We all have those times where someone asks us a question about a book we’ve read and we can’t for the life of us remember the author or title, even if we remember everything else about the book. We want to give a friend a restaurant recommendation and we can remember the great entrée we had there but not the name of the restaurant. Being asked to define prayer or why we pray can be the same way. Of course we know what and why, its just not so easy to put into words.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray in Matthew 6:5-6:15. Fancy words and formulas aren’t needed – God isn’t impressed with difficult words and long speeches. At a relaxed pace, the Lord’s prayer can be said in about 20 seconds. Many of us may have memorized it as children. But while this prayer is simple, it is also profound. Many of our prayers begin with a specific and sometimes overwhelming cry for help – prayers for a cancer diagnosis, prayers for a challenging day ahead, prayers to keep one’s temper in check. And while issues of daily needs and forgiveness are topics of prayer, Jesus teaches us to pray in such a way that we are first mindful of God’s character and mission. We are not crying out to the heavens in prayer, but to the God who made them. Part of prayer is remembering that God is not an absentee landlord, but Our Father, one who binds us to God and each other in love. In prayer we also remember God’s mission: justice and mercy for the vulnerable, love for neighbors and for enemies, a refusal to use others for our gain. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
As we become grounded in God’s character and mission, we have perspective on what we need – give us this day our daily bread. We also become aware of our need to both receive and offer forgiveness, and of the need for strength to navigate life’s difficulties. In many ways this prayer makes plain God’s will: That we know we are not abandoned, that we share in God’s purpose, that we ask God to meet the needs of all, that we acknowledge the need to receive and offer grace, that we don’t let our pride stop us from seeking support when we are experiencing pain and difficulty. May this simple prayer give us grace for lives of profound discipleship.