Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’
He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.’
When those who are to be ordained are in training they are often advised to never lead the Lord’s Prayer in public without the words open in front of them. That may seem a strange injunction but it is, in fact, very wise advice. We all know the Lord’s Prayer. For many people, the Lord’s Prayer is one of those core texts that we just know. We may not remember where we learned it, but it is there in our minds, in our spiritual DNA. That is the reason for the advice that is given to those training for ordained ministry. We know it too well. Like experienced actors, the words flow from us like well-rehearsed lines. The Lord’s Prayer is the one prayer most people can recite without any warning or preparation, and therein lies the problem. When our rhythm is broken, when we are distracted, when some pressing thought springs into our minds, we forget where we are in the prayer and we stumble. Suddenly, we are grasping for those very familiar words. On one level wide-spread knowledge of the Lord’s Prayer is a good thing, but perhaps not if it leads us to a cavalier approach to its use.
Prayer is never easy. Our minds flit to and fro between the spiritual and the mundane, between the vital and the trivial, between the life-enhancing and the self-indulgent. Focusing our minds on God, even for a few seconds, is difficult. Whatever strategies we may have developed for entering into that one-to-one conversation with Our Father who art in heaven, we are so easily distracted. We stumble and we give up.
Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer in response to a request from one of his disciples. That unnamed disciple asked: Lord, teach us to pray. Jesus’ response was to give us the most beautiful and complete set of prayers, all contained within so few words. The Lord’s Prayer leads us from praise to hope; from personal intercession to acknowledging our faults before God; from seeking personal forgiveness to reminding ourselves of the need to forgive others; from a prayer for deliverance back to where we started in our praise of God. As well as giving us the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus tells us that God knows what we need before we ask, and that is what makes the brevity and power of the Lord’s Prayer so wonderful. We do not need to waste our time with rambling lists of our needs and wants. We just need to speak to God and have faith.
Let us pray that, as we use the Lord’s Prayer, we might for the tiny amount of time it takes to say those words, slow down and focus on God alone. Let us pray that we might then listen. In that silence there will be the still small voice which is God’s answer to our prayers.