Every week The Shepherd's Church seeks to examine and answer the questions that you are asking. Here is the answer to this week's question.
Let us begin by understanding what the Lord's prayer actually is.
In response to the petition: "Lord teach us to pray", Jesus gave this model prayer to a group of His discouraged disciples who fundamentally had no idea how to talk to God. They had seen the religious leaders praying loud grandiose prayers so that everyone would see how holy they were (Mt. 6:5), but that did not seem sincere or authentic. And they had seen the rambling and repetitious prayers of the pagans that were over the top, needlessly mantric, and thoroughly ridiculous (Mt. 6:7). But what they had not seen was an example of faithful praying.
So, in His grace, Jesus taught His disciples how to pray.
Now, I think it is important to note, that Jesus' prayer - whatever it is - was most certainly not intended to be prayed aloud by religious leaders seeking attention, nor was it ever meant to devolve into a meaningless repetition. Both are what Jesus rebukes in Mt. 6:5 & 7.
To that end, it seems more likely that this prayer is a framework for how to pray instead of a solitary prayer meant to be memorized and recited.
For this reason, we have decided not to pray the Lord's prayer every week for three reasons. Because, in doing so, we first run the risk of two equally offensive realities. First, we run the risk of creating a puffed up tradition whereby we can become proud of our orthodoxy like the above religious leaders. Second, and even more likely, we become like the Gentiles who prayed a set of mindlessly repeated words for the sake of repetition.
Here is my experience with this...
I grew up in a church just like this. We would stand up, sit down, read the apostles creed, say the Lord's prayer, stand up, sit down, and go home. By 10 years old, I could do all of this without ever remembering I had even done it. I had become like a daydreaming driver who ends up miles down the road with no active memory of how they got there. I could autopilot vainly through the entire service.
Now, I would never say that churches who implement this strategy are wrong for doing so. Many traditions value and appreciate repetition and it is a meaningful part of their liturgy. But, I do think that if a church is not extremely careful, any repetition with enough frequency can very easily become white noise and it can lose all meaning for why we do it.
But, the third reason we do not pray the Lord's prayer every week, is because we think this approach misses the point for why Jesus gave us this prayer in the first place. Instead of it being something we recite week in and week out, it appears that what Jesus was giving His disciples was a framework on how to pray every single prayer they ever pray. It would become a model that would teach them not only how to pray, but what things should be emphasized in their prayers!
For instance, many prayers begin with our circumstances, whereas the Lord's Prayer begins in the character and nature of God. Many prayers start with our requests and petitions, whereas the Lord's prayer begins with praise and declaration. Thus, the Lord's prayer is not primarily a prayer to be recited, but a framework that will guide every prayer we ever pray. Check out the outline of the prayer below to see what we mean.
THE MODEL PRAYER
The Glory of God and Sanctity of His Name (v.9)
The prayer begins with God, His nature, His character, His holiness, grandeur, and glory. By starting off the prayer this way, Jesus is teaching us how to approach God in prayer. We do not burst into heaven's throne room with our grocery list of wants... Instead, we come into His presence acknowledging who He is and how His nature demands our praise! Praying this way takes the focus off of our self, our wants, and our needs and reorients it back where it belongs on God.
The Necessity of His Kingdom & the Insufficiency of Ours (v.10)
The prayer continues with an honest assessment of reality. Our individual problems are great. But the greatest problem plaguing our world today is its ongoing rebellion against God. From the onset of sin in Adam until the moment you read this sentence, the world has been at war with God. Therefore we ought to pray next that His perfect merciful, and just reign, His Kingdom and sovereign rule, the completion of His plan of redemption, would permanently burst out of heaven and totally invade our world. We ought to pray that the same kind of unopposed rule that is currently blanketing heaven would march upon the earth and bring healing to all still lost in the fall. To pray this way, is to pray for the end. It is to look beyond our struggles here and now, and to long for the day when our holy and righteous God makes all things new under the canope of His rule and reign. This will happen finally and totally in the new heavens and new earth (Rv. 21-22) but as we eagerly await His coming we are called to pray for this here and now.
The Needs We Have as Citizens (v. 11-12)
We also have a responsibility as the church to extend God's reign to the ends of the earth. As ambassadors of Christ, we are called to be His witnesses, to share His Gospel, and to leverage whatever resources we have to see every tribe, tongue, and nation come to know Jesus Christ. To do that, we all have needs. Some, like bread, will be physical needs. Others, like forgiveness, will be relational and spiritual needs. Regardless of the need, God knows what we need before we pray (Mt. 6:8) and it inviting us to share our needs as we do what He has commanded (Mt. 6:11-12).
The Protection Offered Sojourners (v. 13a)
While we wait on Christ to return, and while we eagerly serve Him to the ends of the earth, we also face a real and present enemy who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy. As ambassadors of Christ, we are not called to fight him directly, but instead, we must pray against the enemy, his waining Kingdom, resist his attacks, guard against his temptations, and lean into God for our sole protection.
The Promise of His Coming (v. 13b)
In the Matthean version of the Lord's prayer, it ends like this "For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’". This reminds us that as we orient our lives toward loving and praising God through prayer, seeking His Kingdom first in prayer, acknowledging our great need in prayer, and resting in His protection in prayer, that we also eagerly pray for His glorious return in prayer. This world is not our home and all things have not yet been made new. So we pray for Jesus to return, restore, redeem, and recreate all things new.
All prayers, both in church and outside of the church, can and should be prayed according to this framework. This is the Lord's design in prayer. And while we, as elders, have not done this perfectly in our personal and corporate praying, answering this question was a good reminder for me (Kendall) of the absolute vital importance of praying and approaching God correctly. And while we do not feel called to pray the Lord's Prayer every week in service (for the reasons stated above), answering this question also raised our awareness to the need for talking about prayer, teaching on prayer, and setting aside particular weekends to walk through the Lord's prayer and do some teaching on it.
If you would like to learn more about the Lord's Prayer, there is an excellent video series on it by Dr. Albert Mohler, which can be found on RightNow Media.
And if you want to ask a question for next week, send those to Kendall