Friday, July 3, 2009

Teach Us To Pray

There is one prayer that binds Christians together--The Lord's Prayer. If you've spent any time in a Christian community, you know this prayer. No matter what Christian church or service you walk into, no matter that you may be completely unfamiliar with the forms and rituals and perhaps feel uncomfortable, when someone begins "Our Father...", suddenly you can join in, and for that short prayer, you belong. Even in non-English languages, if you know a little of the language, you can follow along, connect with the people around you. Yes, there may be the little tripping over whether we're forgiving debts, sins or trespasses, but this prayer, like no other, marks us as Christians, because we pray in the words that Jesus taught.

For that alone, The Lord's Prayer is powerful stuff.

Let me share some deeper reflection on this amazing prayer. In a Lenten study I did a few years ago, the writer of the study pointed out that Jesus may or may not have said these exact words. The prayer appears in two places in the Bible--Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4--and in both places the words are slightly different. What Jesus was trying to emphasize was that, in contrast to the prayer rituals and hypocrisy seen in the Jewish gatherings of the time, prayer could be simple, private and heartfelt. Prayer should include two basic elements:
  • Praising God, and
  • Asking for the Kingdom of God to be manifest.
Our prayer may continue by asking that we may be instrumental in bringing the Kingdom of God into existence. For that we need:
  • Daily bread for the strength and energy to throw ourselves into the effort;
  • Hearts to forgive others' faults; and
  • Commitment to follow the Way that Jesus taught.
  • Discernment to recognize temptation and to push away from evil.
The words that we use are not as important as the power of our hearts, bodies and minds we put behind the prayer and our actions. I would add, as the letters of the New Testament do, that we need to move out with a heart filled with thanksgiving.

Consider this reworking of the prayer from the Anglican Church's New Zealand Prayer Book (HarperCollins 1997):

Eternal Spirit,
Earth-maker, Pain Bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:

The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth.

With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb form one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, strengthn us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is eveil, free us.

For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and for ever. Amen.

Thing about how Jesus was teaching us to pray. Can you create a simple prayer in your own words to capture the essentials? Or can you read and say this ancient prayer, now mindful of what the words convey and demand of you?

Have you found prayer difficult in the past? Do you think prayer would be easier if you focused on the essentials, as Jesus taught? Whether prayer is easy or difficult, we are encouraged by a letter from Paul, Silvanus and Timothy:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thes 5:16-18)


  1. I did meditate upon prayer in a Unitarian context some time ago. I asked how many times should we pray according to our tradition. If interested you find it here Click "How many times and when should a Unitarian pray?" at the top of the blog.

  2. Knut, your meditation on prayer is very interesting. I especially like the description of prayer as "breathing of the soul". What a lovely and powerful image. The Benedictines have a rhythm of prayer 6 or 7 times a day, but 3 times a time seems to suit my own rhythm--at rising, during a mid-day break, and before sleeping. I'll see if I can bring that new discipline to my daily life.