Part III: Prayer - Wisdom Over the Centuries
“Lord, Teach Us to Pray”
(This post takes about 4 minutes to read)
George Buttrick (1892-1980), as you may recall from the last blog post, was an English/American prayer champion, who, like current day Tim Keller, also ministered in New York City. Each wrote books titled, Prayer. In reflection, I’m indebted to these guys. They taught me more about prayer than anyone else in my lifetime. Says, Buttrick, “Prayer is listening as well as speaking, receiving as well as well as asking . . . and in its deepest mode, is friendship held in reverence.” It’s conversation!
St. Augustine’s counsel (early 4th century), is that we should always acknowledge our “heart disorder” that corrupts our view of ourselves and others. Augustine adds that we should pray within a perfect balance of “desire and submission” as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane (see Luke 22:42).
Martin Luther, of Reformation fame, proposes that “prayer be the first business of the morning and the last at night.” Making time for that today, with the snare of FB, Instagram and email, is a challenge
John Calvin (Luther’s contemporary), embraced five “rules of prayer”—but the fifth was the Rule of Grace! “God does not reject those prayers in which He finds neither perfect faith nor repentance . . . or petitions not rightly conceived,” says the 16th century theologian, “For without his mercy (and grace) there would be no freedom to pray!”
But there’s one thing Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Buttrick, Keller and prayer warriors across the ages would all agree upon; the greatest model for prayer is the Master’s Prayer, spoken by Jesus himself in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. Today we call that the Lord’s Prayer and millions of men, women, and children across the globe recite it every day. In Luke’s version of the scene, Jesus is responding to the disciples’ request, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). In Matthew 6:9, Jesus’ answer is a simple imperative, “Pray then in this way.”
Tim Keller suggests that the “Lord’s Prayer may be the single set of words spoken more often than any other in the history of the world.” No one will ever prove that conclusively, yet it’s that familiarity that can rob the Lord’s Prayer of its authority, power, and appeal in our lives! I’m reminded of my adolescent years when I could knock out ten “Our Fathers” in a single New York minute after Saturday confession. Ugh! In my youthful innocence, I nonetheless relegated Jesus’ words to the “meaningless repetition” he warns us about in Matthew 6:7.
But imagine if we could have a conversation with God through the Lord’s Prayer . . . it would unlock a whole new experience. Here’s what that might look like, recognizing that my prayer will never be yours . . . nor yours, ever mine. But personalizing our conversation with God overcomes the danger of familiarity in the Lord’s Prayer, or any Scripture we pray.
§ Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name . . . “Lord, you are seated on heaven’s throne. You are my Abba, Father who unconditionally loves me. You are the God that brings forth the morning sun; the skies proclaim the work of your hands. You are holy and distant, but never far away. I’m in awe that I can sit in the presence of the God of the Universe!”
§ Your Kingdom come . . . “Lord, this earth is filled with evil, suffering, and political division. You are the sovereign, all-powerful God—show the world your power! Open the eyes and ears of friends and family who can’t see you in their circumstances. Make that a gentle awakening . . . but use whatever means you must to accomplish your purposes”
§ Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven . . . “Lord, make your will clear to me. Help me to flourish in this chapter of life and make a difference in the lives of others. Help me to live out my faith in a way that draws people to you.”
§ Give us this day our daily bread . . . “Lord, bread is much more than a full refrigerator! Help me to be generous with what you have given me and to feast on the Bread of Life so that I can grow in the grace and knowledge of my Savior.”
§ Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us . . . “Lord, I don’t forgive easily, but I want to be more than just a grace receiver. You have offered me forgiving grace; I need to offer it to others.”
§ Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil . . . “Sometimes this verse confuses me. But I know that as a good Father, you would never encourage me to willfully disobey you; that’s the job of the Evil One. Give me wisdom, integrity, and the discipline to walk away from the trappings of this world that entice me. Grow my faith and trust in the face of temptation.”
§ For the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory are yours forever . . . “Lord, I’m thankful that nothing will ever defeat your grand plan of eternal rescue and peace, for your promises can be trusted. Someday, you will turn all that’s upside-down, right-side up. I can’t imagine what the New Heaven and New Earth will look like, but I trust it will be fantastically awesome.”
§ Amen. “This isn’t an idle word, Lord. It means, ‘So let it be!’ Help me to live faithfully in this world . . . and overflow with future hope.”
“Hear my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray,” (Psalm 5:2)