One of my basic presuppositions is that most people (at least, most people like me) are pressed for time when it comes to prayer. I love those rare occasions when I can pray for half an hour, an hour, or longer. Just call me a frustrated contemplative! In the real world, there are always other things crowding out my prayer time and I have to think more opportunistically.
If you only have a few minutes to pray, your prayer has to count. For me, that means starting with a basic form that can be expanded or compressed to fit the time available. I have found the Lord’s Prayer or Our Father to be the perfect prayer for this purpose.
First, it was precisely the Lord’s Prayer that early Christians prayed three times a day from the first century on. It’s hard to argue against that kind of precedent. The Lord’s Prayer has been a constant in private Christian devotions for something like 100% of Christian history.
Second, the Lord’s Prayer is “portable.” You can take it with you wherever you go. It can be committed to memory minimal effort so you don’t need a prayer book, devotional magazine, or other aids. (I’ll return to the issue of portability in a later post.)
Third, the Lord’s Prayer is expandable and collapsible — almost infinitely so. Consider the ways one can pray using the Lord’s Prayer:
- It can be recited. While not the best way to pray the Lord’s Prayer, this can serve in a pinch, especially for those who have spent some time on point 2.
- It can be studied. This is not a form of praying the Lord’s Prayer, but it is a fine way of making the most of the prayer in private devotionals and public worship. The more you understand what the prayer is about, the more engaged you can be even in a bare recitation of the words. Find a copy of Tertullian or Cyprian’s commentaries on the Lord’s Prayer and read through them, slowly and meditatively. See if that doesn’t make a difference the next time you pray the Lord’s Prayer.
- It can be prayed contemplatively. This was the approach favored by Jeanne Guyon. Pray slowly, meditating on each phrase or even each word. Repeat each line several times until you are genuinely offering the prayer (and yourself) to God through it.
- It can serve as a prayer outline. Similar to point 3, the Lord’s Prayer can serve as a skeleton on which to hang our own expressions of praise and petition. Martin Luther advocated this usage of the Lord’s Prayer.
Although it has been a while, I can attest that it is quite possible to spend the better part of an hour praying the Lord’s Prayer through a combination of these methods. Furthermore, anybody can double the amount of time they pray just by listening to God as much as they talk to him!
It is also possible to pray briefly but with great intentionality through reciting the Lord’s Prayer and meditating briefly on each line before moving on.
What approaches to the Lord’s Prayer have you found fruitful in your prayer life?