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Praying for Each Other

“Because of this, and hearing of your faith in the Lord Jesus and the love you have toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, making remembrance of you in my prayers in order that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory, would give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.”

(Ephesians 1:15-17)

What is the “this” that Paul has in mind? The previous verse provides us with the context that gives us the answer. The “this” is that we have been adopted into God’s household by the work of Christ and we are God’s possession, and so, “because of this” plus the faith of the Ephesians and the reputation they have of having love for the Saints, Paul never ceases to give thanks to God for them nor does he cease to remember them in his prayers.

There is a model of prayer here that I think sometimes goes overlooked. For whom is Paul praying? He is praying for the believers in Ephesus. How often our prayer life is predominately focused on ourselves rather than on others. Here, Paul is making a point of clarifying that he is constantly in prayer for these brothers in Ephesus and that he celebrates what God is doing in them and of what God will do in them. While it is clear from his writings that Paul commonly prays for strength to do that which he has been called to do, that is not his primary focus here.

Paul’s focus is clearly on the wellbeing of Christ’s church as a whole, not just the parts with which he is directly involved. How sad it is that we have lost that in the church today. Too many denominations, for instance, are only interested in promoting their own “brand” of Christianity and worship rather than seeing the True Church of Jesus Christ be built up. Why is it that churches often feel threatened by the presence of a nearby church rather than to see the other fellowship as a potential ally in the work to be done? The church functions more like a business than it does like a military expeditionary force, and that is a problem. 

Anxiety is not Good for the Believer

“Do not be anxious, but in everything, with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”

(Philippians 4:6)

Are we to suggest that God does not know our needs before we “make them known”? Certainly not! Jesus says that our Father in heaven knows our needs even before we ask him (Matthew 6:8). No, the emphasis on the making our needs known to God is not on informing the omniscient one, the emphasis is on how we present ourselves before the King of the Universe.

Paul writes that we first must not be anxious in our manner. Why not anxious? Why shouldn’t we be worriers over every little thing? The answer is that we are adopted by the God of the universe who knows our needs and has the power to see those needs met. It is the pagan who has the right to worry, for their gods cannot act or move or hear their prayers.

Thus, we take our prayers to God in a way that is not anxious, but trusting in his divine hand, his divine character, and his divine goodness and we lift them before the Lord of heaven. Paul uses the phrase, “prayer and supplication,” which is a common phrase for the Apostle (see Ephesians 6:18;1 Timothy 5:5). Supplication speaks of specific entreaties or pleas for help before God and prayers speaks in a more broad and general way. The key is, that with this humble reliance upon our God, we are to lift our cares before him.

The thing, of course, that many struggle with is the anxiety part. How we often ask God for things in such a way that we would not want our children asking us for a need or a concern that they might have. How often we come across (if we look at our prayers objectively) as if we are doubting God’s goodness or power or both. How often we try and make demands rather than being still and having confidence that God is, well, that he is who he says he is (Psalm 46:10). Beloved, do not worry or be anxious and do not allow that anxiety to become part of your prayer life…instead, let your prayer life be such that it takes away your anxiety because you are assured of the one to whom you speak.

Fulfill my Joy

“If therefore there is consolation in Christ, if there is encouragement of love, if there is fellowship of the Spirit, if there is affection and compassion, then fulfill my joy in order that you might be disposed to these things: having this love, being united, and being of one mind.”

(Philippians 2:1-2)

Indeed, if there is any desire that pastors have for their flock this would summarize it. One might add: “attentiveness to the Scriptures,” yet I would suggest that the only way the above can happen in a body of Christians is if the body is attentive to the Word of God. How often churches go astray because they don’t start at the right spot…sitting under the Word.

Some translations render the phrase “fellowship of the Spirit” as “spiritual fellowship,” which is a legitimate translation as the word “Spirit” does not have a definite article. At the same time, given the language of consolation in Christ, the parallelism seems to imply also that the fellowship will be in the Spirit, hence the choice to capitalize the term, seeing it as a reference to the Third member of the Trinity and not to the spirituality of believers.

