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All That Is Fair: Just Say This

When Jesus was asked by his disciples, “Lord, teach us to pray…” his answer was what we now call the Lord’s Prayer.  Those of us who have been in or around church for most of our lives will doubtless be familiar with this prayer.  It is one of the few liturgical, corporate prayers that the vast majority of denominations uses in their services.  We say it out loud together on a regular basis.  Here it is from Luke 11:2-4:

2 “Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
3  Give us each day our daily bread,
4  and forgive us our sins,
  for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”

Here’s what I love about this.  When Jesus answered his disciples, he didn’t say anything to them about trying to get your heart all stirred up with affection and appreciation for God.  He didn’t say anything about keeping a prayer journal or some other sort of disciplined posturing.  He didn’t say to lock themselves in a closet for hours on end, pouring out the depths of their hearts and wrapping those depths in eloquent language.  No, Jesus simply told them to “say this.”  I suppose they might have been scratching their heads a bit saying to one another, “That’s it? Surely there must be more.” 

There’s something we need to notice here.  I don’t think Jesus is saying that the other practices I mentioned above are not valuable.  But I do think he’s telling us that “this is all you need to say.”  The Lord’s prayer covers everything.  For me this is extremely helpful and comforting.  Those who know me will attest to the fact that my mind and heart have no shortage of words.  I always have something to say.  I’m always ready with some quirky opinion or joke.  And I love conversation.  I am seemingly inexhaustible and I will usually be the last man standing.  But when it comes to prayer I have to confront me.  Truly, I am full of chatter, but when I look deep inside myself, I realize that the words don’t necessarily mean anything.  Often they are a smoke screen to shield others or myself from the reality of what is in my heart.  When you pray, you can’t hide behind a plethora of clever words. It’s just you, alone.  There is no one left to impress. 

When I say the Lord’s Prayer, I try not to think too much.  I believe that there is profound mystery that is taking place when I move my lips in obedience as Jesus has told me, “just say this.”  It’s almost as if I’m saying to myself, “James, let somebody else do the talking here.  Just shut your mouth and let your anxious heart be still.”  So I will say it because I don’t know what else to say.  I have reached the end of my nervous talking, and this simple prayer is a tender cosmic hand resting on my shoulder reminding me that I don’t have to come up with anything to say.  I simply need to show up and “just say this.”  I don’t need to figure anything out about myself or God or the world.  “Just say this,” He says.  I don’t need to cover every topic that has ever crossed my consciousness.  “Just say this,” He says.  I don’t need to fix all or any of the problems looming over me.  “Just say this,” He says.  So I will. 

Go listen to the song “Hosanna” by Jill Phillips from her album of hymns called Kingdom Come.  It is a wording of the Lord’s Prayer and a few other corporate prayers taken from several Eucharistic services in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.  It’s very simple.  And it doesn’t need to say anything else.  Also remember that these readings from the Anglicans are drawn from their celebration of the Eucharist, or Lord’s Supper.  Eucharist comes from a Greek word that means “thanksgiving” or “grateful.”  We are grateful for the profound mystery that resides in the body and blood of the risen Lord Jesus.  And we give thanks as we practice this mystery when we pray the Lord’s Prayer.  Just relax and let him do the talking and “just say this.”

Our Father in heaven hallowed be your name
Your kingdom come, Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven
Give us today our daily bread
Forgive our sins and teach us to forgive
Lead us not on the wicked path
Save us from wickedness

Holy holy holy, Lord
God of power, God of might
Heaven and earth are full of Your glory
Holy holy holy, Lord
God of power, God of might
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord

Hosanna in the highest
Hosanna in the highest
Hosanna in the highest

Christ has died
Christ is risen
Christ will come again