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Sermon: When You Pray – The Lord’s Prayer

The Disciples’ Prayer

This prayer that we call The Lord’s Prayer is also called the “Our Father” by our Roman Catholic friends because of the way in which the prayer begins.  It has also been called The Model Prayer by some.  But in reality, none of those titles suit this prayer.  In both Matthew and Luke, Jesus is teaching his disciples to pray, and so if we need a title for this prayer, we should call it The Disciples’ Prayer.

After all, it was a prayer Jesus taught to his disciples.  It focuses the disciples’ thoughts on God, the One to whom all prayer must be offered, and on life now.  Later in church history, The Lord’s Prayer became the prayer converts said after their baptism.  It was regarded as “the abridgement of the entire Gospel” according to Tertullian of Carthage.

In fact, the Prayer contains two distinct emphases for disciples of Jesus.

Much like the Ten Commandments which can be divided between those which deal with our relationship with God — no other gods, no idols, not misusing God’s name, keeping the Sabbath day; and those which deal with our relationship with others — honoring parents, not killing, not committing adultery, not stealing, not lying about others, not coveting others’ possessions — the Prayer that Jesus taught his disciples also deals with our relationship with God, and life with others.

This Prayer is found in Matthew’s Gospel in the midddle of the section on The Sermon on the Mount, and many biblical scholars believe that Jesus was giving the “law” for the Kingdom of God, much like Moses gave the Law for the nation of Israel.

In the past we have looked at the phrase that Jesus uses repeatedly in Matthew’s Gospel — “You have heard it has been said….but I say unto you….”  We have thought about how Jesus was reimagining the Law given by Moses, and restoring it to its original intent.  This law, which had become a rigid set of “do’s and don’ts” was meant by God to be a “law of the heart” — a way to live that separated God’s people from all others.

The Prayer Jesus taught to his disciples has that same purpose.  In Luke’s Gospel, the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray because John has taught his disciples to pray.   (Luke 11:1)  Jesus responds by saying, “When you pray….”

Matthew also captures that same instruction from Jesus.  As a matter of fact, Jesus uses that phrase three times — “When you pray…”  Let’s take a look at what Jesus says his disciples should do when they pray.

The Problem with Prayer

First, we need to remind ourselves that Jesus expected his disciples would pray.  In Jewish life, prayers were offered at least twice a day, and often three times a day.  The Book of Acts records Peter and John going to the Temple “at the time of prayer — at three in the afternoon.” (Acts 3:1).

Devout Jewish men particularly were expected to pray at 9 am, at noon, and at 3 pm, also.  You might recall the Old Testament story of Daniel who defied the king’s law and continued to pray three times a day in “his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem.” (Daniel 6:10)  Prayer was a natural, regular, and necessary part of Jewish life.

But the problem with any spiritual practice is that what starts out with great feeling and intensity, with deep meaning and good intentions, can often become a perfunctory ritual.  That was what had happened with the practice of the Jews in the first century.