This notion of unity becomes foundational to what Paul will speak of next…wisdom for all of us in Christ’s church. If we cannot get this notion into our beings, we will fall into fighting and bickering. And where there is fighting and bickering, almost always this spirit of unity is lacking. I have said more times than I care to count that these first 11 verses of Philippians 2 are the most significant verses that guide our Christian living…they send a simple message but contain profound truths. Yet, all in Paul’s timing as he unfolds the words of this letter.

Jesus is God!

“For I know that this will turn out for my salvation through your supplications and through the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,”

(Philippians 1:19)

The confidence of Paul in the prayers of the Saints and the strength of the Spirit should not surprise us much as we arrive here in verse 19. Indeed, as Christians, how we rely on the prayers of others. That said, I wonder whether we genuinely pray and make supplications to the Lord on behalf of those who are in distress, in chains, or just in ministry…the leadership of the church that we make wise and Godly decisions when such are set before us.

What is quite significant, though, about this verse is Paul’s use of the phrase, “the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” This is the only spot in the Bible where the Spirit is spoken of in this way. We find the phrase, “The Spirit of God,” often enough (25 times), but this is something that stands out, though it should not give us pause. The reality is that Jesus is God and thus it is a natural linguistic transition to make from saying “the Spirit of God” to “the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” At the same time, this verse does provide us with an apologetic reminder that Jesus Christ is fully God. We live in a day and an age where many are trying to make less of Jesus than he is, making him look to be some sort of demigod or divine human, seeing him as created and not part of the Triune Godhead. Here, Paul would seem to refute such an idea, reminding us that the Holy Spirit is just as much connected with the Son as he is with the Father.

But also make note of the language applied to the Spirit here…it is the Spirit who strengthens, who provides for Paul, who fortifies him in his time of need. How we need to be reminded sometimes that we do not do things in our own strength as believers, but what we do we must do in reliance on the strength of the Holy Spirit. He empowers, we bring nothing to the table other than obedience…and that is something the Spirit works in us as well. There is no room for personal pride, folks, only pride in our Savior, Christ Jesus.

A Dangerous Command

“And the High Priest stood up and said to him, ‘Don’t you have any answer for these men who are testifying against you?’ But Jesus said nothing. And the High Priest  said to him, ‘I command you by the living God to tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God!’”

(Matthew 26:62-63)

 

“And the High Priest stood up in their midst and questioned Jesus, saying, ‘Can you not answer anything to those who accuse you?’ But he said nothing and would not answer them. Again the High Priest questioned him and said, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed.’”

(Mark 14:60-61)

 

It is sometimes wondered why Jesus did not offer more words in his defense — I am sure that most of us would be speaking at a mile a minute were we in such a situation. Plus, would this not have been an appropriate time to share the Gospel with them? Apart from the fact that these servants of Satan were not interested in hearing truth, we should remember that Jesus’ silence is also a fulfillment of Isaiah 53:7, where the prophet speaks of the Suffering Servant going silently to his place of execution — like a lamb to the slaughter. Here, more than 700 years before Jesus’ birth and crucifixion, God, through the prophet, tells us the details of his Son’s own trial. That sheer fact alone ought to make us shudder.

Legally, Jesus should have had no need to answer — Jewish law requires more than one witness and if these witnesses couldn’t even get their stories straight, Jewish law insists that there is no case against the accused. Of course, there is nothing legal about this trial at least in human terms. It is a farce. And the King of Glory chose not to legitimize their scheme, though it would mean going to the cross (and on the cross facing the real trial, this time before an almighty God).

The real mockery, though, comes in the High Priest’s statement: “I command you by the name of the Living God…” Here is a wicked human trying to use the name of the Holy God to command the Holy God himself (Jesus!) to testify regarding a false witness. Command indeed. It is Christ who commands us, not we who command Christ. Yet, one must be careful, for is this not how we pray sometimes? Do we not expect God to do this or that because we wish him to? Do we not sometimes get upset with God for not answering our prayers in the way we desire? Loved ones, let us not fall into the trap that causes us to think that God exists for our ends — no, we exist for his glory! Let us never neglect that great truth.

