The Paternoster – A Formative Christian Practice for All Followers

I’d like to frame the next group of “featured” posts that will be showing up here on gathering in light. I will be continuing to post my thoughts on the Lord’s Prayer, and how it can and should be used as a missional discipleship tool in churches from Anabaptist and Quaker, to emerging and missional, to Orthodox and Catholic (and everyone in between) churches. The main points of thinking that will be presented here is: how the Lord’s Prayer ought to be something practiced by all Christians on an ongoing basis, comparisons between the Qaddish, an early Jewish Prayer, and the Lord’s Prayer, as well as thoughts on each of the petitions and how they should inform the church’s overall missional engagement with the surrounding culture. I am posting these thoughts in about 800 words, in hopes to spread out the conversation and encourage dialogue.

This project is something I have been working on and thinking about for the past year, and have recently lectured on at Fuller. Ultimately I would like to get these thoughts published in a journal if they fly here. Your feedback will be very appreciated and useful in my further developing of these thoughts.

“Prayer is an open activity by which we participate with God in bringing about his will.”
~Dallas Willard

The Paternoster – An Important Practice in the Life of the Church

200605140014The Lord’s Prayer is one of the clearest rituals Jesus gave us. He commanded that the prayer become an ongoing practice for his disciples, this is evident by him saying in Luke 11:2, “When you pray, say…” and in Matthew 6:9 “Pray then in this way…” It is important to note that he utilized the indicative form of lego (legete, 2nd person declarative form of speak), “you say (this that follows),” a declarative form that should be understood as him commanding his disciples to pray this specific prayer. Joel Green, in his commentary on Luke’s Gospel says,

“…Luke depicts the act of praying Jesus’ model prayer as a habit whose repetition could never be dismissed as an exercise in rote learning or ineffectual recitation. Jesus’ followers pray in this way because this is a distinct practice of Jesus’ followers. Such practice nurtures dispositions appropriate to the community of Jesus’ followers; through its repetition the message of this prayer would engrave itself into the life of the community.”

Unfortunately the Protestant church, back lashing against the Roman Catholic church, has moved away from praying this prayer as a regular expression of worship. Reworking this prayer or disregarding it in hopes of avoiding “vain repetitions” does a great injustice to the church and its practice, because it misses the point for which Jesus gave us the prayer. Stanley Hauerwas says,

“Some things are too important to be left up to chance. Some things in life are too difficult to be left up to spontaneous desire – things like telling people that we love them or prayer to God. So we do them out of habit. Thus in church we generally do the same things over and over again, week after week, telling the same stories and singing the same songs.”

Not only is it important to pray this prayer because Jesus commanded it, but when we pray this prayer we are allowing ourselves to be shaped into the kinds of people Jesus intended us to be. Joel Green says that not only is the ever-present discipline of Jesus’ own prayer-life important to be mirrored by individuals but also suggests that when the disciples wanted to learn how to pray, Jesus gave them this prayer as a community-forming prayer. For Jesus’ disciples their saying the Lord’s Prayer distinguishes them from other groups, even from John the Baptizer’s disciples who had their own distinguishing style of prayer.

Community Forming Prayer and The Mission of Jesus
More importantly, this prayer transforms those who pray it; Green says, it “nurtures [the] dispositions” of those who follow Christ. Christians that have moved away from this prayer, need to return to it, we need it engraved in our communities, allowing it to restore a distinct pattern of life, worship, and prayer. This is our prayer, the one “Christian” prayer handed to us from our Lord, we didn’t choose it, as Hauerwas says, “It chooses us. It reaches out to us, forms us, invites us into the adventure called discipleship.”

If it is so that the Lord’s Prayer really does transform us, we will find ourselves living its very words. To use Richard Foster’s categories, prayer not only transforms the inward (piety and daily life concerns) and upward (worship) parts of the community, but it should also transform the outward (service and mission) parts. Not only should we as Christians regularly pray the Lord’s Prayer in the form transmitted to us through the Gospels, but we should also allow it to function as our own community-forming idea of mission (the outward). We should see that these words located in the prayer are intrinsically tied to Jesus’ own mission. Using the Lord’s Prayer as a paradigm for missional formation will help to bend our wills and shape our identities toward the Kingdom.

Posts so far on the Lord’s Prayer

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8 responses to “The Paternoster – A Formative Christian Practice for All Followers”

  1. Wess,

    I appreciate your warmth and depth in discussing the power and beauty of the Lord’s Prayer. It is a shame that many Protestant churches do not incorporate it into their worship services on a regular basis (this goes for communion as well). Protestants have unfortunately intentionally “blinded” themselves to the great host of tradition that is present in the Catholic Church. Perhaps we can discuss this more at a later date.

    Again, this prayer is truly transforming. I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts on the topic. I pray each one of us will be changed (for the positive) each time we pray these words of Christ.

  2. Kevin thanks for the comment. I am interested in what you mean by,

    Protestants have unfortunately intentionally “blinded??? themselves to the great host of tradition that is present in the Catholic Church.

    I’d like to hear what you mean.

  3. Wess,

    I meant that there is often such a distancing from anything Protestants percieve as “Catholic” that they miss a great deal of the depth, warmth, passion, and ultimately the Gospel that is expressed in their Liturgy and Worship. I think this is a very sad reality. The reasons for this are many, but ultimately I believe it comes down to a very poor view of Church Tradition in Protestant circles.

    What do you think?

  4. […] The main point of this is to bring into our worship settings prayers that are formed around and out of Jesus’ own prayer. Don’t let this liturgy overshadow the Lord’s Prayer, that is of primary importance, this liturgy is to only act as an aid in the community and help point it toward mission. Not only does the Lord’s prayer form the community of God in terms of “shaping our dispositions??? but it shapes our mission – our concerns, our values. When we prayer come close to the heart of God. […]

  5. This is great. For info and future research you may like to know that the book “Praying the Pattern” has a section on ‘lifestyle’ prayer using the Lord’s prayer as the pattern for praying ones life using a rule of life based on the L-P. It also discusses the ways that the prayer can be understood and offers several suggestions for how to pray it apart from simple recitation.

    The recitative use is helpful for fixing the pattern in people’s minds and memory so that it can be used more discursively at other times. There is an argument for using it as the basis for liturgies and some interesting reflections to be done on the order of the types of prayer that Jesus commends compared with typical protestant orders of service or worship….