I stood in front of a church I had never seen before and everyone was looking at me, I had no idea what I was doing. As a young new Seminary student, I was asked to fill-in preach for a pastor in rural Minnesota and of course I leaped at the opportunity. I HAD taken 2 preaching classes in undergrad and preached half a dozen sermons, so I felt ready. I said yes with no reservations and excitedly prepared to share God’s Word. I had no idea how unprepared I was, the sermon was prepared and practiced but there was more involved. What I didn’t realize was that it was also my responsibility to lead the Sunday Worship Service and I had never worshiped in a church with a formal liturgy. I had no preparation for this, the pastor just assumed that any seminarian would know what to do. I didn’t. I was given a bulletin and a handshake and a nervous smile that said, “I can’t believe pastor asked this kid to lead us in worship.” The charade was up and the fool was unmasked early in the service when I opened in prayer, I didn’t know the Lord’s Prayer. The pastor didn’t leave a cheat sheet behind so I improvised, “I’ve got to be honest, I don’t remember the Lord’s Prayer, can anyone get me started?” An elderly parishioner with a confused look on his face said, “Our Father who art in heaven,” and I answered, “Oh yeah, that one.” and we prayed the Lord’s Prayer together. (By the time we got to reciting the Apostle’s Creed they were less surprised when I didn’t know that either.) I thought the sermon was good, but I was never invited back, I guess I understand.
I was not raised in a church that prayed the Lord’s prayer together. I never memorized the Lord’s Prayer. They did believe in memorization, I was required to memorize Bible verses every week. As I grew older I had to recite 3 months of verses at a time to prove that I had indeed memorized all of the verses so I could earn a week at summer camp. I guess all that Bible memorizing didn’t include Matthew 6:9-13, and we never prayed the Lord’s Prayer together. It seems to me that they threw out anything that might look Roman Catholic. As you can assume, I was also never Confirmed. So as I stood in front of that church I was totally unprepared to lead the Lord’s prayer. This doesn’t mean I wasn’t taught to pray, I was, but it had to be “heartfelt” prayers.
With that experience tucked away behind me, I must confess I do not turn to the Lord’s prayer as easily as some and so I thought it a good idea to follow the disciple’s model and ask Jesus. The disciples get a bad rap, often for good reason, but in Luke 11 as we read the context for an occasion Jesus taught the Lord’s prayer, we see the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray. Jesus, having just returned from his private prayer time teaches his followers what we call, the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus didn’t refer to his prayer as the Lord’s prayer, he didn’t chastise them or command them to pray to him their Lord and God. No, Jesus humbly teaches them a simple, memorizable, daily prayer saying, “Pray like this....”
“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 lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (for yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
I love the disciple’s attitude as they ask Jesus who had just been praying by himself, “teach us to pray.” And I guess that’s why I am following their example. As I read about Jesus slipping away to pray alone with God, I’m drawn in. What was Jesus’ prayer time like? What did they talk about? And I realize that I want to learn to pray too.
Have you ever felt embarrassed to pray? Maybe the youth group or Sunday School class or small group was all asked to go around the circle and everyone pray and you didn’t know what to say. Has someone ever invited you to a prayer meeting and you thought, “No way! I’m not doing that. I can’t pray in front of people. I have NO idea what I’m supposed to say.” Well, I’ve felt that way too, so I thought I’d go to Jesus and ask him to teach us to pray.
Jesus starts with, “Our Father in heaven,” and we can learn some stuff about prayer even from the opening words. My friends Erick Sorenson and Daniel Emery Price discussed Jesus' first word of the Lord’s prayer in their podcast, 30 Minutes in the N.T. They noted that the “Our” emphasizes that we pray together as a church, that our faith is not personal, but it is practiced together. I like that. We are not left alone to practice our faith, we don’t even have to pray alone. Though earlier in Matthew 6 Jesus does teach us how NOT to pray. Don’t pray like hypocrites trying to get attention, praying loud and proud. And don’t pray like unbelievers trying to manipulate God with lots of big words. Go in your closet and pray. Pray humble. But that doesn’t mean we don’t pray together. It simply means when we come together to pray, we aren’t praying to showoff or look holy. Our heavenly Father who sees in secret knows what we need before we pray it. He is a good Father, he knows. As we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we pray to God our Father, we come to him as his children, adopted into his family and he knows what we need. We pray to our Father who loves us perfectly.
My brother and I used to send our sister to dad when we wanted something. It wasn’t very difficult to get our sister to go for us, especially when we convinced her that she wanted what we wanted, ice cream. My family loves ice cream, so when my brother and I wanted ice cream we would talk to our little sister, “you know what would be good right now? ice cream.” And then we would send our sister to go ask dad, “he’ll say yes if you ask him.” And you know what, every time my sister asked our dad for ice cream, he said yes. My dad loves ice cream, still does. My dad loves my sister and said yes to her as often as he could. But what my brother and I failed to see, was that our dad loved us too. We had a wrong understanding of my dad when we sent our sister to ask for us. Dad loved us, still does, and would have said yes to our please for ice cream too. But somewhere along the way we misunderstood our own dad who loves us and wants us to come and ask. Years later as we all discussed this as adults the truth came out. Dad knew. Dad knew that we sent our sister to ask for us. Dad knew that we wanted ice cream. Dad kept saying yes because he loves us even when we didn’t ask the way he wanted us to ask. We could have asked him ourselves, we didn’t need to send our sister. Dad doesn’t love her more or only say yes when she asks. Dad loves us.
Our Heavenly Dad loves us perfectly and he wants us to come and talk to him. He knows what we are going to ask for. Our Heavenly Dad knows what we need. We don’t need to send someone else to ask for us. We can all go to our Heavenly Dad in prayer, “Our Father who is in heaven,...” God doesn’t always say, “Yes,” to every prayer because he does love us perfectly and know what we need. But our Heavenly Dad always hears the prayers of his children. Prayer isn’t to inform God of what we want like writing a letter to Santa, prayer is about our relationship with God. God knows we need time to talk together. Our Father knows we need to trust Him with the stuff on our hearts and minds and trust him for our daily needs, so prayer is really for us. And the Lord’s prayer teaches us to pray.
Our Heavenly Dad, you are holy, pure, and perfect. We can’t wait to see you. We are coming to you in prayer cause we know that you love us and you know what we need. We trust you to provide everything we need today. Please forgive us and help us to forgive each other like you have forgiven us. Lead us in your way when we are tempted and deliver us from evil. It’s all about you God. You got this. Amen.