This past Sunday (March 15) I used the simplified version of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11 to explain my own experience of learning to pray all over again. I’m writing to reinforce the importance of that message. If you missed the sermon, I suggest you go to the Resources section of our website and listen to it. The heart of what I tried to say was not simply the value of the Lord’s Prayer—and for many of us it has been a treasure right in front of us that we overlooked—but the way I suggested using the Lord’s Prayer to shape our own praying.
The approach I came to many years ago was to think of the five petitions of the prayer as the five fingers of the hand. For some it has been helpful to literally touch one finger at a time and use that as a prompt to focus prayer on that particular topic. This means:
• I touch my little finger and pray, “hallowed be thy name,” and express my worship and adoration of God. My first impulse in prayer is to talk about my own needs, so this is an important reminder that Jesus taught us to start with God not ourselves.
• I touch my ring finger and pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That leads me to pray for all the aspects of God’s kingdom—his rule of my own life, the good news of the kingdom going to all the nations, prayers for peace in our broken world, and praying for the soon return of our Lord.
• I touch my middle finger and pray “give us this day our daily bread.” This is the time to pray for my own and others personal and material needs—food and health and work. We should pray this every day no matter how secure we may feel at the moment—it is God our Father who cares for us. This is also a reminder to be praying for the needs of others as well as my own.
• I touch my pointing finger and pray, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Our Lord always links forgiveness of our sin by God to our forgiveness of others, so perhaps this petition is more about our relationships than just confessing our sin. (A friend who taught these lessons to others pointed out that using this finger to teach forgiveness is a reminder to point to the sin in ourselves before we point to the sin in others.)
• I touch my thumb and pray, “and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” leading me to pray for deliverance from my own sinful nature as I go out into the world. But this petition too is not “me” but “us,” so I pray this same prayer for my family and others on my heart.
Perhaps the single most important aspect of the Lord’s Prayer to keep in mind is how Jesus teaches us to speak to God. He is “Our Father, who art in heaven.” To speak to God Almighty and call him “Father” is quite revolutionary and is never done in the Old Testament. It is only as Jesus comes and invites us to speak to God the way he does. We are coming as forgiven people, even though we still need to renew that forgiveness. So because of Jesus and based on our spiritual union with Jesus we speak with breathtaking familiarity to God. Not only is he Father, but we can call on him as “Abba, Father,” a word of intimacy that sounds like our word, “Daddy.” When praying the Lord’s Prayer I suggest thinking of Father as the palm of the hand. Everything else we say, just like all of our fingers grow out of the center—the palm. So before starting to touch your fingers, touch your palm first and stop to reflect who this is you are speaking to.
Several years ago I presented this use of the hand to pray through the Lord’s Prayer to the congregation of New Life Masih Ghar, our ministry to Asians in Southall, London. Later that week an English woman who had been attending came to a women’s Bible study and shared with the group that because of the sermon she felt able to pray for the first time in her life. Interestingly, she had grown up in the Church of England, or Anglican Church, which meant that she had grown up saying the Lord’s Prayer in a rote fashion. But now she took that prayer and actually prayed it—letting each phrase guide her into expressing her own words and thoughts. This is my prayer for many of you who don’t know how to get started in prayer, or perhaps feel “stuck” in your personal prayers. Try this approach using your hand to guide and discipline your praying. That is what I did many years ago and have yet to find something better.
If you want to dig into this more, either check out my website www.birthlineministries.com, and there you will find a six-lesson study that that helps people to go deeper into the Lord’s praying following the hand illustration. You may also download it here, The Prayer that Jesus Taught, This may be helpful to you, but it was also designed to be a basic discipleship curriculum and you may find it helpful in teaching others to pray. I am hardly the first person to discover the value of using the Lord’s Prayer to guide our own praying. Once you begin to explore this wonderful gift, you will find more and more resources teaching about the Lord’s Prayer.