How to Pray | Matthew 6:5-8

Do you bow your head submissively, or do you lift your face & hands to the heavens?

When given The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6, we’re told to pray in private:

5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

There are probably just as many references in the Bible to bowing in submission as there to lifting up faces and hands. When you raise both of your hands and hold them out, palms up, in private, what do you feel? If you’re out of shape, you probably tire quickly. :) But seriously, you may not feel much of anything. If you’re not too self-conscious to raise them in a group or in church, what do you feel? Exposed? Vulnerable? I do!

I understand that bowing our heads shows that we acknowledge that we are weak and the Lord reigns over us. There’s a place for that. When confessing our sins and praying for forgiveness, sure! When bringing requests to God in prayer (as in praying for the sick), we humble ourselves before Him by bowing our heads to show that we accept His will. When praising God, I can totally see lifting up our hands and faces to Him. Here’s an interesting article on “How We Pray“.

Bowing our heads, closing our eyes, and folding our hands may feel like hiding (praying in private). I get that. Lifting hands is hard for many because it’s out of their comfort zones. I get that, too. It’s easy to get “swept away” if you let go and just lift your hands, though. There’s an energy that fills you completely when you lift your hands in prayer. No matter what your beliefs are, you can’t deny this. Whether it’s the Holy Spirit filling us or other energy that runs through all existence in ways we will never understand, it is there. Either way, I believe it’s possible that it’s all one and the same.

Lutheranism

I’ve been reading That I May Be His Own: An Overview of Luther’s Catechisms, and I now understand how the catechism came to be and why Luther arranged it in the order he did.

The ten commandments come first because they lay down the law and let us know how we are to live our lives. These commandments make sense no matter what your religion, or lack thereof. Basic human instinct gives us a sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. Chances are, it’s all covered by these commandments!

The Apostles Creed comes next as a statement of our faith. What I don’t understand is where the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds came from. I don’t recall reciting the Athanasian Creed in our church, but we recite the Nicene Creed sometimes. The Apostles Creed is the oldest creed, and if it were absolutely necessary to recite any of them, I would think this would be the only one necessary.

Finally, The Lord’s Prayer is covered last. It shows our submission to God’s will and that we turn to Him for everything.

What I’m learning about myself more and more is that I’ve never been comfortable with the written responses in the liturgy we’re supposed to read aloud or with the recitation of any creed or prayer as a whole church. It all seems so prescribed and ritualistic. Matthew 6:5-8 says,

5“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

So why do we gather and babble these creeds and prayers out loud?

Lutheranism is (I think) just one step away from Catholicism, which has way more “rituals” and requirements. Other protestant religions also recite creeds and The Lord’s Prayer. Now I did attend a non-denominational Christian church that did not do this. The only responsive reading they did was directly from the book of Psalms. This was Calvary Chapel. I really enjoyed the Pastor and his lessons there, but it’s a mega-church – and I do mean MEGA! It’s huge! It would be hard to feel a sense of fellowship there – at least for a while.

There are many resources, including streaming broadcasts of services, directly on the internet. The problem with that is that you lose the live, human interaction. When you work at home, it’s good to have some other social circle outside of the home – or so we’re all told. Some people need that more than others. I’m part of the “others”.

I don’t know if I should really be a Lutheran because of these feelings. Truthfully, I’m not entirely sure what I believe. There are times where I believe that certain things had to have happened by the grace of God. There are other times where if I really think about it, I wonder if it just happened because that’s just the way it was supposed to be. But who exactly determines how things are supposed to be? Are our lives, in a sense, “scripted” by God? Does prayer really change things, or do things happen how they’re going to happen regardless of prayer?

Truth be told, this was also a factor in my decision to stop singing with the worship teams. I don’t want to be a hypocrite leading worship when I’m conflicted myself.