Summary: Lord, teach us to pray.
The Lord’s Prayer
How many times do we say the Lord’s Prayer in our lives? It is prayed every Sunday in many Churches throughout the world, when we say our prayers at home, if we cannot think of any other prayer to pray, we pray the Lord’s Prayer. If we have been going to Church for fifty years, then we have repeated this prayer over 2,500 times. I wonder if Jesus knew what would happen when he gave this prayer example to his disciples, I wonder if he knew that his example would become the only prayer that some people ever pray. According to Murray Watts, one of the playwrights of the Christian Drama Company – Riding Lights, even the insects are praying this prayer. He tells how a fly was looking up at a praying mantis, “What are you doing” said the fly. “I’m praying,” said the mantis. “Don’t be stupid, insects don’t pray.” The fly told it. And at that, the Mantis swooped down and grabbed the fly in it’s claws, and straight away the fly began “Our Father, who art in heaven”.
It is true that Luke’s Gospel records Jesus as saying ‘When you pray, say’, but it is quite possible that Jesus never told us to pray these words for Matthew’s gospel tells us that Jesus told his disciples “This, then, is how you should pray”. In other words, the prayer is not something that should be recited daily or weekly, it is an example that should guide the way we pray and the things we pray for.
When Jesus told his disciples about this prayer it was actually something revolutionary. His twelve followers have been taught all their lives that they are not allowed to mention God’s name aloud, that it is a name so holy and awesome that you cannot even mention it, and here is Jesus telling them:
“When you pray, say: Daddy”.
His disciples would have wondered if they were hearing him right, he was telling them to call the mighty and awesome God, the one whose name could not be spoken, daddy.
As if this wasn’t enough of a shock, he then goes to say that the way to have your sins forgiven is simply to ask. Those of you who know something about the Jewish temple will know that it was built for two purposes, one to be the dwelling place of God, and two, to be the place where people could come and present a sacrifice to God for forgiveness of sins. For nearly two thousand years, the way that forgiveness of sins has been obtained is by going to the temple once a year and paying the High Priest to sacrifice a sheep, cow or bull on your behalf. And now Jesus tells them, if you want God to forgive you, simply go to Daddy and ask him to.
How different this was to how we see the Lord’s Prayer today. If we were honest, we would all have to admit that there have been times when we have prayed these words without even thinking about what they mean. Yet the disciples would hardly dared to have prayed this prayer because of what the words meant.
How has this prayer changed so much from being something new and revolutionary to being something that many of us say without even thinking about the words? I think we can find one reason why things have changed when we look at the situation that Jesus and the disciples were in when he said these words. Luke tells us “One-day Jesus was praying in a certain place”. Now prayer was not something that was new to these twelve men, they would have grown up seeing people praying in synagogues and in the temple. Like all Jews, they would have known the Shema – the great Jewish prayer, almost from birth “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Prayer was not new to these people, so it can’t have been just the fact that Jesus prayed that made them ask Him “Teach us to pray.”
There must have been something in the way that Jesus looked as he prayed, maybe the sense of peace, or the sense of fellowship, or something else that made them ask this question. Possibly, they saw a smaller version of how he looked at the transfiguration. At that time we are told that “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became a brilliant white.” It doesn’t seem impossible that the disciples saw a little of that experience every time that Jesus prayed and because of this they ask Him, ‘teach us to pray’. ‘We want the same thing to happen to us as happens to you when you pray, tell us how.’