Thursday, July 26, 2012
The Lord’s Prayer: Introduction
Prayer is one of the most basic exercises of religion, for it is our means of communication with God. This is what makes our relationship with God "personal"; without it no personal relationship with God exists.
Prayer defines our relationship with God. How we approach God, and what we ask Him once we are in His presence, says a great deal about how we conceive of Him and about what He can do for us. Prayer is living theology, doctrine come to life.
The Lord's Prayer is not unique. All devout Jews prayed, and the Pharisees in particular had a set of written prayers known as the Eighteen Benedictions, or the Tephillah ("prayer"). They were repeated, three times a day, at morning, afternoon and evening, and were one of the essential elements of the synagogue service. In some ways the Lord's Prayer reads like a simplified version of the Eighteen Benedictions.
Having told His disciples how not to pray (Matt. 6:5-8), Jesus now tells us how they should pray. What follows is a model template for our prayers. Did Jesus intend for His exact words to be recited in public worship? Apparently the early church fathers thought so. According to the Didache ("Teaching"), and early Christian document, the Lord's Prayer was to be recited three time daily, apparently following the Jewish practice with the Eighteen Benedictions. Yet when taken against the backdrop of New Testament teaching and practice as a whole, Jesus had to have intended something more than just the mechanical recitation of a formulistic prayer. It was meant to be a general pattern of the kinds of prayers we are supposed to pray. We are to bring God our concerns about our circumstances, and present them in our words. The prayer is to be ours, straight from our hearts, and not the insincere repetition of an empty formula.
The structure of the Lord's Prayer is instructive. It begins with a preface, in which God is addressed directly, and then lists six separate petitions. Significantly, the first three petitions seek God's glory and the advance of His kingdom, and it is only in the last three petitions that our personal needs are addressed. It is important to keep our priorities straight: God comes first; we come later. We are God's servants; He is not ours. We are here to serve His purposes. Ultimately everything is to be for God's glory. How often does that perspective inform our prayers? Lord, teach us to pray!