While reading a piece by John Kleinig, I was struck by something I had not payed all that much attention to before. Dr. Kleinig said the obvious. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, Jesus gave them His prayer, that is, the prayer He prays. How profound that insight is! Jesus is not simply giving us a form or even a methodology but has invited us to join our voices with His in praying as He prays. This is one way in which we manifest our lives in Christ by baptism and faith. We speak with Christ in one voice the prayer that He prays that has now become our own prayer.
There was a time when the faithful prayed the Our Father many times a day. Even with the loss of the rosary, Luther urged us to pray the Our Father, the Creed, the Commandments, and his own meager contribution of the morning and evening prayers at the start of the day and at the end of the day. Today it is highly possible and perhaps even likely that the faithful pray the Our Father only once a day or even less. That does not mean we pray but that we pray either in our own words or the prayers of others more than we pray the prayer our Savior gave us. I worry about this.
The presumption that prayers of the heart, extemporaneous prayers, are some how qualitatively better than prayers we learn from others or even the prayer our Savior taught us is rather arrogant. Jesus is not giving us not simply the right to pray but inviting us to pray as He prays -- a gift even greater than the simple access to the Father. Have we forgotten this? Do we pay attention to this? Does it even matter to us?
Some months ago after we had used Divine Service 3, a member left upset because the pastor had sung the Our Father we had deprived this individual of the prayer. While this is not true and the history of this liturgy from The Lutheran Hymnal always had the pastor speak or pray the Our Father with the congregation responding with the doxology, it was telling. On one hand I reminded the individual that this had been the practice of the church as they grew up but on the other hand I felt sympathy. The Our Father, prayed together with many voices on one set of words that the Lord taught us, is an amazing thing. Perhaps this person got it -- the people of God are not praying a prayer meant to be an example for our prayers but rather being invited to pray as Jesus Himself prays, saying, Our Father who art in heaven. . .
We have gone through a period of time in which book prayers, even including the Our Father, have been laid aside as if they were not prayer at all -- at least not in the way the spontaneous outpouring of the heart is prayer. It is never a good thing for the people of God to presume their own words count more than the words Jesus taught us -- words that He is even now still praying for us and even with us. So Kleinig's reminder is timely, indeed. We do not need new prayer books or new methods of prayer to rejuvenate our lives of prayer but simply the reminder of the gift Christ has given us when His disciples asked Him to teach them to pray and He allowed them to know and pray with Him as He Himself prays, saying. . .
Lord, teach us to pray this way always. Amen.