Preached by Pastor Jeff Hamling
Sunday, August 15, 2021
Four Reasons Not to Prayer the Lord’s Prayer
In the evenings, before I go to bed, I try to read a poem from the English poet George Herbert.
One of his most famous poems is called Prayer. And in that poem, he refers to prayer as “reversed thunder.”
Thunder originates in the heavens and captures our attention on earth. But prayer is a rumble from earth that captures the attention of heaven. Thunder in reverse.
And there is no prayer that comes with as much thunder as the Lord’s Prayer. It’s the one and only prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray.
And yet, many Christians rarely, if ever, pray this prayer.
This morning I want to share four reasons we tell ourselves to not prayer this prayer.
Four reasons we tell ourselves: You should not pray this prayer! At least not regularly.
Reason #1: Praying the Lord’s Prayer feels too mechanical, too rote.
In other words, “I can’t pray the exact same words over and over and mean them from my heart.”
In response to this objection, the great reformer Martin Luther writes, How many people pray the Lord’s Prayer a thousand times in the course of a year, and if they were to keep on doing so for a thousand years they would not have really prayed it at all. In a word, the Lord’s Prayer is the greatest martyr on earth. Everybody tortures and abuses it; few take comfort and joy in its proper use.
In context, what he means is that you don’t always have to pray the Lord’s prayer verbatim. It can be used as a pattern for your prayers.
In other words, each stanza of the Lord’s Prayer can be used as a launching pad for further expression.
Here’s an example of what this might look like:
- Our Father: Thank you that you are my Father and that I’m you’re son.
- In heaven. You’re in absolute control of all things. You sit enthroned in heaven ruling the universe in your power and wisdom.
- Hallowed be your name. Father, you are holy and separate from all your creation. You are set apart in your love. It’s infinite, unlimited, and unstoppable.
- Your kingdom come. Rid the World of evil and sin and suffering. Do away with disease and death. Fill the world with a wonder and delight in your gospel.
- Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven: Have your way with my life, I trust you to know what is best.
- Give us this day our daily bread: Provide me with everything I need to serve you today. Help me to rely on you and not myself.
- Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: I am prone to wander. Protect me from the evil that is both inside of me and outside of me.
I personally try to pray the Lord’s Prayer verbatim every day and it hasn’t yet become rote. But if with that, you also use it as a pattern for your prayers, I doubt it will ever become rote or mechanical.
Reason #2: I want to pray about the things that are going on in my life and the things that are on my mind.
Now, if use the Lord’s Pray as a pattern for your prayers, there’s nothing stopping you from praying about what’s on your mind.
However, the Lord’s Prayer will keep you from ONLY praying about what’s on your mind.
That’s important because there’s something about our broken condition that makes us preoccupied with ourselves in an unhealthy way. The ancient church father Augustine described the human condition as “Curved in on self.”
This stuck me a few years back when I visited Yellowstone Park and was given a welcome packet that included multiple warnings about how people should be careful when taking selfies in the Park.
Why do you need to be careful about taking selfies?
Here are a few newspaper headlines about selfies and national parks:
- Elk Charged Woman Taking Selfie in Yellowstone National Park
- Man falls taking selfie at Grand Canyon
- Selfies at the Root of Yellowstone Bison Attacks.
We enter into a National Park—one of the most wild and beautiful places on earth and one of our first impulses is to snap a picture…of ourselves! (Wow! That Grizzly bear is amazing! I better turn my back on it so that I can take a picture of it with me in the center!)
It seems absurd, but don’t we sometimes do something similar in prayer?
In prayer, we approach the massive, wild beauty of God and our immediate impulse is to focus only on ourselves.
James 4:3 when you ask, you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
The Lord’s prayer is a way of praying that keeps us from praying ONLY about ourselves. It points the lens of our prayer upward and outward.
Notice how it thrusts us upward to God. Our Father in Heaven. Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done.
Instead of turning away from God and toward ourselves in prayer, we turn to God; his character, his kingdom, and his purpose for the world.
But notice, it not only propels us upward, it boosts us outward into the lives of other people:
- We pray “Our Father” not just my Father.
- Give us this day our daily bread, not just give me.
- Forgive us our trespasses, not just forgive me.
- Lead us not into temptation.
- Deliver us from evil.
The Lord’s prayer keeps us from suffocated ourselves with prayers only about us and thrusts us upward and outward into God and into the lives of other people.
Reason #3: I want to use my own words in prayer, not scripted words. Scripted prayers keep me from saying what I really want to say.
Praying a prayer written by someone else, can seem like we are just giving God a Hallmark card with a prewritten message and then just signing our name to what someone else wrote. It’s like reading a script. It keeps me from saying what I really want to say.
