He Speaks, We Listen

What makes the Lord’s Prayer different? See why God loves to hear you pray this prayer.

by Rev. Paul Beisel

If Lutherans followed the advice of Martin Luther, they would find themselves praying the Lord’s Prayer five times per day. Luther took prayer seriously. In the Small Catechism, he instructs Christians to pray the Lord’s Prayer at mealtimes, in the morning and in the evening before bed. Whew!

But why make such repetitive use of the Lord’s Prayer? Isn’t it better to compose our own prayers and just tell God what’s on our hearts? Certainly there is a place for spontaneous prayer in the life of a Christian. Luther notes in the Large Catechism that a “person should pray whenever he notices anything affecting his interests or that of other people among whom he may live.”

But we might also note some of the reasons why the reformer valued the Lord’s Prayer so much that he would recommend its frequent use. One reason is that the Lord Himself has arranged the words and form of prayer for us, so Christians never need to doubt that their prayers are pleasing to God or that they will be answered.

“This,” writes Luther, “is a great advantage indeed over all other prayers that we might compose ourselves. . . . there is no nobler prayer to be found upon earth than the Lord’s Prayer.” Luther also encouraged Christians to pray the Lord’s Prayer daily for a pretty simple reason: “God loves to hear it.”

The Small Catechism provides a quick and easy explanation of each petition of the Lord’s Prayer. If you have questions after you’ve read those explanations, ask your pastor. He can help clarify what Luther was explaining. In the meantime, let’s take a look at a few things about the Lord’s Prayer that might add to our appreciation of this “noble prayer.”

God at the center

The Lord’s Prayer focuses on God. He is at the center. Rather than begin with our wants, which often have to do purely with temporal things, the Lord’s Prayer teaches us to look first and foremost to Christ. In this prayer, we ask that God’s name be kept holy, that His kingdom come and that His will is done. Only then do we come to our desires, to the words, “Give us this day our daily bread.” In our own prayers, it is helpful to follow the example set by the Lord’s Prayer. First, we praise and confess God’s name and His works. Then, we ask for our temporal needs.

A baptismal prayer

It’s awfully hard to pray “Our Father” without thinking of Baptism. The Lord’s Prayer is the prayer of the baptized. That’s us! That God would invite us to call Him “Father” is surely grounded in the fact that He is first and foremost the Father of Jesus. In Christ, however, and by Baptism into Him, God has also become our Father. We are “tenderly invited” to believe that God is our Father and that we are His “true children,” because by Baptism we have been adopted into the heavenly family, where God is our Father and Christ is our elder brother. The question-and-answer portion of our Catechism reminds us that even when we are alone, we pray “Our Father” because we are never truly praying by ourselves. When we pray, whether alone or together, the whole Church is praying.

A Holy Communion prayer

Since ancient times, the Lord’s Prayer is always found in close proximity to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. All the settings of the Divine service in Lutheran Service Book continue this tradition, placing the Lord’s Prayer in the immediate context of Holy Communion. Why? Because the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer all find their “Amen” in the eating and drinking of the body and blood of the Lord, in the Lord’s Supper. There, the name of the Lord is kept holy, His kingdom comes and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

The liturgy emphasizes this fact. In the Divine Service, we sing the Sanctus, the “Holy, holy, holy.” If you’re listening for it, you can hear echoes of the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “Hallowed be Thy Name.”

In the Fourth Petition, the plea for “daily bread” speaks to all our needs: clothing, a home, good weather, even friends. The Lord answers by giving us those things and more! He gives us the true body and blood of Christ. In this way, the Lord uses the First Article gift of daily bread to bestow the Second Article gifts of “forgiveness, life, and salvation.”

The Fifth through Seventh petitions likewise find their answer in the Lord’s Supper as we confess that the chief blessing in the Lord’s Supper is the forgiveness of sins. There, too, one finds deliverance from temptation and “every evil of body and soul,” for where Christ’s death is proclaimed, where sins are forgiven, where the Lord Himself is present with His body and blood, the devil has no choice but to flee.

St. Paul writes that “all the promises of God find their Yes in Him” (2 Cor. 1:20). To say that the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer are answered in the Lord’s Supper is simply to repeat what the apostle said.

Responding

The Rev. Dr. Norman Nagel once wrote: “Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. . . . Saying back to Him what He has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure” (Lutheran Worship, p. 6). When it comes to prayer, we do well first to listen to the Lord’s Word and then respond in prayer and praise.

And that’s how it is with the Lord’s Prayer too. Our Lord speaks. He gives us the very words and form of prayer to use. We listen and speak back to Him what He has already said. And in praying the prayer that Christ has given us, we rejoice that all of the promises of God have already found their “yes,” and they are in Him.

> “The discipline of daily prayer is as old as Scripture itself” (Treasury of Daily Prayer, xviii).
About the Author: The Rev. Paul Beisel is pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Iowa Falls, Iowa.

May 2012

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