Sometimes we mistake the sheer weight of the words we use (there volume) for their significance and forget their significance comes from the weight of the words we use… for example…
The Lord’s prayer: 66 words (less if we use Luke’s version)
The Gettysburg address: 286 words
10 commandments: 179 words
Declaration of independence: 1,300 words
Treaty of Waitangi (three articles): 208 in the official English translation and 173 in the Maori version … and you could add what a difference that difference of 35 words has made.
Pythagorean theorem: 24 words
Archimedes’ principle: 67 words
US government regulations on the sale of cabbage: 26,911 words…
…And as that comes from a book published in 1999…(soul Tsunami by Leonard Sweet) you can just imagine the amount of words that have been changed in or added to those regulations over the intervening sixteen years.
We are looking at Jesus teaching on Prayer in Luke’s gospel. We looked at what Jesus taught us about the one to whom we pray; that the hope of prayer is in the very character of God. We looked at what Jesus teaching told us about those who pray: That we can be hopeful in prayer, with shameless audacity approach God, and today we are going to focus on the prayer Jesus taught us itself. Those 66 weighty words that series of pithy profound petitions in which Jesus manages to gather up the scope of our hope and put it into words… In response to his disciples asking ‘Lord teach us to pray’ Jesus not only gives us the words to say ; that has been a prayer on the lips of his disciples for over two millennia, but also a pattern for our prayer lives, and provides us with a prayer that prioritises the life of a follower of Jesus.
Let’s have a look at the words or petitions of prayer…
In Luke’s Gospel Jesus prayer is made up of five petitions, and when we’ve read it over the past few weeks you are probably aware that it’s different than the version we use in church… We are used to using the version of the Lord’s prayer found in Matthew’s gospel which has two petitions added “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” and “deliver us from evil’… scholars have a whole raft of ways of wrestling with these differences. But they do not take away from the meaning of Jesus prayer… One way to understand the difference is to acknowledge that Jewish poetry is a flow of rhyming thoughts not rhyming lines and these two petitions reinforce and expand on what has gone before “Thy will be done on earth as in heaven… rhymes with and expands on ‘thy kingdom come’. In the ancient near east a kingdom was often fluid in terms of territory, but was defined as where a certain king reigned, where his will was law. We pray thy will be done because we design God’s justice and mercy to reign in our world as well as heaven. ‘Deliver us from evil’ or ‘the evil one’ rhymes and explains ‘lead us not in temptation’ it is a prayer not that God wouldn’t lead us astray, but rather for God’s spiritual protection… form evil and temptation., the evil one and the tempter.
Also when we say the Lord ’s Prayer we are used to saying it with a doxology as well, “yours be the kingdom, the power and the glory forever and ever amen’ which is extra biblical but comes from an early liturgical tradition and finishes the prayer as it stats with praise and worship of God.
The Lord’s prayer is a corporate prayer , it is a prayer to our father and Church uses this prayer in public worship. It is a way of expressing both our unity as God’s children and our combined hope…. Just like we share a common meal and a common baptism, we share common words in approaching God in prayer as his disciples. AS we pray it together it is a prayer that expresses our care and concern for each other. We ask God to forgive us and we extend that forgiveness to one another. It invites us to see that caring for one another and providing for daily bread is also an outworking of this prayer. James says what good is it to say bless you brother and sister and send them away empty and hungry. What good is it to pray together for our daily bread and not to see God’ provision in the abundance and extra that we may have been blessed with to share. What good is it to pray for people’s protection and deliverance from evil not stand with them in the face of injustice or oppression or difficulty?
It is also a prayer for us individually. Some shared in the prayer course that they say the Lord’s Prayer each day as part of their devotional life. Another person shared that they struggle for words to pray and so find it comforting and helpful to pray the Lord’s Prayer. It is a teaching prayer as well and can help us to learn how to pray to develop our own language and to see a pattern to prayer. I’ve talked with many people who talk of encountering a dark presence in a certain place or at night and I encourage them to simply say the Lord’s Pray in those situations. Not as some sort of magical charm, or a mindless mantra, but to focus them on God, his kingdom and authority and his provision and protection.
