Mission and the Disciple's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13)

[Photo by Andreanix]

Here is the text from my sermon this morning.

How many of you have prayed this prayer before (at least once)? How many of you pray it often? What has been your experience with the prayer?

My hope is that we can renew our interest, gain an interest or learn new ways of thinking about and applying the prayer in our lives. Hopefully, we can see that within the simplicity of the prayer there is a deeply revolutionary way to view our relationship with God, with others and with the world. And that no matter what we take away from this set of discussions around the prayer, that we may gain tools for our own spiritual formation.

My own history with the Lord’s prayer is a mixed bag. I grew up going to a Catholic school and mass pretty regularly, I learned the prayer as a young boy and when I said it I meant it like any prayer. I wouldn’t have said that it was or was not meaningful because it was memorized. One of my favorite parts of Catholic mass was when it came time to say the “Our Father.” Catholics have it right, they see it as a communal prayer because when we would say it, we would all hold hands together and in unison begin, “Our Father who art in heaven…”

After my family began going to the local charismatic church things changed and I lost touch with the prayer. There in that community what was important was the ability to speak (and pray) spontaneously prayer as led by the Spirit. For many in churches like this saying something written down, whether it was a prayer (or a sermon), was equal to not being led by the Spirit. It was as though the Spirit could not guide you all week long, you really had to wait until that moment for the Spirit speak. This along with the fact that I was in rebellion against my Catholic upbringing didn’t want anything to do with it at that time in my life. [I’ve since changed my view and think a life of habit is just as important].

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Then in seminary things changed for me again. I remember being in a class called, “Jesus the Missionary,” with two professors who have had the most influence on my thinking, the class was about looking at Jesus’ practices within his culture as a model for how we as Christians might interact as the church in the world. Instead of seeing Paul as the first missionary, we assumed that Jesus’ incarnation qualified him to be the first “Christian” missionary. So if that’s the case, why not learn from him?

I remember having one of those ah-ha moments. It dawned on me that the Lord’s Prayer was really more than just a simple prayer to be memorized and prayed on Sunday mornings. It actually contains within it the entire mission and practice of the Christian church. My thought was, what if a church community took the Lord’s Prayer as its mission statement? What would Christians look like? How would they act?

You know, every church has a mission statement, some are really long, some are short and to the point. Here are some examples:

First: Our vision is to be an Acts 2 and Acts 16 Christ-centered community in the diverse and beautiful landscape of our city.  We believe Acts 2:42-47 provides a vision of what it means to be a church of community and vitality.  Acts 16 provides a vision of the life-changing power of an urban and diverse church.  We long to unite people from all walks of life and backgrounds under the transformational power of the love of Christ.  Transformed lives…transforming lives!!

Our desire is to be a church whose doors are open to everyone living in, working in or visiting our great city — a church that truly reflects the diversity that makes ours a great city. Wherever you are on your spiritual journey, whether you’re just beginning to investigate Christianity or you already have a mature relationship with Jesus, we’re here to help you take the next step spiritually and to offer you a place where you can be as involved as you choose.

Second: “Living out the way of Jesus in missional communities, announcing the arrival of his kingdom, working for measurable change among the oppressed.”

And here’s one I really like: Camas Friends: To love God and love people.

But I wondered, “what if a church adopted the Lord’s Prayer as its mission statement?” What if we sought to live out this prayer on a regular basis; praying it, and living it, what would our communities look like? So for me it became a rubric, or paradigm for understanding the Christian life. As I pray these petitions, I can’t help but also reflect on the question: Am I living this? Am I helping to answer this call? Am I creating a roadblock for this prayer to be answered. I like to say, the prayer for daily bread, is a prayer for us to become givers of daily bread. Therefore, what would it look like if we saw ourselves as a new family with God as our father, what if we sought to sanctify God’s name with our lives, what if we lived in the reality of Christ’s kingdom come, what if we sought to only have enough of what we need for today, what if we were people who literally forgave people’s debts, and what if we confessed our need for forgiveness and our weakness to give into temptation?

