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We learned the Lord’s Prayer in the quiet of our Advent circle. The first awkward night, working through a free Advent devotional, Mark and I led the way, intoning each phrase slowly and deliberately while four young mouths tried to keep up. I knew the prayer as part of a common Christian history, but I don’t think I’d ever prayed it with other believers. We fumbled through and looked at each other sheepishly when we were done.
This year, with the candles burning down and the amen on our lips, I read aloud a treasure I’d found in the Common Prayer book:
“Cyprian of Carthage, a third-century North African bishop, said, “The Lord Christ did not want us to pray by ourselves in private or for ourselves alone. We do not say ‘My Father, who art in heaven,’ nor ‘Give me this day my daily bread.’ It is not for oneself alone that each person asks to be forgiven, not to be led into temptation or to be delivered from evil. Rather, we pray in public as a community, and not for one individual but for all.”
This prayer, taught to us by our Lord Himself is one that our culture desperately needs. It instructs us in moving beyond our obsession with self and introduces us to the Kingdom perspective of community. We are no longer to be looking only for our own good, but now we are to be concerned with the needs of our brothers and sisters.
Dr. Murray addresses this in the following passage:
“ There are two sorts of prayer: personal and intercessory. The latter ordinarily occupies the lesser part of our time and energy. This may not be. Christ has opened the school of prayer specially to train intercessors for the great work of bringing down, by their faith and prayer, the blessings of His work and love on the world around. […] The little child may ask of the father only what it needs for itself; and yet it soon learns to say, Give some for sister too.”
The language of Christ’s prayer instantly positions us within the community and it is for the whole community that we pray. Lord, give all of us bread. Lord, forgive each of us our sins. Lord, lead my brother, my son, my sister, my daughter, out of temptation.
“While we ordinarily first bring our own needs to God in prayer, and then think of what belongs to God and His interests, the Master reverses the order. First, Thy name, Thy kingdom, Thy will; then give us, forgive us, lead us, deliver us. The lesson is of more importance than we think. In true worship the Father must be first, must be all. The sooner I learn to forget myself in the desire the He may be glorified, the richer will the blessing be that prayer will bring to myself. No one ever loses by what He sacrifices for the Father.”
We must not miss the mystery the Lord has unfolded for us in His model prayer. Daily focus on my needs and my wants and my fears will always lead to drudgery and aimlessness no matter how earnestly I kneel or how fancy my words. But prayer that begins and ends with the Father’s will, the Father’s kingdom and flowing outward to the community as a whole will bring us into that same will and same Kingdom that we are hoping for.
This week, I have two challenges for us: First, if we don’t already do it, let’s pray the Lord’s Prayer daily. Perhaps we can include our whole family in this at the breakfast or dinner table or before bed. Second, let’s change the focus of our prayers. If we usually pray for our own needs first, let’s reverse the order and pray for others first. When we hear of another’s need, let’s immediately intercede for it, no matter where we are or what we are doing. Let’s be about our Father’s business, shall we?
We thank You for the tender Father-love You have for us. Thank You for meeting with us in the secret place and for teaching us week by week what it means to be pray-ers. Thank You for reminding us when life has gotten busy and we have forgotten to keep our appointments with You. Thank You for the grace which never condemns. Thank You for the quiet ways You have been changing us.
Now Lord, we want to put into practice what You have instructed us to do. Teach us to put Your kingdom and Your will at the forefront of our prayers. Teach us to care about Your body, Your community, Your people. When we pray for bread, let us earnestly desire bread for all Your children. When we pray for forgiveness, let us earnestly desire forgiveness for everyone. Lord, lift our eyes away from our selfish, tiny worlds and give us Your heart for others.
Thank You, Lord for how You are revealing Yourself to us. We are so grateful for this little community of believers who want to learn to pray. We are so grateful for the time to go slowly and learn deeply.
Your will and Your kingdom are our highest goals. Have Your way in us.
In Jesus’ precious name,
Next week I’ll be sharing my thoughts from lesson five: Ask, and it shall be given you or The Certainty of the Answer to Prayer. If you are joining us in this study, would you be willing to share next week in the comments about what God is teaching you and how He is changing your outlook on prayer? It would be a joy to encourage each other and testify to God’s work!