“in modern usage,” he says, “the prayer has become something of an incantation, recited laboriously before a sports event or a civic meeting. It’s become a tool we use in an attempt to guarantee God’s endorsement of whatever we’re about to do” (p. 30).
Sounds somewhat harsh at first reading, but the more I think about it, the more he is right about how I personally approach the Lord’s Prayer from time to time: something to just say, get through and check off to say I talked to God today.
But Kelley suggests that we look at the prayer differently. “A better description for this prayer,” he says, “might be ‘The Model Prayer,’ since Jesus never meant for his specific prayer to be repeated over and over again. Jesus advised that his followers pray like this—not pray exactly like this” (p.30; see Matthew 6:8).
In fact, in the verses right before the words of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus cautions against any kind of praying that amounts to mindless repetition:
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. … And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” —Matthew 6:5, 7
The idea of looking at the Lord’s Prayer as a Model Prayer helps me to break out of the monotony of simply repeating the prayer. Now when I pray it in church or other places, I think of ways in which I can make it may own—emphasizing certain words that strike me more on that day and thinking of specific situations in my life this week that fall into the realm of each petition.
In many ways, Jesus gave us a framework to work with in giving us the Lord’s Prayer and he wants us give “meat to the bones,” so to speak, by making his prayer our prayer.
Take time this week to write your own prayer based on the concepts of the model prayer of the Lord’s Prayer Christ gave us.
Here’s an example: O dearest Dad above, you are in perfect control of everything in my life. Help me to listen to you and follow your plan for me in this world that you are the head of. Thanks for all the things you have given me. I know I have messed up and deserve only punishment, but I ask you to take away all that I have done wrong and I ask that you help me to be just as generous to others who hurt me. Keep me focused on your path and not be led astray and get me out of any trouble that comes along. I know that all things are in your hands. Amen.
Already in the writing of this, I could feel myself becoming more personal, more real, more in touch with my true circumstances in my conversation with God.
The bottom line is that God wants us to be ourselves with him when we pray, and we need to do all we can to make sure that happens in our prayer life, especially during this holy season of Lent.