Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Learn from Jesus Christ to pray.” You sang that line just a moment ago. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a better person to teach prayer than Jesus Himself. In this hymn, it’s specifically referring to Jesus’ prayer at the Garden of Gethsemane. Right after instituting the Lord’s Supper, Jesus and His disciples head to this Garden on the Mount of Olives, and Jesus steps off by Himself to pray. In that scene, we get an insider’s look into the prayer life of Jesus. When Jesus falls to the ground in prayer, He completely surrenders Himself to God’s will. He tells the Father what He wants, but ultimately submits to what is necessary. In this time of prayer, we get to watch and learn what it looks like for a believer to pray.
But if we are to “learn from Jesus Christ to pray,” perhaps it would be good for us not only to watch and listen while He prays, but also listen when He actually teaches us about prayer. Both Matthew and Luke directly record Jesus’ teaching on prayer. If you were able to join is this past week for Ash Wednesday, you heard Matthew’s accounting of it. In the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus turns His attention to prayer. “When you pray,” Jesus says. He expects that you and I are actively involved in prayer. “When you pray, pray like this…” What follows is the prayer we know as the Lord’s Prayer. Pray like this. Use this prayer as a form and model for all your prayers. But then in Luke’s accounting, the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray, and Jesus says, “When you pray, say…” then we get the Lord’s Prayer. Not only is this prayer something we should emulate, it’s something we should repeat. Pray not only like this, but pray this.
Do you want to know what to pray when you don’t know what to say? Do you want to know what God wants to hear in prayer? Learn from Jesus Christ to pray. Learn and pray the Lord’s Prayer. It is the perfect prayer. I’ll be honest, I didn’t make up that claim. I ran across it as I was preparing for this morning. At first, I was very hesitant about it, but the more I think about it, I can’t see anything wrong with it. The Lord’s Prayer is the perfect prayer. God wrote it. If He wanted you to pray for anything else, He would have included it in this prayer. He wrote it. He commands it. He wants to hear it. He loves to hear it. The entirety of the Christian life is wrapped up in these few short lines of prayer. So, throughout the season of Lent, we are going to explore the Lord’s Prayer together one piece at a time. It’s a crucial part of our faith: both our personal faith and The Faith—Christianity. If you don’t pray the Lord’s Prayer, your personal faith is lacking. If you don’t pray the Lord’s Prayer, you may not even be a Christian.
You would think that we wouldn’t have too much of a problem with this. Every time we get together as a congregation, we pray the Lord’s Prayer. Be it during a church service, at the end of a meeting, at the end of a Bible Study, at the end of Confirmation class, we pray this prayer over and over and over again. We know the Lord’s Prayer and we pray it time and again. But as you’re well aware, just because you have it memorized and can speak the words doesn’t mean that your heart and mind are together with your mouth. How often do we pray, especially the Lord’s Prayer and then realize our mind was elsewhere during the whole thing. Wait, what did I just say? There’s a danger in our familiarity with the Lord’s Prayer. Sadly, this is not a new problem. At one point, as Martin Luther was describing the Lord’s prayer, he said:
“What a horrible tragedy of tragedies that the Lord’s Prayer should be blabbered and babbled around the world without any devotion. Many pray the Lord’s Prayer as many as a thousand times a year; if they were to pray a thousand years they would still not have tasted or prayed even one letter of it! The Lord’s Prayer is the greatest martyr on earth… Nearly everyone mistreats it and abuses it. Only a few are comforted by it and find joy in its correct use.”
On paper, this is a quick fix. Don’t just speak the Lord’s Prayer, get your mind involved as well. Don’t turn your brain off the second you walk into church. Keep it active. Pay attention. Be present where you are right now. Focus. It sounds easy enough. But you know as well as I that “easy” solutions are pretty much never easy. You don’t go into prayer planning to let your mind wander off. It just happens, in spite of your best efforts.
So, from now until Holy Week, we’re going to tear the Lord’s Prayer apart and take a look at it piece by piece, line by line, petition by petition. Why do we speak these words? What do they mean? What’s the difference between God’s kingdom coming and His will being done? When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” are we just praying for bread or is there more to the story? My goal through this Lenten season is to engage your mind, to help you to learn the Lord’s Prayer. Or more accurately, to re-learn the Lord’s Prayer; I’d hazard a guess that most of you went over this in your confirmation classes *mumble mumble* years ago. With your minds engaged and refreshed by what these words mean, my prayer is that your prayers will be renewed.
I’m going to end today’s sermon with a little exercise for you, to help break the habits we’re so used to in this prayer. I believe one of the reasons our minds slip away during this prayer is because of its rhythm and cadence. It has its own beat that tends to lull our minds to sleep, like a mantra of sorts. So, I’m going to lead us in the Lord’s Prayer while disrupting the rhythm. After each part, I’m going to pause for what will seem like a lifetime, but will really only be a few seconds. Use this disruption to reflect on the words we’ve just prayed and work to make this prayer your own. And may God bless you with a renewed prayer life this season of Lent.
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.
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation.
Deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
Lobe den Herrn
B. A. Woell