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Say It or Pray It?

“Lord, teach us to pray.” –Luke 11:1

Last week, I had one of those, as Sidney Mead used to call them, “aha! moments.” I was conducting a funeral, which I don’t often do anymore since I’ve “retired.” We were “praying” the “Lord’s Prayer.” Now I figure that I have literally repeated it at least two or three thousand times. In the middle of it I realized I was saying the wrong words. I had lost my place. Embarrassing, to say the least. As I thought about it, I realized I was not “praying” so much as repeating words from memory.

It is not uncommon to hear someone say, “Let’s say a prayer” or “Let’s say a little prayer,” or “Say a prayer for me.” When I hear that I hope we’re not just “saying” a prayer. Because, there is a difference between saying a prayer and praying. We can say a prayer from memory, or read one, or when thinking, “how does this sound to those listening?” I was thinking, “I forgot to tell them to use “sins” instead of “trespasses.” Jesus disciples did not ask him to teach them a prayer but “how to pray.” Jesus’ response was not intended as a prayer to be repeated but as an example of how we should pray. He did not say, “pray this,” but “pray like this.” It is certainly not wrong to use Jesus’ words, or the “Lord’s Prayer” as we call it. However, we should pray it and not just say it or repeat it without being engaged with God, mind and spirit.

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