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Many followers of Jesus who know “the Lord’s prayer” seem to act as if Jesus was giving us a set of words to repeat. But I doubt that was his intent. Merely repeating words is hardly sufficient for cultivating a rich conversational life with the living God. Jesus warned against vain repetition in prayer (Matthew 6:7). I think that Jesus intended his instructions on prayer to provide guidelines, not a script to repeat. So what would it look like to pray the way he taught his disciples to pray?

Jesus said, “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’” (Matthew 6:9-12)

I wonder if the first recorded prayer in the book of Acts gives us a little insight into how the earliest friends and followers of Jesus embraced his words. In the past few posts, we’ve looked at the initial ideas found in Jesus’ instructions. And it seems to me that the prayer in Acts 4 might just help us see a bit more clearly what praying “the Lord’s prayer” could look like.

The initial thoughts include addressing God as “our Father,” recognizing that he is not far off and distant even though the life of “heaven” is different from the life we typically experience here, wanting for his “name” (his fame, his character, his plans and purposes) to be set apart and made much of, and desiring for the ongoing extension of the “kingdom” (the manifest presence of God’s power as seen in Jesus’ own ministry).

So how does the church in Acts pray?

“O Lord, it is you who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David your servant, said, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples devise futile things? The kings of the earth took their stand and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against his Christ.’ For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel,  to do whatever your hand and your purpose predestined to occur. And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that your bond-servants may speak your word with all confidence, while you extend your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:24-30)

There is much too much to unpack in a single post, but we can notice how this prayer reflects those initial ideas in the prayer Jesus taught.

They are speaking to the one who is their God; there is a corporateness to their praying. They are talking to God in a direct and open way, speaking to him as the one they know as Father. They do see the difference between the life he invites them into and the life they find themselves in, although they are not merely waiting for some future heaven and they are not praying to one who they think of as living far off and distant from them. They affirm his greatness and plan in all that is happening. And they ask that God would extend his hand so that the kinds of things that happened in and through Jesus would continue to happen in and through them–they want the kingdom to come in their days and in their place.

They do not repeat the exact words of the opening phrases of “the Lord’s prayer,” but they are praying what Jesus taught them to pray.

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