During the last year, I have begun reciting the Lord’s Prayer, slowly and meditatively, twice per day. I find this habit to be supremely helpful in shaping my thoughts and actions throughout the 24-hour period. I offer this series, therefore, to elaborate on why this habit is so meaningful for me and how it might be helpful for you as well.
Why do I recite the Lord’s prayer, verbatim, regularly, instead of merely using it as a template that teaches me how to pray spontaneously? That is the question I will answer throughout the course of this series.
However, in the meantime, here’s a nutshell: While the Lord’s prayer is a “model” prayer in the sense that it is a prototype that teaches us to offer spontaneous prayers with the disposition exemplified by Jesus, it is also a “model” in the sense of being a “master prayer” to which we would be wise to apprentice ourselves. In the ancient and medieval world, individuals learned a trade by mimicking their master; similarly, we can learn to pray by literally mimicking Jesus’ prayer.
What role does the Lord’s prayer play in the broader context of Matthew’s gospel? Matthew’s gospel argues that Jesus is the long-awaited Jewish Messiah and Kingdom-bringer. He makes his argument by tracing the arc of Jesus’ earthly ministry and interspersing it with five discourses, and offers the Lord’s model prayer in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount discourse, which explains what life in the Kingdom of God will look like.
The Lord’s prayer is the model prayer, the ultimate framework for how gospel-centered Christians should approach God and view life. The central proposition of the prayer is that we should pray from a heart that overflows with a desire for the establishment of God’s kingdom rather than pursues “salvation” via the kingdoms of this world.
Before Jesus offers the model prayer, he instructs us on how not to pray (6:5-8). In brief, he warns that we should not pray for the purpose of “using” God. We must not warp God’s gift of prayer by using it for a type of virtue-signaling (6:5-6) or by trying to charm God or force his hand (6:7). Instead, we should pray just as Jesus prayed.
How did Jesus pray? He prayed in a manner that conformed with his calling. And when he offers this particular prayer to us as a model, he is implying that if we truly enter into his calling and begin to understand it more fully, we will be liberated to fulfill our own callings. We will be challenged to expand and deepen our understanding and practice of prayer.
It is probably safe to say that many of us approach prayer in a manner not dissimilar to a vending machine exchange. Just as we might insert two dollars in a machine and receive in return a Diet Dr. Pepper, so we want to send up a prayer and receive in return exactly what we ordered. However, as we mature in the faith we begin to pray as Jesus prayed. We come to understand that prayer is not a tit-for-tat exchange; in fact, it is something much larger and infinitely more beneficial.
Prayer has a larger meaning than we first imagine because God is magnificently larger than we typically imagine. As we bring to him our priorities through prayer, he eventually transforms our priorities, making us more like him. This is what the Lord’s Prayer does: if we follow its contours, we will notice that our priorities change.
One helpful way of allowing God to transform our priorities, therefore, is to recite the Lord’s prayer daily. Doing so chisels our hearts so that the natural “grooves” of our love are pointed in the same direction as God, the proper object of our love.
In upcoming installments of this series, we will explore the riches offered by each line of the prayer, discussing the meaning of each portion and applying its meaning to our life in this world. After having completed expositions of each line, we will conclude with an installment that reflects on the magnificence of the prayer as a whole and on the importance of combining ritual prayers with spontaneous supplications.
Here are the links to each installment: