Prayer is easier to talk about than to do.
Prayer is said to be important but practiced less often.
Prayer shapes us and we find it difficult.
I’ve been leaning into the discipline of prayer the past few years. Maybe you don’t appreciate it being called a discipline but it has been a discipline for me, not something that comes easily. Jesus’ disciples also recognized their need to learn to pray, especially as they watched Him pray. They came to Him while He was praying and asked Him to teach them to pray and Jesus said “whenever you pray, say,” and then He led them in prayer.
And yet, despite Jesus saying to pray this way, we often don’t. We don’t want to pray rote prayers. And so, instead, we don’t pray. Or we pray rote prayers; they are just the rote prayers we made up. “Lord, bless so and so” over and over because we don’t know what else to say.
Any habit has a chance of becoming rote. With some habits, the heart behind them doesn’t matter. Other times, the habit sustains us when the heart isn’t beating well. I brush my teeth religiously, as we say. It keeps my teeth clean but it’s not a world-shattering experience. Occasionally when I brush my teeth, the toothpaste tingles and I’m in awe of how much flavor there is in food and that cleaning my teeth extends their use. Either way, my teeth are cleaned. I read my Bible pretty close to every day even though some days, I do it from habit and not from a desire to experience God. But this means that there are also times when I read my Bible because I find God and His story and my place in it fascinating. Even on the days when my time in Scripture is rote, when the words are sawdust to my soul instead of bread, I am being shaped by them.
I started praying the Lord’s Prayer regularly sometime last year. Even on days when I pray through the words, mumbling from sleep or despair over the world, I have prayed. I have turned my attention to God. Most days, however, I use it as a template. It guides my times speaking to God.
You should know that I memorized the Lord’s Prayer as a child using the KJV. So when I pray through it, I use the KJV. You, of course, do not have to do this. You can look it up in any translation you choose. Here’s how I generally use it as a guide; it’s never the same any two days.
Our Father: God calls a people collectively. Following Jesus is a not a solo story of me and Jesus off in a corner by myself. I am drawn into God’s story, invited into His people. Those people who I don’t like also call God Father. This also reminds me that God draws me into His family. I am not a slave but a son (and I mean that in the best way, since sons had privileges that daughters did not in Greco-Roman culture).
Which art in heaven: God reigns. Jesus’ ascension to the right hand of God marked the beginning of the rule of His kingdom. While God has been sovereign throughout history, the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus is what marked the defeat of sin, evil, and death. Furthermore, the temple, then Jesus, and now believers indwelt with Holy Spirit are tiny places where heaven meets earth, where God’s reign is showcased to all of creation.
Hallowed be thy name: Luke 11 in the CSB translates this “Your name be honored as holy.” The Bible over and over recognizes God has holy, other, set apart, different from anything else. We magnify God for who He is and also recognize our call to be like him, to be holy because He is holy. (I actually wrote about this part on Instagram over the summer.) Theology (knowing who God is) leads to doxology (worship of who God is) to orthopraxy (right behavior in light of who God is).
Thy kingdom come: I need to know what God’s kingdom looks like in order to pray with this attitude. Matthew 5-7 is a great place to start. So is Ephesians. I am not building my own kingdom or even God’s kingdom. Instead I am invited to participate in the work and life of His kingdom. As I mature, my heart longs more and more for God’s kingdom, for Him to reign in fullness over the earth.
Thy will be done: Not mine. Will I lay down my will for His? I have to pay enough attention to my life to know when my will divulges from God’s and then be willing to submit to His will. Like Jesus, I want to say, “I have come to do your will.”
On earth as it is in heaven: May this be a spot where Jesus reigns. May I realize that this earth does matter and that I am responsible for what I do with this life. Again, I have to recognize what heaven looks like to participate in it here, where I am.
Give us this day our daily bread: While I don’t worry about daily food, much of the world does. In hurricanes and Taliban takeovers, in poverty and in plagues, we need daily food. Our neighbors need daily food. There are other daily needs that we have. We need wisdom and joy, endurance and grace, every single day. This is also a reminder that I don’t need all that the next five years would ask, only what today requires.
Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors: This life requires constant cycles of forgiveness. We need forgiveness. We need to forgive. God ties the two closely together. We cannot keep from others what God has given us and that extends far beyond forgiveness.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: Matthew 6:13 in the CSB writes, “Do not bring us into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.” Dallas Willard said this was a vote of no confidence in self. On our own, we will fall to the temptation that surrounds us. We need an awareness in looking at life that only God can give us. We need protection.
My old KJV version adds “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. amen.” Newer version based on older Greek manuscripts do not. Either way you choose to end your prayer, walking through this model of prayer will change you over time. In a world where we want to pray and find it so hard, Jesus has led us gently.
Sometimes I also use a gratitude/question model.
Our Father Thank you for drawing me into relationship with you. What does this mean for how I parent?
Which art in heaven Thank you that you reign. How can I see your sovereignty as I read the news?
Hallowed by your name Thank you for being a God that transcends all else that is. How can my life today exalt You?
Thy kingdom come Thank you for taking me from the kingdom of darkness and into your kingdom. How can I participate in your kingdom today?
Thy will be done Thank you for ruling the earth in a way that involves your goodness toward me. Where does my will separate from yours today?
On earth as it is in heaven Thank you for working to reunite heaven and earth. How can I take my life on earth more seriously, knowing I will given an account for it?
You try and finish it.
With practice this will become easier. Praying might not be easier. There are still morning where I have to turn my mind toward prayer instead of letting it wonder or dwell on the news. That’s why it is a discipline and that is also how using the Lord’s Prayer helps me. What becomes easier is thinking in line with what God is doing in the world. And it’s easier because I’ve been practicing.
Shoutout in particular to Tim Mackie and the Exploring My Strange Bible podcast where he taught through this idea. I’m grateful that I heard it several years ago.