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Sermon: When You Pray – The Lord’s Prayer

The Second Problem with Prayer:  Meaningless Talk

The second problem with prayer, especially when you’re expected to pray a lot, is that it can quickly become meaningless.  In the first century, Jews were expected to pray several prayers.  The first was the Shema, “Hear O Israel, The Lord our God, The Lord is One.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”  That’s only part of it, however.  This prayer, when prayed in full, was taken from Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21, and Numbers 15:37-41.  It was the bedrock of Jewish prayer life.

In addition to praying the full Shema at each of the three prayer times each day, there were 18 other prayers, called the Shemoneh ‘esreh, which were also to be recited three times a day.

You can imagine what happened.  I am sure that some prayed those prayers faithfully and with great meaning each time they were prayed.  But I’m also sure that some, possibly many, raced through them, slurring the words and phrases into an incomprehensible cacophony of babbling nonsense.

One of those prayers, the fifth prayer, says: “Bring us back to thy law, O our Father, bring us back, O King, to thy service; bring us back to thee by true repentance.  Praised be thou, O Lord, who dost accept our repentance.” (The Lord’s Prayer, William Barclay, p. 6).

Interestingly, our Baptist forefathers left off praying The Lord’s Prayer in the early years of the Radical Reformation to avoid “endless repitition” and meaningless babble.  They probably left it off also because both Catholics and Lutherans continued to say The Lord’s Prayer, and the Anabaptists drew sharp distinctions between themselves and others.

Our meaningless talk to God is less often the prescribed prayer written by someone else than it is our own stock phrases and cliches.  Think about that the next time you pray.

Our Practice During Lent

Having said all of that, I want to invite you to pray The Lord’s Prayer with me everyday during these days of preparation leading up to Easter.  Of course, we could have a contest, complete with signup sheets and commitment cards, and recognize those who pray The Lord’s Prayer everyday.  But then, that would be a lot like praying to enhance our own reputations, wouldn’t it?

No, I think we’ll just covenant together to pray The Lord’s Prayer during these next 50 or so days, since we’re a little ahead of the beginning of Lent.

Could our praying The Prayer turn into meaningless babble?  Of course, it could.  And on some days it may.  But I hope you will join me in praying The Lord’s Prayer at least once each day.

As you pray, listen to the words.  Let them soak into your heart.  You may want to think about one of the six major phrases on each day of the week except Sunday — six days, six phrases — as a way to keep your prayer fresh.

Or you may want to end your regular prayer time by saying The Lord’s Prayer.  Or instead of grace at each meal, say The Lord’s Prayer together when all the family has gathered.  It’s appropriate at mealtime, too, because one of the petitions is for our “daily bread.”