Looking back on prayer

Retrospectively, I don’t think I ever believed when I was a child. This is at odds with the traditional expression “faith like a child,” but as a youth, I can’t ever remember really taking it to heart that God took stock in my soul, and that Christ could be my salvation. There are several possible explanations:

  1. Perhaps I’m mis-remembering, and I truly did blindly believe what I was being taught.
  2. Perhaps my newfound belief has simply paled my previous iterations of faith in my memory.
  3. Perhaps I did not truly believe, but simply went along with it, blindly saying the words and going through the motions.

I wonder if I treated Church like school. Learn the lesson, memorize the lines, pass the test, and move on to the next lesson. Just do the things.

What brings this question to mind today is the thought of prayer.  I’ve written before that because this is a newly renewed aspect of my life, I sometimes struggle to find words that adequately express my heart to the Lord. Last week, when I picked up the Book for the first time in a long while, I started with the Gospel of Matthew. I came across this portion of scripture in Chapter 6 (Forgive me, but I’m going to mix translations here, and I’ll explain why later):

“Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:
‘Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our tresspasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever, Amen.’

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:8-15)

I find this passage interesting, and simultaneously encouraging and discouraging. As a Lutheran, I memorized this prayer and recited it . . . more times than I can possibly count. That is why I mixed translations. The framing verses at the beginning and end are from the NIV Bible. The prayer itself I transcribed as I remember it. We called it the Lord’s Prayer, but as I understand it many Catholics refer to it as an “Our Father.” Same same.

What discourages me is that I find it very difficult to repeat those words without simply regurgitating them. Because it was drilled into me, it serves as a mantra, but this prayer itself is very difficult to take to heart. I try repeating the prayer and pausing in order to consider each line of the prayer individually. I hope that if I parse the phrases and internalize them, the Spirit will move me to give my heart to the Lord, but mostly it’s just words. I may just as well be doing a layup drill on a basketball court, or sawing a board in the workshop. It’s an action, but a passive one that starts to unravel if I think about it too hard.

But, I think the point is that the prayer is supposed to be a template for how to pray to the Lord. That first verse reminds me that God already knows what is in my heart, and so this prayer is meant as a verbal affirmation of what Christ teaches should be a part of every prayer. 1) Address God. 2) Revere his glory and name. 3) Accept God’s role as the grace by which we–and all things–exist. 4) Ask only for what you need, and give thanks. 5) Ask for forgiveness and deliverance. 6) Acknowledge the infinite and eternal nature of God and His kingdom.

These things are simple and intuitive. I find that when I kneel to pray before bed–or any other time–I almost tend to naturally do these things. If I pray with an attitude of gratitude, humility and reverence, these aspects of prayer almost naturally spill out of my mouth without consideration. Prayer is still something that I must practice every day (or more often), but through that passage I think I understand what ought to be said. Besides, God already knows my own heart.

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