Who said that?

“Don’t believe everything you see on the Internet.” –Abraham Lincoln

At least I think Lincoln said it… I saw it on the Internet.

In a world of fake news and other misinformation, historical facts and quotes are as unreliable as any other information. Type the name of any famous person into Google, and among the results will be a page of quotes. But on most of those pages, the quotes will be listed without any source, and in some cases the creator of the site was misinformed. As a result, if you type a famous line into Google, you may see it attributed to any number of people. Google does not know everything—it links your search to other people’s assertions, and some of those assertions are wrong.

Often a profound or clever line from an obscure person is credited to a more famous person. In his book Funny People, Steve Allen provides a list of quips that he suggests were said by Groucho Marx. He then reveals that he, Steve Allen, was responsible for every one of them. He admits, though, that they sound funnier coming from Groucho. Many statements about liberty and the danger of government oppression have been attributed to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and other founding fathers of the United States. In more than a few cases, the lines were written and attributed to them long after they had died.

Ancient figures, including Socrates and Cicero, are sometimes quoted as deploring the state of their times, with young people failing to respect their elders, social morals on the decline, and a general lack of trustworthiness among the population. The point of the citation is to show that these problems have always been around, but, alas, the quote is a recent invention and was never said by Socrates, Cicero, or any other ancient sage.

I’ve approached people quoting Martin Luther, Soren Kierkegaard, and other religious people of note, asking them in which document they found their quote. They admitted that they didn’t know where it was written, but they thought so-and-so had written it. In the case of Kierkegaard, the speaker told an audience that Kierkegaard had described Christian worship as a performance in which we are the actors and God is the spectator. When I spoke privately with the speaker, he admitted that he didn’t know where Kierkegaard had written that line, and I suggested that the speaker was probably misinformed. Years later I came across something similar in one of Kierkegaard’s works, with an important difference: Kierkegaard was discussing, not Christian worship, but Christian good deeds, which is an entirely different matter altogether.

(“Which is an entirely different matter.”)

Quoting out of context is as bad as inventing or misattributing a quote. Graduation speeches and other motivational talks often refer to Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken.” They speak to the last three lines of the poem: “Two roads diverged in the woods and I—I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference.” Such speeches suggest that Frost encourages us to be unique individuals, to dare to be different, to refuse to follow the crowd, and so on. Frost recommends no such thing in this poem. Given the title, the poem could easily be read as an expression of regret and not a suggestion that we all should take the road less traveled.

Read carefully the following paragraph taken from a book written a little more than one hundred years ago. The book is called The Life of Reason, and the paragraph is found on pages 82 and 83; the entire book is nearly 500 pages long. The paragraph is part of a chapter called “Flux and Constancy in Human Nature,” the last of ten chapters in the section of the book entitled, “Reason in Common Sense.” Here is the paragraph:

“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends upon retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement; and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. In the first stage of life the mind is frivolous and easily distracted; it misses progress by failing in consecutiveness and persistence. This is the condition of children and barbarians, in whom instinct has learned nothing from experience. In a second stage men are docile to events, plastic to new habits and suggestions, yet able to graft them on original instincts, which they thus bring to fuller satisfaction. This is the plane of manhood and true progress. Last comes a stage when retentiveness is exhausted and all that happens is at once forgotten; a vain, because unpractical, repetition of the past takes the place of plasticity and fertile readaptation. In a moving world readaptation is the price of longevity. The hard shell, far from protecting the vital principle, condemns it to die down slowly and be gradually chilled, by giving birth to a generation plastic to the contemporary world and able to retain its lessons. Thus old age is as forgetful as youth, and more incorrigible; it displays the same inattentiveness to conditions; its memory becomes self-repeating and degenerates into an instinctive reaction, like a bird’s chirp.”

I cite this paragraph, not to agree with it—I particularly dislike the disparaging remarks about savages and barbarians—but to see if the third sentence jumped out at you as something familiar. Poor George Santayana, who is remembered for only one sentence (which yesterday I saw attributed to Edmund Burke—that started me down this road). Some years ago I heard the same sentence quoted by three different speakers at the dedication of a library building, and I doubt any of those speakers could have said who Santayana was, when and where he lived, and what he meant by that sentence. It fits on a T-shirt or a bumper sticker; hardly anyone would care to advertise the sentiment that most people are either too young or too old to learn.

