I know. I know. I know.
Run me out of town on a rail. Have me drawn and quartered. Cover me in tar and feathers.
I’m sure those are a few of the ideas that barely scratching the surface of the minimum level of punishment you are thinking I deserve for suggesting such a thing. You might dislike me even more if I suggest that praying the Lord’s Prayer is a bit like being a telemarketer.
Before you seek my destruction, please bear with me for a moment. Allow me to explain when reciting the Lord’s Prayer is sometimes appropriate but usually, it is NOT the thing to do.
The context of the Lord’s Prayer as we see it in Matthew 6 is very important. We are in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus has just finished guiding those who are listening to a very simple – yet radical – concept.
Prayer is relational.
He admonishes those who pray in a way as to be seen by others.
When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. Matthew 6:5
For a simple image, picture a street preacher, standing on a box, and shouting out a message to anyone passing by. This act gives us a glimpse of what it was like 2,000 years ago as a person would stand and shout out their prayers (in ‘church’ or out of it).
But Jesus then tells us that prayer is to be relational. Read His words carefully:
But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Matthew 6: 6-8
Again, if we go back in time, we must imagine the first century home. Unlike our homes today, it was a very open place. If you travel to the Middle East and view some of the ruins or recreated models, you can see how open they were. In fact, picture “making your bed” (that is, rolling up your mat), making breakfast, and then sitting at the table for breakfast. It’s quite possible you never changed rooms!
With that understanding, Jesus’ words to “go into your room and close the door” take on an even greater degree of relationship. Who is going to see you behind a closed door? No one. It’s you and God.
And, for those of us who have come to believe that we should spend HOURS in prayer, take another look. “Do not keep on babbling” is a clear command. Those who think that the number of words (i.e. time spent) is important, Jesus corrects that.
God already knows your heart!
WHY? Why did Jesus then continue and give us what we call the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father)? Honestly, I think the answer is very simple. To teach us how to pray.
Wait. Didn’t I begin by suggesting we STOP praying the Lord’s Prayer?
Let’s get to the point. I do think it also helps if we bring Luke 11 into the conversation. This parallel text tells us that one day, Jesus’ disciples were watching Him pray. Seeing the Messiah pray had a powerful impact on them. They then did what disciples do. They went to their Rabbi and asked to learn. Specifically, they asked Him to teach them to pray like they do.
If you struggle to wrap your mind around that, imagine going to the greatest baseball player and asking them to teach you to play the game. Or going to the greatest concert pianist and seeking guidance. Or the greatest writer, or scientist, or…. Whoever is the greatest, most accomplished, most bestest (yes, I said that) at something and saying “PLEASE TEACH ME!”
Jesus taught them. He said:
Go to the Father. Really, go to your Daddy. Your Abba. Go to the One who loves you fully and completely. Recognize Him for who He is. Praise Him.
Do you have anything you need to confess? Remember – He knows. He knows what you’ve done. Just like your earthly parents or teachers most likely know what you did (eyes in the back of their heads!), God knows. He still loves you.
The act of confessing is not about saying what God knows but it’s really about repenting of what you’ve done wrong. Yes, the movie did tell us that “love means never have to say you are sorry” but I believe that is a lie. Repenting is about TRULY feeling convicted that what you did was wrong.
So, we praise. We repent. And then we can ask. Remember, God already knows what is on your heart. God knows what you want – as well as what you NEED. Personally, I’ve found that asking God for things helps me in an important way. When it’s something I want versus something that I need, my heart changes a bit. When I ask, I often hear myself and realize how silly it is. I then change my ask to my yield.
Yielding is the process of saying: God, YOUR will be done.
It’s really not about me. It’s not about me having, or knowing, or doing everything. It’s about my yielding to God and allowing Him to direct my steps to what He knows I truly need. Whatever that might be, all I really need is Him. I need to be restored in my relationship with Him. Jesus, God the Son, did that when He gave His life on the cross. Because that is true, I now need to walk in faith with Him. I need to listen to the Holy Spirit as He leads me where I should go.
Can we circle back to the Lord’s Prayer as we finish?
Yes, you can pray the Lord’s Prayer. But if (when) you do, I would encourage you to do one primary thing. Say it as a corporate prayer. By that, I mean that you can pray it with others. There is community and relationship by praying with others and the Lord’s Prayer allows us to do that.
If you want to pray it by yourself, go ahead. But remember that it is a model of prayer – not a mandate. It’s not to be said over and over and over. Think of it this way:
Once upon a time, I had a job that caused most of the population to hate me.
I was a telemarketer.
I would call people during the dinner hour because “they needed” to have their carpets cleaned. I had a very clear and direct script which I was directed to follow exactly and monitored for saying it the way it was written. If a potential customer was interested, that person would be passed off to a manager. The manager would then try to close the sale.
But I had my script.
The manager was the one to really talk with the person. Their job was to find common ground, build rapport, and “add-on” services. Granted, it wasn’t a real relationship, but it had all the markings of one.
Try to apply that to your relationship with God.
Do you follow a script or do you have a relationship?
Do you try to convince God to do what you want Him to do or do you seek to really build your relationship with Him? Do you seek true love and communication?
How then can you pray?
Praise God for who He is. Look around and praise Him for His creation, His beauty, His everything.
Repent of those things that you need to confess. He already knows what you’ve done wrong. But if there is a burden on your heart and mind, give it to Him.
Ask Him for what you need. But as you do so, remember that He knows the difference between your wants and your needs. So, as you pray…
Yield to Him. Trust Him to do what is best. Trust Him to guide your steps.
Yours in Christ,