I was impressed! A young guy sent by the juvenile court system to the Teen Challenge center where I was teaching, was always ending his responses with, ‘Sir.’ He presented himself as extremely polite, well-mannered, respectful. It wasn’t long before I discovered that his ‘Sir’ was ingrained since his earliest years in the south of the US. He also displayed one of the most pronounced negative attitudes of all the young men at the center. When defying orders he could say, ‘I’m not doing that, Sir.’ It perplexed me that even his resistance to authority was announced politely. After erupting with grossly inappropriate language, he would excuse himself and add, ‘Sir.’ It took some time, but I came to the conclusion that the addition of ‘Sir’ was not out of polite submission, but simply a rote expression of what had been drilled into him since he could talk. Actually, he couldn’t prevent the ‘Sir’ from escaping his lips, even in anger or frustration, both of which were frequent (on a personal note: this kid, with his nightmarish family background – too horrific to detail for you here – won my heart big time and became one of the students who sought me out at every opportunity, to my greatest joy.)
I tell you about this young man because his exceptional southern US habit become rote and devoid of any conscious meaning, is a danger for us as well, as we consider our prayer habits. The thought of our prayers becoming a rote and formulaic, being mumbled over and over, devoid of any conscious meaning, is sad and alarming. It would be like friends meeting for lunch, reciting memorized ‘conversations’ (no warming of the cockles of hearts at that table!)
Here’s the model for prayer that Jesus gave to his disciples when they asked him to teach them to pray like he did it (as it is found in the Passion Translation):
Our Father, dwelling in the heavenly realms,
may the glory of your name be the center on which our lives turn.
Manifest your kingdom realm,
and cause your every purpose to be fulfilled on earth, just as it is fulfilled in heaven.
We acknowledge you as our Provider of all we need each day.
Forgive us the wrongs we have done
as we ourselves release forgiveness to those who have wronged us.
Rescue us every time we face tribulation and set us free from evil.
For you are the King who rules with power and glory forever. AMEN.
I love that Jesus didn’t say, ‘This is what you are to pray.’ One translation says, ‘This is how you are to pray.’ Another puts it like this: ‘Pray like this.’ What I see in Jesus’ model for his disciples (and us) is: adoration of our Omnipotent Father, recognition of His Eternal Presence, a desire for His supremacy to be accomplished, an intimate confession of His provision, His forgiveness, His deliverance, and finally, a confession of His Kingly, all-powerful, eternal rulership. I think, for Jesus, praying these elements was important for keeping his humanity focused on his mission and would be critical for keeping us focused on ours. PD