Or, as Julius Caesar once said, “There’s hardly any point in speaking, when people are going to remember it wrong as soon as tomorrow dawns.” J.

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Amen

“Amen.”

Luther explains, “What does this mean? This means that I should be certain that these petitions are pleasing to our Father in heaven, and are heard by Him: for He Himself has commanded us to pray in this way and has promised to hear us. Amen, amen means, ‘yes, yes, it shall be so.’”

When we pray the prayer that Jesus teaches us to pray, we are certain that God hears our prayers and answers yes to them all. In private prayer, we expand upon these petitions, considering the names of God, the significance of his kingdom, and what we know of God’s will for our lives and for the world in which we live. We list our daily needs, confess the sins we remember, seek help to forgive people who have sinned against us, describe the temptations we are striving to overcome, and name the evils that threaten our lives and our faith. As we pray these things, we have full confidence that God hears our prayer and has already decided to say yes to everything we ask of him.

Therefore, we close our prayers with the Hebrew word “Amen,” which can mean, “Let it be so,” or, “It shall be so.” The word Amen has no magic value. If a Christian should fall asleep before completing a prayer and saying Amen, the prayer would not fail to be heard and answered. (What can be more beautiful than to fall asleep while resting in the arms of our heavenly Father?” The custom of saying Amen reminds each of us that we pray with confidence, knowing that God hears what we ask and will provide what we want and need, unless he chooses instead to provide something even better.

Jesus sometimes underlined his key teachings by saying, “Amen, amen, I say to you….” The King James translation of the Bible remained fairly literal with that phrase, rendering it, “Verily, verily, I say unto you….” Some recent translations have chosen the more insipid, “I tell you the truth….” Or “Truly I say to you….” A double Amen from the mouth of Jesus assures us of the truth and importance of what he is saying. We also may pray a double Amen when we speak to God the words that Jesus suggested that we pray: “Yes, yes, it shall be so.” J.

 

But deliver us from evil

Jesus said, “When you pray, say ‘…But deliver us from evil….’”

Luther explains, “What does this mean? We pray in this petition, in summary, that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.”

Salvageable adds: When we are given daily bread, unconditional forgiveness, and guidance for our lives, we should be safe from all evil. Therefore, Luther describes this petition as a summary of the Lord’s Prayer. God’s fatherly nature is determined to keep us safe from evil. His name is kept holy, his kingdom is preserved, and his will is done when we are protected from evil. Even when God chooses to permit evil—as he did with Job’s afflictions, with Paul’s thorn in the flesh, and with the execution of his own Son—God permits that evil so that a greater good can prevail. When a Christian suffers, that suffering reminds the Christian of Christ’s suffering on the cross and of His victory over all evil. When a Christian dies, the body is buried and the spirit travels to Paradise to wait with Jesus and all the saints for the Day of the Lord and the new creation.

The devil and sinners in the world use the existence of evil as an argument against the existence of God or against his goodness. Sometimes the sinful nature still within a Christian is inclined to agree with the devil and sinners. God permits us to see and experience evil, not because he is too weak to prevent it or not good enough to stop it, but because he wants all people to know the difference between good and evil. When we face evil, we begin to hunger and thirst for righteousness, and then God can satisfy us. He satisfies us with the perfect goodness of his Son, which he credits to us even though we have been allies of evil and have taken sides against God by breaking his commands. He satisfies us with the suffering and death of his Son, a battle against evil in which the good side won. Being forgiven, we share in Christ’s victory over evil, knowing that God has chosen us for his team so we can be on the winning side.

Every day God delivers his people from evil. On the Last Day the fullness of his victory will finally be seen in the resurrection of his saints and the dawn of the new creation. From that Day on we will not have to pray for daily bread, daily forgiveness, daily help to forgive others, daily guidance, and daily deliverance from evil. From that Day on we will hallow God’s name, live in his kingdom, and do his will without distraction or interruption. From that Day on we will experience our relationship with God as his children, knowing the love of our heavenly Father and having no reason to doubt his goodness and his power. J.

