SWEET HOUR OF PRAYER - 3
THE LORDS PRAYER Forms and Prayer Books
"Pray, then, in this way " (Matt. 6:9)
It may seem a little surprising, even disturbing, that the Christian church has disagreed over these five words; but, it has! During the time of the Westminster Assembly, for example, one of the issues that divided Presbyterians and Anglicans was the frequent use of the Lords Prayer in public worship. The Presbyterians adopted a view of worship that essentially differed from the Anglicans. The Anglicans (and the Lutherans) said that anything was allowable in worship so long as Scripture didnt expressly forbid it. The Presbyterians, on the other hand, adopted a much stricter view, saying in effect that there would have to be specific warrant for everything that is done in worship. This latter view became known as the regulative principle of worship.
This division led to some interesting discussions. For example, and pertinent to what we are discussing here, what is the propriety of using the Lords Prayer in public worship? The Didache, for example, a short anonymous book of instruction from the early second century (and possibly late first century), a copy of which did not come to light until the nineteenth century, and whose canonicity was disputed for a while until finally discounted when the canon was fully recognized (at the Council of Carthage in 397 AD, for example), prescribes that Christians should repeat this prayer three times a day. Though this was a prescription for private, rather than public worship, some of the church Fathers, Tertullian and Cyprian, for example, commended the Lords Prayer in particular for use in public worship. Cyprian adds by way of force the incentive: "What prayer can have greater power with the Father than that which came from the lips of the Son ?" Interestingly, however, the New Testament itself contains no reference to its use in the early church, despite the fact that it reflects the form and structure of the most well known prayer of synagogue worship, the Amida or Eighteen Benedictions.
During the Reformation period, John Calvins liturgy in Geneva also included the Lords Prayer. Interestingly, it came after the sermon along with the Pastoral, or Great Prayer. John Knox in Scotland also adopted this use of the Lords Prayer in his liturgy of 1556. The Book of Common Prayer (1552) under the oversight of Edward VI, brought many changes into the earlier Anglican Prayer Book, removing many of the ceremonies on the advice of many of the Continental Reformers. The service of Morning Prayer included the use of the Lords Prayer at the point where we are most familiar with it: before the Sermon.
The Westminster Assembly, in addition to producing the Westminster Confession of Faith with its Larger and Shorter Catechisms also produced The Westminster Directory for the Publique Worship of God (1644). This document was intended to replace the Book of Common Prayer entirely on the grounds that it was too rigid ¾ in not allowing any extemporary prayer, for example. Equally, however, the Westminster Assembly was a gathering of Puritans, as well as Presbyterians and Anglicans and this raised another issue: the place of conscience. Was it right, for example, to insist on a detailed form of worship which the Bible itself has not specifically laid down? The kind of enforced uniformity envisioned by the Prayer Book flew in the face of conscience, the puritans thought. Consequently, they published, not a "prayer book" implying a rigidly enforced liturgy, but a Directory which recommends certain practices. It is very important to realize that although the authors of the Directory were motivated at every step by the regulative principle, they did not envision that all worship services would be uniform. There is a degree of flexibility envisioned within strict observance to the regulative principle.
Of interest here is the fact that the Directory recommends the use of the Lords Prayer in worship, saying: "And because the prayer which Christ taught His disciples is not only a pattern of prayer, but itself a most comprehensive prayer, we recommend it also to be used in the prayers of the Church."
Later Puritans were to be ambivalent over this recommendation. John Owen, for example, was to write in strong terms against the use of the Lords Prayer, adding that the fact that this prayer was given by Christ does not imply that we may compose similar prayers as forms for the churchs use. Constant repetition, they argued, infringed upon a clear rubric of Christs regarding the impropriety of meaningless repetitions (Matt. 6:7). In addition, the fact that the prayer is given in the context of instruction about "secret" prayer, rather than public prayer was sufficient warrant to think that the Lords Prayer was never designed for constant use in public worship (Matt. 6:6). For many Puritans, the issue of conscience (binding Christians to a form that has not been specifically prescribed) was the fundamental reason why the use of the Lords Prayer disappeared from the nonconformist churches.
The Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) has included in its Book of Church Order (BCO) a section entitled The Directory for the Worship of God, much of it reflecting the language and sentiments of the original Directory of 1644. The main section of the BCO Directory of the PCA has no legal status within the church; only the sections dealing with baptism and the Lords Supper are considered "binding".
What this focuses upon is the fact that many Christians find it difficult to know what to say in prayer. Some, of course, think it an interference to analyze prayer. That is a denial of their liberty, and what is thought to be "the liberty of the Spirit" in prayer. I can recall challenging an individual after a prayer meeting on something he had said during his prayer that seemed particularly offensive, only to be told in no uncertain terms that I had offended the Holy Spirit in doing so! Whilst such folk exist, they are, thankfully, in the minority. Most Christians are far less sure of their utterances. They experience in prayer what is common to every aspect of spirituality: an unrelenting opposition in which we find ourselves battling for survival against a hostile foe. What folk like the Reformer John Calvin, or the Puritan John Owen, or the Anglican bishop J. C. Ryle all witnessed to was that we live our lives in the period known as the "last days" in a context of spiritual warfare: inwardly against the flesh (Rom. 7:14-25; Gal. 5:16-24), outwardly against the world (Rom. 12:1-2; 1 John 2:15-17), and in both against the devil (1 Pet. 5:8; Eph. 6:10-20). This is why prayer is part of the spiritual fight of faith: the devil knows its value and will do everything within his power to make you either prayerless, or if he cannot accomplish that, as ineffective as possible. And one of the ways he accomplishes the latter is by making us think that because our praying is immature and lacking in depth, that the sooner we stop doing it the better.
