Teach Us How To…Live? an Early Church Fathers Take on The Lord’s Prayer

“Lord, teach us to pray…”

You would have reacted the same way, I suppose.  The disciples had seen Jesus do incredible miracles.  They also watched him pray a lot.  They put two and two together and surmised that Jesus’ power was a result of his prayer.  Now, every first century Jew knew how to pray.  But nobody could do the miracles that Jesus was doing.  The disciples wanted to know how to do that!

So they asked Jesus to teach them how to pray.  That inquiry resulted in what we call “The Lord’s Prayer.”  A short lesson on how to pray that the church has held dear ever since.

But is it a lesson on how one should pray?

“Yes, but”, is how I think I would answer that.

Yes, Jesus taught the disciples how to pray here.  But if you look closer at what Jesus taught, I think He was actually teaching them, and us, how to live.

Rather than sharing my thoughts on this, I think if far more productive to read an early church Fathers take on the Lord’s prayer.  How did the early church understand it?  To do this, we turn to Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, who lived in the early 3rd century.  This will be a three part post.  In today’s post, Cyprian explains why The Lord’s Prayer is the best prayer.  In the second post, he will discuss its meaning.  May his words encourage you to follow ever faithfully after the Savior…Jim

Cyprian on The Lord’s Prayer

Chapter 1

The precepts of the Gospel, most beloved brethren, are other than divine teachings, foundations for building hope, supports for strengthening faith, nourishments for encouraging the heart, rudders for directing our course, helps for gaining salvation, which, as they instruct the docile minds of believers on earth, conduct them to the heavenly kingdom. God wished many things also to be said and heard through the prophets, His servants; but how much greater are the things which the Son speaks, which the Word of God, who was in the prophets, testifies with His own voice, no longer commanding that the way be prepared for His coming, He Himself coming and opening and showing the way to us, that we who thus far have been wandering in the shadows of death, improvident and blind, illumined by the light of grace, may hold to the way of life with the Lord as our leader and guide.

Chapter 2

He who, among His other salutary admonitions and divine precepts by which He counsels His people unto salvation, Himself also gave the form of praying, Himself advised and instructed us what to pray for. He who made us to live taught us also to pray, with the same benignity, namely by which He has deigned to give and bestow the other things, so that, while we speak to the Father with that prayer and supplication which the Son taught, we may more easily be heard. Already He had foretold that the hour was coming when ‘the true adorers would adore the Father in spirit and in truth’; and He fulfilled what He promised before, so that we, who by His sanctification have received the Spirit and truth, may also by His teaching adore truly and spiritually. For what prayer can be more spiritual than that which was given us by Christ, by whom the Holy Spirit was sent to us, what prayer to the Father can be more true than that which was sent forth from the Son, who is truth, out of His mouth? So to pray otherwise than He taught is not ignorance alone but even a sin, since He Himself has established and said: ‘You reject the command of God, that you may establish your own tradition.’

Chapter 3

So let us pray, most beloved brethren, as God the Teacher has taught. It is a friendly and intimate prayer to beseech God with his own words, for the prayer of Christ to ascend to His ears. Let the Father acknowledge the words of His Son, when we make prayer. Let Him who dwells within our breast Himself be also in our voice, and since we have Him as the advocate for our sins before the Father, let us put forward the words of our Advocate. For since He says: ‘Whatsoever we shall ask the Father in His name, He will give us,’ how much more effectively do we obtain what we seek in the name of Christ, if we ask with His own prayer?

Chapter 4

But let those who pray have words and petitions governed by restraint and possessing a quiet modesty. Let us bear in mind that we stand in the sight of God. We must be pleasing in the sight of God both with the habit of body and the measure of voice. For as it is characteristic of the impudent to be noisy with clamors, so on the other hand does it benefit the modest to pray with moderate petitions. Finally, in His teaching the Lord bade us to pray in secret, in hidden and remote places, in our very bed-chambers, because it is more befitting our faith to realize that God is everywhere present, that He hears and sees all, and by the plenitude of His majesty penetrates also hidden and secret places, as it is written: ‘I am a God at hand and not a God afar off. If a man hide himself in hidden places, shall I not see him? Do not I fill heaven and earth?’ And again, ‘In every place the eyes of the Lord behold the good and the evil.’ And when we are gathered together with the brethren in one place and celebrate divine sacrifices with a priest of God, we ought to be mindful of modesty and discipline, and not toss our prayers about at random with uncouth voices and not cast forth with turbulent loquaciousness our petition, which should be commended to God in modesty, because the hearer is not of the voice but of the heart, and is not to be admonished by shouts, who sees our thoughts, as the Lord proves when He says: ‘Why do you think vainly in your hearts?’ And in another place: ‘And all the churches shall know that I am a searcher of the desires and the heart.’

Chapter 5

This does Anna in the first Book of Kings, portraying a type of the Church, maintain and observe, who prays to God not with a noisy petition but silently and modestly within the very recesses of her heart. She spoke with a hidden prayer but with manifest faith; she spoke not with the voice but with the heart, because she knew that so the Lord hears, and she effectually obtained what she sought, because she asked with faith. Divine Scripture declares this saying: ‘She spoke in her heart and her lips moved, but her voice was not heard, and the Lord heard her.’ Likewise we read in the psalms: ‘Speak in your hearts and in your beds be ye sorrowful.’ Through Jeremias also the Holy Spirit suggests and teaches these same things, saying: ‘In the heart, moreover, O Lord, you ought to be adored.’

Chapter 6

Moreover, most beloved brethren, let him who adores not ignore this, how the publican prayed with the Pharisee in the temple. Not by impudently lifting his eyes to heaven nor by insolently raising his hands, but striking his breast and testifying to the sins inclosed within did he implore the help of divine mercy, and, although the Pharisee was pleased with himself, this man rather deserved to be sanctified who thus asked, who placed the hope of salvation not in confidence in his innocence, for no one is innocent, but confessed his sins and prayed humbly, and He who forgives the humble heard him as he prayed. This the Lord lays down in his Gospel saying: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, the one a ‘Pharisee, the other a publican, the Pharisee stood and began to pray thus within himself: “O God, I thank thee that I am not like the rest of men, dishonest, robbers, adulterers, or even like this publican. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I possess.”

Stay tuned for part two.

About Jim

Not For Itching Ears is a blog dedicated to discussing the American Evangelical church. It is a place for people to share their thoughts on a host of issues relating to this subject. Jim is available to speak at weekend services, and retreats at no cost to churches in Florida. Contact us for more information.

Posted on April 27, 2012, in Christianity, Early Church History and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Thank you for this series. This lesson in prayer/life has been very real for me lately, the words of Jesus here in this prayer coming more to life than ever before! this post is timely for me 🙂


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