Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Lord's Prayer and How We Pray

One of the wonderful things about looking at Scripture for a living is that I am always--always--being struck by something that I've not seen or observed before. You'd think after having read the Bible over and over and over again that you'd have the whole thing down. Blessedly, that's not the case. If that were true, preaching on Sundays would get mighty old mighty fast.

What jumped out at me today was a passage in Matthew, following on the text I'm using on Sunday. It's Matthew 6:1-14, smack in the thick precious sweetness of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus teaches us how to pray, saying, "Our Father, who art in heaven..."

The Lord's Prayer is one of those things that is hardwired into the liturgical consciousness of cradle Christians. It's just something that we do as part of our public worship life on Sundays. Maybe we're thinking about it. Hopefully. But we all do it, mumbling along communally with each other.

The striking thing comes when you read the teaching of the Lord's Prayer in the context of Matthew's Gospel. He's already told us in verses 1-6 that we shouldn't engage in showy public displays of faith. Our prayers are between us and God. And as we pray in secret, we show that we understand that God sees in secret. (Matt. 6:6) Jesus then takes that understanding of God further. In Matthew 6: 7-8, we are told not to blabber on and on to God. What can we possibly tell God about our needs that God doesn't already know? I've always seen those verses as a bit of a jab at those whose public prayers occasionally seem like exercises in windy self-indulgence. But read in context, it seems that Christ doesn't present the Lord's Prayer as simply a model of how we should pray in public. Verse 7 doesn't say, "When you are praying in public.."

He tells us it's how we should pray, and we've just been told that we should be praying in private.

It isn't that we can't pray in other ways. We are perfectly free to prattle on to God like overtired toddlers who've gotten into the Mountain Dew. God loves us enough to indulge us in that. But nothing more is needed than the simplicity of that perfect prayer.

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