One of the questions that come up is that the words can lose their weightiness and significance if we use them over and over again. It can become simply a ritual. There is always that danger. In public worship the two big movements that have shaped the second half of the twentieth century are both reactions to that… The informality and supposed spontaneity of the charismatic and praise and worship movement, where the emphasis is on extemporary prayer. And the new liturgical movement which emphasises well-crafted and written prayers exploring new metaphors and words that fit the context they are used in. In the end however it is the heart attitude that turns what can become stale repetition into a meaning full and Christ centred ritual and food for the spirit.
That’s a good way to lead into the fact that the Lord’s pray provides us with a pattern for prayer as well.
It’s not an order to pray this word, but an order in which we can pray our words. Our prayer are to start with relationship with God… Father, it starts with worship… hallowed be thy name…. not as way of buttering up God, praise is not idle flattery or in this case idol flattery hoping that by saying the right things we can manipulate the spiritual realm to get our way. It reminds us that prayer is about acknowledging our desire to see things done God’s way. In the prayer course Pete Grieg shares a technique he has for praying for eight important issues in his life like his family, he has eight such prayers and has got an eight-sided dice and throws it from time to time during the day and prays for the area that corresponds with the number on the dice. But He says he has a scriptural promise to go with each of those areas. The one for his children comes from Luke’s gospel where it says that Jesus grew in stature and favour both with God and with man and he prays that for each of his children. His prayer life is guided and lead by scripture… it is a way for him of acknowledging that he wants God’s kingdom to come to honour God’s name even with his asking about issues in his life.
This pattern shows us that sin is a big issue and we need to come to God for God’s forgiveness. But also that we need to be willing to forgive others as well, God’s kingdom and God’s peace is about right relationships. Finally it shows us that we can ask God for our needs both physical and spiritual, both for ourselves and for others.
A good way of remembering the different parts of prayer is a simply to think of ACTS prayers… ACTS stands for Adoration (worship and enjoyment of God… it comes from the same word Adore… which we married men do with our wives right… It means we love everything about them and let them know it right guys). Confession: sorting out the stuff we have done wrong and the good we have left undone. Thanks giving: acknowledging God’s goodness and answers, it has more to do with what God has done rather than who God is… and Supplication: asking bringing our prayers and our concerns to God… knowing who he is and what he has done for us. The fact that ‘thy kingdom come’ comes before ‘give us our daily bread’ also gives us a pattern for our supplication. The call is for intersession, praying for the worl and then we look to our own needs.
Finally Jesus prayer sets a priority for our prayer life and our life as a follower of Jesus. It invites us to refocus in our lives. To see that relationship with God is central and most important. We have reconciled with God as our father through what Jesus has done for us… To focus again on honouring God’s name, seeking his purposes and will that God’s kingdom would come. It puts our needs in the context of that. We can pray for our daily bread for spiritual help for wholeness because of who God is and the fact that he has established his kingdom through the sending of his Son Jesus. Even desperate and big issues in our lives can be put into perspective when we see more and more what God is like and what his purposes and desires for the world are.
It can help us to see that while we may have so many wants in life and be bombarded by messages that things and possessions will bring us fulfilment and joy. We know that God can be trusted to provide for our daily needs. That life is as simple as that. This prayer speaks prophetically into the materialistic consumer lifestyle that tries to consume our lives with material things and style. It invites us to look at our relationship with others: That we are to pray and live out of the mercy of God… to love exceptionally because of the love and forgiveness that we have received. The prayer life of the disciple and the life of a disciple are to be in harmony.
After the Second World War, missionary Bob Peirce was moved by seeing the suffering of poor Korean children on the island of kojedo… this lead him to pray a prayer very much in line with the priorities of the Lord’s Prayer… ‘Lord let my heart be broken with the things that break your heart”. As part of an answer to that Prayer Bob Peirce founded two mission organisations World Vision in 1950 and Samaritans purse in 1970. His priority in prayer became his priority for life. One friend said of pierce it was though ‘prayer burned within him’ and you can see its outworking in Christs compassion.
There are many spiritual practises and disciplines that we can use to help us to develop our prayer lives, large numbers of books that can help us to learn them and practise them. Often it is what people are looking for… I haven’t tried to go into those things in this look at prayer, because here Jesus does not go into them… rather he encourages us and invites us to come to God as our loving father, to focus our lives on him and to trust him for our physical and spiritual needs… So as disciples we can be about God’s work in the world.