Teach Us to Pray

Is the Bible too familiar? I was practically born in the church. From the time I was a small boy, 

I have always wanted to be a preacher. I loved Sunday school, and sitting through worship was never a chore. Strange, eh? My biggest challenge in Bible study is familiarity. My eyes skip over passages, and I often miss things. That led me to study Greek and Hebrew. The words are foreign and require me to stop and think about each one.

Recently, I was translating Luke 11:1 – 4, “The Lord’s Prayer.” It’s familiar to all of us, but did you notice the context? Jesus was praying, and then the disciples asked him to “teach us to pray.” Doesn’t that seem strange? These 12 disciples were good Jews and had prayed their entire lives. The prayers of Jesus were different from anything they had ever heard. It could be the prayers of Jesus were conversational. After all, Jesus taught us to address God as “Our Father.” Even today, the Jewish people have many, many formal prayers to be said at set times during the day. (Just look up “Jewish Prayers and Blessings” on Wikipedia.) It appears the followers of John the Baptist learned specific set prayers as well: “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples” (verse 1).

In general, American Christians pray extemporaneously. Some churches repeat the Lord’s Prayer, but most of us are uncomfortable with that kind of ritualism.

We believe since Jesus taught us to pray to “Our Father,” our prayers should be conversational rather than liturgical. Even as a child, I was uncomfortable praying the Lord’s Prayer in school along with reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, but have you thought about the value of everyone repeating the same prayer at the same time? It is a show of unity. We aren’t just praying to our Father; we are praying with our family. It’s the same as saying grace together with our brothers and sisters before a meal.

On the other hand, Jesus warned against meaningless repetition. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6:7). Prayers are not magical incantations that force the Lord to comply!

I recently heard a well-known preacher defending his belief the early Christians continued to pray the set Jewish prayers. His text came from Acts 2:42. “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” “The prayers,” he contended, were the set Jewish prayers. I’m not so sure. That interpretation is possible, but not probable. After all, they had been with Jesus, who taught them to pray. The examples of prayers that we read about in Acts and the Epistles were not the traditional Jewish prayers.

The disciples didn’t ask, “Lord teach us what to pray.” They asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Jesus didn’t give his disciples the exact words to use in prayer. He gave them the heart to pray. There is nothing wrong with praying the Lord’s Prayer; just remember to pray with your heart!

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