So now Christians have got all hot under the collar because an advertising agency has refused to allow an advert by the Church of England featuring the Lord’s Prayer to be shown in cinemas. Boo. Hiss. Nasty advertising agency. Poor victimised Christians. It’s another sign of a secularised society. We’re always being picked on… and so on. (By the reaction of some on social media you would have thought that they have banned Christianity altogether!)
Instead you could click through to the Just Pray website that this advert was promoting to see what it is all about rather than getting all defensive. I wonder how much more traffic they had on that site yesterday than usual? The irony of the situation is that it seems that this advert has gained more publicity by being banned than it would have by being shown. The cynic in me wonders whether the good old C of E is secretly quite happy about that.
But, my dear Christian friends, before we get all huffy about being victims of persecution* because the agency would not allow the Lord’s Prayer to be played (and let’s remember that it’s the agency, not the cinemas themselves before we start getting all boycottish), let’s have a look at ourselves. How often do we pray the Lord’s Prayer? Not just reciting it – either on our own or as part of the collective race to see who can finish first in some church services – but actually praying it. How much is it an integral part of our lives?
The Lord’s Prayer (in whatever version we use – ‘art, thine, trespasses’ or a more contemporary version) was a gift to his followers from Jesus in response to their request to be taught how to pray: “Other rabbis teach their followers to pray, even John did, so give us your take on it.”** And Jesus obliged. He gave them an outline, a framework, an archetype for their praying.
He made it personal so that we remember we are talking with our Father in heaven (sounds praying is also collective) – not a remote, disinterested being.
He reminded us of how at the same time as being our Father he is also holy – distinct from us, someone to aspire to be like, untainted by the things that drag us down.
He encouraged us to pray that God’s influence would extend and be acknowledged across the world (including in us), looking for pockets of heaven on earth. And he made it clear that this happens when we seek his will rather than our own.
He invited us to express our dependence on God for everything, and acknowledge our need of his forgiveness and the necessity of extending that forgiveness to others.
He suggested that we need to ask for God’s help in walking the right path, avoiding giving in to temptation, not failing when we are tested, and being lifted beyond evil’s touch.
And it is cyclical – finishing where we started with an acknowledgement that he is God and we are not – and that life is to be lived as a tribute to him in his strength and to point others to him rather than to ourselves.
Do I hear an “Amen?”
Forgive me for being a bit playful with the story about the advert earlier. I do believe that there is merit even in reciting the Lord’s Prayer. I fervently believe in the priority of prayer. But having experienced churches where prayer meetings are the least well-attended meetings, where prayer can be a performance rather than a passion, and where any prayers that happen are focused on Mrs Braithwaite’s bunions (or equivalent) rather than using the framework Jesus offers us, I think it is a bit out of order for us to get huffy and sniffy when an advertising agency refuses to play the Lord’s Prayer in cinemas.
If we truly prayed how Jesus taught – not only using his words but following his example – people would know all about the power of prayer and we wouldn’t need to advertise it!
Be blessed, be a blessing
* Dear British Christians, never think you are persecuted until you have visited websites like Open Doors or Release International. It might motivate you to prayer and to action (which go hand in hand).
**A very loose paraphrase from the NIV – Nick’s Iffy Version.