Missional readings of Scripture tend to be rather positive about the empowerment and success of God’s Church.
A missional reading of the Lord’s Prayer can affirm this by recognizing the holiness of believers and the priority of the unstoppable inbreaking of the Kingdom. But we must remember that the Lord’s Prayer also anticipates neediness (for daily bread), sin (in needing forgiveness), and the prayer ends with an expression of vulnerability—“lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One.”
Downward Mobility is a Hard Message
A few years ago I came up with this idea to write a book about brokenness and humility in ministry. I wanted to write about St. Paul’s “downward mobility” as an expression of his leadership that is based on biblical reflections of 1 Thessalonians and Philippians.
Several publishers declined the proposal before I gave up—one told me frankly, “This is a great idea, but people expect leadership books to teach them how to ‘succeed’ and grow their churches. They just won’t buy a book that dwells on the topics you are proposing.” To some, I was proposing a contradiction: embracing weakness and vulnerability in Christian leadership.Embracing weakness and vulnerability is not contradictory to Christian leadership. Click To Tweet
I wonder how Jesus’ disciples would have responded to the last petition of the Lord’s Prayer. It implies both the weak will of the disciples and the overwhelming power of the Evil One. This is a hard message, they must have thought. We want motivational sermons and prayers that begin and end with I can, I can, I can. The Lord’s Prayer ends with, I might fail, Father, be ready to bail me out.The Lord's Prayer ends with, 'I might fail, Father, be ready to bail me out.' Click To Tweet
Contextual Pegs Around the Lord’s Prayer
The best way to understand this petition is in light of Matthew’s Gospel as a whole. The Temptation petition is anchored in the text, so to speak, by two pegs—the first one is the temptation of Jesus by Satan (Matt 4:1-11), and the second one is the dullness of the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt 26:36-46).
When we stand in Matthew’s Lord’s Prayer (6:9-13) and look backwards to the temptation of Jesus, we are reminded that Jesus himself righted the wrongs of God’s people by resisting temptation and maintaining obedience to God alone over and against the offers of comfort, luxury, and power from Satan. His obedience is our compass. He did what we could not do, only so we could now learn to do it with his guidance.
When we look ahead to the Garden, where Jesus brings Peter, James, and John to support him in his hour of need, we hear the warning: “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (26:41). And, of course, as the disciples close their eyes and sleep, they succumb to the darkness in that moment.
A Great Confession
None of this sounds very “missional.” The disciples give up. They scatter and hide in fear. In that moment, Evil has won. But even here, the Lord’s Prayer teaches hope. Not because our leaders are perfect, or skilled, or always reliable, but because—as Matthew reminds us—Jesus means God is really with us now and forevermore (Matt 28:20).
The Lord’s Prayer offers as its last petition not a call to a Great Commission, but more so a Great Confession—we are weak. We are up against terrifying and powerful forces. We are up against Evil itself. We are like children wandering in a dangerous world. But let us be reminded that we are children of our Heavenly Father, and Jesus is our interceding Brother. Mission must rely on these truths to empower success, but also to help us to remember our weakness.