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Prayer links our life to God's. But is it innate or learned? Surely the disciples knew how to pray, yet even they hungered for something more.
As Jesus was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, one of His disciples said to Him, "Lord, teach us to pray."So He said to them, "When you pray, say:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one."
Luke 11: 1-4 NKJV
A Pattern for Prayer
Our family walked into a restaurant one day, and there sat the best-looking man we had ever seen. From his full head of beautiful hair right down to those well-shined shoes, his features were perfect. He had a ready smile, too, that hid any sign of arrogance or conceit. There was no way he would fade into the woodwork; everybody noticed him. How could they not! When the waitress came to take our order, my husband motioned toward that dream boat and said, "I want what he eats!"
That's what the disciples were saying, "Lord, we want what you have. Teach us to pray like that." The disciples had watched Jesus commune with God many times and envied what Jesus experienced. They wanted those same benefits; his sense of purpose, his strength of character, that energy, confidence and power.
Jesus told them when starting a prayer, begin by considering what God wants! Now that's a new thought! I grew up with the Lord's Prayer, saying it every morning in grade school. We say it in our worship services and many of us know it by heart. The words are so familiar we usually rush from beginning to end in 25 seconds or less. But what would happen if we slowed it down! And actually thought about what we were saying. Is it possible that such an old common prayer could become new and vital with fresh meaning for us?
If we look closely we notice the pattern of the Lord's Prayer is two-fold. God is given the top spot--Thy name, thy kingdom, thy will. Jesus taught us to gaze heavenward, and look out on life from the broad windows above. This requires that we get our mind off ourselves, and take a look instead at God's problems before talking about our own. As we give the Architect of our lives first place, everything else falls into proper prospective. We do not bend God to our desires; rather, we shape our desires to fit divine purposes.
The second part of the Lord's Prayer is about us--our needs, our sins, our fears. Give us, forgive us, and guide us. In this prayer we get to see what our concerns look like from God's point of view. Prayer is much more than saying words. It is thinking the thoughts of Jesus which connect us to God and to each other.
Many people have looked at this prayer and seen great truths contained in each sentence. Our request for daily bread reminds us of Father, creator and sustainer; our plea for forgiveness reminds us of Jesus being our savior and redeemer; and our appeal for protection reminds us of the Holy Spirit who strengthens and guides us. It deals with economics, the need for daily bread; relationships, the need for forgiveness; and personal integrity, the need for deliverance from temptation and sin. Past, present and future is all covered.
We are children of the earth and the fact that we have a heavenly Father who loves us seems to get lost in day to day realities. Jesus lived on both a physical level and a spiritual level and he invites us to do the same. Spirit is invisible, so the image of heaven urges us to live in the presence of God, and walk with God daily, moment by moment. Just like the unseen air we breathe, so is our Father in heaven real and vital to life at all times.
Although we call this "The Lord's Prayer", it's really a disciples' prayer. It is for all those who take their faith seriously, who have experienced God's love and want to share it. Because after we have prayed, the work begins. What will we do to make it happen, and bring harmony between the interests of God and our daily actions?
What does God want? Jesus taught us his heavenly Father wants to be our heavenly Father, too, and that God wants to be loved and honored by all his children. Jesus held before us the possibility that God's reign of peace and goodwill could come upon the earth if we cleared the way and prepared the road. God wants all people to have what they need, and treat each other with mercy and compassion, just as God treats us. And finally, God wants us to stay out of trouble and be free from harm.
Jesus outlined the concerns of God clearly in six brief sentences. In time and with much practice, we too, can learn to know God and desire what God wants, for us, and for his beloved creation.
Use the following questions and exercises for small groups,journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Share something which you associate with prayer; maybe a song, or the words of a prayer or someone you know who prays.
What was the first prayer you ever learned and where did you learn it? Did anyone pray with you, or for you, when you were a child? If so, who was it?
Estimate how often you repeated the Lord's Prayer in the past year. How many times did you pray it? What is the difference between repeating a prayer and praying it? Do you prefer to use different prayers, or pray the same one over and over again? Explain the reasons for the answer you picked.
Does praying feel natural to you? Is it something you learn to do, or can anybody do it?
Here's an idea from the "what it's worth" department: A woman with three teenage children prayed the Lord's Prayer three times every morning as she drove to work. First, she prayed it with her oldest child in mind. Then with her middle child in mind. And last with her youngest child in mind.
When Jesus gave us the Lord's Prayer, why would he devote half of it to thoughts about God's name, kingdom and will? Are your needs covered sufficiently in this prayer? Is there anything more Jesus should have included?
For the next week, try this experiment with the Lord's Prayer. Pray just one sentence a day and take time to reflect on what those words mean, first from God's perspective, and then what it means for you. At the end of the week, share with your group, or in a journal, any insights you received about the prayer.
Another way to break out of the habit of rushing through the Lord's Prayer would be to imagine that you must pause to light a candle each time you begin a new sentence. Then ask God to shed light on the words as you pray. Or think of the prayer as a large house. With each sentence open the door to a new room and take time to explore it before moving ahead.
St. Francis of Assisi is known for his questions, "Lord, Who are You? And who am I?" How do the words of the Lord's Prayer answer those questions?