Confession: I have a tall glass of iced coffee in hand, and if I am not very careful I will pick up The Count of Monte Cristo and be lost to the world for the night as a reader instead of a writer. This too would be good. Dantes is an airhead at this point in the story, but the Abbe is nearing his fatal attack and Mercedes is growing paler and more interesting every day.
What did I learn when I prayed the Lord’s Prayer every day for a month?
(I’m still learning.)
Some days the phrases played over and over in my mind. Some days the words pierced me, and I cried as I spoke them. Some days I could hardly speak them at all, and instead let the celestial voice of Andrea Bocelli sing them into reality.
I learned things about myself, and prayer, and God.
First, I learned that I pray some really dumb prayers, ordinarily. Not only on the tip of my tongue, but also in the depths of my heart lie some truly ridiculous requests. They bloop out of my mouth when I’m least expecting them, and they embarrass me.
Please help me not to say anything silly…
I can only imagine the look on God’s face.
Please help me to hold it together…
Sorry, darling. Not on My list of goals for your life.
It was a relief to pray the Real prayers, for the Kingdom and God’s will and His glory and my daily needs, without falling into such catastrophically selfish and ungrantable petitions.
I’m not trying to say that ad-libbing in prayer is a bad thing. I know God cherishes the words we shape to Him, the words that come from the depths of our hearts or the tips of our tongues, however silly they occasionally are. But are they really what we want to say?
I loved the gentle alignment of my words with His, my requests with His, my will with His. I loved skipping “I know you want me to be okay with this but I’m really not, but I’m trying to be. You know I struggle sometimes, Lord. Are you sure you really know what you’re doing? I’m trying to trust you, and so I pray (I think I pray) that your will be done (except not if it hurts too much)…” and instead moving simply, so sweetly, to His heart. “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Second, I learned that I am terrible at forgiving. I’m not sure if it was the Prayer itself that brought my grievances to the surface, like scum atop a cooking vat, or if I am always this vengeful. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” seemed like an impossible mouthful for the first week or two, especially on the days when I was really steamed about something that happened months ago.
Then I started thinking about the real mouthful.
“Forgive us our debts.”
Honestly? Such a light and simple request.
I don’t pretend to know more about forgiving than I did a month ago, except for this piece: I cannot claim the forgiveness of the Lord Jesus for my own sins if I am unwilling to release those who have sinned against me.
I know we say His grace is free, with no strings attached, and I told you I don’t pretend to understand these things. But I know from the parable of the two servants who owed the lord money, and I know from experience in my own life, that it just doesn’t work to claim the one and refuse the other. And oh, I have been forgiven so much! The two parts of forgiveness must go forth hand-in-hand into the world—or neither.
“Forgive us our debts while we forgive our debtors…”
My acceptance of His bountiful, generous release, His wiping away of the debts I owe Him and cannot pay, not only inspires me or prepares me or enables me—but truly impels me to offer that same free release to others, at the risk of losing it myself.
Third, I learned something about the nature of prayer itself: that it is a way of holding two opposite things simultaneously and in the same space—the brokenness of the world, and the loving provision of the Father. (This idea came straight from N. T. Wright’s book The Lord and His Prayer.)
The prayer of Jesus stands as a powerful bridge between two realities. On the one hand, you have hunger, debts, temptation, evil. On the other, you have forgiveness, deliverance, power, glory. Mr. Wright says this is a crucial function of our prayers—bringing the brokenness of the world into the light of God’s presence, and holding the two together in our hearts.
There is more to this world than meets the eye. We are surrounded by brokenness without and within, but the kingdom is come! and coming! and coming more! Aslan is on the move.
Now that is a prayer I will be clinging to for months.
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