 

And lead us not into temptation

Jesus said, “When you pray, say ‘…And lead us not into temptation….’”

Luther explains, “What does this mean? God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.”

Salvageable adds: Last month during an interview Pope Francis remarked that he would like to change the wording of the Lord’s Prayer to remove the suggestion that God tempts people to sin. Martin Luther did not need the pope to tell him that “God tempts no one.” We pray that God would protect us from temptation and would guide us on paths that are safe for us and pleasing to him.

God leads us, even when we do not pray for his leadership. By his commands he tells us how to love him properly and how to love our neighbors properly. God tells us what to do and what not to do, not as a dictator who likes to bully others, but as a Creator who knows why he made us and what our purpose is in this world. When you wonder why you were born, turn to the Bible and read the commands of God. They will tell you why God put you here and what he expects you to do.

Like sheep, we go astray. We enjoy temptation. We enjoy walking along the edge of temptation, promising ourselves that we will not fall into sin. Jesus warns us that we are safer removing a hand or foot or eye rather than allowing them to drag us into sin. Of course our hands and feet and eyes only do what we tell them to do; they do not cause us to sin. Sin comes from deep within us, from within our hearts. The devil tempts us to sin, and he is called a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour—but he is a caged lion, restrained by the Word of God, with only the power of his lies available for him to harm us. The sinful world around us tempts us to sin, to sink to its level of evil, but again God’s Word directs us away from sin and keeps us safe from the perils of the world. When we prefer the sinful world to God’s Word, that choice comes from a sinful heart. Rather than removing hands and feet and eyes, we need a new heart. So we join with David, praying, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).

God answers that prayer. Jesus is the heart donor who has given us a clean heart and a right spirit. Far more important than the heart we give to him is the heart he gives to us—a pure heart that keeps us alive and leads us away from temptation on paths that the Lord has chosen for us. God tempts no one. He leads us on paths of righteousness for his name’s sake, and he will lead us across the valley of the shadow of death to dwell in his house forever. J.

 

Forgive us our trespasses

Jesus says, “When you pray, say ‘…And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us….’”

Luther explains, “What does this mean? We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.”

Salvageable adds: Repentance is not something a Christian does once in a lifetime and then never has to do again. Even the best of us sins every day. Therefore, we repent every day, and we remember how God forgives us through the work of Christ every day. The Lord’s Prayer gives us an opportunity to confess our sins, listing those we remember and also asking forgiveness for those sins we have forgotten and those we never noticed.

Along with this prayer of repentance, we make a promise in the Lord’s Prayer: we promise to forgive those who have sinned against us. As we make this promise, we remember that God goes first. Jesus purchases forgiveness for all people on the cross. Having received that forgiveness ourselves, we now share that forgiveness with other people, especially with those who have sinned against us. We do not begin the process of forgiveness, nor does God limit his forgiveness of our sins to the level of our forgiveness for other sinners. The ransom Christ paid is sufficient to cover all the sins of every person who ever lived or will live, including our sins. When we fail to share forgiveness with another sinner, we cast doubt on the extent of Christ’s ransom and God’s forgiveness. Therefore, Jesus teaches us to pray daily that we will forgive the sins that were committed against us.

Two versions of the Lord’s Prayer contain different pictures of sins. One speaks of trespasses—people going where they are not supposed to go. The other speaks of debts—something that is owed to another person. Our sins are trespasses, for we have gone where God told us not to go. Our sins are debts, and we owe God a penalty of debt we can never pay. Jesus went where he should not have gone—to a Roman cross meant for criminals, and to hell itself, where his Father abandoned him for a time. Jesus went there so we do not have to go there. Jesus paid our debt by his ransom, so we are no longer in debt to God.

Jesus went there for us and for all people. Therefore, when people trespass into our lives and fall into debt to us by their sins, we forgive them. We forgive, not from the goodness of our hearts, but from the wealth of God’s goodness. No act is more Christlike than to forgive someone who has hurt you. No witness of Christ is more dramatic than to forgive as Christ has forgiven. We forgive by the power of God’s forgiveness that has already been given to us. J.

