Today I would like to reflect with you on prayer.
And since I am a child of the 80s, I always remember the songs from my youth that I heard back then.
At that time, the Cologne group BAP was very popular. I liked a few of their songs, a few not so much. But they had a song in their repertoire that dealt with prayer, that dealt with prayer. I'll show you a few excerpts of the lyrics, but translated into High German.
Bap (If praying would be worthwhile)
what do you think I would pray?
For all that which is worm in it,
for all that which has always tormented me,
for all that which will probably never change.
Sure - and also for what I like.
I would pray for all I was worth,
I would pray for the hell of it,
I'd pray for whatever I felt like,
but not for anything where someone tells me: "You must!"
Maybe I envy those who can believe,
but what's the point? I'm not chasing a phantom.
God, if only praying weren't so pointless....
And what is the message of this song?
Praying is not worth it. It starts like this. "If praying were worthwhile", for our students, that is subjunctive past tense and and this tense is used for very improbable things.
But if it were, what would he pray for? He already has others in mind: "For all the things that are in trouble", "for all the things that will probably never change", but of course he sees it from his point of view: "What ails me".
That's just a general problem. Of course one is against war, against hunger, against suffering, but one doesn't really know where there is how much suffering. suffering is. That's why you simply overlook a lot.
The author of the song sees prayer as a means to achieve things, as he imagines it. You can also despair about many things and it would be nice would be nice if all you had to do was pray, and abracadabra, it happens.
And of course, the song is still very modern after 30 years: "I pray when and where I feel like it.
But it's pointless anyway and God is just a phantom, he concludes.
But one notices that a certain longing shimmers out, that there might be more to it.
There is one thing he has understood. Prayer in itself was once originally meant to achieve something, and the songwriter can't cope with that, and somehow it challenges him.
When you see prayers on television, whether it's a scene from some official church service on the news, or a clip from the Vatican State or somewhere else, they are usually read out or memorised prayers. And I experienced this myself as a teenager in the Protestant church. The pastor read his liturgy. At first I wanted to say "rehearsed", but later I talked to another Protestant pastor and I could sense that he took the contents of his liturgy seriously, so I have become cautious about such judgements.
But of course there is the danger of rehashing, because you always read the same texts or know them by heart at some point.
I still remember how I got to know free prayers as a youngster. I can even remember the very first time. I was 15 and attended a Christian youth group in Witzhelden for the first time, which was led by a Protestant theology student. After the After the topic, we were supposed to close our eyes and pray silently to God. My head was empty and I didn't know what to pray about. What should I talk to God about? I can't remember the second and third times, but I don't think I'll forget that first time.
This theology student then prayed freely afterwards. I continued to go to this circle, which took place once a month, and at some point I got to know this congregation here, when guest speakers from here organised an afternoon there.
Here in the service they prayed freely. I had never seen that before in a church service. No liturgy, free prayer, the songs were a bit, how do I put it, fresher than in church, I thought that was great.
And at that time I found, and I still do today, that free prayer was more honest than read-out or memorised prayer. Even if someone prayed really stupid stuff, it was still somehow more honest, because at least he thought about it for a moment.
So, I would like to emphasise that this is not a teaching, but my subjective feeling. And I don't think it's a bad thing to make notes when you know you're supposed to pray with the congregation at the front. For example, when I moderate the service, we pray together according to the verse of the week, and for this prayer I have written down a few key points about what has become important to me and the congregation in the verse of the week.
Preliminary reflections on the prayer
But now I would like to look into the Bible with you, what the Bible says about prayer and in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus speaks about prayer from Matth 6,5; NGÜ.
Prayer, then, is not for one's own prestige. Today, praying may not score points in society, but it is clear what is meant by it.
Prayer only makes sense if it is addressed to God. If it serves to show off, then it is pointless. And even in the song from the beginning, God plays no role at all. In the end, he only describes a prayer that is a list of wishes, but does not have the actual addressee in mind.
God is a Father who sees us when we are God's child. And those who do not know God only make useless, empty words in prayer.
And: God, our Father, knows what we need, even before we ask him for it.
During the preparation, I thought of another sentence on the subject of prayer.
Praying alone is not enough, you also have to do something!
This sentence contains a certain wisdom, not because it is true - in my opinion it is even false.
But if you think about why it is wrong, you come to a better understanding of what prayer actually is.
I haven't heard that phrase for a long time. More than 20 years ago, it was often said when discussing faith with others and the subject of prayer came up.
What kind of understanding of prayer, of being a Christian, is behind this sentence? Perhaps it could be expressed like this: Christians pray somehow, either they reel off prayers, like a rosary, or pray in some other way, it doesn't matter, but if they do nothing, nothing happens.
If you just talk - with whoever - and do nothing, nothing happens either.
For the mere enumeration of wishes, ultimately of empty words, by people who do not know God, that is also true. That is really not enough, nothing happens. You have to do something.
But how is it when one speaks to God, one's Father, when a child of God addresses his Father? And this Father is all-powerful. What happens then? God will somehow work.
