A few months ago a local minister asked if I’d be willing to come and guest preach at his church. We chose a date, and he said he’d be in the middle of a series on the Lord’s Prayer. Could I perhaps talk about how the Lord’s Prayer might inform our spiritual practices?
His request set off several months of very rich pondering. First, I realized that we might think creatively about how to use the Lord’s Prayer itself as a part of our spiritual practices. A person can sing the Lord’s Prayer or pray it as a part of journaling. A person might pray it while walking or pray it as a breath prayer, one phrase on each breath.
Next I started thinking about how the content of the Lord’s Prayer might inform our spiritual practices. The prayer opens with Jesus calling God “Our Father.” I have never been very comfortable calling God “Father” because I was not close to my own father. However, there’s no doubt that Jesus felt great intimacy with his Father. Spiritual practices are all about intimacy. Once, when I told someone I do a lot of writing about spiritual practices, he replied, “For most people, spiritual practices are just one more way to try to earn God’s approval.” I found the exact opposite to be true when I interviewed people about the Sabbath, fasting, hospitality, and many forms of contemplative prayer for my books. My interviewees talked about ways they experience intimacy with God through spiritual practices. Many talked about “making space for God” in the midst of busy lives. A first and basic way the Lord’s Prayer should inform our spiritual practices is to remind us anything we do to draw near to God or make space for God is all about nurturing relationship with God, not about proving to God we are worthy or righteous.
As I thought more about the Lord’s prayer, I noticed something significant. About half of the words of the prayer relate to God: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Then come the four requests related to daily bread, forgiveness, temptation and evil. The closing words most Protestants use also focus on God: “For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever.”
In what ways can spiritual practices enable us to remember and rejoice in God’s holiness, kingdom, will, power and glory? Our spiritual practices – forms of prayer, reading the Bible, engaging in a Sabbath, etc. – can easily become all about us. “God, I need your help to excel on this exam . . . to cope with my difficult co-worker . . . to have patience with my teenager . . . to have more energy for the things that matter to me.” It is right and good to come to God with our requests, as is modeled by the requests in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer. But our spiritual practices also need to focus on who God is and enable us rejoice in God’s character, as we offer ourselves to God in service, love and devotion. Prayers and scriptures focused on thankfulness and praise can help us do that. Other practices like the Sabbath or fasting can be done in a spirit that rejoices in who God is.
Spiritual practices that honor the spirit of the Lord’s Prayer will create space for us to draw near to God to receive the help we need, while also honoring God’s holiness, kingdom, will, power and glory.