The Lord’s Prayer and the “deadly peril of familiarity”

January 16, 2015

kellerPastor and author Tim Keller reminds us how easy it is to take for granted the greatest single resource for spirituality that we possess! His train analogy fits perfectly, as anyone who’s spent time at Hampton United Methodist Church (which sits a few dozen yards from the train tracks) can attest. I remember being startled when it passed by on my first Sunday at the church. It feels like an earthquake. Now I don’t notice it.

Imagine you are, for the first time, visiting someone who has a home or an apartment near train tracks. You are sitting there in conversation, when suddenly the train comes roaring by, just a few feet from where you are sitting, and you jump to your feet in alarm. “What’s that?” you cry. Your friend, the resident of the house, responds, “What was what?” You answer, “That sound! I thought something was coming through the wall.” “Oh, that,” she says. “That’s just the train. You know, I guess I’ve gotten so used to it that I don’t even notice it anymore.” With wide eyes you say, “I don’t see how that is possible.” But it is.

It is the same with the Lord’s Prayer. The whole world is starving for spiritual experience, and Jesus gives us the means to it in a few words. Jesus is saying, as it were, “Wouldn’t you like to be able to come face-to-face with the Father and king of the universe every day, to pour out your heart to him, and to sense him listening to and loving you?” We say, of course, yes.

Jesus responds, “It’s all in the Lord’s Prayer,” and we say, “In the what?” It’s so familiar we can no longer hear it. Yet everything we need is within it. How do we overcome the deadly peril of familiarity?[†]

Timothy Keller, Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (New York: Dutton, 2014), 109.

3 Responses to “The Lord’s Prayer and the “deadly peril of familiarity””

  1. victorgalipi Says:

    When I lead The Lord’s Prayer as a pastor, I lead the prayer very slowly. I let the congregation know I’m doing this until they get used to it and follow along. Also on different Sundays I will emphasize different phrases, not just randomly but in keeping with the overall theme of the worship service. The hope is that this will help people to slow down and think about what they are praying and Who they are praying to.

    Personally, I find great comfort in praying The Lord’s Prayer weekly with the people of God. In fact I pray through it daily in my private prayers.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Me too. Have you ever prayed it with your congregation in more contemporary language? I ask because the 17th-century English probably prevents some people from grasping some of its meaning.

  2. victorgalipi Says:

    Yes, Brent, I have tried different more contemporary language versions of The Lord’s Prayer. But overall the congregations I’ve been associated with feel pretty strongly about using the “traditional” language.

    While I do think some kind of more modern language might be useful, I think it should be more than a paraphrase and should translate the Greek well. That’s why I don’t like the United Methodist Hymnal version “save us from the time of trial”. That’s just not a good translation of the Greek and I think it changes the meaning.

    At the same time, “lead us not into temptation” could make it sound as though God tempts us and we’re asking Him not to. This is problematic because the Bible clearly says that God does not tempt us (James 1:13).

    It could be said that leading into temptation is different than actually different from tempting. If that is so, and God chooses to lead us to a place of temptation so that He can lead us through it, why should we ask Him not to do that?

    Actually, I believe the meaning of the phrase could be closer to “lead us through temptation”, which makes perfect Biblical sense (1 Cor 10:13). “eis” or “into” also can mean “through”, and “alla” or “but” can also mean “and”; thus, “lead us through temptation and deliver us from evil”. The “me”, often translated as a negative, is problematic, but it can have other uses as well.

    In one church I pastored I used that translation in trying to use a more modern language version of The Lord’s Prayer. They didn’t like it, they wanted to use the Old English, so we did.

    What I did as a pastor was to take time during the service in new congregations to teach about what The Lord’s Prayer means. Which of course also helped them think about it more when they pray it. And I would preach and teach separately on The Lord’s Prayer as well.

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