But this is false reasoning. The answer to immaturity is growth. What we need to do is to grow in our praying, just as we are to grow in every aspect of our spiritual lives. By giving us a pattern to follow, Jesus intends that by constant reflection and interaction we might develop a prayer language that is just like it.
The Bible is full of models for prayer. One thinks of the prayers of Abraham, or Ezra, or Nehemiah, or Daniel, or Paul. J. I. Packer has written: "I believe that prayer is the spiritual measure of men and women in a way that nothing else is, so that how we pray is as important a question as we can ever face." Indeed, so important is this question of how we pray, that ministers like Matthew Henry and Isaac Watts felt the need to publish volumes designed to help us pray along biblical lines of thought and expression.
Then, there are the psalms! One hundred and fifty models of prayer expressing the inner tensions and desires of various psalmists as they brought their hearts to God in prayer. We are meant to pray them. They serve as guides for us to intercede with God. Some of their language and thought world is strange to us; somehow we find it hard to get into them; but, as the seventeenth century minister, Thomas Fuller, put it, the psalms are like clothes parents sometimes purchase for their children, several sizes too big in the hope that they will grow into them.
What does the pattern of the Lords Prayer reveal? That the prayer consists of a preface followed by six petitions; that the first three petitions are focused upon God, whilst the last three are directed at man; that the prayer worships first before it asks for something personal; that it is comprehensive (covering such things as worship, the kingdom of God, sustenance, grace and protection); that it embodies three of the four elements of prayer, that is, adoration, petition, and confession (the other being thanksgiving); and, that it is brief!
This analysis alone will repay investigation, for we need to ask of our prayers: are they worshipful? Are they God-centered? Are they focused on the Kingdom of God? Are they humble and not presumptive? Is there a Do they reveal an increasing sense of our depravity? Is their chief end to glorify God? Such questions can prove something of revelation when applied to our prayers.
One of the startling things that such analysis can do is to reveal the sheer selfishness of much our praying. It was Calvin who suggested in his Institutes of the Christian Religion that mans mind is a perpetual factory of idols. Idolatry is just the Bibles word for robbing God of His glory, of putting man (ourselves!) at the very center of things all the time. We dont need to create images or statues to do that; we simply need to ignore that God is there and desires that we worship Him. Ask yourself how many prayers become a series of medical reports in which one organ after another is prayed for. Not that such prayers are wrong; far from it! But without the accompanying worship, they become self-centered in a way that is unhealthy; indeed, the very sickness which solicits the prayer may well have been sent to make us focus on the Sender; that in our frailty we might acknowledge His Sovereign purposes and worship Him accordingly. Some graces grow best in winter, wrote Samuel Rutherford, and some prayers mature when life is bitter. Just as Martin Luther could say of the humanist Erasmus in the days of the Reformation that his god was "too small", so in our praying, God becomes almost insignificant. He is relegated to the role of a the powerful Healer brought in because all else has failed.
When the Athanasian Creed, in its five-minute long exposition of the nature of God, speaks at one point of "the Father incomprehensible: the Son incomprehensible: and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible: " [Immensus Pater: immensus Filius: immensus Spiritus Sanctus], its design was to extol the unimaginable greatness of the Triune God of Scripture. Whilst our prayers may not be able to reflect the precision of the Athanasian creed (!), their general aim in exalting God ought to be evident. Far too often, we rush into intercession, asking for Gods help in this or that, without first basking in the fact that we can address Him at all!
1. Prayer is conversational response. It is conversational in nature as though we were answering questions put to us by God. Question like: who do you think I am? ("Our Father, who art in heaven"). What is that you desire most? ("To hallow your Name"). What else do you desire? (" daily bread forgiveness guidance along the way").
2. Prayer is covenantal: it expresses our relationship to God and His relationship to us. "I will be your God and you shall be My people" is a refrain that echoes the covenant bond throughout the Bible (Exod 6:7; Jer 7:23; 11:4; 30:22; Ezek 36:28; 2 Cor 6:16; Heb 8:10). The Lords Prayer echoes this fellowship. There is nothing in this prayer that a child could not pray. Of course, we shall understand its petitions to greater depths, but the point is that the language the Lord has chosen here is reflective of the intimacy that we all enjoy with our heavenly Father. Because we know Him, and not simply that we know about Him, we can pray like this.
Jesus rebuked the lengthy diatribes of the Pharisees as well as the mindless repetitions of pagans. The Lords Prayer is to be our model. Praying "like this" is sufficient to gain the ear of the Almighty God. It structure is meant to ensure that we think about what we pray. Its balance is meant to ensure that we place God first. Its simplicity is meant to encourage every believer to be a prayer-warrior.
3. Prayer is about consistency. It is to our private devotions that Jesus calls attention by way of a prelude to this prayer. What enables prayer is the constant resort to what Jesus calls in this passage, "secret" prayer (Matt. 6:6). It is a lesson that emerges in Scripture in more than one location, that what we are in private is determinative of what we may become in public. In the wonderful "model" prayer of Daniel in Daniel 9:4-19, the eloquence is breathtaking. We read the prayer and long to be able to pray like that! But the secret to Daniels public prayer lay in his habitual resort to prayer as the paradigm by which he lived his entire life. It is because of what we read earlier in Daniel, that is the key to this extraordinary outpouring: "Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously" (Dan 6:10). Daniel had a personal commitment to prayer in the secret place. He reached the height because he was always climbing. For almost 70 years, this has been the pattern of his life.
Similarly, it is a resolve to be men and women of prayer in the ordinary course of life that enables us to be men and women of prayer in the extraordinary occasions.
"Lord, teach us to pray in secret, as well as in public."