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Our Prayer Instincts Are Backwards
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Most of us pray the Lord’s Prayer backwards.

Eleven years ago, my wife and I were on an Air New Zealand flight that felt like it was falling out of the sky. Approaching the Queenstown airport in mid-winter—with mountain ranges on both sides and a huge lake straight ahead—we were caught in a giant wind tunnel. The plane was shuddering and sporadically dropping 50 feet at a time. The cabin filled with shrieking and praying. Many people were crying out to a God in whom they did not believe. Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, there certainly aren’t many on buffeted flights.

Thirty minutes later, after having landed safely, the group of strangers waited at baggage claim, looking awkwardly at each other. No doubt, many of them felt silly.

The content of those prayers fascinated me. I suspect it reflects the way many of us intuitively pray. The most common petition I heard was some variant of “deliver us from evil”: “Help!” “Save us!” and “Oh, God, please don’t let me die!” Crises prompt cries for deliverance, with the immediate need for safety drowning out all other concerns. Whenever I listen to baptism testimonies at my church, I am struck by how many people called out to God for the first time in a moment of personal danger.

The other prayer I heard, though more infrequently, was “forgive us our sins” in some form or another: “I’m sorry” and “God, please forgive me.” People want to be at peace with God when they die. So after crying out for rescue, they apologized as they prepared to meet their Maker. (By far the most demanding line of the Lord’s Prayer—“As we forgive those ...

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Our Prayer Instincts Are Backwards
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January/February 2016

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