Excerpt from The Divine Conspiracy

The Grandest Prayer of All

Some while after the event of Jesus’ transfiguration before his friends, the Gospel of Luke records, He was praying in a certain place” with his students. After he had finished one of his students said to him, Lord, teach us to pray, just like John [the Baptizer] also taught his disciples (Luke 11:1). This is, of course, an exact expression of the master-student relationship. The apprentices have watched the master do some important thing, and they have heard him explain it. Now they say, show us how, induct us into the practice.

Jesus’ response here must be taken very seriously. Many people make little progress in learning to pray simply because they have not seriously entered into Jesus’ answer to the explicit request, Teach us to pray.” Praying is a form of speaking, and it is best learned by entering into the words that Jesus gave us to say to God when we pray. He is the Master of this subject too.

Of course, we have already seen in chapter 6 that mere repetition is not kingdom praying. And this is still true of repetition of the words that Jesus gave. Instead, we learn to use the words given by him to speak intelligently and lovingly to our heavenly Father, with whom we are engaged in a common life. But we do use those words. And with them as foundation, and only so, we move out — partly on our own initiative, which God elicits and expects — into prayer over the details of our life and times under the sun.”

The Enduring Framework of the Praying Life

I personally did not find the Lord’s Prayer to be the doorway into a praying life until I was in my mid-twenties. In my family that prayer was, for three generations I know of, always said in unison at the breakfast table. But at some point, for reasons I cannot explain, I began to use it in a new way: taking each phrase of it and slowly and meditatively entering into the depths of its meaning, elaborating within it important details of my current life.

When I began to live” in the prayer in this way — for that is the only way I can describe it — there were many nights when I would awaken about two o’clock and spend an hour of delight before God just dwelling in one or more phrases from it. I had to make a point at times, as I still do, of praying thoughtfully on through the entire prayer. Otherwise the riches of one or two phrases in the prayer would be all I could develop, and I would not benefit from all its contents.

Sometimes now I do not begin at the first request but go immediately to the end or the middle and settle in there for a while. At other times I will use just the words of the address, Our Father filling the heavens,” to establish and reestablish address and orientation as I go through the day. For some reason I especially profit from using those words while driving Los Angeles freeways. They put the vast, sprawling urban landscape, with a greater population than many nations, into its proper perspective before God. And they transform my sense of who and where I am. I have never found any situation in which they failed to be extremely powerful.

There is, of course, much more to prayer than the Lord’s Prayer. It is a prayer that teaches us to pray. It is a foundation of the praying life: its introduction and its continuing basis. It is an enduring framework for all praying. You only move beyond it provided you stay within it. It is the necessary bass in the great symphony of prayer. It is a powerful lens through which one constantly sees the world as God himself sees it.

The English wording long familiar from the King James Version is a treasure now interwoven with Western consciousness. It may be of some use in practice, however, to reword the prayer to capture better the fullness of its meanings and its place in the gospel of the kingdom:

Dear Father always near us, 
may your name be treasured and loved,
may your rule be completed in us
may your will be done here on earth 
in just the way it is done in heaven.
Give us today the things we need today, 
and forgive us our sins and impositions on you 
as we are forgiving all who in any way offend us.
Please don’t put us through trials, 
but deliver us from everything bad.
Because you are the one in charge, 
and you have all the power,
and the glory too is all yours — forever — which is just the way we want it!

Just the way we want it” is not a bad paraphrase for amen.” What is needed at the end of this great prayer is a ringing affirmation of the goodness of God and God’s world. If your nerves can take it, you might (occasionally?) try Whoopee!” I imagine God himself will not mind.

Excerpted from The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard (HarperOne, 1997) and used with permission.

Text First Published March 1998 · Last Featured on Renovare.org April 2023