John Morrison – 23 July 2017

Dear Friends

In his book “Better Together”, Rick Warren says: “God intended our prayer to be a priority, not a postscript. In many churches and small groups, prayer is like the singing of the national anthem at a sporting event: we wouldn’t dream of starting without it, but it has little relevance to the main event.” As he points out, this contrasts sharply with the practice of the early Christians, who “all met together continually for prayer” (Acts 1:14). And Paul instructed Christians at Colossae to “devote themselves to prayer” (Col. 4:2).

However, Warren admits, and our own experience confirms, that being devoted to prayer and learning to pray is not easy. Even Jesus’ first disciples sensed their own inadequacy in this area and went to Jesus with the request “Lord, teach us to pray.” (Lk. 11:1) In response, Jesus gave them the words of the prayer we usually call the Lord’s Prayer.

I don’t believe Jesus’ intention was to simply give them a set of words to be used as a fixed liturgy. Jesus even warned them about “vain repetition” (Mt. 6:7). While it is certainly beneficial to thoughtfully pray the prayer together during our gatherings, using it as a model prayer is even more so. Jesus gave the prayer to his disciples as a model for their prayers and to help them with their desire to learn how to pray.

Martin Luther used and advocated the use of the Lord’s Prayer in this way. We know this from an illuminating letter he wrote to Peter Beskendorf, his barber, after he asked Luther for a simple way to pray. Peter was a devout though flawed man. While intoxicated at a family meal, he stabbed his son-in-law to death. Partly through Luther’s intervention Peter was exiled rather than executed, but endured difficult final years. However, he took with him into exile Luther’s letter with its rich and practical guidelines for prayer.

As a part of twice-daily prayer, Luther advised praying each petition of the Lord’s Prayer, paraphrasing and personalising each with one’s own needs and concerns. Luther gave examples but emphasised that his actual words shouldn’t be recited, because that would defeat the purpose of the exercise. Luther says that he himself would not paraphrase the Lord’s Prayer the same way on each occasion. “I do not bind myself to such words or syllables, but say my prayers in one fashion today, in another tomorrow, depending on my mood and feeling.”

Belinda and I are currently preaching a series on the Lord’s Prayer in the hope that together we may all learn more about prayer and its practice. The series, commenced last week, will straddle the special services and workshops where guest speakers will be contributing to our Church Review. The timing is quite intentional. We are convinced of the need for the Review to be surrounded and accompanied by prayer.

J.I Packer and Carolyn Nystrom have written a book on prayer entitled “Finding Our Way through Duty to Delight”. That expresses my desire for myself, and for you, in relation to prayer. Lord, teach us how to pray.