Living by Practice
29 January 2023
As Jesus continues his Sermon on the Mount today’s passage includes instructions about prayer. We’re given some examples not to be like and then given a pro-forma style of prayer to use.
What is known as the Lord’s Prayer today is given by Jesus in this passage as a way to pray. There are some small differences between what is written in Matthew and what we say and use, and I’d love you to think about why that may be.
Prayer is an interesting practice. It is one we know we should do, but not everyone feels the ability to pray or feels they need the right words to do so.
I want to make the point that prayer is not just one way. Yes, we are asked to pray to God, told that Jesus will help us with words when we can’t find them, but I also believe that we must sit in silence ready to hear God speak to us, maybe even answer us, as well. Prayer is a two-way conversation with God. Hopefully thinking of it as a conversation is helpful as we explore our prayer practices a bit more.
To take the time to recite The Lord’s prayer can be a reminder of the timeless, cross-cultural nature of this simple yet profound prayer. It is, in some ways, a pro forma prayer. It is a guide to the nature of prayer, and perhaps the rote saying of the prayer as takes place in many traditions as the culmination of our communal prayers when we join “in the words taught us” have blunted the sense that this is a prayer given as a means of instruction in the manner of prayer. The Lord’s Prayer has taken on, for some, that other sense of pro forma: a perfunctory, minimum and rushed formality.
This is not to minimise the importance of rote learning. Anyone who has prayed with a person with dementia will be all too aware of the awakening, remembrance and peace this prayer can bring. Nonetheless, there is more to this prayer than simply the words that Jesus gives us.
It is perhaps sadly the case that today in the developed world the culturally shared knowledge of the Lord’s Prayer is all but lost. When previously one could assume almost everyone would know the prayer and thus it could be used in public worship, this is no longer the case, and to use the prayer without having it written down can now be a means that will exclude people from worship rather than a means to include them, hence our use of displaying it or writing it out for people. Perhaps this is sad, then again perhaps for those of us within churches it reawakens us to the original nature of this prayer as a means to encourage and guide us in our private prayers.