MARCH 2020

“Lord, teach us to pray.” So say the disciples in Luke 11, prompting Jesus to teach them one of two versions of the Lord’s Prayer in the Bible. Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer is shorter and more terse than Matthew’s version, which the church though the centuries has clearly favored. Go to a wedding or a funeral where the gathered congregation prays the Lord’s Prayer together, and you’ll notice that the largest difference between people of different denominational backgrounds is whether or not they say debts and debtors or trespasses and trespassers. By and large, other than such minor things, they will all pray the same Lord’s Prayer—the one from Matthew’s Gospel.

“Lord, teach us to pray,” the disciples ask Jesus. No one at the church of my teenage years ever spent a lot of time on this notion. To be sure, they encouraged—or more correctly: they commanded—me to pray, but they did not teach me to pray. The disciples’ idea that prayer is a learned activity—that prayer is something that takes practice—was not something that I learned in church. Rather, I was told “Pray before you eat” and “Say your prayers before bed” and “Pray without ceasing.” But I was never taught how. In hindsight, the assumption was that prayer was something that just erupted all on its own from the Christian’s heart. If you were a Christian, prayer just happened. You need not think about prayer or plan prayer or practice prayer, for such things would diminish the power of prayer by limiting the Holy Spirit. No one ever said it quite like that, but it’s what I learned from years of more subtle teachings.

“Lord, teach us to pray.” And Jesus does just that. Jesus doesn’t say all those things that were said to me in church as a teenager. Jesus offers the disciples a pre-written, pre-planned prayer and tells them “When you pray, pray like this.”

As I continue to slowly mature in my spirituality—admitting plenty of setbacks just like the next person—I find that I am growing in my appreciation of pre-written, pre-planned prayers. While Baptists have historically shunned such prayers, the disciples, Jesus, and the Bible at-large seems to see immense value in them. Not only do the disciples ask to the taught to pray; not only does Jesus respond with a pre-written, pre-planned prayer; but over 1,500 years ago, the church seemed to understand both when it opted to include a large book of pre-written, pre-planned prayers right in the centerfold of the Bible. What are those 150 psalms in the middle of the book if not a collection of prayers to be practiced? What are those 150 psalms doing in the middle of the Bible if not sitting there as the church’s answer to the request, “Teach us to pray.”

Today is the First Sunday in Lent. You are Deacons—the spiritual servant-leaders of First Baptist Church. I feel led to ask you today: “How will you keep the season of Lent? How will you ‘prepare ye the way of the Lord’ in your own heart and mind and spirit, so that you will be ready to receive the grace of Easter when it gets here?”

Perhaps you have already found your way. If you have, I say go for it! If I can be helpful as you do so, please ask. If you haven’t, well, there are many worst ways to go through these 40 days of preparation for the most important Christian holiday of them all than with the words “Lord, teach us to pray” on your lips and in your heart.