Finally, it is clear from Caiaphas’ statement that he does understand that the Christ is the Son of God from prophesy (Psalm 2:7; Isaiah 9:6). Caiaphas’ problem is that he did not want to admit that it would be Jesus. Yet, Jesus is the Son of God — the Son of the Blessed one — the final title being a wonderful reminder that it is only in God himself that we will find blessing and God has made it clear that the blessings will only be through the Son. Woe to those who stand and mock him (Psalm 2:12).

God is Truth

“And he said, ‘Blessed be Yahweh the God of my lord Abraham who has not forsaken his covenant faithfulness or his truth from over my lord. As for me, Yahweh has led me to the household of my lord’s brother.’”

(Genesis 24:27)

 

Recently I was speaking with a Christian man who had become convicted that he spent all of his time praying for the things he wanted and not enough time giving thanks to God for the things that God had given him. What a remarkably convicting statement. How often we are quick to treat God like a celestial Santa Claus wanting sweet treats and as soon as God gives us a good thing, we turn around and ask for more, like a spoiled child who takes for granted that which he does have.

Eliezer comes before the Lord in worship and then in praise for what God has done. He praises God for his dRsRj (chesed) — God’s covenant faithfulness in spite of our covenantal unfaithfulness — and for being tRmTa (emeth) — True. We have often talked about the covenantal faithfulness of God, but the second part of this declaration is also worth mentioning. God is true. He is true to his word and he is true to himself and to his character. And it is on the basis of God’s truthfulness, we find assurance within his covenantal promise. His promises will not change because he is True and therein we can rest our hope.

We live in a world that is yearning for truth. The sad thing is that those in this world tend to seek it in all of the wrong places — avoiding the one place where truth can genuinely be found. Such is our fallen nature. Yet, for we who know the God of truth, we can draw great hope from knowing that He is, has always been, and always will be true to his word and to his promise.

Trembling at the Fulfillment of Prayer

“When she had finished giving him water, she said, ‘I will also water your camels until they have finished drinking.’ And she hurried and emptied her pitcher into the watering channel and ran again to the well to draw more — she drew enough for all of his camels. And the man stared at her. And he was reduced to silence wondering if Yahweh had brought success to his path or not.”

(Genesis 24:19-21)

 

Notice how often the words “hurried” and “ran” (as well as their synonyms) show up to describe Rebekah’s activity. There is no question that she is an industrious young woman who is quick to serve others before she serves herself. As we mentioned above, she shows hospitality by offering to water his camels as well as to share water with him and thus fills up the watering trough for the camels to drink, something that would have taken repeated trips with her pitcher to complete.

And the man stares in amazement. The Hebrew word that is used here is quite unusual and its root, hDaDv (shaah) is only found 7 times in the Hebrew Old Testament; in four of those uses, it is translated as “laying desolate” or “destroying” a city or a region and twice it is used to refer to the roaring of waves or thunder. This is the only spot it is translated as “stare” or “gaze” or “watch.” Because Hebrew is a language that has been influenced by a number of sources, it is not that surprising to see a verb being rendered in a variety of ways, but I think that the choice of this particular word in this verse is intentional and designed to show us the stunned and perhaps overwhelmed response of Eliezer, the servant.

You know, as Christians we pray and we pray for God to move and act in our lives, but sometimes I don’t know that we really pray with the expectation that God will move in our lives in a profound way. Eliezer has been praying that God would reveal to him the woman for whom he was sent and he set down for God an identifying sign (that she would give him water and care for his camels). God brought her out, Eliezer thought it might be she by her character, and then when the “sign” was asked for she delivered. God profoundly answered Eliezer’s prayer and I believe that Eliezer is likely overwhelmed by God’s grace and providence here. It is not simply that Eliezer is sitting there in calm silence calculating whether this is the girl, but he is likely shaking like a leaf — like a city that is being leveled by an earthquake or like a man unnerved by the roar of thunder. Here he is witnessing firsthand the magnificence of God with respect to answering prayer and he needs to take a minute or two to collect himself as he watches this girl that God has sent.

