As Lutherans we are occasionally “dissed” for some of our worship practices. One of the most frequent of these accusations pertains to how often we say the Lord’s Prayer. The standard comment seems to be that when we say this every Sunday, The Prayer becomes merely a repetition of words, without meaning, with a purpose closer to showing everyone at church how pious and righteous we are.
This is a point that we can take. One of Brother Martin’s complaints about the worship practices in the monastery was just that. In his Large Catechism he states that many of the prayers offered up when men were bawling and babbling in the churches were not prayers. “They may be called singing or reading, but not really praying.” So we are keenly aware of how we too might fall into a pattern of “bawling and babbling” as we pray together.
At the same time, we are commanded to pray. No one is able to perfectly keep the Ten Commandments, even though we have begun to believe. God commands us to “call upon Me in the day of trouble and I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.”(Psalm 50:15) In the Second Commandment we are called upon to not “misuse the name of the Lord your God.” One way in which we misuse this Name is by neglecting it, by not calling on it always. In St. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian Christians he gives a long list of things that we as followers of Christ are to do. One of these practices is to “pray without ceasing.”
In His Sermon on the Mount Jesus warns His hearers to not be like the Pharisees, who pray on the street corner in order to be seen by others. Prayer “from the heart” can quickly become a way of showing how articulate you are, or how pious you might be; how much better you are than those around you.
But praying is not a “good work” by which we make ourselves more holy or earn God’s favor or the praise of those around us. Praying is a work of obedience. We pray so that we might walk as children in obedience to their heavenly Father. Not because of our own worthiness, but because of the commandment. It’s really not left to our choice. In prayer we come before our Father as His children.
In all of this we can see that the Lord’s Prayer is actually a great blessing to us. In Luke 11 Jesus’ disciples ask Him “teach us to pray.” In His response Jesus didn’t tell them “here’s a good pattern for you to follow” (although it is), but He did tell them “When you pray say: . . .” So here are the very words that our God and Lord actually gave us to say. In them we learn both how to pray and what to pray for. He tells us how we might approach Him, and He tells us the things that He wants us to ask for; what He also then wants to give us; how He would bless us.
In his introduction to this section portion of the Large Catechism the editor of Concordia; The Lutheran Confessions notes that “Prayer is a habit for the Christian, but experience teaches that it is a habit easily broken. While mindless and unthinking repetition presents a problem, repeating the same prayer throughout one’s life does not.” In the Small Catechism, Luther, who rejected mindless repetition, calls on Christians to pray this very prayer several times each day. If there’s a problem, it’s that we don’t think enough about what we are saying. We can be “mindless babblers” in different ways.
But The Prayer that Jesus taught us is God’s own Word. We know that He loves to hear it.