It is said a good tradesman never blames his tools. If that’s true, then I’m not a good tradesman, because I often get frustrated with the tools I have. But, over time, as I have learnt, and watched, and practiced, and acquired better tools, I have learnt that having the right tool for the right job goes a long way to doing a good job. I still get frustrated, and often blame the poor quality of my tools, but I am getting better at doing the various little projects I find time to do. I’ll never make a great welder or carpenter, but I keep practicing and learning, in the knowledge that over time I will continue to improve.
Part of the problem many people have praying is similar. They don’t know how to use the tools God has given them. They watch others and think “I can’t pray like that”. They see the cleverly crafted prayers we use in worship, the collects and prayers of the church, and think “I can’t construct something like that”. They doubt their own capacity to learn and grow. The issue is twofold. Firstly, they’re missing the point of prayer, and secondly, they don’t know where to start. It’s why Jesus specifically inserts a lesson on prayer in the sermon on the mount. He wants to correct the misperceptions and lay a foundation from which we can grow in prayer.
Jesus introduces the Lord’s pray, not with a command but an invitation. “When you pray, pray like this” … and then he introduces the Lord’s prayer. The master craftsman in prayer introduces the basics of the craft. The Lord’s prayer is really a tool to guide our prayer. There are many ways you can pray this, but here’s two ideas.
Firstly, take each line as it is recorded in Matthew’s Gospel. At the end of each line pause, take a deep breath, and then listen to what the Spirit is telling you with this. You could write them down, or simply wait, and then pray what you are thinking. For example, “Our Father in heaven” … “Dad, there are so many times I have kept you at arm’s length, but my loving father, and you want me to come close to you, to understand that you have my best interest at heart, so draw me close to you as a loving father would his child.” There may be times when you will only pray one line, and then others where you might go through the entire prayer. Try using each line over the course of a week – begin small and allow God to grow you.
Secondly, take hold of Luther’s Small Catechism, and use the section on the Lord’s prayer as a guide. Use the catechism as a devotional guide, by saying the petition, reading the explanation, and then allowing time to reflect on what is happening in your life that relates to what you just read. Again, an example: “But deliver us from evil.” … “Father in heaven deliver us from all manner of evil, of body and soul, property and honour, and at last, when our last hour shall come, grant us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this vale of tears to yourself into heaven.” Then pause and wait and listen to the Spirit prompt you into your own response.
Learning how to pray is a life-long adventure. We never master it in this life, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. The more we pray the better we will become. The more we pray the more we will see God at work in our lives. And the more we pray the more we will see God at work in the world around us. Ultimately, prayer is an invitation to become intimate with our Father in heaven, and he has blessed us with tools to help us experience a living relationship with him.