Friends, God gives us accounts like this not just so we can know the history of his people, but so that we can be reminded that we serve the very same God who proved himself faithful generation after generation. And loved ones, if he has been faithful to our ancestors in the faith, he will be faithful to us as well. What a mighty God we serve, indeed. Why is it then that we so often pray without the expectation that those prayers will be acted upon. We worry and fret over things and try and work them out to the best of our human design. Loved ones, there is no need to worry for our God has held his people in his hand since the beginning and he is not about to stop now. In addition, while we are commended in scripture to work and to be about the task of laboring for the kingdom, why is it that we settle for what man can do and neglect the awesome reality of what God can and will do. May we pray in faith, but may we also remember that the Christian faith is not a blind faith, but it is a faith based on expectation and the anticipation of what a living God will do in and around our lives.

What, Me, Worry?

“‘Behold, I am positioned over the spring of water and the daughters of the men of the city are coming to draw water. May it be that to the girl to whom I say, ‘Please extend to me your pitcher that I might drink’ and she would say, ‘Drink and I will also water your camels.’ Let her be the one appointed to your servant, for Isaac, and through her may I know that you work covenant faithfulness for my lord.’”

(Genesis 24:13-14)

 

Notice the language of appointment being made here. There is a clear expectation on the part of Eliezer that God has orchestrated things from beginning to end and that one of these girls coming out to water will be the one that God has chosen to marry Isaac. He sets the standard as he prays, asking that the one whom God has chosen shall show courtesy toward him, offer him a drink, and water his camels for him. Certainly, the young girl that shows this kind of grace and hospitality will be the one that God has appointed in his covenant faithfulness. And thus, he waits and will soon meet Rebekah — again, an instance where God demonstrates his control, for he sees Rebekah coming out of the city.

How quick we can often be to doubt the faithfulness and grace of God. We doubt and worry and second-guess, but none of these things befits us as children of the living God who loves us. Jesus says that it is the role of the pagan to worry for these things that we need (Matthew 6:32); indeed, the pagans have gods that neither can speak nor hear nor move (Psalm 135:15-17) and thus neither can hear nor answer the prayers of those who serve them. Our God is living and active and not only hears but acts in the life of his loved ones — we need fear nothing.

Worry robs our hair of color, our nights of sleep, and our friendships of depth. We fear committing because we fear that the end might soon be near. Loved ones, fear the Lord and him alone. He is the God over the heavens and the earth and he has chosen to come into a relationship with you. He promises to provide for all of our necessities and he promises to never leave or forsake us…what more do we need? God is even the God who ordained the timing and the manner in which Rebekah comes out to the watering hole for her family — who knows, she might have come down with a cold and been sick that day — and that is the point; when God so appoints, this things will come to pass — and God has appointed (Ephesians 1:11), so why worry?

 

Camels, Water, and Revival

“And he caused the camels to kneel outside of the city near the well of water; the time was evening, the time when those come out who are drawing water. And he said, ‘Yahweh, the God of my lord Abraham, please ordain success for me in my presence this day and demonstrate covenant faithfulness to my lord Abraham.’”

(Genesis 24:11-12)

 

Abraham’s servant stops outside of the gate, a place to where visitors would come and a place where the animals could be watered at the end of the journey. A typical baggage camel can travel about 40 miles per day, so here they close about a 2-week journey from the wilderness of Canaan to the city of Nahor. This would be a typical place for a traveler to stop, water the camels, and inquire as to a place to stay for the night.

Though most of our English translations speak of the time of the evening as the time when women come to draw water, this is inferred from the feminine use of the term for those drawing. More specifically, we should state that these ladies coming out to draw would typically have been servant girls and young daughters in service of their mothers, not so much that all of the women of the community were coming out to draw at this time. Indeed, this sets the stage for  the introduction of Rebekah, but before introductions are made, Eliezer goes to the Lord in prayer.

What is particularly interesting in this prayer is that he addresses it to “Yahweh, the God of my master (or lord) Abraham.” Here he does not say, “my God,” but only speaks of Yahweh as the God of his master. There are several things that can be implied by this choice of language. The first is that of the Federal Headship of his master, Abraham. As he is in the service of Abraham, he has chosen to submit to the authority of Abraham’s God in this task. Arguably, as second aspect is that Eliezer was a circumcised member of Abraham’s household (Genesis 17:12-13), and in submission to Abraham’s headship over his life and household, Eliezer himself has made Yahweh his God, but is praying in this way to reflect the authority of Abraham in his own life.

