The prayer that Jesus gave us lets us recognize and declare God’s sovereignty, our position, His will, His provision, His forgiveness, and His protection. The Lord’s Prayer is really the only formulaic thing Jesus in his life prescribed. It could be summarized as follows:
I acknowledge that you are sovereign God and my loving dad, to whom I can come as son or daughter with confidence.
Let there be a fluid connection between heaven and earth so we start to see the overwhelming goodness of the realities of heaven on earth now in the present.
I trust you to provide for me.
I stand vulnerable before you; see my faults, heal them; let me act graciously to those who have hurt me, just as you do me.
I trust you to protect me by keeping me close to you.
The Lord’s Prayer really is sufficient in and of itself. But on top of that we have daily concerns we need help with, as well as the privilege of having God’s heart revealed to us through prayer. Prayer is like jazz music. There is nothing more that I enjoy than driving down the road, drinking a warm creamy coffee, and having the warmth of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington or Charlie Parker blaring in the car stereo. There is something soothing about it that takes me back to my Papa’s house and his big wooden record player stereo system, or my high school jazz band and our maroon sweaters. I appreciate the twelve or sixteen or eighteen bar repetition of chord progressions and how each musician improvises so uniquely overtop. You also cannot ignore the fact that an entire genre of music gave a marginalized group a voice and a place to belong.
The Lord’s Prayer is like the drum and bass foundation of jazz. It hums along, keeping the groove. It is consistent. It is infallible. And then when we have requests and sickness and deadlines and doubts, all of those unfiltered thoughts are like the improvised solos on top. They have to stay true to the chord progression below – God’s sovereignty, our position, His will, His provision, His forgiveness, His protection. Anything beyond that is a wrong note and a misplaced prayer.
Prayer is supposed to bend our hearts to His, to gain his understanding and his heart for us and the world. The Pharisees, I think, would tend to play dirges on top of the steady beat of the drums and bass. It sounded awful. They would pray loudly in public places. They would tear their clothes. They would say so many more words than necessary, just to impress the people who possibly could hear them. And they thought that they would be heard more clearly if they used more words. Jesus called people who prayed like this hypocrites and pagans. They got what they were looking for – attention and elevation from the public – and wouldn’t be receiving anything from heaven (Matthew 6:5,7).
Prayer is to be between God and man, behind closed doors even, with only as many words as you can manage, not to impress man but to know our Creator and Lover of our Souls, a good Daddy who delights in both delighting and comforting us. When we solo our jazz improvisations in the face of all of our daily struggles, remember the chord progression. We are not doing it to impress.
We do it to be bent to His perfect, all-knowing sovereignty and love.
We do it to remember that we are valuable and accepted as we are.
We do it to call the goodness of heaven to earth.
We do it to remember that we will have all we need.
We do it to trust our inadequacies to Him because he makes us valuably whole.
We do it to remember to treat others with grace.
We do it to declare God’s protection and deliverance.
We pray like jazz to practice improvising trust over the foundation His goodness.