Imagine that there is a hidden treasure, but you don’t have the map to help you find it. In the same way, there is a model prayer—the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples. But where is the guide to help us discover all the riches in that prayer and bring them into our daily lives?
That’s the dilemma I have always had with the short, simple prayer we call the Our Father. I knew I should understand it, but I didn’t really. And the books and commentaries I read didn’t seem to help.
Then one day I was handed The “R” Father: 14 Ways to Respond to the Lord’s Prayer. Its author, Mark Hart, is the executive vice president of Life Teen International. He is also a popular speaker, the author or coauthor of a dozen or so books, and a self-described “Bible geek.”
As I read through the introduction to The “R” Father, I was struck by Hart’s claim that the Lord’s Prayer had changed his life. By the time I had read just a couple of chapters, I could see that he had not only studied the prayer in depth but that it really had made a profound impact on him.
He had found the map! He had found a way to unlock the treasures of this prayer, giving him a deeper relationship with our Father.
Abba! Father! Isn’t that relationship with the Father what I want? Isn’t it what we all want? Like the disciples, we see that Jesus enjoyed an intimate, life-giving relationship with his Father, and like the disciples, we too want to know how to have the same experience (Luke 11:1).
Though I had a matchless human father—one who was always there, who was kind and supportive and good in so many other ways—I never had quite the depth of relationship with him that I wanted. That sense of lack carried over to my relationship with God the Father.
This is why I especially appreciated a point that Hart makes early in the book: Weaknesses in relationships with our earthly fathers don’t have to limit the way we experience our heavenly Father. I like that, since I don’t want my son to miss with me what I missed with my dad. This section of the “R” Father gave me hope and helped me envision how to change and progress.
Hart himself is a father of three young daughters and, not surprisingly, he often uses them as examples to make his points. In one story, he highlights the excitement he experienced when his first child was born, describing his actions before and after the event. He learned the breathing exercises, brought his camcorder into the delivery room, made a Web page announcing her arrival, and bought her a stuffed animal. He was “father of the year,” he says—her birth turned his world upside down.
All of this leads into a reflection on the Father’s love for his Son, as revealed in the events surrounding Jesus’ birth: God created a whole new star, sent angels to announce the news, and appointed wise men from afar to bring gifts. His kingdom had come to earth, and the world was now different!
“R” for “Respond.” The book’s title—an obvious play on the word “Our”—is also an approach that provides some structure. “R” is the first letter of each of the fourteen chapter titles—each one, a word that describes how to respond to each part of the Lord’s Prayer. “Reverence” is the title of the section on “hallowed be thy name,” for example, and “Reliance” for “Give us this day our daily bread.”
While Hart offers some intriguing insights into Scripture and church teaching, the primary emphasis of this book is on responding to the Our Father. This is what makes it powerful. The questions for reflection and discussion at the end of each chapter further this goal. They aren’t just fillers or afterthoughts. They are insightful, challenging, and essential to the book’s effectiveness. Reading them, I felt like I was being grilled by a personal accountability group and had no way to wiggle out from what I needed to do—from what would be difficult but rewarding in the long run. Here are a few that grabbed me:
When was the last time you went to confession? What keeps you from going more regularly?
When was the last time you turned off the radio and your cell phone and invited Jesus to ride shotgun in your car?
Do you live each day in an effort to build God’s kingdom or your own? Explain, using concrete examples.
A Prayer to Ponder. Hart contends that the Lord’s Prayer encompasses all of life and all of the gospel. Consequently, he addresses a wide audience, with reflections that range from Mary’s role in delivering us from evil, to the way God works through our children to deal with our selfishness, to the place of suffering and sacrifice in our lives.
Stories—sometimes embarrassing, often humorous—enliven the reading and illustrate his points. Some concern the author’s adventures and failures as a father, others his experiences of dating, class reunions, Little League baseball, and more. I was moved by the story of the tough war veteran who experienced God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation after having been away from the confessional for forty-six years. And I laughed at the one about a catechism class Hart was teaching: He was comparing the Mass to heaven, when one boy raised his hand and said, “If going to Mass is like going to heaven, I would rather go to hell.” But it isn’t just a funny story—the incident led Hart to ask himself if he really believed what he was teaching, then to more soul-searching and a revolution in his life.
The “R” Father is written in a popular, enjoyable style, but that doesn’t mean the contents are lightweight. This is why my own response to the book is “R” for “Revisit.” I plan to pick it up again—going through it more slowly, allowing it to sink in, and letting our Father transform me through this greatest of prayers.
Bob Horning lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.Click here to purchase "The 'R' Father.