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Pray Then in This Way, Part 2

 Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.

Matthew 6:9-13

Three verses prior to providing the foundation for what became the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus said, “But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matthew 6:6a). Obviously, there is nothing wrong with reciting the Lord’s Prayer verbally, and millions do it every week. If God’s language is silence, however, might we be talking over God’s communication with us if we only pray with words? When Jesus tells us to go into our room and shut the door, he may be hinting at another method of prayer. I picture going into my room and shutting the door to mean entering my interior heart-space, where I can truly be alone with God in a safe and silent place.

One technique of praying the Lord’s Prayer without words requires that we enter into the spirit of the prayer. When we understand Jesus’ instructions to “Pray then in this way” as an instruction to live then in this way, we orient ourselves to become the prayer, whether or not we recite it verbally. Here is an imperfect illustration:

    Our Father in heaven. This line sets the context. As Father, or as our divine Parent, we acknowledge our direct, familial relationship to and with God. We are created as children in God’s image and likeness. We can relax because we are family. We belong with God, we are loved by God, and so we enter the prayer in a spirit of familiarity.

    Hallowed be your name. One who is hallowed is holy or sacred. By acknowledging God’s name as holy, we affirm the awe and wonder of being in the presence of pure holiness. We enter the prayer in a spirit of reverence.

    Your kingdom come. We believe God’s work is done in the world through us, bringing forth the kingdom of God in time and space. We enter the prayer in a spirit of cooperation. We may not always know what the kingdom of God is, but we trust it is worthy of our efforts.

    Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. We enter this prayer in a spirit of submission. God’s will will be done. We can resist it, fight it, complain about it, or cooperate with it. Life goes smoother for us when we submit.

    Give us this day our daily bread. We enter the prayer in a spirit of trust, knowing that God always has and always will provide what is required to meet the needs of the day. Our future needs are not a concern for this moment.

    And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. We enter the prayer in a spirit of forgiveness. We seek forgiveness from those we have treated poorly, just as we forgive those who have wronged us. Obviously, to enter the prayer in an unblemished spirit of forgiveness requires significant work beforehand for many of us, doing the hard and humbling work of forgiving others and ourselves.

    And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. Finally, we enter our time of prayer in a spirit of humility. We recognize our personal weaknesses and tendencies toward specific types of unhealthy temptations. We acknowledge and depend upon God’s power over our areas of weakness.

Praying in the spirit of the Lord’s prayer is to find a quiet place where we can enter our heart-space in a wordless spirit of familiarity, reverence, cooperation, submission, trust, forgiveness, and humility. These are not qualities we can force upon ourselves, nor can we fake them in a sustained way. They are gifts – signs, if you will – developed naturally as we mature in our relationship to and with God. As this happens, we become the Lord’s Prayer instead of merely praying it. Jesus said, “Pray then in this way.” I think he invites us to live in this way. The Lord’s Prayer, then, becomes more than words; it becomes a template for the Christian life. As we learn to live it and not just say it, we pray less to God and more with God. And that is a prayer worth praying!

This is the 37th in the series of Life Notes entitled “What Did Jesus Say?”

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Life Notes

How Did I Miss That?

Part 25: Prayer is a Way of Life

 Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought.         Romans 8:26

For most of my life, prayer occurred at a specified time or event, or it was something I carved out a special time for from the rest of my day. It was how I was taught. We prayed before meals – head bowed, hands folded – at bedtime – kneeling at the edge of my bed – and during church. Most prayers were recited by rote, saying the same words each time. It seemed more like a redundant formality than an expression of sincere need or gratitude.

As I got older, my prayers became more conversational. Particularly in my bachelor days when I spent large swaths of time alone, I found myself in conversations with God. Most of the time it was a one-way conversation – I talked and assumed God was listening. There were times, however, I believe God answered. God’s answers did not come as spoken responses, however, nor did they arrive according to my preferred timeline. Rather, they came at unpredictable times as an inspiration or an intuition that helped me see an issue in a new way. Answers came with expansions of my awareness, making me believe the reason I could not hear God earlier was because I prejudged the answer. In other words, if God did not seem to answer, the problem was not because God did not answer, but because God answered in a way I was not ready or capable to accept. Like most stumbling blocks in my life, the problem within myself must first be identified and resolved.

Paul’s exhortation in his first letter to the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” seemed ridiculous. How could anyone devote his or her entire life to praying? As long as prayer is an interruption to one’s day, there can be no simultaneous living and praying. A clue to the resolution of this dilemma is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans, “…we do not know how to pray as we ought.” The challenge is not that we must take more time out of our day to pray; rather, we must find ways to live our days in a more prayerful manner.

For most of my life, I used prayer judiciously. After all, I did not want to draw too much divine attention to some of what I did. When I was in trouble, when I was sad, when I was lost or broken, I would turn to God in prayer. I think it is a safe bet that God does not want to only be our God in our times of difficulty. I believe God experiences creation through us. Assuming that is the case, why would God only want to experience the difficult times? If our good times consist of actions we feel God would not want to experience with us, we need either rethink our actions or rethink our understanding of the nature of God.

As I mentioned some weeks ago, sin is that which separates us from God and others. If God wants to experience life with and through us, our sin keeps that from happening. It is not that sin prevents God from experiencing with and through us, but our sin prevents us from experiencing God experiencing with and through us. In other words, we suffer twice – first from the separation caused by our sin, and second by not being consciously aware of our communion with the accepting, encouraging presence of God. Emmanuel, God with us, is not something that happens when we become holier. Emmanuel has been with us since our birth. Prayer is communion with God. In order to experience God in a conscious way, we must keep ourselves in the ever-flowing rhythm of the divine and, thus, aware of God’s constant presence. In the process, our entire life becomes one unceasing prayer.

Prayer is a way of life. How did I miss that?

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