The Lord's Prayer is strange and confusing when you think about it. It's deceptively short, uses a lot of words that we wouldn't in normal cocnversation and is actually a biblical quote from Jesus to his disciples. The part that really gets me, though, is "lead us not into temptation." We often think of not eating too much dessert or lying or stealing when we think of temptation--but that's not really what Jesus was trying to convey to his disciples.
First, the actual biblical quote is "save us from the time of trial." These times of trial are more about hard situations where we make life-changing decisions. So praying for God to lead us not into temptation sounds like we should try and avoid those situations; but so often it IS the Gospel that leads us into those situations of adversity, where we insist on justice, where we share compassion, where we demand equality. We can't be praying for God to lead us away from these things, because if so, my prayers have not been heeded. This is a prayer of necessity. Jesus knows those who follow will find themselves in times of trials. But in our moments, may we pray to God to lead us. There. In those moments. Lead us. Because we will be there and the only way we're getting through is to know that we aren't alone.
That's not just what we pray about, that's also when we pray. In moments of crises and loss, we pray. In those moments, there is no time or energy for loquaciousness or piousness. This prayer is so direct and active. It's just ‘give us, forgive us, lead us, deliver us. This is an active prayer for an active journey of active people responding to an active God. Will Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas say this about the Lord's Prayer, "This prayer doesn't "prove" anything to be true-other than it is useful enough to be used by almost every Christian community on a regular basis since Jesus taught his disciples to pray it. Our journey is dangerous. All Christian journeys are towards the cross-so we must be instinctively heading towards a time of trial."
We may agree that there is challenge, but many of us pray this prayer weekly, with out thinking too much about these familiar words. How do we keep this prayer vibrant, challenging? How does it actually jar us from our lives?
Maybe we are freed from being aware of the deep theological assertions going on in this prayer, and still be changed by it. Maybe this is why it is the one prayer that has withstood thousands of years of repetition and that even lapsed Christians remember. Because this prayer does not require of us that we become anything we are not already. It is a deeply human kind of prayer. It is a prayer for creatures in need. If we can name our need to receive, to be forgiven, to be led and delivered and if we can trust that it is God who does these things, then maybe we're beginning to pray as Jesus taught us.