This is worth noting because in our modern, individualistic and pluralistic society, this idea of submission to authority and covenantal headship is something that has been all but forgotten. Rarely are fathers recognized as the spiritual heads and authorities in their homes and often families take the attitude that it is perfectly fine for children to choose their own religious preferences. Neither of these attitudes are Biblical, nor are they healthy to society, which is based on the Biblical institution of the family. If you don’t have a strong base of families upon which a society is built, you will not have a strong or vibrant society — and strong families are built on and around the idea of headship and authority…with the ultimate authority being God himself.

Loved ones, as Christians we often pray that God will bring revival to our land, and that is a good prayer that needs to be prayed. Yet often, those who pray for revival are unwilling to do the hard work of heart-work to prepare themselves for such a revival. Jesus told a parable about a sower casting seed and the seed falling on various types of ground, but only that which fell on fertile ground bore fruit (Matthew 13:1-23). Yet, we forget that it is preparation that makes fertile ground fertile in the first place. It has been cleared of weeds and rocks, fertilized, tilled, and irrigated — this takes the work of many hands. In terms of preparing our individual souls for the seed of the Gospel, this is work done through the Holy Spirit, though often the Spirit uses people as tools in that process. But for the soil in churches and in communities to be changed the Holy Spirit clearly demands that Christians order their lives according to God’s law and put away their evil practices. Are we willing and ready to do that? Sadly, I am not convinced that we are. One thing is for sure, though, God will never let go of those he has claimed as his own; yet when his own stray, he draws them back to himself and that process is not always a pleasant one. May God bless America with revival once again, but may he also bless the church with reform such as that his people reorder their lives in a way that would prepare them as a community to receive the anointing of his reviving grace.

The Sleep of the Beloved

 

“It is vain for you to get up early and go late to your dwelling,

Eating the bread of toil;

For he gives to his beloved sleep.”

(Psalm 127:2)

 

It may be granted up front that there is some discussion as to how to interpret the last line of this verse. Commonly it is rendered as I have done so here, but some would argue that it ought to be rendered, “for he provides for his beloved during their sleep.” Though the nuances of the psalm are changed within that translation, the essential meaning of the text remains the same. God provides for the needs of his beloved — and he does so in an abundantly wonderful way.

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus speaks in much the same way. It is expected that the pagans will lay awake worrying all night, working long and thankless hours to provide bread for their families. Their idols are false creations of their own hands and imaginations. What benefit can a chunk of wood give me apart from helping to heat the house when I burn it in the fireplace? If I create something with my own hands, it contains no power to do anything but sit there. It has no life. One can draw no hope or assurance from such things.

But we worship a true and living God — one from whom we can draw assurances. He lives and is the God of the living (Matthew 22:32; Luke 20:38) and not of the dead; he gives us new life (1 Peter 1:3) and he gives us that life abundantly (John 10:10). And thus Jesus says to us, “why do you sit home and worry about what may or may not happen this week or even tomorrow?” Do we forget whom we serve? Our worry seems to betray that we do, yet to the beloved, God gives rest and peaceful dreams at night.

How often my dreams have been haunted by the cares of countless anxieties—anxieties that are projected in nightmarish ways. Yet, in prayer, there is rest for the soul. How often there has been tossing and turning rather than restful slumber; again, trust in God’s provision, believer, and you will find that rest will come. There is no need to fear what may transpire; our God is sovereign over all events (Ephesians 1:11) and has promised to work them all out for our good (Romans 8:28). What comfort there is in those divine promises to us! What rest we can find in that context!

For the believer, rest means more than sleep during the evening hours. Rest also includes rest from one’s enemies—the greatest of which are the spiritual powers of wickedness that roam this world like a roaring lion. They may roar, but we are held secure in the hands of our loving Savior (John 10:28-29); of what shall we fear? No, we are loved of God and true love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).

