The Difference Between “Saying” and “Praying”

Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name . . . (Matthew 6:9 ESV)

About an hour before sitting down to write this, I was watching the service for Queen Elizabeth that was held at St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland.

John Knox – a fiery Presbyterian preacher and church reformer – graced the pulpit of St. Giles in the mid-1500s. I think of him as a hero of the faith, but his burial site is now under a parking lot adjacent to the cathedral. A simple plate that bears his name marks the spot in the asphalt where his bones lie.

But back to the Queen . . .

Toward the conclusion of the service, the congregation gathered there in St. Giles recited the words we know as “The Lord’s Prayer.” As they did so, the camera panned the crowd. Admittedly, this service was a formal and solemn observance, marked by the kind of “high church” reverence befitting an English monarch.

Nevertheless, the most striking feature of these praying faces was boredom.          

I’ll be the first to admit that you can’t know what’s in a person’s heart by simply looking at their face – the old “book-by-the-cover” truism. But when we say the Lord’s prayer, we’re speaking words that Jesus himself gave us to pray. Surely, he intended something more than our disinterested recitation of words.

Frederick Buechner observed that the Episcopalian liturgy introduces The Lord’s Prayer by saying, “Now, as our savior Christ has taught us, we are bold to say . . .” He urges us to ponder the word “bold.” To pray the Lord’s prayer is an act of courage. “It takes guts to pray it at all,” he says.     

I have both spoken and led the Lord’s Prayer more times than I can count. Rarely have I been aware of doing something bold. Far from being bold, we are often bored when we say the prayer Jesus gave us.

How does that happen? How do we let boredom elbow the boldness out of our souls? Maybe there’s a simple answer. Somewhere along the way, having worn a hard-packed verbal trail over those words with our frequent passing by, we stopped praying the prayer and started saying the prayer. Maybe it’s time for us to quit saying it and start praying it.        

Today we begin a series of reflections on the words of the Lord’s Prayer. Our quest is simple. We’re out to recover our nerve. To get bold again. To leave behind our mindless recitations and take up the bold work of truly praying the way Jesus taught us to pray.

We’re going to ask God to cause his name to be reverenced as if we really want it to happen.

We’re going to plead for the coming of God’s rule on this earth and the doing of God’s will.

We’re going to ask for daily bread and for forgiveness as if we know we can’t live without them. 

We will stop saying the Lord’s Prayer and start praying the Lord’s Prayer.

And our boldness begins with knowing exactly to whom we pray. God is our Father. He is eager for us to call on him. He is ever ready to hear us. This is the truth that will hold our attention this week.

For today try to remember: When or from whom did you learn the Lord’s Prayer? Why do you think these words require boldness of those who pray them?      

Prayer: Lord Jesus, just like your first followers we ask you to teach us to pray. Take the words that we so often say and regularly repeat and turn them into prayer. Many of us know those words well. What we are less familiar with is a life of prayer.  So we ask you to teach in these coming days. Make us humble and ready to learn. Make us bold and eager to pray. Amen.  

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