“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,
and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.”
I have just embarked on a project to write a short devotional book on Christian prayer, with an emphasis on the prayer that Jesus taught His disciples to pray – known commonly as The Lord’s Prayer. As this project will preoccupy most of my free time over the coming months, I intend, with Michael’s continued blessing, to preview material for the book here for your edification and to elicit your feedback.
“Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’” (Luke 11:1 ESV)
As I was writing this preface, I surveyed “bestselling” books at a popular online Christian bookstore with an expectation that there is no shortage of books on prayer. In fact there is an almost overwhelming selection of popular books on Christian prayer to choose from, many of which are written by well-known authors. Perhaps on account of the popularity of this topic, it is not uncommon today to hear of (or from) Christians referred to as “prayer warriors.” There was even a faith-based movie released in 2015, War Room, which featured prayer warriors as the leading characters. It appears there are a lot of Christians, at least in America, who have the same desire as the disciples in Luke’s Gospel: “teach us to pray.” Did Jesus hold back and leave His disciples’ request unfulfilled? Or have many Christians simply ignored Him?
Over the years, I, personally, have read many books and articles on prayer, but most of them did not move the needle on my prayer life. Some of them, instead of helping me improve my prayer life, actually had the opposite effect, setting me up for failure, leaving me with a sense of inadequacy at prayer and, as a result, feeling guilty that I was not functioning as a faithful Christian when it came to prayer.
“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matt 6:6)
There is no question that Jesus commands us to pray, and that He attaches many great promises to prayer. However, prayer does not come naturally or easily to many of us. And the obstacles to a healthy prayer life are exacerbated by the way in which prayer is sometimes portrayed and taught in popular circles within American Christianity and Christian literature.
There were many reasons and excuses for my failure to regularly pray: procrastination; impatience; busyness; inability to organize my thoughts (especially around traumatic events); inability to discern the appropriate petition; weariness; or sometimes a resentful or guilty conscience. Most of the popular books on prayer, which attempt to address these problems, recommend certain disciplines and forming good habits, such as scheduling personal prayer time in the morning or evening. I tried a number of habit-forming prayer disciplines over the years, but none of them stuck with me over the long term. Often the more I tried to discipline myself to pray, the less I actually enjoyed praying. I have read and talked to enough people over the years to realize that I was not alone in my desire for a healthy private prayer life or in my personal experience of frustration over my failure to actually attain one.
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Matt 17:5)
I learned The Lord’s Prayer when I was very young, and I’ve attended a number of different churches over the years, some of which prayed The Lord’s Prayer weekly in worship and others which never did. But somehow it wasn’t until I began reading the writings of Martin Luther and the early Church fathers that I realized that I had never moved beyond the most superficial understanding of The Lord’s Prayer. More importantly, I began to realize that Jesus already answered the important question which, beginning with His disciples and on into our time, many of us had or still have: “Lord, teach us to pray.”
As I rediscovered, studied and began praying The Lord’s Prayer in private prayer, I learned that The Lord’s Prayer serves wonderfully as the foundation for a healthy prayer life. I also noticed that I looked forward to praying; I was praying more often and often spontaneously; my thoughts and prayers were more organized; I was experiencing more contentment as a Christian; and I felt more confident that my prayers were aligned with God’s will and pleasing to Him. Jesus undoubtedly knows our weaknesses when it comes to prayer, which is why both Matthew and Luke include His teachings on prayer. What He invites us to do is “listen to him” as he teaches us to pray.
The purpose of this book is to expose the richness of The Lord’s Prayer to a generation of Christians who have not grown up with it, in a daily devotional format, to demonstrate its practicality for almost all occasions and to encourage its use in regular prayer. In the pages that follow, we will look at the Lord’s Prayer from two perspectives: (1) as a pattern for prayer – “Pray then like this:” (Matt 6:9); and as the words for prayer – “When you pray, say:” (Luke 11:2). However, this book is not intended to be an exhaustive exposition of The Lord’s Prayer; consider it an introduction with encouragement to venture further into the wisdom of this excellent prayer. I will consider this book wildly successful if readers, who are not accustomed to regularly praying The Lord’s Prayer, catch a glimpse of its beauty and practicality and begin using it in their private prayer lives.
“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.” (1 John 5:14) Amen.
Copyright © 2016 Jean Dragon – All rights reserved.