Friday, September 3, 2010

On Lessons from the Lord’s Prayer

In regards to the Lord’s Prayer [Matthew 5: 9-13], I’ve heard it said that it is not to be a formula or a word-for-word, mindless recitation. Instead, people have suggested the pattern for prayer, using the word ACTS as a memory tool. ACTS stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.

I suppose for me, ACTS could be useful but seems too formulaic. I’d rather not feel like I need to catch every step, in a specific order, or it won’t be a “good prayer.” I don’t want to pause my prayer time in order to think “T…Thanksgiving…what can I be thankful for today…?” I think I’d be too tempted to fall back on just checking off the points and forget about the meaning behind what I’m doing.

Prayer for me is more personal than that. It’s spending time nurturing a relationship with someone I love. It’s talking with my best friend.

I understand what people are saying about praying the Lord’s Prayer. They’re right, the Lord’s Prayer wasn’t meant to be something that we recite and think we’re done with praying for the day. We shouldn’t think that this is the perfect prayer and so we’ve repeated it and therefore covered everything.

I wonder though, if it can be used as a tool. I suppose I might be an exception to using it because of how I am about prayer. In general, I am often aware if I have been just going through the motions and so I check myself on such things because I want to be moving beyond the motions to the heart of what I do. Especially lately, especially when it comes to my spiritual condition, I think about my motives for doing things.

I've always been big on prayer but there is always something to learn or refine. Recently [about the past year or so], I’ve memorized the Lord’s Prayer [LP] and used it to help me go deeper in my prayer life. I would say that the LP has taught me a lot about prayer and how to pray. Instead of memorizing ACTS, I use the LP which includes a prompt for each part of ACTS. For a while, I would say only the LP to open my day. As I continued saying it, I started to reflect on what the words meant. Soon, I began to learn from it.

Sometimes I will open my quiet time by praying the LP. Then I will pause, take a breath, and enter into my personal prayer to God. As I pray personally, I am reminded that I had just said the words of the LP and to follow its example. So the LP becomes an intro to my personal prayer time; it helps me gain a right spirit for my time with God.

[Verse 9b] “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
[10] your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

I think and prepare myself for who I am talking to. On one side, I’m entering a space with someone Holy and I want to respect and give honor to him. On the other side, I’m about to talk to someone who knows me completely, who loves me, who wants to hear my thoughts.

[11] Give us today our daily bread.
[12] Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

I reflect on all that God has provided, all he has done and all he asks of me in likeness. I am reminded of how much he loves me, that no matter what I do, he’ll welcome me back and that I can confess anything because of his love. I think it’s very pertinent that the word “our” is used instead of “my.”

This part also helps me to remember to give thanks, as I think about how much I have been forgiven and all the blessings that God has laid on me.

13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one,
For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.

I’m prepared to ask for more and reminded again that I can ask because of who God is. I am closer to asking for things that might be in his will, rather than things that are just in my desires. I am reminded that he is in control and I am not.

In this way, leading with the LP helps me move into my personal prayer. I’m not saying it magically turns my prayers into these perfect, amazing, to be studied prayers, but my spirit is prepared to meet God. I’m convicted to face and confess my sins. My heart becomes soft and I remember good people who have lifted my spirit and those whose spirits could stand to be lifted.

At times, I don’t know the words for my own prayers. These are times I might say the LP and then just be quiet for some time before the amen; these are times when I just don’t know what words to say. In the quiet moments, I am trusting that the Holy Spirit is interceding for me, I am believing that God understands my silence, and I am still feeling like saying the words of the LP is my acknowledgement to God that I want to spend this time with him.

I’m not suggesting that this method is for everyone. I think it could be helpful. What I’m trying to get across most is that when I say the Lord’s Prayer, for me it is more like I am praying with the Lord than just merely imitating Him.

Any thoughts? Is it still not good to lean on the Lord’s Prayer? Have I got this all wrong?

Well, no matter your opinion of my method here, if you have the chance, I recommend listening to a Focus on the Family broadcast entitled “Being Salt and Light.” It is a recording of a talk by Tony Evans to encourage men to make an impact in the world. There is a section where Evans speaks through the Lord’s Prayer to uplift the audience. It was quite powerful for me. It helped me to understand more of the example of the LP and helped me form the essence of why I could use it to help me pray deeper.

Other good FotF broadcasts on prayer are “Tribute to a Praying Mom” and “A Life Transformed through Prayer.” The former is a speech by Ty Nichols about the legacy of his mother’s commitment to prayer [his mother is Fern Nichols, founder of Moms in Touch]. It was given at a Moms in Touch anniversary celebration, to encourage the mothers to carry on because God answers prayer. The latter is the testimony of Bill Rieser. He talks about how his wife’s prayers impacted his life and their marriage. Both were very moving and I’m sure they could be an encouragement to you as well.

All in all, I think probably the best advice I can give is to start praying and pray constantly! Watch how God will grow your prayer times with him!

[For an example of how the Lord’s Prayer transfers or prepares my personal prayer time, see Untitled [08.02.2010]]

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