20200727 The Lord’s Prayer. It’s everything we need.

Monday Musings for July 27, 2020

Good morning, Musers,

I shouldn’t confess this to you... but here it goes: I’m a pastor... yet I am ambivalent about the Lord’s Prayer.

Now, that’s the functional me speaking... not the devotional me... or the guy-who-knows-where-real-value-lies me. The thing is, I serve in Central New England (USA) where the dominant religious influence has been Roman Catholicism for generations. The result is, everyone “knows” the Lord’s Prayer — either through training or by exposure.

The question is, do they really know it? Or, when they repeat it several times, is it the heart’s equivalent of spinning a prayer wheel? ... making sure to give it enough spins to make it meaningful to God and/or the universe? This is what drives my ambivalence about the Lord’s Prayer: how it’s usually used.

Now, it’s a discussion for another day as to whether or not God’s word can be a cliché. Scripture is — by definition — a lively entity! (Hebrews 4:12). But whatever the technical truth is, passages like the Lord’s prayer, the 23rd Psalm, the “love chapter” of the Bible (1 Corinthians 13) — and even Ecclesiastes’ “for everything there is a season…” — are two-edged swords: it is good that people recognize God’s word! It is bad that its meaning remains unknown.

But here’s the thing: God’s word is only unknown where it is unexplored — and this is easily remedied. We’re tripping over Bibles in developed nations. The thing we are not tripping over is the type of diligence Paul encouraged Timothy to have in 2 Timothy 2:15.

I suspect that Jesus’ disciples were much like us in that they saw the value of the Lord’s Prayer as a template. A template is a useful tool in an environment where you have to “unlearn” as much as you have to learn. His disciples had certainly been exposed to a lot of prayer in their lives... I mean... they were Jews! But it was the wrong kind of prayer. Jesus called the Pharisees out for praying the way they prayed (Mark 12:38-40).

Perhaps this is the problem I have with how we “do” the Lord’s Prayer. Prayers that are overly familiar, repetitive or habitually high-toned are in danger of being empty. So why bother?

I do have a favorite prayer, but it’s not the Lord’s Prayer. Remember the tax collector who was beating his chest in contrition because of his sin? (Luke 18:13). Jesus liked that prayer too. He held it above the prayers of the Pharisees! Why do you think he did? Because the Pharisees were not interested in being either genuine or humble. The tax collector, however, was ready to do business with God.

The Lord’s prayer had to be a pleasant surprise for the Jews of Jesus’ day. It affirms God while comforting us — and in a time of national despair, that was good medicine! But the prayer also keeps us in our places. Since God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble, the Lord’s Prayer is among the most important passages of Scripture. But — and this is huge but — we should appropriate its meaning and not just its sounds.

(Click here to read the article referenced above. For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at mainsailep@gmail.com. To submit a question about God, the Bible or the Christian culture, click here.)