Sunday, 16 March 2014

The Lord's Prayer

Mike Taylor
My brother Michael Taylor died last year, a few days before his 73rd birthday.  He had lived in a nursing home for six years, keeping the staff entertained and on the run, with his loud, cheerful and demanding voice, and his infectious laugh.  In the last months his health deteriorated rapidly. Always a gourmand, when he was no longer able to go to Gilmore's Hotel for grilled barramundi or steak dianne, the last real pleasure went out of his life.  As the end drew near, he rallied just long enough to send messages of love to people and say that he wanted us to sing "The Lord's My Shepherd" and play music of The Beatles at his funeral.  We stood around his bedside and prayed, led by our sister, the Revd Roberta Hamilton. The last word that our brother said was "Amen".  It was in response to the Lord's Prayer.

I have been reliably informed by young Evangelical Christians that we don't really need to learn the Lord's Prayer by heart.  One young man informed me confidently that in the future it will hardly be used any more. ..... and, although this might come as a surprise to some, in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, this seems to be quite right.

The Sydney Diocese (for those who don't know) has a Bible College which sets the benchmark for how 21st Century Evangelical Ministry ought to operate.  A recent graduate of Moore College argued the point that the Lord's Prayer was given to us as an example of how to pray.  It didn't come with any obligation that it should be learnt by heart and repeated daily, or even repeated once every Sunday.  If we read the Lord's Prayer, and comprehend from reading it, how praying ought to be done, then we are free to pray our own prayers.  We can pray, safe in the knowledge that we know how to do it.  And, by this reasoning, a leader, in a church or community situation, knowing how to pray, can pray effectively for the congregation or group, and say what needs saying......... or can they?

Is there any reason for bothering to memorise the Lord's Prayer?  Is there any reason for using it, on occasions when Christians gather together, given that Jesus didn't actually command us to use it?

My son, who is now a Christian youth leader, went to a Christian school.  And for the six years that he was there, I went to services and functions. I don't recall ever praying the Lord's Prayer on any school occasion..... not once, even once, in those six years.  When parents were asked to comment on school matters, it was one of the things on which I wrote at length. To no avail.

My son goes to a large lively youth service at the local Christian auditorium, on Sunday evenings.  I do recall the Lord's Prayer being used once. It was on the occasion of Archbishop Peter Jensen's visit, and was the same day that the rector included the Apostle's Creed, and explained to the young people present that these two elements were traditional to Anglican Church worship, so we were going to repeat them, with the aid of the overhead screens, because, of course, none of the young people could be expected to know these things by heart.  In retrospect, Archbishop Peter may not have even noticed if they were omitted, since  he was previously the principal of Moore College, and may have had a part in encouraging his clergy in the understanding that they should make up their own prayers, rather than simply reciting what they have learnt.

I have already asked the question, is there a point in learning the Lord's Prayer (by heart, as they say), and continuing to use it?

My dying brother would encourage me to say, yes, there is!

It seems to me that there is an extraordinary degree of arrogance in the notion that we can dispense with  that which Christ himself gave us. This is the prayer of the person who, confronted with fear, agony or grief, can think of no other words.  This is the prayer of the aged and dying.   This is the prayer that remains when mind and memory fail.  This is the prayer that unites us as Christians across the world.

"No it's not," says my young Moore College graduate. "In point of fact, we are united by the Statement of Faith." (a.k.a. The Creed)
Well yes, that too!  But Jesus didn't give us the creed.  The creed is mankind's invention.  It's about Church. It isn't about God.  We don't "draw near to God" in the words of the Creed.  We draw near to God in prayer.

There has always been a place in both public and private worship for the custom-made prayer of the prayer leader or praying individual. We are encouraged to bring the "desires of our hearts" before God, in praise, thanks and petition. But does the priest or prayer leader know what the other praying individuals have in their hearts?

The arrogance of modern Evangelical leaders is that they think they have all the answers, all the time.  They obviously believe that the prayers that they utter, in front of, and on behalf of congregations, youth groups, school assemblies and so on, are able to fill all the needs every time; that after they have prayed, nothing is left undone, and no words remain to be said, on behalf of the group, to God.   The group listens and says "Amen". They say it, politely, whether everything has been covered, or not.  The group doesn't usually pray out loud, together, as a group, unless there is a prayer projected onto a screen that they can follow.  Nobody says, anymore, "As our Saviour Christ has taught us, we are confident to pray.....".  Young people are not taught, any more, so they are no longer "confident" to pray it.

The beauty of the prayer that Our Saviour taught us is that it covers all sorts of possibilities.  It states who it is to whom we pray: Our Father in Heaven.  It expresses his greatness and our trust in his wisdom and might. It sources our needs and petitions our forgiveness.  It acknowledges our weakness and seeks relief from our greatest fears.  Basically, it is the prayer that has everything covered.

No comments:

Post a Comment