This is my own method of prayer, developed after a lot of dabbling with Contemplative prayer, Heart Prayer/ Jesus’ Prayers, and other things that I am slightly ambivalent too. The Lord’s Prayer, in my opinion, is far safer and more spiritually wholesome than any of those other things.
My fellows at Seminary told me it was novel as far as they were aware; honestly, I have dabbled so widely and don’t really think or care if it is!
All of those “creative prayers” have a lot of traps and pitfalls that will leave you of worse than when you started. In fact, I will dare say my method is so superior that it pushes to obsolescence all those devotional books that litter Christian book stores.
Yet, don’t take my word for it! Long ago someone way superior to myself was asked “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).
How the Lord’s Prayer came to be neglected
The question was not “teach us what to pray” as if vain repetition was useful. In fact, Jesus makes statements to the opposite in the immediate context of the Matthew version of the Lord’s Prayer:
“But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.” (Matthew 6:7)
Yet, for better or worse the Lord’s Prayer became one of rote repetition. We pray it in Church to add solemnity. We pray it on movies when things are serious. And it gets stuffed by the Catholic Church into Rosary decades to cap every 10 “Hail Marys!” as a pater noster (Our Father’s).
Even those that teach what all the lines mean, a good task, hardly think to push the application of the prayer any further.
Into the gap came all the other prayers
The Hail Mary and other stuff that is taught as a “prayer discipline” these days, in my opinion has crept into the Church. Perhaps from the very day that the scripture was set into a codex, the incarnation of the Word made Flesh quickly obscured by a “magical Jesus,” and all the master’s teachings rendered “inerrant.”
That all conspired so the Lord’s Prayer was seen to as so divine no human could touch it, and better yet it couldn’t touch human life. The root of Heresy is not sacrilege, spiritual weakness does not come from being flippant. Such always stems from piety and humility!
So, naturally with divine instruction (which the flesh always hates) moved out of the way, leaving people free to develop vain meditations, formulas, and the aesthetic ascetics of human dead religion people really love:
Why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules:
“Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”?
These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. (Colossians 2, NIV)
Judge the tree by the fruit
Now, I am not saying anything about Ad-Hoc prayer. Indeed, it is a sacred freedom given the Church by the Holy Spirit. It was not the “Lord’s Prayer” that held the rain for 3 years, it was the prayer of a normal person just like us (James 5:17). Nor am I aiming to kill all fasting.
But I would ask, who among us who has used any of the “theosis,” hesychasm, contemplation, devotionals, fastings, etc. has found themselves planting trees in the Ocean? (Luke 17:6). Lent has probably lead to about as much pure faith as Easter/Christmas attendance…
Was not the master very mighty in prayer by comparison?
And we know he prayed often.
Yet, unlike those that say there should be no method whatsoever, he confessed such power required some sort of discipline (Mark 9:29). And a growing phase (Luke 2:52). Yet, the yoke is also very light (Matt. 11:30) and you will find this discipline easy.
How to Pray like Jesus, The Lord’s Prayer as method
The disciples question is odd on the face of it, “Lord teach us to pray” litterally “δίδαξον ἡμᾶς προσεύχεσθαι.” The answer could almost be “Close your eyes… clasp your hands.” It is very simple request; the next clause displays the intent “as John taught his disciples to pray.” Because of that, the common “folk translation” of the verse “teach us how to pray” is a proper thought translation.
Yet, the “how of it” has been lost in the what of it. Today’s goal is to come back to the prayer as “a how” like a method
Use the lines as a guide
The simplest way to use the Lord’s prayer is as an outline or guide.
Here it is the pray in King Jame’s in case you’ve forgotten
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
13And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
Start with the first line
“Our Father” -how quickly we rush over all the wealth in this statement to spit out the next line “Who art in heaven.” But instead, we should dwell here and reflect. What does it mean to us that God is our Father. We can reflect on the corporate. We can reflect on the individual.
What’s more, as the Church has moved to recapture the psalms modes of complaint and lament we are learning to ask harder questions. Like, “Does God seem a father?” or “Have I ignored that fact when it could have helped me?”
From here the method should be apparent. Tracing all the outlines given, one can reflect positively/negatively/ spiritually/ or even mundanely.
This seems to easy!
