Q: What rule has God given for our direction in prayer?
A: The whole word of God is of use to direct us in prayer; but the special rule of direction is that form of prayer which Christ taught his disciples, commonly called, the Lord’s prayer.
Acts 2:42: And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
I think it’s good that the catechism makes mention that the whole of Scripture is useful in instructing us to pray. I remember one time in college we were examining a prayer prayed by an Old Testament prophet (I believe it was Samuel). At the end of reading the passage I joked, “Man! Samuel prays like a Presbyterian!” My professor laughed and said, “Why do you think that is?” “Obviously”, I said, “because he was a Presbyterian!” All joking aside, examining the prayers in Scripture, one does begin to pick up certain patterns and formulas to what prayer should be. So when the Westminster Divines point to the whole of the Bible as a model and instruction for prayer, a “rule” for what prayer should be, they are right in doing so! But, of course, the Lord’s Prayer is given to us by Jesus Christ himself as the “ultimate” model of prayer. In giving us the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus really is giving us a framework and pattern for prayer that truly has been used throughout the whole of Scripture. There’s nothing new in the Lord’s prayer as far as the structure goes. What Jesus gives us is a model of prayer that is based on the biblical patterns and structures used throughout the Scriptures.
Now, as I said in the last blog post, the Lord’s Prayer can be used in two ways. The first is a model for prayer. The Lord’s prayer can and should give us a structure to our prayers. We see in the prayer elements of praise (hallowed be thy name), we see in it a submission to God's will (thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven), supplication (give us this day our daily bread), repentance (forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us), and so on. Over the next several weeks, we'll discuss these elements of the prayer and see how they can shape our own prayer lives.
The second way that the Lord's prayer can and should be used is as a prayer in and of itself. God's people should be praying the Lord's prayer as it was given. In fact, Jesus himself commands this in Luke 11, when as he's about to give the prayer he says, "When you pray, say..." And the prayer itself is, indeed, given in a liturgical structure, thus indicating that Jesus is saying, "Hey, this is a prayer you ought to be saying often!" The church has historically understood the prayer in these terms. So much so, in fact, that the ancient Didache, a first century treatise which contains supposed teachings of the Apostles, states that the prayer should be said by Christians at least three times a day!
It's for these reasons that the Reformed church, as well as Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, and just about every other major branch of Christianity has, for centuries, included the Lord's prayer as a liturgical element in their weekly gathered worship services. This is the reason why I used Acts 2:42 as a Scripture reference for this question. It shows us that the early believers dedicated themselves to "the prayers". That little word, "the" before the word "prayers" indicates that these were structured, memorized prayers used for liturgical purposes. Quite likely, these prayers included the Lord's prayer. Going back to that college class I mentioned in the beginning of this blog, as we began discussing the Lord's prayer, the professor asked, "How many of you attend a church where the prayer is said every week?" Sadly, only two of us raised our hands (the other person who raised his hand attended a Reformed Baptist church). The professor then asked, "what are some of the objections to not saying the prayer every week?" The most common objection was, "well if you say it every week, it can become meaningless!" This is certainly a reason that many of us hear when it comes to using any repeated elements of worship, not just the Lord's prayer! But our professor had a great response to this. He said, "Isn't that an issue of the heart with the worshiper, not an issue of the Lord's prayer itself? Why is our solution to this problem simply to not use the prayer at all? Shouldn't our solution be, rather, to address the heart issues of our worshipers who find this prayer to be meaningless if we repeat it too much? This prayer was given to us by Jesus Christ himself! How could it ever become meaningless!?"
It's a wonderful point, isn't it? This prayer was, indeed, given to us by Christ himself. There really could be no better way to pray than to pray the words of Christ!