The Lord’s Prayer holds an important place in Salvationist spirituality. Many of us grew up memorizing and praying the Lord’s Prayer with others. We have prayed it so many times, however, there is a danger of praying without being fully attentive to its words. Dr. Donald Burke, interim president of Booth University College, has written a book that addresses this concern.

In his book, The Lord’s Prayer: Drawing Heaven and Earth Together, the author considers each phrase of the prayer, in light of the wider biblical story. For instance, when we address God as Father, we draw on the story of God’s parental love for the nation of Israel, including those moments when God agonized over that relationship. We especially address God as Father because this is the way Jesus addressed God. Notice, however, that when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we do so corporately. In Burke’s words, “By addressing God as ‘Our Father’ we are stepping outside the individualism of our culture to identify God not as a personal possession, but rather as the Father of a larger community.”

As the Lord’s Prayer shifts to our needs, we pray that God would “forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors.” This phrase is related to the Year of Jubilee, which was a mechanism in Israel to prevent inequities from dividing the community. Leviticus 25 outlines the kind of forgiveness that would help to level the playing field and create a new beginning within the nation. The opening of Matthew’s Gospel portrays Joseph naming the infant child “Jesus,” for “he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 2:21). This background informs the kind of forgiveness Jesus expressed to individuals and expected from his followers.

At a time when, as Canadians, we are confronted with our colonial past, we pray, “Forgive us our debts, our sins.” Forgiveness has to do with justice. What might happen if we pray this prayer as Salvationists in the Canada and Bermuda Territory? “Our Father, give us, forgive us, lead us”—it might just result in “bringing heaven and earth together.”

The Lord’s Prayer: Drawing Heaven and Earth Together is available at

Major Ray Harris is a retired officer in Winnipeg.

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