This brief scan of history neglects a host of other great and influential thinkers like St. Augustine, Brother Lawrence, Søren Kierkegaard, Frank Laubach, Martin Luther, Thomas à Kempis, Francis of Assisi, John Chrysostom, and George Fox. But our brief survey shows that sincere believers have ventured down considerably different paths in pursuit of the same goal: closeness to the Father. Their suggestions and experiences range from spiritual disciplines to spiritual encounters. Each one offers earnest, sincere, and authentic insights, and while their reflections merit our prayerful attention, they raise several questions.

First, does their diversity have a common denominator? Second, are these suggestions explicitly Christian? Third, can we collate the tremendous insights of the ages in one place?

The vast array of insights inspire, but also confuse us. Every tidbit of wisdom sounds good and right, but without a fixed point of reference we become rudderless in a sea of generic spirituality. Our hearts resonate with those who have walked close to God, but we lack the experience or wisdom to accurately assess their advice.

Nevertheless, a fixed reference point does exist—in Scripture. We find a ready-made summary not in the saints or scholars of the past, but in Christ himself.

The Lord's Prayer

Jesus lays out what we commonly call the Lord's Prayer, and in it He provides the greatest Christian teaching of the centuries on spiritual formation. The Prayer exceeds simple passion or fancy rhetoric. It incorporates and reveals some of the most profound spiritual truths of the kingdom of God. Jesus does not borrow His words from any cultural clichés of the first century. His phrases transcend the ordinary fare heard in synagogues of that day.

More than a prayer, the Lord's Prayer outlines the most fundamental features of the deeper Christian life. Long before the desert hermits and the medieval mystics, Christ himself laid out the pathway to spiritual fulfillment. He did so with a startling economy of words, but with clarity that still speaks to those of us weary of the cheap wisdom of our day and desiring genuine intimacy with God.

Just when we might expect lengthy explanations of the mysterious, Jesus uses just seventy-two words, and in those few words He outlines life-giving attitudes and paradigms. We also encounter a prayer that does not seek to get God's attention but to give our attention to Him. Barbara Brown Taylor notes:

Our corporate prayers are punctuated with phrases such as "Hear us, Lord" or "Lord, hear our prayer," as if the burden to listen were on God and not us. We name our concerns, giving God suggestions on what to do about them. What reversal of power might occur if we turned the process around, naming our concerns and asking God to tell us what to do about them? "Speak, Lord, for your servants are listening."

The Lord's Prayer definitely guides us into a "reversal of power" and turns around the process of both our prayers and our lives.

Luke recalls the Lord's Prayer in its shortened form. Matthew records the longer version. In Matthew 6:9–13, the Prayer appears as a centerpiece to the majestic Sermon on the Mount.

The Prayer functions less as a chant and more as a challenge. The words seem deceptively simple. Memorizing ten short lines poses little difficulty for most of us. But the concepts and insights have the capacity to remold our lives entirely. Overstatement? Exaggeration? Not at all. Indeed, as we'll see, this prayer offers a simple framework that steers us through all the suggestions of the ages and into the very intimacy with Christ that our hearts desire. It reveals the building blocks for authentic spiritual formation.

Living the Lord’s Prayer

Copyright © 2008 by David Timms
Published by Bethany House Publishing, a division of Baker Publishing Group  
PO Box 6287 Grand Rapids MI 49516-628

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