Throughout my young adult life (now far in the past) I made the fatal mistake of believing that spirituality came naturally. I say fatal because it nearly killed my prayer life. I thought real prayer was simply a matter of closing my eyes and pouring out my heart to God. I considered learned or “rote” approaches to prayer to be inauthentic. The irony is that when I solely prayed “spontaneously” my prayers became rote, repetitive and flat-out boring.
It is true that many effective prayers have been a desperate cry of “help” from the back of a cave or pinned down in a foxhole, but to say that we can’t learn to pray will severely limit our experience of prayer. In Luke 11:1 Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them how to pray. Jesus didn’t say, “just close your eyes and pray what is in your heart.” He said, “When you pray, say” (Luke 11:1) or “This then is how you should pray.” (Matthew 6:9). What followed is what we call “The Lord’s Prayer.” We recite it every week at our church, but it never occurred to me, until recently, that this is Jesus’ instruction on how to pray. It is both a prayer that we recite as a community (“pray this” – Luke 11:1) and a pattern for our prayers (“this then is how you should pray” – Matthew 6:9).
So what would it look like if we allowed the Lord’s Prayer to guide our prayers? I’d like to take this and the next couple of posts to explore that idea. My hope is that you won’t read these articles and agree with me, but that you will actually try this and share your experiences by posting a comment.
Here’s a couple of things to help us get started:
Overview of the Lord’s Prayer.
I’d like to give a wide angle view of the Lord’s Prayer in today’s post. We’ll take a more detailed look in the next couple of weeks.
Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed, helped me get a big picture perspective on the Lord’s Prayer. He points out in the book that the Lord’s Prayer is rooted in what Jesus considered to be the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind … love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37, 39) If you take a look at the prayer, you’ll notice that it follows the same pattern.
The first half of the Lord’s Prayer explores what it means to love God through prayer. God is addressed as “our Father”, not simply a god we wish to do business with. We long to see his name honored and worshiped (“hallowed be your name”). We align our will to God’s will by praying for God’s kingdom to come to earth so that his will be obeyed on earth just as it is in heaven. When you love someone, you begin to desire what they desire.
The second half of the Lord’s Prayer is an expression of loving your neighbor through prayer. Notice the pronouns in Matthew 6:11-13. It is never “me”, “I” or “my”, but always “us”, “we” and “our”. We don’t pray for my daily bread, but our daily dread. We are not asking for forgiveness only for ourselves, but for the community also. We don’t pray, “deliver me from temptation” only, but also, “help my friend, help my neighbor be freed from temptation.” The Lord’s Prayer does not ignore our personal needs, but it does teach us that prayer is incomplete without concern for our neighbor.
Two Approaches to Praying the Lord’s Prayer.
Mark Gelinas introduced this approach at our worship service on April 30th. We did it as a church, but we invite you to try this on your own.
- Read each line of the Lord’s Prayer slowly.
- Pause after each line and reflect (meditate) on the words you have read.
- Pray back to God whatever thoughts and prayers emerge from your meditation and then move on to the next line.
- Monday – “Our Father in heaven”
- Tuesday – “hallowed be your name”
- Wednesday – “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”
- Thursday – “Give us today our daily bread.”
- Friday – “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
- Saturday – “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”