Lord, Teach Us to Pray… (Part 2)
Rev. Dr. Zac McGowen
In the last posting, I broke down how Jesus taught his disciples to pray, and how informative the Lord’s Prayer is to our own prayer journeys. Before I jump into some of the ways that the Lord’s Prayer can enrich our individual prayers, a word of encouragement to anyone who is simply freaked out by praying at all: when in doubt, just talk to God. No formula, no fancy words, or statements you wouldn’t use if you were talking to a trusted friend. Just follow what comes into your mind and say it to the Lord. Have doubts? Tell God. Have fears? Tell God. Having a bad day? Talk about it with the Lord. Having a great day? God wants to hear about that, too. And yes, God knows all that stuff anyway, but the transformation of our relationship to the Lord, like the transformation in any relationship, really happens in the conversations.
So, when in doubt about praying—just talk to God. It really is that simple.
That said, the Lord’s Prayer can be an incredibly rich resource to focus our prayers beyond ourselves. Distraction can be a real problem when I pray, and praying through the Lord’s Prayer keeps the distractions at bay.
How can the Lord’s Prayer help?
The Lord’s Prayer as a Frame
One of the simplest ways I use the prayer is to frame my time with the Lord. I do this by starting my prayer times with the Lord’s Prayer, and then going through a conversation with God talking about whatever comes to mind, and asking the Spirit to reveal his truth as I read the Bible. Then I close that time with the Lord’s Prayer.
I find that easy act sets my heart on the Lord and his purposes, so my prayers are not so inwardly focused.
The Lord’s Prayer as a Meditative Practice
In Eastern meditation, a word, phrase, or sound is used by the practitioner to focus that person’s attention on something positive. The mantra or “om”— depending on the religion—helps the meditator find a centering agent for their mind and emotions. Now, I am not advocating Eastern meditation here, but in the Bible the repetition of words and phrases helps worshipers focus themselves on the one true God. The most obvious example is the phrase, “His steadfast love endures forever” in Psalm 136. The author uses that phrase in a reflection on the work of the Lord throughout the history of his people.
Christians have used other phrases in worship and devotional practices for thousands of years. The Kyrie eléison (Lord, have mercy) Christe eléison (Christ, have mercy) phrases have been set to music and placed in both eastern and western church contexts.
The Lord’s Prayer can be used in a similar way, either in part or whole, to focus our minds and hearts on the very words of Jesus. There are times I will pray the Lord’s Prayer three or four times in a row, slowly and methodically, breathing in and out on each phrase. I will use this practice when I am especially anxious, stressed out, or anticipating a difficult day/meeting/interaction. Or I will use this practice when I am having trouble making a decision and my head is full of all the options or outcomes that could play out.
At the end of that practice, I find that my attention to the hand of God in my life is much more pronounced, and while I may not have all the answers I need, I am confident that God cares more than I do about the direction I need to go.
The Lord’s Prayer as Guide
Finally, I use the Lord’s Prayer to guide other prayers. I do that by breaking up the phrases in such a way that I use it to form other prayers. Here’s an example.
Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be thy name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
My prayer: Holy and merciful God, you are wonderful. You are holy. You are unique every day, and I don’t fully understand you. But I thank you that you let me come to you in prayer. Forgive me when I don’t set my relationship with you apart from everything else. Forgive me for treating my faith in you as one aspect of my life instead of directing my entire life.
Let me be the sort of person who exhibits your Kingdom everywhere I go. Let the words I speak be echoes of your Kingdom. Let the actions I take be reflections of that Kingdom. Let me do your will in my home, in my job, and in my times of recreation. Let me give it all to you that others may see you are hallowed in my life.
Give us this day our daily bread
Lord, I thank you that you care about the little things in my life. You care about what I eat, and what I wear, and where I live. You know what I need, so help me to see the difference in what I want and what I need. Help me to know when I am being selfish and hoarding the gifts you have given me, and make a change in me. I trust you. Help me with my distrust.
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Gracious God, you are far more ready to forgive than we are. Thank you for Jesus who took the debt of my sin to the cross. Thank you for his sacrifice, and remind me of my continued need to repent of my sins and faults and to daily experience your freeing grace. Enable me to be the sort of person who forgives with that level of abundance in the face of repentance.
And as anxieties and heartaches come my way, give me the resolve of your Holy Spirit to resist the temptation to become inwardly focused and self-sufficient. Keep me in a state of dependence on you, so that I can draw closer and closer to you.
For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
Let your will be done, Lord God, that in my life your power and glory can be seen in me despite my own weaknesses and faults. AMEN.
I have heard of some people taking every word of the prayer and letting them guide their further conversations with God. Others have used some phrases at the beginning of the day, then other phrases in the middle, and others at the end of their day, so that the entire day is guided by their directed prayers.
Whatever you do, the Lord’s Prayer is a wonderful gift that Jesus himself gave his people. We would do well to remember it and use it as we talk to the Lord. Blessings!
Rev. Dr. Zac McGowen
Rev. Dr. Zachary McGowen was born in Birmingham, Alabama, but moved all over the world during his formative years. For nearly 25 years, Zac has been preaching and teaching God’s Word, and he loves inspiring congregations to reach their friends and neighbors for Jesus Christ while utilizing technology to communicate the gospel message more effectively. During his years at Florida Southern College (FPC’s neighbor to the north) he led the largest entirely student-run ministry on campus called BEYOND. Since 2001, Zac has served the Lord in the PC(USA), beginning with the First Presbyterian Church, Haines City, Florida, before taking his current call in Lakeland. Zac came to FPC Lakeland in 2013, and he has served on the board of The Fellowship Community, the Presbytery of Tampa Bay’s Commission on Church Vitality, as well as being active with PEACE (the ecumenical county-wide justice ministry). He holds an M.Div from Reformed Theological Seminary and Doctorate of Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary. Zac is married to his beautiful wife, Julie, and together they have two wonderful children, Caleb and Hannah. Zac likes to spend time with his family at one of the area theme parks (he is a major “Disnerd”), go for a run, stay current on tech-related news, and watch college football – especially his beloved Alabama Crimson Tide (ROLL TIDE!).