As our pastor concludes the pastoral prayer each week, he invites us to join together as “we pray the prayer our Lord taught his disciples to pray.”
Those words of invitation have a familiar ring to most of us. The Lord’s Prayer, as we have come to call it, is one of the cherished traditions of the Christian faith, and provides an opportunity for everyone present in the service to join in a brief moment of directed prayer.
It is directed prayer in that it is given to us with very specific wording from the New Testament Scriptures. While there are slight variations, it appears in two of the Gospels, attesting to the validity of the prayer as having come from the heart of Jesus. It is prayed verbally, sung, whispered, even shouted in some cases, and is likely the most widely recognized prayer in the world.
The Lord’s Prayer is for us. In its most recognized format, found in Matthew chapter six, embedded in the Sermon on the Mount, it provides guidance for communicating with God. The intimacy with which the prayer addresses “Our Father” would have been unusual for his listeners. We have come to understand, as a result of 2,000 years of insight, the respectful dependence and the careful intimacy that are appropriate for how we may address God as Jesus has revealed God to us.
While many, if not most, who pray the prayer together in our services have memorized it, it is important that we pray these words, really pray them! Don’t be embarrassed to read them from the screen. The prayer should be a matter of focused attention, providing us those moments in community with worshipers across the sanctuary when we all, with one voice and one mind, present these vital petitions before our Father. In doing so, we join with believers around the world, in churches of every size and denomination, in lifting these profound words to the Father in prayer.
And yet, it is perhaps more important that we learn not only to pray the words of the prayer, but that the words become a means of living our life before God. Living the Lord’s Prayer is more than just quoting the words. It is allowing the words to lodge in the deepest recesses of our minds, our hearts, and our wills.
This is not just a prayer for worship. This is guidance for life. This is recognizing our dependence on the Father for our daily needs, on his grace for our frailty, and on his strength for our unity. Whether we use the words “trespasses” or “debts,” we seek his pardon for our failures and our sins.
This is a wonderful moment in our service of worship. It is not mere tradition, or a weekly habit. It is vital communication between us, individually and corporately, and our Holy, loving heavenly Father.
Let us pray!