More about worship

Praying

Today, we learn about the Lord’s Prayer (or Our Father) as Jesus teaches His disciples to pray:

This, then, is how you should pray:

‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
—Matthew 6:9-15, NIV

The Curse in the Lord’s Prayer

One of my favorite trivia questions, with which I like to plague people, is, “What is the curse in the Lord’s Prayer?” I like to watch their reaction, because to most people, no two things could be greater antitheses in this universe than Jesus Christ and the practice of cursing. So I smile and tell them it is really a trick question. I point out the place where we ask God to forgive us our sins in the same way that we forgive other people who sin against us, and note that for many people, that works out to be a curse. It’s interesting how terror flashes over the faces of most people as they realize that.

Here once again, Jesus subordinates our everyday ethics to our spirituality, making it a prerequisite. Jesus makes it impossible for us to be spiritual Christians without first being ethical in our dealings with other people.

So the next time you make your offering of thanks and praise, remember those from whom you are estranged. Go make peace with them first, then offer your gift. Oh, you say that isn’t practical in your case? The person is inaccessible? Well, don’t send me a message about it; it is the Lord’s Prayer, not mine. Instead, talk to Jesus about it. I’m sure He’ll come up with a way to resolve it.

The Debate About the Lord’s Prayer

In all Christian liturgies, from Lutheran to Orthodox and everyone in between, there is a place in the service where the Lord’s Prayer is recited. Other Christians think this is incorrect: they point out that Jesus said, “pray like this,” not “recite these words” ; and so they often refer to it as the Model Prayer.

I don’t think that Jesus is going to be displeased by those who recite this prayer, whether the practice is correct or not; but I do think He would be displeased by those who find in here a commandment to model their prayers after it, but do not obey.

Which brings me to my next point: How to use the Lord’s Prayer as a Model (a practical how-to guide):

Every evening I walk three miles as part of my losing campaign against high blood pressure and my imperialistic waist line. I generally don’t wear an iPod, because I prefer to take my exercise without anesthesia. (I enjoy the sounds of nature, and I want to be able to hear the cars honk before they run me over.) Sometimes I devote the time to prayer, and I have found that the Lord’s prayer makes a good outline. Here’s how I do it:

You get the idea. When you pray like this, it’s amazing how time flies. I’ve spent as little as five minutes and as much as forty-five minutes in prayer! (Not that I’m punching a time clock, mind you; I just thought you’d be interested.) I try to balance petitions with thanksgivings, and if I find myself lacking faith for the things I request, I remind God how He provided in similar circumstances in the past, and thank Him for them once again. I go into as much detail on each point as is appropriate, and sometimes that means I lose my place. The fact that I have memorized the Lord’s prayer is helpful; I can just recite it mentally to regain an overview and continue where I left off. I end the prayer in a doxology, as is my custom.

The phrase “for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever” does not appear in the best manuscripts of the New Testament as the conclusion of this prayer. It is, however, part of the liturgy of the Eastern Church; in fact, in reading an Orthodox Prayer Book, I found it repeated throughout the service after various prayers. So apparently a scribe, accustomed to hearing this refrain added onto the end of the Lord’s Prayer in church, inserted it into the manuscript as he copied it.

The most important thing to remember about prayer and all other forms of worship is the hardest part: talk to God, not about Him.

The next time you go to church, pay attention to what is said. Imagine Jesus sitting in the congregation in the flesh. Does anyone talk to Him, or do they just talk about Him behind His back? The Sunday evening before I wrote this, I attended a church in which they spent only five minutes of the hour-long service talking directly to God. Churches vary, but you will probably get an unpleasant surprise. It’s a good thing that God’s feelings aren’t easily hurt. After all the trouble He went to so that we would find Him accessible, and then we ignore Him in His own house!

So when you pray, talk to God.