Prayer. Everyone prays. Even the most strident atheists have been known to utter an occasional “O God!” Prayer seems to come naturally to some people, but my experience and my Bible tells me it is a learned skill. In my faith tradition people wanting to become pastors generally attend a post-graduate theological seminary. During my first days at Salt Lake Theological Seminary, I was staggered by how beautifully and eloquently some instructors and students prayed. I thought I would never be able to pray that way.
Now, almost two decades later, while I would not describe my prayers as eloquent or beautiful, I do recognize that the quality of my prayers and prayer life has improved. Practice may not have made perfect, but practice has brought improvement. So, we can learn to pray. Even Jesus’ Disciples, many of whom were devout, prayerful individuals asked Jesus to “teach us to pray.”
When asked, Jesus responded with what we know today as the Lord’s Prayer. It is a prayer that has been repeated so often and for so long that I’m afraid we can take it for granted. Perhaps it has become too familiar. We can recite it from rote. The words come effortlessly – without thinking. And that’s too bad.
Because the Lord’s Prayer is dynamic. When Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer, he gave us excellent specific words to use in a particular prayer, but he also gave us a model to guide us in all our prayers. The meanings and implications of the Lord’s Prayer are profound. Martin Luther thought so too. He said, “Whatever needs are in the world, they are included in the Lord’s Prayer. And all the prayers in the Psalms and all the prayers which ever could be devised are in the Lord’s Prayer.” It’s worth a look.
The implications of the very first word, “our” are huge. Remember, Jesus who is fully human and fully divine is teaching this prayer. He could have said, “Pray to MY Father,” but he didn’t. He said “our” Father. Because Jesus shares in our humanity, he is one of us and we are included in the “our.”
Perhaps even more remarkable is that through our baptisms and when we confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, we are adopted into God’s family. We become brothers and sisters of Christ. God is no longer “just” the Father of Jesus. As brothers and sisters of Christ, God is “our” Father too. There is a divine connection that includes us.
The second word of this prayer, “Father,” is at least as profound especially as we understand God as a “heavenly” Father. In Jesus’ day and today, some “earthly” fathers were good and some were bad. People then and now may or may not have been blessed with a good “earthly” father.
But when Jesus urges us to pray to our heavenly Father, we are praying to a GOOD Father. Once, when he was addressed as “Good Teacher,” Jesus answered saying, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Our heavenly Father loves, cares, and provides for us in good ways our earthly fathers cannot or will not.
You get the picture. You can go word by word through the Lord’s Prayer and you will find that repeating it from memory without thinking about it is no good. Every word is worthy of deep consideration. But, in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus gave us more than excellent words to use in a specific prayer. He gave us a model to use in all our prayers.
Rather than start by giving God a “to do” list of all the things in our life that need his attention, maybe it’s better if we just begin by acknowledging the goodness and greatness of our Heavenly Father. His very name is to be “hallowed” or honored. Maybe it would be a good idea to pray that God’s Kingdom and will would be done on earth rather than try to impose our own wills and ideas.
Then, Jesus reminds us in this great prayer that it is perfectly alright to pray for the things we need to live – our daily bread. But we do that in the same breath asking for forgiveness for our misdeeds; all the while remembering that we need also to be forgiving of the wrongs done to us. God’s help in that regard is vital because we find it hard to admit when we are wrong, and we find it hard to forgive others.
Finally, as a model, the Lord’s Prayer encourages us to close all our prayers with an affirmation of the greatness of God. Many psalms end this way. Psalm 7 closes with “I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.” We do well to declare all the power, all the glory belong to God – forever and ever. Amen.
Rick Ehrheart is pastor of Mountain of Faith Lutheran Church in Tooele.