How does your congregation use the Lord’s Prayer? Some churches recite it weekly, as an affirmation of “the way Christ taught us to pray.” Others view it as a general model for the attitude and topics one should consider when praying to God.
The risk of the first approach is that the prayer becomes rote as people say the words from memory without much reflection on their meaning. The risk of the second approach is that people may only be exposed to Jesus’ prayer when Matthew 6:9-13 is the specific focus of a sermon or Bible study.
Consider the following exercises to keep the message of that iconic prayer fresh in both meaning and exposure.
Rewrite the Prayer in Your Own Words
Go line by line, so that the general structure of the prayer is the same, but think in terms of your own spiritual vocabulary and theological concerns. Read your version aloud in worship and invite others to do their own.
who reigns over everything,
holy are you.
Help us to live out your kingdom,
seeking your will in all we do,
and bringing the ways of heaven down to earth.
Lord, you know just what we need.
Forgive us for always wanting more.
Help us to forgive others as you forgive us.
Help us to resist temptation
And to fight our tendency toward evil.
For it is you we serve, Lord of all.
You are powerful, you are glorious.
You are the everlasting God.
Explore the Prayer in Questions
This exercise can be a precursor to writing one’s own version of the Lord’s Prayer, or used as a conversation starter in a Bible study or small group discussing the prayer. Each line of the prayer raises certain questions about God and what we are really praying for.
How do you address God? What images of God do you most easily connect with? Father? Mother? Shepherd? King?
Who art in Heaven
What is God’s position in the universe? Does God reside primarily in Heaven?
Hallowed be thy name
How do you express God’s holiness? How do you define holiness?
Thy kingdom come
What does the Kingdom of God look like? How does God’s kingdom come to earth?
Thy will be done
What would it mean to want what God wants? How do you know what God’s will is?
On earth as it is in Heaven
How can we make earth more heaven-like? What is Heaven like?
Give us this day our daily bread
Do we really trust God to give us what we need? What would it be like to live with only what you really need?
And forgive us our trespasses
What do we need forgiveness for? Some Bible translations use the word “debts” instead of “trespasses;” what do each of these words indicate about the nature of sin?
As we forgive those who trespass against us
Why should we forgive others? Why is it so hard to forgive?
And lead us not into temptation
Does God tempt us? Does Satan? Is it wrong to be tempted?
But deliver us from evil
Do you believe in evil spirits or powers? Do you believe there is evil in each of us? How are we delivered from something that is within us?
For thine is the Kingdom
What does it mean for God to be ruler over everything? How does that affect the way we pray?
And the power and the glory, forever and ever
Do you believe God is all-powerful? What does it mean to give God glory? If God is eternal, how do you think God views us and our world?
Read it Differently
Read the traditional Lord’s Prayer slowly, pausing after each line to let the words soak in. Read it in a different version of the Bible than you are used to. Read it in a paraphrase like The Message or a totally new translation like the Common English Bible. If you have even passing knowledge of another language, try reading it in that language.
What other passages of Scripture do we know “too well”? Try these exercises with the twenty-third Psalm, Genesis 1, or I Corinthians 13, and see what new power these words have in your life.