Children's prayers are often a delight to listen to. Here's one from a little relative: "Dear God, Good day, no fall down." And another: "Dear God, help me to be kind, help Daddy not to spank me, and help Mommy to make cakes." And some from my own family: "I thank you that Dad doesn't have a lot of meetings."
Once Naomi said, "My leg hurts. Pray that my leg will go away." And a prayer from a little member of our congregation: "Dear God, thank you for the trees and the mountains and the sun, and thank you for the rocks -- even if we can't throw them."
We smile at the prayers of God's little people. Sometimes I feel like I haven't grown up much. I'm still praying, "Dear God, Good day, no fall down." If you're like me, you could use some help with your prayer life and you're in good company. The disciples felt the same way. Jesus had not yet taught them much about prayer -- He had just prayed. Finally, after perhaps seeing the connection between private prayer and public power, they said, "Teach us to pray." Do you feel like saying to Jesus, "Teach me to pray"?
I don't need to give more time to my job. Many people, if anything, would do well to cut down on work time. Workaholism is an American disease. And I feel like I am giving sufficient time to the family (although I could be doing a whole lot better as a husband and father). But I know that I need more quality and quantity in my prayer life. "Lord, teach me to pray."
We could use help in the evangelism program of our church. We need to strengthen the administrative oversight. But our biggest need: "Lord, teach us to pray."
When the disciples got around to making that request, Jesus gave them what we call "The Lord's Prayer." They didn't ask Him how to end their synagogue services or close their religious business meeting. They asked Him for help in praying. He gave them a model prayer, one that could cover the bases, that could be used as an agenda for personal or group prayer.
That's the way Martin Luther took it. When his barber asked for help in prayer, Luther wrote him a long letter in response. He said, "I regard it (the Lord's Prayer) as the best of prayers -- superior even to the Psalter, which I am very fond of. Indeed, it turns out that it was composed and taught by the real Master. What a pity it is that such a prayer by such a Master should be babbled and gabbled so thoughtlessly throughout the world." Luther called the Lord's Prayer "the greatest martyr, for everybody tortures and abuses it." He encouraged his barber to use it as a model, saying one phrase at a time, then allowing the Spirit to help him fill in the rest.
If the Church, like the disciples, said "Lord, teach us to pray," they would likely receive the same answer as the barber and the apostles: the Lord's Prayer. It really isn't the Lord's prayer -- it is ours. (He didn't pray "Our Father," because He was the unique Son of of God. And He certainly did not need to be forgiven of anything.) May we use it for the purpose it was given -- to teach us how to pray.