I stink at prayer. I’d all like to be spontaneous in my prayers, freely voicing my adoration for God and interceding for others with eloquence. But the truth is, I rarely (if ever) can do this. My typical attitude toward prayer is indifferent at best.
Most of the rest of the Christian disciplines I’ve been able to develop into habits, but not prayer–never prayer. I’ve read a lot of books on prayer over the years. The only one that actually helped was Answering God by Eugene Peterson. Peterson explains how the Psalms are models for our own prayer, ready-made prayers to teach us how to pray. Learning to pray scripted prayers is a vital part of learning how to pray:
“We cannot bypass the Psalms. They are God’s gift to train us in prayer that is comprehensive (not patched together from emotional fragments scattered around that we chance upon) and honest (not a series of more or less sincere verbal poses that we think might please our Lord). The Psalms are necessary…” (3-4).
Recently, I heard a great sermon on why we should pray the Lord’s Prayer regularly. It reiterated and expanded many of the important lessons I learned from Peterson’s book. Since I doubt I’m the only one who struggles when it comes to praying, I thought I’d share these lessons with you.
Why we should pray the Lord’s Prayer regularly:
- To shape our spontaneity. The Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13) has often been called “a school of prayer.” Praying through its simple petitions teaches us what we should pray, in what order, and with what kind of simplicity. The petitions of the Lord’s Prayer are the scales to master before moving on to the concerto.
- To think before we speak to God. When our souls are sick to desperation, prayer flows from us like water from a spring. The rest of the time, our half-distracted minds throw out cliches of holy-speak, threadbare phrases half-remembered from past prayers. Using the Lord’s Prayer as a template forces our mind to pray on theme: Father, hallowed, kingdom, bread, temptation, evil, glory. The Lord’s Prayer helps us put down the day and focus on the heart of prayer–communion with our Father.
- To balance our prayers. The crisis of the moment demands complete attention; our mewling complaints crowd out requests that don’t focus on us (like “hallowed be thy name”). The Lord’s Prayer doesn’t let us say anything about ourselves until we’ve honored the Father with a gloria and a maranatha.
- To keep us from losing our sense of awe. When we focus only on presenting our own requests, we quickly become the center of our prayers. God becomes a dutiful clerk taking notes while we vent our spleen. C. S. Lewis dealt with this by praying the Lord’s Prayer: “A few formal, ready-made, prayers serve me as a corrective of–well, let’s call it ‘cheek'” (Letters to Malcolm, II).
- To move us into community. The pronouns and petitions of the Lord’s Prayer force us into community: “Our Father…give us…lead us…” The maranatha petition–for God’s will to be done on earth–reminds us that the Kingdom of God is indeed at hand, and that we have a role and responsiblity in it, along with the rest of God’s people. When we pray in community, we take up the causes others have voiced in prayer.
- To pray Jesus’ Gethsemene prayer. Jesus’ prayer on the night He was betrayed was built on the lines of the Lord’s Prayer. This is the prayer He taught us to pray, the very prayer He cried only hours before His death.
The Lord’s Prayer is a school of prayer for the youngest child. It is also a house of prayer where the seasoned saint finds refuge on the darkest nights of the soul.
Why should it not be our heart’s cry every day of our lives?