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The Lord's Prayer and Spiritual Practices, part 2

Saturday July 19 2014

The Lord's Prayer and Spiritual Practices, part 2

As an adult, I have seldom prayed the Lord’s Prayer as a part of my personal prayer life, and I have not been in churches that use it regularly. Therefore, I simply haven’t thought of it very often. Earlier this year, a local minister asked me to preach as a part of his series on the Lord’s Prayer. Could I please do a sermon on how the Lord’s Prayer might inform our spiritual practices, he asked. So I began pondering that question.

In my first post on this topic, I wrote about the invitation to intimacy conveyed by the prayer. In this post I want to ponder the intercessory portion of the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one” (Matthew 5:11-13, NRSV).

I’m struck, right off, by the simplicity of this prayer. In a consumer age, when we are assaulted by ceaseless advertisements designed to create desire, this prayer is lean and spare, focused on essential needs. These intercessions, recommended by Jesus, make me want to be sure my prayers are focused on what really matters – what I need – and not on what the consumer culture tells me I want.

Two spiritual practices that have helped me detach from the consumer culture the most are Sabbath keeping and fasting.* Keeping a Sabbath gives me a day off every week from striving, from pushing hard, from believing I am essential and necessary. That step back from my everyday life enables me to separate needs from wants more easily. Fasting – from food or from other things like entertainment media, electronic devices, or shopping – creates space for prayer and clear thinking and for understanding my need for God.

The Lord’s Prayer also indicates the high priority Jesus puts on forgiveness. In an age when many church worship services no longer include a confession of sin, we need to make time in our personal prayer life to acknowledge our sin to God. This can happen silently in prayer alone, in prayer times with family members or small groups, while journaling or walking or singing a song about forgiveness. Confessing sin with some regularity requires intentional effort in our self-focused world.

Jesus couples two things: asking God for forgiveness and forgiving others. The first is challenging, and the second is sometimes next to impossible, which reveals our need for God’s help. These requests in the Lord’s Prayer trigger in me an awareness of my deep need for God. I need God’s help to know how to pray and what to pray for, to grow in praying in ways consistent with God’s priorities and not centered only on my own desires. I need God’s help to face my sins and particularly to forgive others. I need God’s help to desire not to follow evil paths.

What are the spiritual practices in your life that help you acknowledge and express your need for God? Which spiritual practices help you take steps to forgive others? In what setting do you pray most readily for forgiveness? In what ways do your prayers reflect your own needs, and the needs of others, and in what ways do your prayers reflect your desires? Which spiritual practices help you resist the consumer culture? These are just a few of the questions I think about when I read or pray the intercessions in the Lord’s Prayer.

(*If you'd like to learn more about the Sabbath or Fasting, I've written a book on each of those topics: Sabbath Keeping and Fasting: Spiritual Freedom Beyond Our Appetites. I've also written numerous articles about those two spiritual practices, which you can find on the articles page of this website. The Lord's Prayer and spiritual practices, part 1, is available here. If you like this post, you can sign up for email notices every time I post something on this blog. The place to sign up is at the bottom of the right hand column on this webpage. This post originally appeared on the Thoughtful Christian blog, Gathering Voices. )

The Lord's Prayer and Spiritual Practices

Wednesday July 16 2014

The Lord's Prayer and Spiritual Practices

A few months ago a local minister asked if I’d be willing to come and guest preach at his church. We chose a date, and he said he’d be in the middle of a series on the Lord’s Prayer. Could I perhaps talk about how the Lord’s Prayer might inform our spiritual practices?

His request set off several months of very rich pondering. First, I realized that we might think creatively about how to use the Lord’s Prayer itself as a part of our spiritual practices. A person can sing the Lord’s Prayer or pray it as a part of journaling. A person might pray it while walking or pray it as a breath prayer, one phrase on each breath.

Next I started thinking about how the content of the Lord’s Prayer might inform our spiritual practices. The prayer opens with Jesus calling God “Our Father.” I have never been very comfortable calling God “Father” because I was not close to my own father. However, there’s no doubt that Jesus felt great intimacy with his Father. Spiritual practices are all about intimacy. Once, when I told someone I do a lot of writing about spiritual practices, he replied, “For most people, spiritual practices are just one more way to try to earn God’s approval.” I found the exact opposite to be true when I interviewed people about the Sabbath, fasting, hospitality, and many forms of contemplative prayer for my books. My interviewees talked about ways they experience intimacy with God through spiritual practices. Many talked about “making space for God” in the midst of busy lives.

A first and basic way the Lord’s Prayer should inform our spiritual practices is to remind us anything we do to draw near to God or make space for God is all about nurturing relationship with God, not about proving to God we are worthy or righteous.

As I thought more about the Lord’s prayer, I noticed something significant. About half of the words of the prayer relate to God: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Then come the four requests related to daily bread, forgiveness, temptation and evil. The closing words most Protestants use also focus on God: “For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever.” In what ways can spiritual practices enable us to remember and rejoice in God’s holiness, kingdom, will, power and glory?

Our spiritual practices – forms of prayer, reading the Bible, engaging in a Sabbath, etc. – can easily become all about us. “God, I need your help to excel on this exam . . . to cope with my difficult co-worker . . . to have patience with my teenager . . . to have more energy for the things that matter to me.” It is right and good to come to God with our requests, as is modeled by the requests in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer. But our spiritual practices also need to focus on who God is and enable us rejoice in God’s character, as we offer ourselves to God in service, love and devotion.

Prayers and scriptures focused on thankfulness and praise can help us do that. Other practices like the Sabbath or fasting can be done in a spirit that rejoices in who God is. Spiritual practices that honor the spirit of the Lord’s Prayer will create space for us to draw near to God to receive the help we need, while also honoring God’s holiness, kingdom, will, power and glory.

(For a second post on the Lord's Prayer and spiritual practices, click here. If you like this post, you can sign up for email notices every time I post something on this blog. The place to sign up is at the bottom of the right hand column on this webpage.This post originally appeared on the Thoughtful Christian blog, Gathering Voices.)