Give us this day our daily bread

Jesus says, “When you pray, say, ‘…Give us this day our daily bread….’”

Luther explains, “What does this mean? God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving. What is meant by daily bread? Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.”

Salvageable adds: Daily bread brings to mind the manna that God sent to his people in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land. Six days a week (but never on the Sabbath) miraculous bread appeared around their camp. It met their daily needs but could not be saved for the future.

So we pray for bread, but not for desserts. We pray for daily bread, confident that if God will supply our needs today, we can ask tomorrow for what we need—we take one day at a time. We pray for our daily bread, remembering that we have fellow Christians around the world, some of whose needs are more desperate than our own.

As Luther reminds us, daily bread encompasses every need that we have in this life—things we pray about often, and things we neglect to mention in our prayers most days. And, as Luther reminds us, God supplies all these things whether we bother to ask for them or not. Even evil people receive daily bread, for God has provided enough food in the world to meet the needs of everyone living. It is not distributed evenly; God expects those who have more than enough to share with those who have less than enough. When we pray for our daily bread, we might also consider how our prayer is being answered as God gives us enough for ourselves and enough to share with others, who may or may not be praying the same prayer.

God can do whatever he pleases, but God chooses to work through creation and through the people he has placed into creation. We pray for daily bread, and we thank God for the food we eat. Yet God has provided us with bread through the labor of farmers and millers and bakers. He has given each of us abilities so we can work to earn money and spend that money at the store on bread and other things we need. The farmer prays for daily bread but continues to plant and harvest. In the same spirit, we pray for the good things we want and need—for ourselves and for our neighbors—but we also cooperate with God by doing what we are able to do for our own benefit and for the good of others. And when we can do nothing else, we continue to pray, and even in that way we cooperate with God as he accomplishes his will in this world.

The word “daily” applies to all four of the concluding petitions of this prayer. We sin daily, so we seek forgiveness daily. We need not continue to repent for yesterday’s sins—we repented yesterday and they were forgiven yesterday. We do not seek forgiveness for tomorrow’s sins—that would mock God’s grace, for us to plan future sins. We pray only about today’s sins. And we forgive others daily, neither remembering yesterday’s sins nor dreading tomorrow’s sins against us. We ask God to lead us and deliver us every day, trusting that he hears our prayers today and answers them today. Trusting God, we live one day at a time, confident that we are safe in the Lord’s hands today. J.

Thy will be done

Jesus says, “When you pray, say, ‘…Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven….’”

Luther explains, “What does this mean? The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also. How is God’s will done? God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God’s name or let his kingdom come; and when he strengthens and keeps us firm in his Word and faith until we die. This is his good and gracious will.”

Salvageable adds: Those four words, “Thy will be done,” can be the hardest words for a Christian to pray. We are accustomed to delivering our wish lists to God and advising him how to run the universe. We would like to take God’s promises about prayer and use them to make ourselves the lords and make God our slave. The “name it and claim it” approach to prayer completely ignores our relationship to God. He is our Father; we are his children. Because he loves us, he invites us to ask anything of him. Still, because he loves us, he will grant no prayer that is bad for us or that contradicts his master plan for the redemption of the world.

Jesus prayed this difficult prayer in Gethsemane. He begged his Father for another way to rescue sinners; he did not want to drink the cup of God’s wrath, filled with the poison of sin and evil and rebellion. Even as he named the gift—“Let this cup pass from me”—Jesus refused to claim it. Instead, he prayed, “Not my will, but thine be done.” This example sets the pattern for every Christian as we live our lives and as we speak with our heavenly Father in prayer.

We are nearly half-way through this prayer, and we have not yet said anything about what we want and need. The first three petitions of the prayer focus on God’s name, God’s kingdom, and what God wants. Even secular business strategy understands this approach: talk to the customer about the customer first, and the customer will keep listening when you switch to your product or service. Christians are not cynical when we begin our prayers talking to God about God. In both Old and New Testaments, believers began their prayers talking to God about God. They spoke of things God had done in the past and promises he had made. They reminded God of his nature—not because God needs reminders, but because the rest of us need reminders. The more we speak to God about God, the more we are pulled away from our selfish sinfulness and gathered into the saintly habit of loving God more than we love ourselves.

