The Lord’s Prayer for Prodigals

The following is from the coda of Wesley Hill’s magnificent book, The Lord’s Prayer: A Guide to Praying to Our Father, pp. 99-101.

It’s taken a couple of years for me to realize how much looking at [Rembrandt’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son”] hanging over my kneeler has affected the way I pray […] In particular, I think, it’s changed the way I pray the Lord’s Prayer. Now, whenever I recite it, as often as not I’m looking at Rembrandt’s image while I do. Each line has taken on new resonance.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. To pray for the reverencing and uplifting of the Father’s name is to pray that this welcoming, forgiving Father — the Father whose hands gently rest on His lost son’s shoulders — be more widely known, seen for the compassionate Father that He is, and worshiped as the Giver of extravagant mercy. To pray for this Father’s name to be hallowed is to pray that more lost sons and daughters find themselves kneeling under that gracious gaze.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. To pray for this Father’s kingdom to come and this Father’s will to be done is to pray for a reign of mercy, kindness, humility, and profligate divine generosity. It is to pray that debts would be remitted, rebellion ended with homecoming, and banquets held for the dissolute and the self-righteous alike. It is to pray not for the iron-fisted rule of a tyrant but for the self-giving reign of a Father who loves.

Give us this day our daily bread. To pray for regular sustenance from this Father is to pray to One who was ready to serve the best meat to a son who had already burned through half the family inheritance. To pray to this Father for daily bread is to receive not only the staples of life but also a filet mignon, not only water but also the best vintage. It is to receive abundance, lavishness, and generosity “immeasurably more than all we can ask or conceive” (Eph 3:20 NEB).

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. To pray for forgiveness from this Father is to pray to One who leaps up and sprints toward us — throwing dignity to the wind — to offer us forgiveness before we have even been able to blubber our request for it. To pray for this Father’s forgiveness is to barely get the words out before realizing we’ve been clothed with the finest garments the house has to offer. To pray for our trespasses to be forgiven is to feel already this Father’s warm tears as they drip down on our scabbed head.

And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. To ask this Father to “deliver us from evil” is to pray to One whose hands and cloak provide shelter for us. [Henri] Nouwen again: “With its warm color and its arch-like shape, [the Father’s cloak] offers a welcome place where it is good to be. … But as I went on gazing at the red cloak, another image, stronger than that of a tent, came to me: the sheltering wings of the mother bird.” To pray to this Father for protection is to pray to One whose character Jesus embodied when He wept, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! … How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matt 23:37).

For thine is the kingdom and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen. To praise the kingship, the dominion, and the splendor of this Father is to praise the kingship of humility, the noncoercive dominion of nurturing love, and the radiant splendor of stooping and touching and embracing. To praise this Father “for ever and ever” is to acknowledge that such self-giving divine love is the fount of creation and redemption in eternity past and will be the theme of the lost son’s songs into eternity future.

To pray the Our Father with Rembrandt and Jesus’ Father in view is to find yourself praying it in a way you hope never to stop