He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
Luke 11:1-4 (NRSV)
I think I failed the man. He was an eager new Christian having recently embraced Jesus in his heart. And he came to me asking if I could recommend a prayer book. I brushed aside his request, saying something like, “Oh, you don’t need a prayer book to pray, you can just pray whatever is in your heart.” My words sounded spiritual to me at the time, but I realize now that I didn’t give him the help he wanted. I did not realize at that point in my life that just praying what was in my heart meant pretty shallow praying. I did not yet know the need for wrapping my prayers around the prayers of the Psalms, the apostles, the great saints, the great hymns of the faith, and yes, a prayer book like The Book of Common Prayer.
That is why in the coming weeks I want to begin by exploring the Lord’s Prayer as both a pattern and a guide for prayer. This amazing prayer our Lord taught His disciples has to be chapter one in any prayer book. The Didache, the earliest Christian document outside the New Testament, instructs first century Christians to pray the Lord’s Prayer three times a day (Didache, 8:2-3). I now find praying the Lord’s Prayer a great way to open my day, prop me up at noon, and fall off to sleep at night. Through praying it I sense the Lord drawing me into more intimate fellowship with Him. And I also delight in knowing that as I pray the Lord’s Prayer I am praying it with Christians all over the world.
I appreciate what N. T. Wright, the noted New Testament scholar, says about praying the Lord’s Prayer:
“For the Lord’s Prayer is not so much a command as an invitation: an invitation to share in the prayer-life of Jesus himself. Seen with Christian hindsight – more specifically, with Trinitarian perspective – the Lord’s Prayer becomes an invitation to share in the divine life itself. It becomes one of the high roads into the central mystery of Christian salvation and Christian existence.” (N. T. Wright, Into God’s Presence: Prayer in the New Testament, ed. R. L. Longenecker)
I am struck by the shortness of the Lord’s Prayer; it takes me just 30 seconds or so to pray. The succinctness of the Lord’s Prayer reminds me of Martin Luther’s instruction that prayer should be “brief, frequent, and intense.” (Luther Works 21:143) But praying the Lord’s Prayer can also launch us into times of more prayer and meditation.
I also notice that the prayer is also in the first person plural. There is not an “I”, “me”, or “mine” in it. Rather we are praying, “Our” – “us” — “our” – “us” – “our”—“us” – “us”. I need to be schooled in that bigger way of praying in our “It’s all about me” culture. Thus, the first part of the prayer is about God and His Kingdom, and the second half about what “we” need for life together. Through the regular praying of the Lord’s Prayer people have found that they start sharing in Jesus’ agenda and outlook on the world.
One final thought for today. Perhaps you noticed the Lord’s Prayer, recorded here in Luke’s Gospel as well as in the better manuscripts of Matthew, does not have the same wording as the way most of us learned it. For example, the familiar longer ending, or doxology, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever”, comes from its addition in the first century Didache (8:2-3). More about this next week, but this ending comes from David’s prayer centuries earlier (1 Chronicles 20:10-13). Early Christians understood Jesus as establishing the Kingdom long promised to David.
In this prayer Jesus is inviting us into His way of praying and to talk to His Father as our Father too! If I could go back in time, I would tell that new Christian wanting a prayer book to start with the Lord’s Prayer! And how about you? Why not start with daily praying the Lord’s Prayer? Maybe even three times a day!
Grace and peace,