At the risk of sounding controversial to my Christians brothers and sisters, I’m actually not a fan of school prayer.
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I’m old enough to remember a time when my public school used to begin every morning with the national anthem, and a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. In my province, the daily prayer stopped around when I was in the third grade, in the late ‘80’s.
Now, just to be clear, I am a huge fan of prayer, and of kids praying, and even of kids praying in public school.
What I struggle with is forcing kids, believers or not, to pray something against their will that they may or may not believe in. To me, the forced exercise cheapens the profound sacredness of prayer and turns it into a meaningless exercise for many.
Were roles reversed, and my children were being forced to pray another religion’s prayers against their will, I wouldn’t be OK with it as a parent.
Prayer is not a mindless exercise or a repetitive chant or a superstitious casting of words to get what we want. It is a place of communion and connection with our Heavenly Father, seeking Him, reminding ourselves of who He is, and reminding ourselves of who we are in Him.
And yes, it involves asking for things as part of it, and yes, we may indeed repeat prayers, and yes, we believe that the words we pray do have power.
But to reduce prayer to a daily chant for many kids who don’t believe in God or don’t believe in Jesus is to degrade prayer into something completely different.
Now, for people of faith to pray the Lord’s Prayer together is a powerful thing! And wherever possible, students of faith should gather together in schools and pray together, and if they’re going to do so, the Lord’s Prayer is certainly a beautiful prayer to pray.
Laid out by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 6, the Lord’s Prayer could be called a “perfect prayer.”
Jesus, being God, knows exactly the kind of prayer that God wants, and so gives us an example of prayer that He knows that He is going to like.
Does that make sense?
I doubt He intended it to become something mindlessly repeated without thought, which it has so often become. It was also never meant to be the only prayer that we pray. It was likely meant to be more of a model of what prayer should look like.
That being said, it is nonetheless always powerful to pray God’s Word, returning His own words and promises back to Him, knowing that He is pleased with the words because, well, they are His own words, given to us, which we offer up back to Him.
The Lord’s Prayer is roughly 66 words long (depending on the bible translation), and can be prayed in about 25 seconds. Within those few precious words and seconds, this prayer covers a massive amount of material, shortly and sweetly.
Observe the various pieces of this perfect prayer:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,” (v.9)
“Hallowed” means “holy” – Jesus begins the prayer with worship. Prayer starts off by acknowledging who God is, where He is, and what He is like. Worship is always a great place to begin, because God is always worthy of our worship.
“…your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.” (v.10)
Ultimately, God is God, and we are not. This prayer includes these words acknowledging that. We desire His kingdom to come, because it is better than our personal kingdoms, which we imperfectly attempt to rule over. Our will submits to God’s will, because we know that our will is flawed but His is always perfect. In the prayer of submission, we remind ourselves of our standing before a mighty and holy God. It is not God’s job to bend to our demands, but it is our job to bend to His will and His ways.
“Give us today our daily bread.” (v.11)
Yes, we do ask for things in prayer. We ask for them because God is the One who provides them. As hard as we work and as much as we plan, ultimately everything belongs to God, and He shares with us what He desires to. Much of our prayer life seems to consist of asking for things, and that is not wrong. However, we must note that this is merely one piece of this perfect prayer, and we should not neglect the other parts.
“And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (v.12)
There are two sides of this coin: seeking God’s forgiveness, and then forgiving where we have been wronged. In prayer we are both the forgiven and the forgivers. The way Jesus phrases it here seems to suggest that the two cannot be separated; if we are seeking God’s forgiveness, as we all must, then we must also be seeking to forgive when we are sinned against. To not forgive others is hypocrisy, in light of God’s great mercy that He freely gives to us.
“And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.” (v.13)
Since God doesn’t actually lead us into temptation, this is best understood as “Lead us away from temptation, and deliver us from Satan.” The enemy is real, and we need God’s protection from Him, and Jesus closes His prayer with this simple call for divine help.
And there it is. In less than 30 seconds, Jesus covers worship, submission, petition, forgiveness, and protection.
That is a lot from a little!
So by all means, please pray this prayer, at public school and everywhere else, reminding yourself of the power of Christ’s words, knowing that every time we pray it, we are praying Christ’s perfect prayer back to the Father, in His Name, knowing and trusting that He hears and receives it.