Last Sunday morning, gathered together with hundreds of others for worship, my pastor asked us to bow our heads to pray. Instead of his words praying over the congregation, we joined our voices together to say the Lord's Prayer as a body. I got chills instantly, and felt tears welling up in my eyes hearing those words spoken in unison by so many other believers.
The words of that prayer Jesus taught us in Matthew 6:9-13 are powerful:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
Nick Aufenkamp recently shared “A Simple Way to Pray Every Day” where he tells the story of Martin Luther writing a friend a letter about prayer that encouraged Christians to use the Lord's Prayer in a new way.
Aufenkamp shares Luther’s instructions to first read the prayer in Matthew once, and then to read it again praying through each petition individually.
“So, after praying, ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,’ we may continue to pray,
‘Yes, Father, it is our great desire that your name would be feared and revered for who you are: our God, our Creator, the Holy One who, in unthinkable mercy, gave your only begotten Son to save us from your wrath upon our sin.’”
We continue through the lines this way, adding our expanded prayers after each line of the Lord's Prayer, until we conclude with “Amen.”
The “Amen” is not just a quick conclusion to this prayer though, but Aufenkamp shares Luther’s belief that it is a powerful word to end with.
“You must always speak the Amen firmly,” writes Luther. “Never doubt that God in his mercy will surely hear you and say ‘yes’ to your prayers. . . . Do not leave your prayer without thinking, ‘Very well, God has heard my prayer; this I know as a certainty and a truth.’ That is what Amen means.”
Apart from the power of reflecting on the words of this prayer with other believers in unison or through contemplative personal prayer, Aufenkamp shares three other benefits of praying the way Jesus taught his followers.
Here’s what Aufenkamp explains that the Lord's Prayer enables us to do:
1) “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33).”
I know I personally often pray most for my own self. But this prayer helps me shift my focus back outward and upward to the kingdom of God and his glory above all else. “Praying the Lord's Prayer as Luther recommends helps us to seek a greater awareness of Christ, other people, and God’s broader mission in our prayers,” says Aufenkamp.
2) “Discipline our wandering minds.”
I love the line of the hymn “Come Thou Fount” that says “bind my wandering heart to thee.” Not because it’s pretty, but because it’s so true. I’m so prone to wander and I feel that daily. And working through the lines of this prayer methodically helps me to focus and stay on track.
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3) “Build a fence so our prayers can run wild inside.”
Aufenkamp understands that praying this way might feel too structured and limiting to some. But he says “I am amazed to find that, every time I pray through the Lord's Prayer as Luther has commended, my prayers have been richer, deeper, and more revealing, and have unlocked affections that are otherwise seldom seen.”
After being so moved by the words of this prayer in a corporate setting yesterday, I’m looking forward to diving deeper into the beauty of them in my personal prayer this week.
We shouldn’t ignore that Jesus clearly commands us to “pray like this” (Matthew 6:9) -- “the Lord's Prayer is meant to have a total, shaping effect on our hearts, helping us to see and yearn for the very things that God himself desires,” writes Aufenkamp.
There is power in these words. And there is power in dwelling on them intentionally as we offer our hearts in surrender to the Lord who is alive and at work and drawing us nearer to him day by day.
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