food. People can’t pay their bills and provide for their families. And let’s not forget that global poverty and starvation existed well before the outbreak of COVID-19.

We are living in a moment when Christians should be praying over and over and over again: “give us this day our daily bread.” Yet Christians around the United States are gathering–in person and on ZOOM–to pray that God would overturn an election, protect their rights, and help them get back on their Twitter and Facebook accounts. They are praying against those trying to “cancel” them. What if evangelicals gathered by the thousands in Washington D.C. to pray for the poor, suffering, and hungry?

The Lord’s Prayer continues with “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” An essential part of prayer is confession and repentance. Recently on the Holy Post Podcast, host Skye Jethani made a point that resonated with me. He asked how my evangelical churches have corporate confession and repentance as part of their services. While confession and repentance is a vital part of mainline Protestant and Catholic services, these Christian practices are often absent from evangelical worship. This is probably because many American evangelicals believe that they nothing to confess or repent over at a corporate level.

With confession comes humility. “To speak of our debts,” Gonzalez writes, “is to confess them. We are declaring ourselves sinners and debtors before God.” He adds:

…the Lord’s Prayer emphasizes a close relationship between God’s forgiveness and our forgiving others. For this reason in the ancient church–and in many churches to this day–it was customary, after confession, and the announcement of God’s forgiving love, for believes to express their mutual reconciliation….Today’s equivalent of the kiss of peace is sometimes called sharing the peace, and in its most common form, it’s a time when believers shake hands and exchange words of love and reconciliation. At this time we forgive one another just as we ask God to forgive us.

When conservative evangelicals pray their prayers should be characterized by humility, repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation, not power, pride and division.