Pastoral Series

Worship Matters: Teach Us to Pray

   Every week in worship, we re-enact one of the most intriguing, poignant moments from the life of Jesus. Those who knew Jesus best must have admired and even envied the way he prayed. And so they asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” He responded with The Lord’s Prayer.

Yes, we mutter our way through it, by rote – and I suspect that even though God would want us to slow down and ponder its words and phrases, God is honored even when we plow through it by rote. I’ve learned some new (for me at least!) interesting things about this prayer, and will share those things in a class I’m teaching this Wednesday at 11am and 7pm.

For now, though, I want to reflect on the curious fact that in worship, we pray out loud, and together. Usually prayer is private, and silent (although I find I pray way better, even when I’m alone, if I do it out loud!). God in heaven listens to our united voices, lifted as one – and God listens at about the same time to many other clumps of people in other sanctuaries around our city, state, and world, in many languages. Jesus started something astonishing when he taught them this prayer. It’s not the only way to pray. But it’s huge, and a glorious testimony to Jesus tender authority when we do as he told us to do, by the millions in worship on Sunday.

My class will cover some of this prayer’s surprising nuances – like what on earth we might mean by “Hallowed be your name.” I suspect we might be wise to ponder what commitments we are making by joining in this prayer. “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is complex – but it simply leaves you declaring that you will stay busy trying to implement whatever heaven will be like in your life and world. And then “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” should make us all shudder – as it implies we only wish to be forgiven to the degree to which we have forgiven others. We mutter the prayer, but then we’re on the hook to forgive one another, to be forgiven and thus changed and reconciled to God and the other people.

The praying together is a symbol, an embodiment of what we forget: we are in this together. The spiritual life can feel lonely. My doubts, anxieties, dreams, wounds and loves can feel isolated, even misunderstood by others. But at least once a week, we pray together. God has given us good company in this pilgrimage of faith. Maybe, if that’s the loveliest realization of God’s dream for us in worship, then we might share more with each other, take the risk of being vulnerable with one another, open up, love, show compassion, and be encouragers. If worship led us there, then we’d fully get that Worship Matters.

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