I want to suggest that this prayer is really not the Lord’s Prayer at all, neither is it the “Our Father,” it is the as the Quaker Elton Trueblood and others (McClendon) call it the Disciple’s Prayer. It is our prayer, the one we are to pray and the one that is meant to truly shape our prayers and how we practice our faith.

It is easy to avoid the interconnectedness of prayer and action, contemplation and movement, listening and response. We too often draw a line between what we believe and how we act. I think the Disciple’s prayer is the very thing that can help to remedy this dichotomy: What if we prayed this everyday, not just with words, but with our very bodies? What if we sought to not only pray this but to answer its call? So when we pray for God’s kingdom to come, we look for ways to join in God’s work to bring that about.

And so I will do my best to refer to this prayer as the Disciple’s Prayer so that we can be reminded that this is our prayer.

Question: I wonder, can the Disciple’s Prayer have meaning for all of you like it has for me? I don’t know but I hope so. I hope you can find within in it the words, the movements and the patterns you need to help you, as Stanley Hauerwas says, “live as you pray,” or as someone wrote on my facebook page: “The life I live is the prayer I pray.” [A Challenge to pray this daily from now until the end of November].


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My guess is we all pray, some of us pray more than others, and even for those of us who are pretty skeptical about whether or not God really “answers” prayers we all have made petitions to God. Even Lily likes to pray. At dinner, Lily will remind us to pray before we start eating and often, she’ll interrupt us and ask us to pray again (sometimes she does this two or three times). She likes to pray when she’s going to bed (we always say the Disciple’s Prayer together) and she even asked Emily to pray with her in the middle of the night a few days ago when she woke up startled.

And while we all pray, many of us do not regularly pray the words of this prayer. I want to encourage you to be creative with this prayer, make it your own. There are many ways to use the words of this prayer: through the repetition of Lectio Divina, broken up with queries like we did this morning, we can use it as a basis for the themes we pray for. The structure can be a guide to how to prayer and what to pray for. I am convinced that Jesus actually meant for us to pray this specific prayer (though some disagree on this point). Not only is it the prayer he taught his disciples upon request, but every rabbi in his time would have had their own prayer that would mark his disciples from others. We know from Luke 11 that even John the Baptist had taught his disciples a specific prayer (and there are others like the Qaddish).  Now this isn’t the kind of thing that if you don’t do it, then well, you’re not a good Christian. We’re not dealing with that kind of guilt ridden spiritually. All it means to say that Jesus meant for us to pray this prayer is that he knew how important prayer is, and how formative it can be. So either way, even though I’m convinced that Jesus actually meant that when we pray we should pray the prayer he taught to his disciples, I’m even more convinced that we are meant to live out that prayer as a community formed by the heart of its petitions.

He also knew that prayer is hard work, just look back to the scene in the Garden of Gesthemene: there we find Jesus sweating blood and his disciples sawing logs. Prayer takes serious perseverance, It takes practice and presumes a lot. It presumes that we have a prayer to give, that we have the courage to offer that prayer, and that God is a hearing God (McClendon 155 #2). Sometimes this is too much to ask. I have gone through many times in my life when I had no prayer to offer, when I didn’t have the courage to offer my prayer, or when I assumed God was in fact not listening.

Theologian Stanley Hauerwas says that:  “Some things are too important to be left up to chance.  Some things in life are too difficult to be left up to spontaneous desire – things like telling people that we love them or prayer to God.  So we do them out of habit.  Thus in church we generally do the same things over and over again, week after week, telling the same stories and singing the same songs.”

I’ve been really getting into Leo Tolstoy’s writings lately and am thoroughly loving it. I came across a very short story of his called “Alyosha: the Pot.” It’s about a young boy who takes the place of his older brother as servant to a large wealthy family. He does this on his father’s demand so that he can help raise money to support his family. Tolstoy describes Alyosha as someone who does whatever he is asked without ever questioning why, and does it to the best of his ability. He runs here, he runs there, answering everyone’s bidding and never thinks twice about himself (even to the extent that he losses the only true love he ever experienced). This story is very much about his deep desire to please others even to his own detriment.  And then in the middle of the story he writes this:

“Alyosha did not know any prayer and had forgotten what his mother had taught him. But he prayed just the same every morning and every evening, he prayed with his hands crossing himself” (Tolstoy).