The words “on earth as it is in heaven” apply to all three petitions prayed thus far. “Hallowed be thy name on earth as it is in heaven.” “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s name is always holy, except where sinners profane the name of God. God’s kingdom follows his rules, except where sinners break his rules. God’s will is done everywhere in creation except where sinners rebel against him and follow their will rather than God’s will. Some people wonder why God allows sin and evil to exist in his otherwise perfect creation. That question is not the mystery, though. The true mystery is why God loves sinners and rebels so much that he sends his Son as a ransom to reclaim them. The only answer to that mystery is found in the will of God—a gracious, merciful and loving will that wants no one to perish but wants to redeem and reclaim all people. Because that is God’s will, Christians cheerfully and trustingly pray the words, “Thy will be done.” J.

Thy Kingdom come

Jesus says, “When you pray, say ‘…Thy Kingdom come….’”

Luther explains, “What does this mean? The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also. How does God’s kingdom come? God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.”

Salvageable adds: Scholars speak sometimes of the three kingdoms of God, although they do not intend to say that these are distinct kingdoms. No, they overlap, and a person can be part of more than one of God’s kingdoms. They are called the kingdom of power, the kingdom of grace, and the kingdom of glory. The kingdom of power is creation, over which Jesus rules right now. The kingdom of grace is the Church, including saints in Paradise with Jesus and believers still living on the earth. The kingdom of glory is the coming new creation, in which all things will be perfected, all evil will be removed, and all the saints will live with Jesus forever. They will be royalty because of their family relationship to the King.

We do not need to pray that the kingdom of power will come. Creation already is here. We pray about that kingdom, though, when we pray for daily bread.

We pray for the kingdom of grace—for the Church. We pray for pastors and other church leaders, that God would keep them faithful and would work through their ministries. We pray for missionaries spreading the good news about Jesus. We pray for people we love, especially those who seem not to believe in Jesus right now. We pray that the kingdom of grace would come to more people so they can be redeemed and can enter the kingdom of grace and await eternal life in the kingdom of glory. The Lord’s Prayer is a missionary prayer.

At the same time, we are praying for ourselves. We pray that we would continue to mature in the faith—as a famous song from Godspell says, to see God more clearly, follow him more nearly, and love him more dearly. On the one hand, there are not different levels of faith. The faith of every Christian is identical, because it is faith in the same Savior, the same Lord, and the same promises. The Christian life is easier, though, for believers who have stopped measuring themselves, who have put their full trust in the Lord, and who are being transformed into the image of Christ, loving God and neighbors according to the example of Christ and by his strength.

Even as we pray for the kingdom of grace, we also pray for the coming of the kingdom of glory: “Maranatha—come, Lord Jesus!” We look forward to the Day when we see Jesus coming in the clouds, bringing with him all the saints of Paradise, raising all the dead, and inaugurating the new creation. We pray for that Day when all sorrows and sufferings will cease, when sin and evil will no longer exist, and when death will no longer be an end to life. That Day is already guaranteed through the redemption of Christ. By his life and death and resurrection, he has conquered sin, death, and evil. By his life, death, and resurrection, he shares his victory with us. Therefore, we do not fear the Day of the Lord. We look forward to it with hope and excitement, and we pray for its coming. Yet it has been delayed for the sake of the work of the kingdom of grace. There are yet more people—at least one more person—who will come to faith and enter the kingdom of grace before it all becomes the kingdom of glory.  J.

Our Father…

Jesus said, “When you pray, say, ‘Our Father who art in heaven….’”

Luther explains, “What does this mean? With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that he is our true Father and that we are his true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask him as dear children ask their dear father.”

Salvageable adds: We are not God’s children because he created us. We are God’s children because Jesus redeemed us. The Son of God exchanged places with us after we ran away from home and joined with God’s enemies—the devil, the sinful world around us, and the sin inside of us. Jesus, who never sinned, took on the full cost of our sin and paid that price, so God no longer sees sin in us. Instead, he looks at us and sees his Son, and God therefore treats us accordingly.

