It’s natural for us to think of prayer as a mostly private thing—the pouring out of our hearts to God in the concealment of our thoughts. Prayer is something we can do in the car on our way to work as we prepare to handle the stress of the day ahead—sort of like a little pep talk with God. Prayer is what intertwines all the wrestling we do with our thoughts when we lay awake at night, worried and frustrated with the problems of life—it brings comfort and hope in the dark. Prayer is something we employ when a loved one is sick or suffering—it’s the blessed assurance that our good and gracious God in heaven above sees and hears and knows the situation.
Like I said, prayer is something we think of as a mostly personal and private matter. What a blessing that we can always turn to the Lord and have a conversation.
Then there are those occasions when someone takes our hand and says, “Let me pray for you.” Suddenly something that is private becomes something we share with another. It’s always a little awkward at first, but prayer between two Christians is an intimate and comforting thing. It’s a blessing and privilege to have someone else carry our load for a few minutes, articulating the words that address our trouble, worry and frustration, offering it all up to God on our behalf. Sometimes we are just too tired to pray, and so how wonderful to have a friend take up our cause. We can just breathe as they pray for us and let the prayer flow through us.
Finally, there are those corporate prayers we say in church. These are prayers said by the pastor while everyone else just listens. While these might sometimes seem boring (because our attention spans are probably way too short or because pastors can sometimes pray too long—wink, wink!), such prayer can also be very special. It’s a profound thing for a whole community of people to lift up someone who is hurting and offer that petition to the Lord above—even if the words are being said by the pastor alone.
But none of the examples adequately describe what the Lord’s Prayer is.
Yes, it is a corporate prayer, but everyone prays these words together at the same time—almost like a creed or chant. Stranger still are the pronouns. They’re plural!
Our Father, who art 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 but deliver us from evil.
The very clear implication here is that Jesus expects that His followers will not just be together when they pray, but that they will pray together. This prayer reminds us that we are not just individuals who all believe in the same Savior, we are His body! We are the family of God. This is the family prayer.
Maybe more profound still, is the fact that even on those occasions when we pray this prayer alone—perhaps we are far away from our family on a trip—the very grammar of this prayer by virtue of the pronouns reminds us that we are never truly alone when we pray. Wherever we are, we are part of something bigger than ourselves and our own personal problems or circumstances.
But do any of us say the Lord’s Prayer when we are alone? Maybe we should!
It’s especially important for us to do this whenever we face those situation sin life that leave us feeling isolated from others. Conflict does this. When two Christians fight it’s a very sad thing. Perhaps each side needs to spend some time in prayer, specifically praying this family prayer, to be reminded that they are “one” in Christ even if they have differences of opinion.
There are also those times in life when life’s circumstances leave us feeling distanced from others and lonely. I’m thinking of all the individuals I visit in the nursing homes. Life in the nursing home can be very lonely, indeed! For while you’d think that living in close proximity to other people your own age would give you lots of opportunity to have community, I’m not so sure that’s always the case. Many older folks have trouble hearing or seeing and that makes communication hard. It can be easy for them to feel like they are a thousand miles from everyone, even in a room full of other residents. And then there’s the sad fact that so often when a beloved member of the church or community goes into the nursing home, no matter how active they were in church and community activities and no matter how many friends they had, once they are in the nursing home, it becomes way to easy for everyone else to move on with life and forget—forget to visit! So many times, I’ve heard residents say, “my church has forgotten me.”
While nothing is a substitute for true Christian community, I do encourage the saints that I visit in the nursing homes to regularly pray the Lord’s Prayer. I remind them that through this prayer, even when they feel alone, they can remember that they are not truly alone. They are a part of a family, and they have a Heavenly Father who will never forget them.
It’s strange to me how many Christian parents don’t teach their children to pray this family prayer. They often say they want their children to pray “heartfelt” prayers, instead. That’s fine, I guess… surely there is no wrong way to pray, but what I know is that there will be times for all of us in life when our hearts war within us and our feelings contradict our faith. We also need a prayer that teaches us the language of faith—“Our Father… Thy will be done… Forgive… Lead… Deliver. Thus, Jesus taught us not to heap up empty phrases (Matthew 6:7), but to pray in an entirely different way:
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,
forever and ever.