And: Do you have to do anything then? No, you don't have to.
Maybe you will do something, but you don't have to do anything.
Philippians 2:13 (Luther) already sums it up.
He does not bring about the need and the accomplishment, but the willing and the accomplishment. Prayer is also an encounter, communication with God, and that alone changes you. But God can do even more, he can change our will, lead us away from the ego trip.
And that's why praying is enough and you don't have to do anything.
What should we pray?
And what should we pray
Luke 11:1-4; NGÜ
Is that the Lord's Prayer? Is a modern translation? Yes, it's the New Geneva translation, it's modern, but it's pretty accurate. But there is something missing, isn't there?
Basically, there are two Our Fathers and this is the shorter one. I have never seen this prayer being prayed together anywhere, although it starts with: "When you pray, speak".
I would like to go through both Our Fathers with you and compare the contents.
Both prayers are preceded by the instruction to pray like this. So both prayers are definitely important for us.
The first sentence is the salutation. "Father" or "Our Father in heaven". There is not so much difference. That God is our Father in heaven should be clear to every child of God. But perhaps the detailed version is appropriate where outsiders can also listen, so that it is clear who is meant.
Then comes the first request:
Your name be hallowed.
"Sanctified", what does "holy" actually mean? It is not so easy to define. In colloquial language it means something like "immovable", "unbendable". When someone says, "This is sacred to me", then this meaning comes through.
That fits a bit, because the name under which God came to earth, "Jesus Christ", is also immovable for us. This name is holy to us.
But that is the full meaning of this word: Wikipedia defines the word "holy" as belonging to the divine sphere. In Isaiah 6:3, God is called "holy" three times. Then there are passages like Exodus 11:44a; NL where this holiness is to be extended to humans:
It seems that being aligned with God, being close to God, makes one holy, and thus Wikipedia's definition actually seems to be correct.
And "Let your name be hallowed" would then mean that here on earth it should become clear to everyone that the name "Jesus Christ" belongs to the divine sphere, to God.
In earlier youth songbooks there was a setting of the Lord's Prayer in which the melody and text distribution were rather hobbled, but the author had an interesting idea.
hallowed be your name
thy kingdom come, thy will be done
hallowed be your name As it is in heaven, so it is on earth, hallowed be thy name
our daily bread, Lord, give us this day
hallowed be your name etc.
We don't want to sing that now, but I think the statement is good. Everything we ask for and receive should sanctify the name "Jesus Christ", should show the whole world that Jesus Christ was sent by God. He was not just a man, he was the Son of God, he rose from the dead and he lives, and that should be clear to everyone.
Your kingdom come
Here again we have actually the same statement in both versions: "Thy kingdom come!" This of course implies that God's will is done there, in his kingdom. That is clear: where God's kingdom is, his will is also done.
The detailed version is probably again meant for clarification or also for outsiders.
This is also a heading for all the following petitions. When God's kingdom moves in, we receive forgiveness of sins, our daily bread and forgiveness for our neighbour is also practised.
The daily bread
Here you can hardly see a difference between the versions. Literally, it probably says "daily bread" in both places, at least that is how it is written in translations like the Elberfelder. But actually daily bread is just an image for what we need to live. Because I believe that this prayer also applies to Christians who don't like bread or can't stand it.
However, the Matthew version is used liturgically in many churches and that is why the translators probably did not dare to replace the daily bread with a translation that is more precise in meaning.
But what does that mean?
There is an interesting passage in Proverbs 30:8,9; NL:
What does this mean for us? Rich and poor are relative. Compared to the Middle Ages, we live like kings. We have running water, comfortable heating, enough to eat and many electrical devices that serve as reliable helpers. In addition, we have easy access to the world's knowledge via the internet. Not even the rich nobility had that in the past.
On the other hand, there are many people in our country who can afford much less than the majority of the population. They cannot attend cultural events, cannot afford holidays and feel cut off from the rest of the population.
According to Wikipedia, most linguists trace the German word "arm" (poor) back to a Germanic word meaning "lonely, orphaned, abandoned", which expresses precisely this feeling of being cut off.
I wasn't poor myself in the sense that my economic existence was threatened, but I can remember times as a student when I experienced in community with other young adults that they had fewer problems with financial means than I did. And when we planned something together, I found sentences like "50 marks is not much money! If you are doing well economically today, please don't forget such times from your life.
On the subject of poverty in relation to the church, I read an interesting article in the newspaper "Die Welt" a few years ago. It compared the economic situation of Catholics and Pentecostals in Latin America. And on a statistical average, Pentecostals were much better off economically than Catholics. The author of the article explained this as Catholics being told that you have to learn to be content in this poverty and that you will be rewarded in heaven.
In the Pentecostal churches, the teaching is very widespread that God wants to help here on earth, wants to change something and that he also wants to provide for a material improvement. Some preachers take this to the extreme by saying that God wants everyone to be rich. But basically, the possibility of being able to improve oneself economically alone seems to drive people in the Pentecostal churches, and that's how something happens. And besides, I do believe that God responds to prayers like "Lord, help me in my poverty".
