When You Pray, It’s Okay to Plagiarize

Though we know it by rote through overlearning, we can never exhaust the theology of the Lord's Prayer

Fabricating a prayer as one “ought” is an impossible task. Christians feel, in a visceral as well as cognitive way, the insufficiency of their prayers that is our “always a sinner” nature. Our words are failing and ill-suited because we so often live by sight and not by faith. Our approach to the Holy One is undeniably contrived and ill-mannered, our speech muddled and imprecise.

 

“Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt. 6:9-13).

Though we know it by rote through overlearning, we can never exhaust the theology of the Lord’s Prayer. It therefore retains deep endless value and profound meaningfulness throughout our lives. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we’re not just repeating what he has given us to say; we are actually praying. More precisely, we are praying what he wants us to pray his will, not ours; for his reasons, not ours.

The Messiah had a very good reason for us to take this prayer upon our lips and entrench it within our hearts through overlearning: “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought” (Rom. 8:26). And so, there is a divine expectation that we converse and commune with God, but we do not and cannot pray as we ought since we are as Luther put it always a sinner and constantly sinning in thought, word, and deed, even while justified in this life by Jesus’ imputed righteousness. Therefore Christ must redeem us and fulfill even the “law of prayer” on our behalf. He not only fulfills the law of prayer and wins for us the Holy Spirit who makes intercession for us, he also bequeaths to us the perfect prayer as an availing entreaty to our heavenly Father.

Fabricating a prayer as one “ought” is an impossible task. Christians feel, in a visceral as well as cognitive way, the insufficiency of their prayers that is our “always a sinner” nature. Our words are failing and ill-suited because we so often live by sight and not by faith. Our approach to the Holy One is undeniably contrived and ill-mannered, our speech muddled and imprecise. But thanks be to God that Christ has liberated us from even the work of prayer and, with his own words, has transformed our ignorant stammering into a soul-satisfying communing with God through the plagiarized words of that Word made flesh.

The gift of the Lord’s Prayer frees Christians from the unrealistic expectation of posturing a strong faith and spiritual answers when people seek words of comfort and hope. The reality is that more times than not the words aren’t there. We are usually at a loss regarding what to say to God on behalf of another person or, alternatively, to God himself regarding the fulfillment of his purposes in the world. The Lord’s Prayer frees us from the tyranny of spiritual creativity and allows us to rest in the confidence of something certain and true. Instead of fabricating something snappy to garner God’s attention, Jesus would have us lose all such originality and simply plagiarize.

The call of Christ, then, is to think differently from the way we usually think about prayer: originality isn’t necessarily a virtue, and plagiarizing isn’t necessarily a vice. Move from the propensity toward sinful subjectivity and enter into the realm of divine objectivity by taking license to steal, at the behest of the Lord himself.

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