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3 Things We Can Learn from the Lord's Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name...

Chances are these words are familiar to you. Whether you grew up in a Christian household or have had limited contact with the Christian faith, the words of the Lord's Prayer have become famous throughout the world. So famous, in fact, that sometimes we forget why we pray them in the first place.

In Luke chapter 11, we see an interesting scene. Jesus goes to pray, and then his disciples ask him a question:

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

Why would the disciples want Jesus to teach them how to pray? This is a very interesting question, especially when you consider that the disciples were Jewish, and they would have by tradition learned how to pray from an early age. Jewish tradition dictated regular prayer—usually three times a day!

So why would the disciples need Jesus to teach them? They noticed that Jesus prayed differently. Just as the disciples learned from Jesus, so too can we learn from how He prayed. Here are three things that stand out from how Jesus taught us to pray.

I. Intimacy

In Jesus' time, there was a belief that prayer should be in the style of a “servant making requests of his master”. How dramatic must it have been for Jesus to approach a Father rather than a master! Let's compare the first few words of the Lord's Prayer to the beginning of the Kaddish, a common daily Jewish prayer:

Do you see the difference? Jesus addresses God using the first person. He calls God "our Father" instead of referring to God as "He" or "the Lord." In doing this, Jesus implies that we can have a level of intimacy with God above and beyond what the disciples understood to be possible.

Tyler Staton, in his book “Praying like Monks, Living like Fools,” describes that in the ancient world, the question was not, “does God exist?” but rather “is God knowable?”

The people knew about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who delivered Israel from Pharoah through the sea and the God who traveled as a pillar of fire and cloud. The God who reigned down fire on the altar to shame Baal, and the God who miraculously kept the three Hebrew boys from being burned in Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace. But could they know the Father who also spoke in a still small voice?

In beginning his prayer with "Our Father," Jesus answers this question: yes, God is knowable. Not only is God knowable; God wants to be known and to know us.

From the beginning, the tendency is distance. We see this in Adam and Eve’s response to the shame of their nakedness: they ran away and hid from God. Sometimes we feel better approaching God from a distance. But Jesus, in his sacrifice, has already closed the gap between us and God. The curtain separating us from the Father has been torn. God has gone 90% of the way to approach us; we just need to close the 10% from our side.

II. Discipline

Sometimes we have a bad rap in our culture for "non-spontaneous prayer." We often save the ancient recited prayers for the Catholics and other more traditional groups. Maybe you heard while you were growing up that reciting prayers was not quite as meaningful or authentic as coming up with your own words.

But for thousands of years, truly up until very recently, this was how people prayed. Whether it was traditional prayers passed down through generations or praying passages of Scripture, this has been an extremely common way of praying.

Maybe we should consider the idea of praying Scripture or recalling prayers from things like the Book of Common Prayer or other sources as not “less than” but rather extremely helpful and, perhaps, a very real way to connect us to the great cloud of witnesses who have come before us.

Tyler Straton describes the need for discipline in prayer as being similar to a jazz musician. If you have ever seen a jazz concert, you know that the music they play is often improvised and spontaneous. Yet before they can begin to improvise, they must have a solid understanding of the structure and rules of music first. Prayer is a little like that in that it involves discipline and practice before we get really comfortable and confident with it.

Now, discipline might be a hard word for some of us to use or consider. This is not necessarily referring to the idea of consequences for behavior like we might think about for kids, but instead following a rhythm of prayer in our lives. Followers of Jesus have maintained rhythms of prayer for hundreds of years; the people of Israel, for thousands more before that. We have guides to help us on this journey.

When we find a rhythm for our spiritual practice, it is like we are using a trellis for our

spiritual life to grow on. It is not to be an obligatory practice but rather a habit to sustain our desire for prayer in a world that often doesn’t create space for such a rhythm. So, instead, we choose to create such a rhythm and bring our hearts and bodies and minds back to the Lord throughout our day. We are creating a system that helps us remember to pray.

Prayer, particularly this frequent and consistent kind of praying, helps us remember: who we are, who God is, who others are and why we are here. God uses the word “remember” in scripture to call us back to who He is and who we are, by some scholars' count, over 550 times. We could use the words discipline or rhythm, both of which are functional. But maybe we should think of it more in terms of remembering why we do what we do as Christians.

III. Simplicity

Another prayer that has been pointed out as a source of inspiration for Jesus' prayer is called the Amidah. Dr. Brad Young in his book “The Jewish Background to the Lord’s Prayer” makes some interesting comparisons with the wording of the two prayers. This was a central prayer to the Jewish people, second only to the Shema. This prayer was so

central that many rabbis would refer to it as just “the prayer” and not by name. Let's take a look at the two side-by-side (note that these are only sections of the Amidah, not the entirety of the prayer!):

You might notice that the Lord's Prayer is significantly shorter than the Amidah. Jesus prays a much reduced version of this prayer as an example for his disciples. These prayers are not bad by any means--see the previous note about discipline! Yet there is something beautiful in this simplicity.

Prayer can be simple and beautiful, intimate and deep. The yoke of prayer under this Rabbi is intimate and simple, not lengthy and weighty. Matt. 6:7 says “And when you pray do not pour a flood of empty words as the Gentiles do. They think that by saying many words they will be heard. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows what you need before you ask.”

In the Gospels, Jesus tell us that we are to be like children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. There is a lot packed into the statement and idea, but I believe one of them is the idea of simplicity. We can be made to feel like following Jesus is complicated. Like prayer is complicated. But in reality, like all of God’s Kingdom, its actually quite simple. Not easy necessarily, but simple. So simple, that a child could do it. So, why do we make it harder than it needs to be?

This idea of simplicity is another example of God’s compassion toward us. He intentionally

chose for our connection to Him to be simple and unburdening. Prayer does not need to be for hours every day. Nor does it need to always be done in some specific way or place. But just as Jesus says “come to me all who weary and heavy laden”, God also beckons us to come simply and without pretense before Him.

The motivation is simple. The mechanism is simple. The very idea is simple. He made it simple so that it could be accessible and free to enter into.

Prayer is integral to our lives as apprentices of Jesus. It is in the ancient texts that God gives to His people, in the example of Jesus’ life and in the descriptions of the early church. If we want to follow in the Way, we need to be people of prayer. As we continue on in this series and work toward developing and growing our prayer lives, my hope is that we would take these concepts from Jesus as we do that: intimacy, discipline and simplicity. These are the things God wants from us in communion and blesses us with.

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