My Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give me this day my daily bread,
forgive me my trespasses as I forgive those who trespass against me,
and lead me not into temptation but deliver me from evil for yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever.
Yes, I know the prayer Jesus gave to his disciples is meant to be prayed in the plural form. “Us” and “our”, not “my” and “me”.
Though my lips may have said the correct words, my heart had a long-standing habit of translating it into an individual expression to God, my very own personal Father.
America is a country that has always focused on the individual over the group, and discipleship here for believers has taken root in that same soil. Over the years, I heard that I needed to make Jesus my own personal Savior, and that salvation was a transaction between me and God. I was told that God had a wonderful plan for my life. I affirm that each one of us must respond to God on an individual basis. We can not outsource our faith, nor can we borrow another person’s relationship with God.
The famous opening line from Rick Warren’s gazillion-seller The Purpose Driven Life was “It’s not about you”, urging readers toward a God-focused, others-serving life, but those words underscored an uncomfortable truth: The unholy trinity of me, myself, and I might be more than a statement about my own sin, selfishness, and pride. Thinking it is (or isn’t) about me has hampered me from being able to think deeply and well about the corporate nature of discipleship.
An example: I internalized the statement that the Bible is God’s love letter to me. I am not alone. Without context, and when it is all about us, we end up treating passages addressing groups of people as being primarily about ourselves. Though the truth extends to all of humankind, throughout every age, we disconnect ourselves from the larger Story when we don’t consider the context and audience for these words when they were originally spoken.
Yes, God deals with individuals, specifically and particularly. This is a wonderful reality! But he also deals with individuals as part of families, communities, and nations. A sizable percentage of Scripture is addressed to we, not me:
- Israel/Judah, and within the larger national group, family groups – the twelve tribes
- Nations surrounding, interacting, warring, allying with Israel (such as Philistines, Egyptians, Amorites, Assyrians, Babylonians)
- A group of twelve disciples
- Assemblies of believers in living various locations; most of the New Testament epistles were written to specific groups of people located in specific places. The churches mentioned in Revelation 2-3 were also addressed to particular, unique groups.
A whole lot of Scripture focuses on our shared life together. The Apostle Paul’s words to the church in Rome are not “New Testament” words, but capture a very Jewish, and, in fact, an ancient Near East perspective on the relationship of the individual to the corporate: “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Romans 12:4-5)
We see the individual and the family/community both in the essential discipleship text of Deuteronomy 6:4-9, the Shema. Discipleship is more than just growth in personal piety; it is a shared, corporate reality as well. We’ve all seen corporate discipleship turned toxic, as in the many contemporary accounts of churches and Christian organizations that had for years not only covered up the sins of a noxious leader, and eventually became rancid throughout as a result. And certainly, the same sort of hell-birthed toxicity can warp not only individual churches, but people groups and nations.
Which brings me back to that uncomfortable “our” that begins the Lord’s Prayer. That single word is a loving cattle prod to my soul. Who else are my siblings in faith, calling God their Father? What are their needs, their hurts, and their temptations? When together we cry out, “Thy kingdom come”, just what are we collectively asking of God?
Praying the word “our” must change the way “I” live.