As a culture, we love novelty. The cachet of being in on the “next big thing” before it hits mainstream popularity is the highest honor of our novelty culture. You have to know the color of the year, the flavor the season, and the band of the moment. But of course, once something is too popular another newer and more novel thing must take its place. The pace of a trendsetting novelty maven must be exhausting (I wouldn’t know).
This love of novelty is only rivaled by our love of nostalgia. One of the keys to being a trendsetter is to know when it is time to revive something old and beloved, like typewriters, mason jars, or 80’s era neon. Kitschy throwbacks still may not catch on as quickly but when it comes to movies, nostalgia is big business. There are almost no new movies ideas. Think of all of the sequels, remakes, or comic book movies that target an audience already familiar with the material. It’s comforting to return to an old friend on film.
In this cycle of novelty and nostalgia, I want to advocate for the power of constancy, particularly when it comes to prayer. Sure, there are trends in the church too, must-read books and hip conference speakers, but the heart of our message is not about consuming products. We are drawn into an eternal and unchanging relationship with God and prayer is the language of that relationship.
I don’t remember the first time I heard the Lord’s Prayer but I’m sure I was a preschooler when I first learned the words. And I have prayed it with some degree of consistency ever since: with my family, in the prayers of the Daily Office, in worship, and other occasions. I’m guessing that I may have prayed the Lord’s Prayer around 10,000 times so far in my none to pious lifetime. 10,000 times! That seems unbelievable!
And yet I am still learning the Lord’s Prayer. I know the words well but I am still learning to take the words of Jesus and make them my prayer. He didn’t offer these words to pray like a secret incantation that would give us exclusive access to God. And he didn’t teach the prayer to his followers as a historical record of a prayer he once prayed. The Lord’s Prayer is Jesus’ invitation to the relationship that he shares with the Father.
“This, then, is how you should pray,” says Jesus. These words are our pattern for approaching the Father but we aren’t restricted to just the well-worn English translation we recite. We offer open-ended adoration to to our Father in Heaven. We long for the coming of a kingdom that we can barely imagine. We boldly ask for his abundant provision for each day. We turn and offer the unlimited grace we have received from the Father to all. And we petition God to guard us from sin and condemnation. This prayer, in many or few words, is a gift from Jesus to us.
The Lord’s Prayer always makes me feel a little nostalgic, as I think of all times and occasions when I have prayed it. At the same time, it always seems a bit novel and aspirational as I appropriate the words of Jesus in hope of unveiling the Father and his coming heavenly kingdom in a new way. The prayer is old and new, comforting and challenging. Through it all the Lord’s Prayer is a constant invitation to daily relationship with God.