There is an interesting Bible verse about this:
1 Corinthians 7:20,21;
If you generalise, it actually means: Be content with your situation, but take advantage of opportunities that come your way.
Dissatisfaction makes you sick and usually the environment too. You may know people who have the word "complaint" written on their foreheads, they often make it difficult for you.
"Give us every day what we need to live." And I would like to add: And give us the contentment to do so. But as I said, opportunities that arise may and should be used. That comes across so naturally in this Bible text.
And the other extreme, greed for money or possessions, is of course also unhealthy. The Bible calls it idolatry.
"Give us every day what we need to live."
Forgive us our trespasses
Here both versions are the same again.
Forgiveness is already a central point in our faith.
- Asking for forgiveness
- Receiving forgiveness
- Forgiving others
You can't separate the two.
First of all, of course, you need to realise that you need forgiveness yourself. You need awareness of the problem. I'm always doing something wrong against my fellow human beings, new German for "I'm a sinful person", so I need forgiveness from God.
And do we naturally forgive our neighbour? Of course, that becomes very difficult when the other person has really hurt you. Everyone can forgive trivial things, but bad things?
Forgiveness is not the same as "sweeping things under the carpet". Forgiveness can also involve admitting that you have been hurt. You have to admit weakness and pain. Often enough, a hurt person reacts in this way by dismissing the matter: "I don't care! It wasn't that bad! Let's not talk about it any more! etc.", but the sound of the words spoken exposes their content as a lie.
Sometimes you get hurt without meaning to. It happened to me once at work when a colleague invited me to a meeting because there were problems with a database query and wrote in the invitation that my query (he mentioned me by name) was to blame. I was really angry because that wasn't true and other colleagues understood that just as I did.
Because this invitation email went out to many - the boss was also invited - I complained about this email in the meeting in front of everyone, clearly pissed off. I am now convinced that this colleague did not mean anything bad, he just unintentionally used the wrong wording. My reaction was probably exaggerated, but he had hit one of my sore points. I don't mind criticism, not even public criticism, but I have to be able to at least comment on it, and in this case it wasn't that easy. The mail to many people was out and in our mail system you can't just reply to appointment invitation mails like that.
Everyone has sore points and this was one of mine.
In the end, it doesn't matter whether the colleague did it unintentionally or intentionally: I should forgive him in any case. Of course, it's better for further cooperation that he didn't deliberately use a bad tone. Nice colleagues are somehow more pleasant, and that's why I also try to be a nice colleague.
Forgiveness is a topic that accompanies you throughout your life and is also a key to personal freedom. Being resentful means that you constantly have to carry a burden after someone. And with such a burden, you are not free.
So: "we also forgive everyone who is guilty of us".
Here again we have differences in both versions:
Luke 11, 4b;
Temptation seems to be a special danger for us Christians.
And interestingly, it does not say: And let us resist in temptation, but: Let us not enter into it at all.
Apparently the flesh is really weak, as it says Mark 14:38:
An advertisement once said, "The best part of temptation is giving in!" and that seems to be the problem.
I guess everyone has their own temptations where they are at risk, similar to sore spots.
So this part of the prayer can be a bit annoying. We would rather be strong with Christ, resist all evil and temptations in an exemplary way. And that doesn't fit with this prayer: "I am weak, please don't let me get into some situations, where the evil one is stronger than me anyway".
But it is unfortunately the truth.
Matthew 6, 13b;
In many Bible translations, this sentence is only found in the footnote, because it is missing in the oldest sources. However, according to a note in the Luther Bible, it already appears at the beginning of the 2nd century in a congregational order where the Lord's Prayer was quoted.
What are we to make of this sentence? It is true.
But two wishes come to mind. On the one hand, I would be happy if God's kingdom, power and glory became even more visible or recognisable in my life and in our congregation. And secondly, I would be happy that I and we recognise where God's kingdom, power and glory are at work. Sometimes you just have a block in front of your head.
And after the Father-User?
In Matthew, forgiveness is once again emphasised:
and then in Luke there is the parable of the friend in the night who gets something just because he asks. And therefore: Pray!
I come to the conclusion.
- Prayer is not abracadabra, but a conversation with God, and it is only effective if it is. Many, empty, words achieve nothing.
- Prayers are the conversations of God's children with their Father in heaven. And only these prayers make a difference.
- There are two Our Fathers in the Bible and both have the same content, the better known being a little more detailed.
- May your name be hallowed. The name in which is salvation shall be known everywhere as such, belonging to the divine sphere.
- Thy kingdom come. This implies that God's will be done, in us personally, in our church and everywhere.
- Give us every day what we need to live. And let us be content with that, but not resign ourselves to it and make use of opportunities.
- (Slide 16) And forgive us our sins; we also forgive everyone who is guilty of us. Let us always be open to the fact that we need forgiveness and in doing so always forgive others, even if it is difficult.
- And let us not fall into temptation. Temptation is often stronger than we are.