Alyosha’s prayer is completely silent – there are no words – but it’s not without content. Now I don’t know about you rather I’ve often felt I had no words to offer in prayer. I don’t think that Tolstoy mentions this prayer to somehow ridicule his simple ignorance but to hold up Alyosha’s faith, that even though he had no words, or could not get the words right, he went through the movements of prayer.

For Quakers we can easily relate to a prayer with no words, a movement and a posture that we practice that we try to make a habit. One where we listen for Christ’s guidance in the present moment. And even though we are silent, we know that we are praying, that we are practicing our faith, that the movement of being still in the silence can be for us a genuine expression of faith. [Sometimes other Quakers do better at this habit]

And I think this is what we’re getting at when we talk about praying out of habit, not leaving it up to chance that we will get it right in the heat of the moment. We need help going through the movements, knowing the language to use, knowing just how to pray and what to pray for. This is what the disciple’s prayer is for. It is our way of being like Alyosha and desiring prayer so much that even though he wasn’t sure what words to say, or whether he had it right, he prayed the only prayer he knew. [Sign of the cross]

There have been many times when I was like Alyosha and “did not know any prayer and had forgotten what my mother taught me,” and then I remembered the words, “Our Father, in the heavens, may your name be sanctified…” This is our prayer. It is our gift from Jesus. It is our prayer when we have no words.

It is also our prayer when we are tempted to have too many words or when we want to bend the words to our own selfish desires. Quaker pastor James Mulholland writes in his book “Praying Like Jesus” that this prayer can act as a muzzle that helps to simplify and redirect what we pray for. It helps to strip our hidden selfishness we often have within in our prayers. There are many ways we pray there are prayers of self-interest, self-preservation and self-righteousnessIt protects us from what Emily calls “Propaganda Prayer.” The other day we were praying before dinner and I said out loud, “God, help us to be good for mommy, to not give her a hard time, and help around the house.” How many of you have done something like this? That’s propaganda prayer.

If you’ll notice there is no I, Me, or Mine in the disciple’s prayer, it is just ‘our’ and ‘us.’ We pray for God’s kingdom to come, not our own, we prayer to our father, we pray that we together might have the bread we need, that our debts will be cancelled and that we will not fall into temptation.

The prayer reorients the me within the Our and Us. It reminds us that we are a part of a global community, a global family who have prayed this prayer for thousands of years. And that together, the church is called to make a difference in this world. This is our mission, to sanctify God’s name by praying as well as living out this prayer.

Instead of all those other prayers we are so often tempted to pray: the prayer of self-preservation, the prayer of self-righteousness, the prayer of self-interest or even the propaganda prayer, this is, we can trust, indeed a sincere prayer. It is the movements, the language, the patten, and the mission that we as Jesus’ disciples have been taught to practice.

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You are invited to journey with us this next month and discover if you can make the Disciple’s prayer your own.

You are invited to practice praying this every day, or as regularly as you can. Let the prayer be a reminder of the journey we are on together, and begin asking yourself the question – how can I (and we) be formed and transformed by this prayer?

What would it look like for this to become our prayer and  mission?

[Photo by Andreanix]

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

One thought on “Mission and the Disciple's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13)”

  1. Hi Wess, I saw your note posting on Peggy Parson's facebook. I"m in the process of self publishing a book "You Are My Refuge, Self guided forgiveness for survivors." The core of the are prayers written in the structure of the Disciples' Prayer. These prayers were given to me in the Silence for my healing more than twenty years ago. Accompanying the prayers are stories, Scripture and spiritual exercises.

    I was recorded as a minister in Iowa Yearly Meeting FUM, and now live in Pocatello, ID.
    Judy Brutz
    Facebook

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