I’m not proposing that you should only pray the Lord’s prayer. By all means, pray to God and say what’s on your heart.
But let’s examine that assumption that a scripted prayer, like the Lord’s Prayer, keeps you from saying what you really want to say.
As a pastor, when I do weddings, sometimes the bride and groom want to write their own wedding vows for the ceremony. I get it. They want to be authentic. Speak from their hearts. They don’t want what they say to sound canned.
It’s fine, except sometimes here’s what happens: Here’s a vow written by someone who doesn’t go to our church. A vow written by a groom:
I promise to love you even when you refuse to let me watch the football game, to cherish you even when you blow one week’s salary on yet another handbag, and to understand you even when you are at mad at me because of something that happened in a dream.
It is kind of funny! But I don’t think in the way he intended. In an attempt to be personal and authentic, he ended up being shallow and demeaning.
Those were his words, but is it what he really wanted to say?
What he really wanted to say was, I promise to be your loving and faithful husband / in sickness and in health / in plenty and in want / in joy and in sorrow / as long as we both shall live.
Yes, those are scripted words. Yes, they are the words that most people say at weddings. But they help you in saying what you really want to say and to say it with gravitas! They give voice to what’s really in your heart.
God wrote the Lord’s Prayer. He knows what is in our hearts. As we pray this prayer, it doesn’t hinder us from expressing our hearts—it helps us to express our hearts. To say what we really want to say!
Reason #4: Praying the Lord’s prayer won’t change anything.
This objection seems to stem from a belief that prayer in general doesn’t really accomplish anything. The world is gong to go on as it’s meant to go on whether I pray or not.
The Bible explicitly counters this objection with lots of examples of answered prayers—Elijah prayed and it stopped the rain.
History also supports the idea that prayer directs the course of history.
But let me focus on something else. It’s the idea that you are shaped by your habits.
When I was in third grade, I decided I wanted to be a great basketball player. I mounted a basketball hope behind our house with bailing twine and started shooting hundreds of shots every day. It didn’t water if it was cold or if there was snow—I would shoot every day. Free throw shots. Layups. Long shots. I remember seeing a player on TV, do a fade away jump shot. I started practicing this every day. When I got to high school, my coach saw me doing it, and said, “What in the world is that?” Don’t ever do that again!” But I couldn’t stop. I’d tell myself to stop. My coach would yell at me from the sidelines to stop—but I couldn’t! It was ingrained into my muscle memory and instincts. I took me years to undo that habit!
That’s what’s so ugly about bad habits. The habit becomes deeply ingrained in you. It becomes a part of you.
But’s that’s also what’s so beautiful about good habits. They also become a part of you.
Including the habit of praying the Lord’s prayer daily. It takes the information that you know in your head and kneads it into your soul.
Lauren Winner is a Christian author who writes about sitting in a church service next to an elderly man who had Alzheimer’s. She knew he couldn’t remember the names of his children or what he just eaten for breakfast. She wondered, What’s he even getting out of this? And then the church began to say the Lord’s Prayer as part of the worship service. And the man, prayed the Lord’s Pray with the rest of the congregation.
Here’s what she writes–Reflecting on the experience: I don’t know whether he could have given a coherent explanation of the Lord’s Prayer or told me where in the Bible it was found. What I know is this: These words of prayer are among the most basic words he knows. When he has forgotten everything else, those words are the words he will have. Those words have formed his heart, and—regardless of what he feels or remembers on any particular morning—they continue to shape his heart still.
Sow a thought; reap an action. Sow an action; reap a habit. Sow a habit; reap a character. Sow a character; reap a destiny.
The Lord’s Prayer has the power to shape your life for the good.
However, it’s not a formula. If you say it enough times your life will be magically transformed. It’s not an incantation that somehow harnesses God’s attention.
We pray it because we already have God’s attention.
God loves you enough that he died for you.
He loves you enough that he dwells inside of you.
He loves you enough that he wants to spend all eternity with you.
You don’t need to impress God with your prayers.
The Puritan, Thomas Brooks says it like this:
God looks not at the elegancy of your prayers, to see how neat they are;
nor at the geometry of your prayers, to see how long they are;
nor at the arithmetic of your prayers, to see how many they are;
nor at the sweetness of your voice,
nor the logic of your prayers;
but at the sincerity of your prayers, how hearty they are.
By sincerity he means you come knowing God accepts you as you are and you can be yourself with him.
Pray the Lord’s Prayer, not because it will make God love you. Pray the Lord’s Prayer because he already loves you.