As our Father, God would do anything for us. He has already given his Son for us; why would he resent smaller blessings on our behalf? But the Almighty God does not make himself our slave. He makes grand and generous promises to hear and answer our prayers, but he reserves the right to answer “no.” God will not give us anything that hurts us, no matter how often and how eloquently we ask. He will not abandon his plan to perfect the entire world through Christ due to our prayers. Indeed, Jesus teaches us what to pray precisely so we learn what things God will give us when we ask for them. In many cases, he will give us those blessings when we fail to ask. But God wants the lines of communication to remain open. He wants us to pray, and so he invites us to speak to him as young children speak trustingly to their earthly fathers.

We may be children of God, but we are very young children, the equivalent of two- or three-year-olds in the family. Our words of praise are feeble compared to what the angels offer God, but God knows our limitations and delights to hear our prayers; they are like crayon drawings that the Lord posts on his refrigerator. We often ask God for things that are inappropriate for us to have, but God never tires of our requests. We can ask him any number of questions without exhausting his patience. Having redeemed us and adopted us, God loves to hear our voices. Even when he says “no,” he will never turn us away lacking some blessing that he knows will be good for us.

I ache for people who say that they cannot approach God as a Father because of the faults and misbehavior of their earthly fathers. Parents bear a great responsibility to be pictures and representations of a God who teaches people to do right instead of wrong, but who also never stops forgiving and never stops loving his children. Where our parents fail us, God our Father remains reliable. We can always approach him through Christ, and nothing we say to him will lessen his love for us. J.

On prayer

Jesus said, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like 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 this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:5-13).

Prayer should be the simplest and easiest part of Christian living, but our imperfect minds complicate praying as we complicate so many things. Some Christians use prayer books and use only prayers created by others, while other Christians regard only spontaneous prayer as genuine. Some repeat the same brief prayers with great frequency, while others pray only on certain occasions, such as mealtime and bedtime. Some only pray aloud, others only in their minds, while most Christians pray in both ways at different times. A few take Jesus literally and never pray what other people can hear. Since Jesus prayed several times in the presence of others, we can take his warning to “go into your room and shut the door” as an exaggeration, parallel to “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matthew 6:3).

When we pray, we speak to God. Prayer is not a time to lecture others while directing our words to God—prayer is communication with the God who made us and who is in charge of the universe. We cannot impress God by the beauty of or prayers, so we might as well keep them simple and personal. We cannot fool God about ourselves, so we should not try, not even in our prayers. We pray often, because God is always with us and always wants to hear from us. We tell God what we want and what we need. We do not think that we can persuade him or bribe him to give us something that he does not want to give. We do not bargain with God. God has attached powerful promises to prayer, but he retains control of the universe.

The prayer Jesus taught his disciples, known both as the Lord’s Prayer and the Our Father, is an outline to guide our prayers. Martin Luther wrote that an hour is too little time to pray the Lord’s Prayer properly. When we honor the name of God, we stop and consider the many names of God and what they tell us about him. When we ask for daily bread, we add other needs; and when we pray for forgiveness, we confess our sins, as many as we remember.

Among some Christians, the Lord’s Prayer is also used as a group prayer. At those times, everyone in the group speaks the prayer together, often using vocabulary and grammar from England of the 1600s. This unites Christian prayer, not only with everyone in the building, but with previous generations of Christians who now are in Paradise awaiting the Resurrection. After all, the Lord’s Prayer is a group prayer—it has no I or me or mine, but is addressed to our Father and mentions our daily bread and our trespasses. Therefore, when we pray this prayer, we are praying for Christians around the world and not only for ourselves.

But when we use this prayer and teach it to our children, we need to explain the words of the prayer. Otherwise, they will grow up praying, “Our Father who aren’t in heaven, hollow be thy name,” or even, “how do you know my name?” Children should know this prayer so they can pray it with others and use it as an outline for their personal prayers. When we do not know what to pray, the Lord’s Prayer is a wonderful help. We know how Jesus wants us to speak with him and with his Father. We also know what Jesus and his Father want to give us. Paul wrote, “We do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). Along with those groanings, the Holy Spirit has given us this prayer from the mouth of Jesus himself, so we never need to feel that we are at a loss for words when we approach the throne of God. J.