This past Sunday we talked about aspects of the inner spiritual life. We focused our thoughts around what is usually called the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:5-15). At the heart of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, we find the heart of his living -- prayer. In Jesus, our humanity is being restored to a talking relationship with God. This is a wonder and a grace. Prayer always comes in a context. We pray from somewhere, from some state of mind or perception of need. To pray is to invite God into the place we are, not only in our desperate places but also in our “feeling-quite-well-thank-you” places. Since it is both illusion and folly to live independently of God, prayer is the way we describe a vitally connected life. Along with the call of Jesus to live differently comes the invitation to live from a different center. My belief is that if we are serious Jesus followers, we will need to penetrate his model prayer much more deeply than we have. We have all recited the Lord’s Prayer at some point, but have we learned to live inside of it?
The context of the Lord’s Prayer is the Lord’s life. We cannot forget that. One of our great Bible scholars, NT Wright, said that the more he studied this prayer, the more it became clear to him that it summed up very accurately, although in condensed form, what Jesus understood about his own life and purpose. This model prayer becomes then, in essence, a distillation of the Jesus-way of living, a life oriented around the purpose and intention of God. The Lord’s prayer should therefore be thought of as the very breath of Jesus, the essence of what he was about (see NT Wright, The Lord and His Prayer, p. 2).
Of course, it is entirely possible to repeat these words mindlessly, without any kind of connection to their meaning. But this does not mean repetition is bad -- not at all. It simply means that unthinking repetition is bad. Instead, try this: try to step into this prayer as the breath of Jesus, the model form of the life of Jesus for yourself. Take the various phrases of the prayer and pray them slowly and with thought, finding ways to work out these words in your daily life. Notice the collective words, the “our” and the “us”, and notice the things this prayer names as truly important. Living inside this model prayer will be transformative, not only for yourself, but for the world you inhabit, the people and issues you are wrapped up in.
One of my favorite CS Lewis quotes are these words: “The prayer preceding all prayers is ‘May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou I speak to.’ (Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer, p. 82). Far from being a mindless repetition of magical words, the Lord’s prayer can remind us of the wonder of prayer, that we can really share life with God. In Jesus, God has come near to us, and in prayer, we experience and practice this nearness. Find out what this means for yourself.
This Sunday we are having a live conversation about the Sermon on the Mount. We are honored to have Charles Nienkirchen join us. You don’t want to miss this one. See you at 9:29 or 11:11.
Take time to ponder these questions: 1. What is your experience with prayer? As prayer is a struggle for nearly all of us, what are the hindrances for you? 2. Have you ever experienced a moment of real intimacy with God? What was that like and how did that change you? 3. What part of the Lord’s prayer most challenges you? Most comforts you? 4. How might you rephrase the various parts of the Lord’s prayer in more contemporary language? 5. Here is a challenge: repeat the Lord’s prayer everyday for a week, and for each day, take one phrase of the prayer to carry through your day, thinking about it and musing on it before God. Find a way to express that part of the Lord's Prayer in concrete action. This is a wonderful way to get inside the prayer and to practice the Jesus-life at its heart.