Jesus’ disciples wanted to pray, but they weren’t quite sure how to go about it. So Jesus gave them a lesson in prayer—a model that Christians all over the world still use thousands of years later (Matthew 6:9-13).
I’ve said the Lord’s Prayer countless times, heard sermons about it, read books about it. But there’s one word in the prayer that I’ve brushed right by in the past. It’s a small word, just three letters, but it’s a critical one.
How could I have missed it for so long? It’s the first word, for crying out loud. Our.
Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name . . .
Why, I wonder, didn’t Jesus instruct his disciples to address their prayers to God individually? “My Father who art in heaven . . .”
But from the very first line of the prayer, it’s apparent that Jesus sees prayer as a communal activity. Certainly we are to spend time with the Father one-on-one, but our default should be to come to him remembering that we are part of a community. He didn’t create us to be lone-wolf Christians, howling our prayers from the isolation of our dens.
Jesus tells us to call God our Father, which means that fellow believers are our brothers and sisters. We have the privilege of linking arms with them as we talk to our Dad about the things that are close to our hearts. Together, we can share our burdens. We can cry out for healing, for peace, for a relationship to be restored, for a prodigal to come home. And together, we can share our joys. We can offer thanks to God for his faithfulness, his goodness, his answers to our prayers.
My friend has a twentysomething-year-old son who cut ties with his family several years ago, leaving no forwarding address. Ever since, she and her family have tried everything shy of hiring a private investigator to find him. She wants more than anything to let him know that he is loved, that he is wanted, that there is a spot reserved for him that no one else can fill. I’ve had the privilege of praying with my friend every Thursday, begging God to reunite them and to show her son how much he is loved—by God and by his mother.
Our Father . . . please.
In Matthew 18:19-20, Jesus says, “Truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” I don’t know exactly what it is about praying to our Father with other people that makes it so sacred. Obviously God’s ears are just as attuned to the prayers we pray in solitude; it’s not as if we need to meet some kind of quorum for him to answer us.
But perhaps communal prayer is more for our sakes than for his. God knows how easily we lose hope, how quickly we get discouraged when we’re left on our own. But when our brothers and sisters stand united with us, they can believe and hope on our behalf when we grow weary.
On Mother’s Day weekend of this year, my friend received the best gift she could ever hope to receive: an unexpected reunion with her beloved son. As she held him in a long-awaited embrace, with tears streaming down both their faces, the hundreds of prayers that had been uttered on his behalf over the years seemed to swirl around them.
When my friend shared this news with me and the other friends who had been praying, I experienced another gift of communal prayer. Not only does it allow us to share our burdens; it also gives us the chance to multiply our joy and our gratitude.
Our Father . . . thank you.
So whatever we find ourselves up against this week, may we embrace the model Jesus gave us in his prayer. In our moments of need, we can come before him as our Father. In moments of rejoicing, we can come before him as our Father.
We can come to him together, as brothers and sisters. For that is exactly what we are.