Jesus said to his disciples, ‘In your prayers do not babble as the pagans do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard. Do not be like them; your Father knows what you need before you ask him. So you should pray like this:‘Our Father in heaven,may your name be held holy,your kingdom come,your will be done,on earth as in heaven.Give us today our daily bread.And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven those who are in debt to us.And do not put us to the test,but save us from the evil one.‘Yes, if you forgive others their failings, your heavenly Father will forgive you yours; but if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your failings either.’
Of course, we have taken Jesus at his word here and taken these prayers as literally– how we are to pray.
Although, I wonder how widespread memorization of these words are among those who aren’t Catholic? Years ago, my daughter was in a high school production of Lilies of the Field down here in Birmingham. There’s a scene in which the sisters recite the Lord’s Prayer. They weren’t off book then, but, you know…the Lord’s Prayer. My daughter was the only one who knew it by heart, here in Bible country. Perhaps none of the other girls were church-goers at all, but it did prompt me to wonder…would evangelicals know the Lord’s Prayer as a stand-alone?
Anyway, as a memorized prayer, taking Jesus literally, the Lord’s Prayer is foundational. But it is more than that. My conscience has long been pricked by Jesus’ words here because it seems to me they go far deeper than telling me what words to say. They are about how to pray, no matter what words – or no words – I bring. They are about an attitude and approach.
So often when we think about prayer, we focus on petitions and on ourselves. We begin by spilling out our guts to God, loading up on our problems and needs. But how does Jesus tell us how to pray? By beginning in giving praise to God and acknowledging who God is. Half the prayer is that – God is Father, God is holy, God reigns. Oh, and then…may we be sustained. May we be forgiven. May we be faithful in the face of temptation.
Not many words. No self-centered babbling. A lot of God, not much us.
As I said, a conscience-pricker.