During Lent we took a few weeks to stop and look at The Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is an important part of our tradition: it was not uncommon that the disciples of any given rabbi might ask him how they should pray. When Jesus’ disciples asked Him how they should pray, this is the prayer that He taught them.
When we think about that, there are some deep truths that are revealed in just that introduction to The Lord’s Prayer, and that are arrived at through some questioning. Why did disciples ask their rabbis how to pray? Getting beyond the “what” people did to the “why” they did it – this is where inquiry really begins to get interesting. In the ancient Jewish world, rabbis had reputations (there were two major schools of Jewish rabbinic thought, at the time of Jesus, but that’s a different topic) – the students that they turned out (read: graduated) were inheritors of these reputations. In our case, Jesus’ disciples could all be expected to be a certain kind of Jewish person, simply because they’d all studied under Him. They were the “product” of His teaching. Their job, as students, was to be as fully formed by His teaching as they could be.
So let’s get back to our question, of why disciples would ask their teachers how to pray. On the first hand, we recognize who they are in relation to their teachers (their rabbis), but on the other hand we also need to look at what prayer is for. Our current line of inquiry to the side, why does anyone pray? When we look at the aspects of prayer (Adoration: a calling to mind of who God is; Confession: an accounting of our own desperate need for grace; Thanksgiving: a reckoning of God’s activity; and Supplication: a laying out of our situation before God, begging His help), we are reminded that prayer is about reorienting our lives to God, and to God’s life in us.
The Rev. Cal MacFarlane spoke at our recent parish mission weekend, and he shared that prayer (as with all pious action, or engagement of the spiritual disciplines) is not about cause and effect – not about bringing about a desired result. Rather, it is about putting ourselves in the right place to receive what God has for us when God is moving in us. The images he used were of the sunrise (you can’t make it happen, but if you get up early enough then you’ll be there to see it when it does) and of the stars (though sometimes it can be cloudy, if you spend enough nights outside, you’ll eventually catch a glimpse of them). Prayer is about cultivating the soil of our hearts to receive God’s grace as He moves among us, transforming us into Christ’s likeness more and more.
So, if that’s what prayer is about and if disciples wanted to be formed into the right kind of graduates from their rabbis’ schools, why would disciples ask their rabbis how to pray? The short answer might just be put like this: if they pray like their rabbi, they will be formed by God like their rabbi. What does this mean for us? The Lord’s Prayer is Jesus’ direction for how to engage prayer the way He does, so that we will be in the right space, spiritually, to receive what God has for us (when God chooses to move in us).
So building on those four weeks of instruction on The Lord’s Prayer that we had in Lent, I have issued the challenge to the parish to pray and reflect on a series of devotions on The Lord’s Prayer, taken from The New Zealand Prayer Book. There are reflections for each morning and evening of the week, and the challenge is to pray through these Morning and Evening Offices each day until Pentecost (May 15). The important thing is not just to “do it,” but to take time to reflect on the readings. You can download the booklet here.
If you get really ambitious, you’ll notice that the Offices include the option to read Scripture passages, and you’ll wonder what passages to use. On this website you’ll notice that on the right sidebar there are three lessons (A Psalm selection, an Old Testament lesson, a New Testament lesson) printed for Morning and Evening each day. Feel free to use these! God bless you in your Easter devotion!