Maybe We Shouldn’t Repeat the Words
Jesus explained that everyone, when fully trained, will be like his or her teacher (Luke 6:40). Among other things what this might mean is that no one does the Christian life originally. We all do what we do because we’ve learned from someone, we’ve followed a model we have seen.
That is at the heart of good discipleship. We end up learning about the life of “followership” from some model we follow (Philippians 3:17; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; Hebrews 13:7). As you watch the disciples, as presented to us in the Gospels, you’ll see them grow, more and more, to look like and act like and serve like Jesus. They are following His example.
One of the most notable examples of this kind of learning-by-example comes when they asked Him to teach them to pray.
“One of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.'” ~ Luke 11:1
What were they asking? Well, John the Baptist taught his disciples to pray in a “John the Baptist way”–to pray John’s kind of praying. Jesus’ disciples want Him to teach them to pray in a “Jesus way.” They saw something so different in His praying that they wanted to learn to pray the way He did.
In answer to this request, Jesus offered them what many refer to as “the Lord’s prayer” (Luke 11:2–4). What is disappointing is that many think that what Jesus was doing was giving His followers words to repeat. Luke records:
“And He said to them, ‘What you pray, say . . .’ ” ~ Luke 11:2
But it doesn’t appear that Jesus intended them (or us) to merely repeat the words that follow. Why not? A couple of reasons.
In Luke 10, Jesus sent out seventy disciples to minister in His name and proclaim the kingdom and demonstrate the presence of God’s rule. In giving them instructions, Jesus charged them:
“Whatever city you enter and they receive you, eat what is set before you; and heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you,’ ” ~ Luke 10:8–9
Here we get similar instruction: “Say . . .” But in the context of Jesus’ instructions in Luke 10, He clearly doesn’t mean “Merely repeat these words and say only this.” The announcement of the kingdom is the substance of the message, but those words do not exhaustively express the message nor are those the only words the seventy were encouraged to say.
Later in the same chapter, when the seventy returned, we have a record of Jesus praying (Luke 10:21–22). A simple reading of that short prayer makes it clear that Jesus didn’t use any of the words that appear in the “Lord’s prayer.” If the prayer we find in Luke 11 are Jesus’ instructions about how to pray the way He prays, then the example in Luke 10 tells us that Jesus Himself didn’t pray by merely repeating those words.
Does this mean that it is wrong to repeat the words we find in Luke 11:1–4? No, it might not be wrong. But it doesn’t seem that is what Jesus intended.
So, maybe, the call in Luke 11 is not to merely repeat the words we find there but to let the ideas found in the “Lord’s prayer” to shape our thinking about prayer. That is what we will seek to do in the next few blog posts. We’ll explore Jesus’ instructions about prayer and let His words shape our thinking about prayer–and not merely leave us with words to repeat.