One of the objections that often arises in spiritual pursuits quidded by the true God is that they are far too simple and mundane for us to comply. Human pride is wounded when the Lord ask us to come as children. (2 Kings 5: 11-12)
Yet, as Naahman’s servants pleaded, “if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” (2 Kings 5:13).
I hold no doubt that this is itself the most hated of all lessons.
But I ask you. Was not the reformation, and the call that simple belief and faith in Christ gives salvation as a gift resisted by those who thought such “too easy?” Such is a spiritual Leprosy that strikes the bones and rots them off, as Elijah’s servant found who resented the grace granted Naahman (2 Kings 5:27) and it clings to all the teachings and pupils who resist the easy yoke of Christ.
My suggestions for growing in the practice of the Lord’s Prayer
I must confess that for all the odious I place on other methods I have found aspects of them all useful for weening the flesh of its sense to “act spiritual.” These may be omitted if you find no reason for them, or retained if you find them edifying.
There is justification for some level of mental preparation in prayer (although it’s probably about vows), “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” (Ecc. 5:2). At the same time though we are after Christ pushed to be bold (Heb 4:16)
So here do as you are able.
My method of preparation when teaching
- Close the eyes
- Focus on breath for a few moments
- Now take stock of the body: (without attempting to fix things) let yourself focus on feeling your eyes, your head, your neck for tension. The point is to go through your whole-body head to toe to just know what you’re body (God’s creation) is doing and to bring your bodily existence into your prayer (Incarnational theology/ anti-gnosticism right there).
This should take about 3-5 minutes, if leading a group you can bog here if you are not careful. In fact, if leading a group in general you might not want to let this or other exercises “be complete” so that people think they have “prayed it all” for the day or week.
The Praise cycle:
Pray through the Lord’s Prayer, stopping and reflecting on the lines in a positive sense:
- Our Father- How has God shown his Love today? How has he been relational? Etc.
- Who art in Heaven – Acknowledge his transcendence, relate that to the first line, praise his creation, etc.
- Hallowed be thy name – Say what his name means to you, how you’ve seen it work with power, etc.
And so forth.
The Lament/ Complaint cycle
Here’s where it gets “deep.” If you are solo, this might be a novel experience that takes some extra time. If you are leading a group, you’ll have to ease into this section as scruples, pain, etc. might surface up. Most the Church has never prayed anything but “False positives” (trying to only be cheery).
- Our Father – How has it felt like God has not been a father? Why can’t you accept his relationship? What makes you feel abandoned, etc.
- Who art in Heaven – Why then does heaven feel empty? Why is the distance never overcome? Etc.
Like I said, this gets real very quick sometimes. However, this method is an easier way to lean into this aspect of prayer than others I’ve seen.
The Active Cycle/ Free Cycle
This is where you meld the two things together into petition, so 1+2=3. This is very free, so this is the only part where rushing can be an issue.
Final close and Linger
I like to take a moment and reflect on all that has passed through my mind and sort it. If this is a group setting you might even share reflections.
Then, I would pray the prayer through once with no expansion then move to the benediction “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the Glory.”
The point is to learn the outline, not the magic words/thoughts/ topics.
The real thing one is trying to learn here is “how” to after the method of the Lord’s Prayer. And the method I’ve given is very free to expansion, torsion, etc.
The 3 steps can be collapsed to one, expanded, etc. The topics can also go very broad (I only ask that you never eliminate the negative laments from your usage, it is powerful to be “honest” with God and stupid to try and not to!).
With some time using this outline, the real goal is that Ad-hoc prayer will become more common, etc. in your life. Yet, if there was ever a “crutch” to have, one could do far worse!
The Lord’s Prayer is simple but still complex
This method of praying the Lord’s Prayer outwardly is very simple; it is inwardly very complex. I think that is exactly where religions should be. That’s why I mentioned this practice as a Keystone. It “unlocks” a proper path of development.
Even better, this “trick” of praying scripture is a very old method for diving into the Psalms and unlocks a whole world of prayer traditions. One can line by line those older prayers in the same method. And you’ll find it goes out into all the various disciplines
Do I use the other disciplines or this exclusively though?
Yes and No.
I have on this blog put out some pieces on the Jesus Prayer, and soon one will come out on contemplative prayer (one tradition that needs a LOT of rehab). There are other ways in which one also needs to develop a holistic spirituality that is not “Overly-Mental.” Fixing cars, work, etc. are also spiritual disciplines with proper vision.
So as always:
I invite your comments on this subject/ questions.
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