Monday, May 31, 2010

Matthew 6:9-13 - "Pray, then, in this way: 'Our Father...'"

Like most Protestants I've struggled with feeling like the Lord's Prayer is anything but a cold formality. And when I say it, I can't help but think I'm turning it into the kind of pious prayer chant that Jesus just denounced two verses earlier. Part of the problem may be the language of the prayer. Because most Bible translations try to preserve the traditional King James rendering that has become so familiar to everyone, your ear has difficulty picking up its plain meaning and incorporating it into your own words during personal prayer times.

To tell you the truth, there was a time when I got very discouraged about prayer and blew the whole thing off for several years. I told myself I'd only pray for other people but not for myself--that way I wouldn't be disappointed. I'm not recommending it, but it meant that I had to build my prayer life up from scratch. And, believe me, worrying about whether I was following the Lord's Prayer was the least of my concerns when the struggle was just to pray at all. I prayed only for the needs of others for a long time, then I ventured into praying for personal concerns of day-to-day living. Really holy prayers like prayers of adoration or praying for the entire Muslim world to be saved are still a bit overwhelming. I'm still working on the advanced level stuff.

But what I've discovered was that even though I don't use the exact words of the Lord's Prayer, I have naturally gravitated toward the topics that this prayer covers. I think that's probably true for most Christians if we just look at the types of things we all tend to pray for. There are five main topics the Lord's Prayer covers:

1. Honoring our heavenly Father for who he is.
2. Awaiting Christ's kingdom and asking that God's will be done even now.
3. Asking for daily needs.
4. Asking for forgiveness in view of forgiving others.
5. Asking for deliverance from sin.

1. Honoring our heavenly Father for who he is. This covers all praise, adoration and thanksgiving--basically the worship we give to God at church when we sing to him. It also covers all sitting in his presence, meditation, reflection on his goodness, and all that encouraging stuff we all need to do more of.

2. Awaiting Christ's kingdom and asking that God's will be done even now. This covers all the times you've longed for the second coming because you're sick and tired of this world. The times you've seen evil and wanted justice. The times you've seen suffering and wanted relief. It also covers all the times you've prayed for people to come to Christ, for peace to prevail, for greater love between family and friends, for patience to endure trials--anything that you know God approves of.

3. Asking for daily needs. This covers asking for strength for the day, saying grace for the food, wondering where you put your keys, begging for your car to start, pleading that you'd make it to work on time, and moaning about when this meeting is going to end. It also covers all those typical requests at the church prayer meeting about a sprained ankle, a broken toe, someone's carpal tunnel surgery, a difficult pregnancy, etc.

4. Asking for forgiveness in view of forgiving others. This covers all the sorrow, regret, confession, repentance, and gospel belief that you experience during times you've sinned. It also covers all the times you've tried to forgive others, managed for a time, relapsed, tried to remember that you're a sinner too, tried to have compassion on your antagonist again, resolved again to forgive, etc.

5. Asking for deliverance from sin. This covers all the struggles with temptation. The times you've asked to be delivered from overcharging your credit card, clicking on that porn site, yelling at the kids, gossiping with friends, wasting time, overeating, or zoning out during church. It also covers all spiritual warfare--when you, your family, or your church is being attacked by the devil, and you need strength and guidance to be delivered out of that chaotic mess.

Basically, I've concluded that even if we don't use the Lord's Prayer formally in our prayers, the natural longings of our hearts still lead us to ask for the general things that this prayer outlines. I suppose that shouldn't be a surprise since those natural longings are guided by the Holy Spirit, who knows how to intercede for us with groanings too deep for words.


  1. It makes most sense to me that this is meant to be an outline of how to pray. There are two versions in Matt 6 and Luke 11, one having more detail than the other. That does indicate something of a pattern of themes for prayer rather than verbatim. Which in turn means it is so much more essential to our lives than just a weekly recital.

    Although I think that weekly recital is also a place to consider the most recent examples of each theme as we speak the words. Well that's my struggle in the constant temptation to fall into thoughtless repetition of such profound words.

  2. Yeah, I certainly don't mind the weekly recital of the Lord's Prayer. I've been doing it for years and I find it to be a helpful reminder of how prayer should be.

    Thanks for mentioning Luke 11. I kinda like that version actually. It has a simple child-like rhythm to it.