One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
He said to them, “When you pray, say:
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.’”
Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
- Luke 11:1-13
“The use of set prayers can be a help even for a small community living together under certain circumstances, but often it becomes only an evasion of real prayer. By using ecclesial forms and the church’s wealth of thought, we can easily deceive ourselves about our own prayer life. The prayers then become beautiful and profound, but not genuine. As helpful as the church’s tradition of prayer is for learning how to pray, nevertheless it cannot take the place of the prayer that I owe to my God today. Here the poorest stammering can be better than the best—phrased prayer. It goes without saying that the state of affairs in public worship services is different from the daily worship of the community living together.”
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
Bonhoeffer might have been targeting his Catholic friends on this one. My wife, an ex-Catholic, has not said the “Hail Mary” except in explanation since we’ve been married, as far as I know. But she says a little blessing when she volunteers to say the blessing. It is her “go-to” blessing for when we go out to dinner at a restaurant. We get stares and we sometimes get a thank you from people who like to know that praying is not “dead.”
Our younger son and his wife combined to create a song. The lyrics are simple, “Thank You, Jesus for the food. Bless it in Jesus’ name. Amen.” Our son, being into music, composed a tune for the lyrics. The family holds hands and sings it.
But blessings and many corporate prayers in church are not what Bonhoeffer is talking about.
God wants a personal relationship with each of us. We cannot achieve that intimacy by reciting a prayer that is in a book. My wife reads prayers or poetry from a book (she has many for that purpose) to end our Sunday school lesson each Sunday. But she never ends there. She may carefully choose a prayer or poem that weaves into the Scripture that we are studying, or the study guide questions, but she always makes that closing prayer unique and specific to what seemed to resonate with the class as we studied the lesson. She could never prepare for that specific need ahead of time. Thus, her closing prayers are both a set liturgical style blended with specific needs. Bonhoeffer spends time in the book discussing this type of blend.
But here, Bonhoeffer is talking about what happens in your prayer closet.
When we go to God in prayer, we need to leave our clock outside our “closet.” We need to take as much time as necessary to make that intimate connection with God.
If we have a best friend, they do not want us to recite poetry. They want to know what is going on in our lives. They want to become involved.
God is no different. God already knows everything. If He counts every hair on our head, He knows when you stubbed your toe, got the splinter in your finger, and when you realized that the electric bill is due tomorrow and you forgot to get the check in the mail. But God still wants that conversation, because if we give God enough time, we will talk about why we were in a hurry when we stubbed our toe. We will admit how we were not thinking about Him when we slid our finger along the wooden window frame and got a splinter. And we will start to see the lack of proper priorities as we discuss what our mind was really on, instead of focusing on God and the bill paying.
If you need the set prayer to get started, that is fine, but make sure you realize that you haven’t done the praying God wants. That was just clearing the cobwebs before the real praying begins.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.