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In Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus gave the disciples what we refer to as "The Lord's Prayer", (though Jesus Himself would never have prayed this, having no sin to confess).

Some traditions use this prayer as something we should pray verbatim, while other traditions see this only as a pattern to follow.

What are the biblical reasons against using it as a prayer that should be repeated verbatim and for using it only as a pattern?

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false dichotomy? Our church does both. –  Thomas Shields Apr 10 '12 at 22:34
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@ThomasShields Not a false dichotomy if only some churches do both. The question merely falls to those churches who do not do both. –  Narnian Apr 11 '12 at 12:08
    
Oh, I misunderstood the question. gotcha :) –  Thomas Shields Apr 11 '12 at 12:17
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3 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Let's look at the immediate context:

“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...—Matthew 6:5-9 (ESV)

This is the Sermon on the Mount, which might be summarized as calling Jesus' disciples to go beyond the normal or surface understanding of obedience. The first paragraph I quoted above, for instance, calls us not just to pray, but to pray in secret when it produced no earthly benefit. We aren't supposed to make a show of prayer, but to pray intimately with our Father.

Similarly, Jesus prefaces the actual text of the "Lord's Prayer" with the warning not to use empty phrases. Don't approach prayer as a spaghetti test. Our words must be meaningful and not merely repetition of a formula.

Although we now think of the "Lord's Prayer" as a very standard way to approach God, it was probably as strange to the first audience's ears as the rest of Jesus' teaching. The NET Bible notes:

Pray this way. What follows, although traditionally known as the Lord’s prayer, is really the disciples’ prayer. It represents how they are to approach God, by acknowledging his uniqueness and their need for his provision and protection.

and:

God is addressed in terms of intimacy (Father). The original Semitic term here was probably Abba. The term is a little unusual in a personal prayer, especially as it lacks qualification. It is not the exact equivalent of “daddy” (as is sometimes popularly suggested), but it does suggest a close, familial relationship.

So it seems natural that Jesus was calling us to something beyond mere obedience to pray these particular words. Rather, He was calling us to pray with a particular attitude. Rather than obey a distant deity who has no particular reason to listen, Jesus suggests we treat God as a close relative who cares for us.


Personally, I find the prayer very carefully structured and well suited to be a guide. I sometimes pray one phrase at a time and pause to meditate on what I personally wish to communicate along those lines to my God. As long as the Christian is thinking about the meaning and not merely repeating the sounds, there's nothing wrong with reciting the prayer word for word, however.

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+1 Great personal note at the end. –  David Laberge Apr 11 '12 at 10:37
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I see Mr Ericson has already posted the context, so I won't repeat it.

Note that Jesus prefaces this prayer with two things that he says we should NOT do: 1. Pray in public in order to be seen by others; and 2. Use "empty phrases", or as the King James puts it, "vain repetitions".

I don't think #1 means that it's wrong to pray in the hearing of others, but rather that our prayer should not be a show we put on for others, i.e. we should be talking to God, not to people around us. #2 seems to mean that we should not recite stock phrases without thinking about their meaning.

I think the sad reality is that people use the Lord's Prayer in ways that break both of these rules. They stand up in public and recite it in a pompous way, to impress others with their spirituality, and they repeat it as a set of stock phrases.

As I read it, Jesus did not intend for us to memorize and recite this prayer. The plain reading seems to be exactly the opposite, that he was telling people NOT to memorize and recite stock prayers, but rather to use a prayer like this as a model.

Again, that doesn't mean that it is wrong to recite the Lord's Prayer. If Jesus gave it to us, than it stands to reason that he intended us to read it, study it, and learn from it. But I think it IS often used wrongly.

I recall hearing a lecture years ago where the speaker said, "The real prayers aren't the ones that start, 'Oh gracious and mighty Heavenly Father, creator of all the universe, bestow upon us this day thy munificent blessings ...' The real prayers are the ones that start, 'GOD!!!! Help me!!!'"

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When I was a Boy Scout, my troop tapped me to be Chaplain. On my first camping trip in office, I organized a mini-church service on Sunday morning. I assigned myself one duty: lead the troop in the Lord's Prayer. I was feeling so good about my position and the event (we didn't have anything like it in the past) and leading everyone in prayer. It was awesome. But when the morning arrived and I got ready to pray, I suddenly forgot the words. It was mortifying! If only I'd just prayed from my heart! –  Jon Ericson Apr 11 '12 at 21:08
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The simplest justification is a basic appeal to literalism.

Matthew 6: 9

After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

"After this manner" means "in this style." It does not mean "using these exact words."

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+1 for simple answer that makes sense. –  ryan Apr 10 '12 at 22:23
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Simple indeed. And let's not forget a couple verses before where Jesus says, in Matthew 6:7, "But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking." I think it can be easy to become casual when we say the same thing over and over, even if we really mean it (at first). –  Matt Apr 10 '12 at 23:35
    
@Matt that danger is certainly always present in rote prayer. It's also the case that repetition brings certain prayers more deeply into one's heart and mind over time. And that sometimes one's internal state is not well-suited to the production of spontaneous prayer -- thus even Jesus himself, on the cross, prays from memory by quoting two different psalms. –  Ben Dunlap Apr 12 '12 at 17:38
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