Thoughts on Prayers
As documented here, for my morning Bible Study times, I have divided the Bible into nine sections (Old Testament in 6 chunks, New Testament in 3 chunks), and have cycled through section by section over the years. Each section usually takes between 6 and 12 months, so I usually get through the whole Bible every 6 to 8 years.
There’s a 10th “section,” which is that I go chapter by chapter through Eugene Peterson’s “The Message,” which is the New Testament in contemporary English. As Peterson puts it in the intro to the book, Greek back then had two forms: a formal style that you’d use to record important stories, and an informal style that you’d use in everyday conversation and to convey shopping lists and weekend plans.
The New Testament is written in that informal style, and so his contemporary English version aims not to be a word-for-word translation, but rather to capture some of the freshness and spice of the stories it is conveying. Jesus, Paul, and all the other important characters of the New Testament were real people interacting in real ways and communicating a real message to real people.
I’m back in “The Message” again, after hitting it in 2010 and 2004. And I was struck by this particular passage on what is commonly known as “The Lord’s Prayer”:
And when you come before God, don't turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat? Here's what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won't be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.
The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They're full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don't fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this:
Our Father in heaven, reveal who you are. Set the world right; do what's best - as above, so below. Keep us alive with three square meals. Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. You're in charge! You can do anything you want! You're ablaze in beauty! Yes. Yes. Yes.
The irony is that Jesus’ intention in teaching us to pray these things is in response to a formulaic and self-righteous way of praying that is about being showy and adhering to a script. And yet we have turned “The Lord’s Prayer,” and all too often Christianity altogether, into a formulaic and self-righteous way of life. Real Christianity is literally the exact opposite of that. Shame on us for doing the reverse of what Jesus taught, and pawning that off to ourselves and to the world as the way, the truth, and the life. May we hear, in contemporary words and tone, the real Jesus speaking instruction and freedom and virtue into our lives.