Loved ones, sleep well and dream well of the glory of our God. He will provide for your needs because he loves you (Matthew 6:31-34); the pagans eat the bread of their sweat and toil—enjoy the restful sleep that your Father provides.

Ego Deficiam

“I will fail them.” The early church fathers reflected on the relationships between pastors, the world, satan, and the church flock and developed a series of statements that described each relationship. The first of these statements was that of the pastor with regard to his people: Ego Deficiam (I will fail).

At first, our response might be to think that this is a rather pessimistic view of the relationship between shepherd and flock. How is it that a pastor could go into his role with the assumption that he will fail his people? As churches, do we want to hire a pastor who says up front, “Oh, by the way, I will fail you.” It is food for thought.

There are two aspects of this statement, that we must understand. The first is the “I.” I will fail you. I will fail as your pastor, as your counselor, and as your friend. I will fail as a husband and as a father. I will fail as an employee and as a representative of the church in the community. I will fail. Yet, this is not a pessimistic view, but a realistic view (as well as a Biblical one). For while I will fail you; Christ will not do so. Christ will gloriously succeed not because of my efforts, but in spite of my best efforts. And when I serve not in my own strength, but in the strength of Christ, then glorious things will happen—not for my praise, but for God’s.

This is the reason that a pastor (all Christians really) must be a man of prayer. And not just a prayer in the morning or evening, but a pastor must be a man of constant prayer through the day. One of the reasons that I like Nehemiah is because he exemplifies this. Not only are there formal and structured prayers recorded coming off of his lips, but also he lifts up short little “bullet prayers” throughout the day as he is making decisions. Those of you who know me or who have sat under me teaching on Nehemiah know that I am not overly fond of his model as a manager of people (even though lots of books present him that way); read Nehemiah 13:23-27 and ask yourself if you want a governor or office manager who leads in this fashion☺. I do believe, though, he provides us with a good example of perpetual prayer, seeking God’s wisdom and strength.

The second aspect that we must understand is that the fact that someone fails is not nearly as important as what someone does as a result of that failure. The true humility of a man will always present itself in failures, not in successes. If a person covers up their failures or seeks to shift blame to others, then the person’s character is such that you ought not have him as shepherd. If he is humble, repentant, and takes responsibility for his actions, then that is a man you want to lead you. The Gospel is the good news of God reconciling us poor and spiritually bankrupt sinners to himself; we are all in the same boat together within the church—wretches who have been redeemed by grace. Why should we expect our pastor of not being a sinner and thus a failure in God’s economy?

Sadly, we often create a standard that a pastor cannot hope to live up to and then make him feel like he has to hide his sin to keep up appearances. Yet, if the pastor is living hypocritically, why are we surprised when the members of our congregations live hypocritically? Our goal must be very different. We must endeavor to create a culture of honesty and transparency within our church community that is seasoned with abundant grace. Then, when one fails, the community comes together to work toward grace-filled reconciliation. It must be said, that there are some failures that must, by their very nature, remove a man from the office of shepherd, but not that ought to remove him from the church.

In discussions and counseling sessions with members of my congregation, one of the things that I have said over and over is: “We are going to make mistakes; we are going to mess things up.” The fact is, we are fallen and sinful and despite the grace we have been shown by Christ, we will not always show the grace we ought to show. At the same time, what I have told people is that when we mess up, if you let us know, we will fix it.

Indeed, I will fail you. But in Christ, I will repent and strive to make it right.

Pleading Your Innocence: Genesis 20:5-6

“‘Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister.’ And she also said herself, ‘He is my brother.’ In the purity of my heart and the guiltlessness of my hands, I did this.’ And God said to him in the dream, ‘I know that in the purity of your heart you have done this and I spared you. Also, I kept you from sinning against me. Therefore, I did not let you touch her.’”

(Genesis 20:5-6)

 

As Abimelek pleads his innocence, notice God’s response: “I kept you from sinning against me.” The sole reason that Abimelek can stand before God and say that he never touched or defiled Sarah is because of God’s restraining hand. In our natural element, sin will be our primary pursuit, but we are not as bad as we could be because God places his hand upon our lives and governs all of us in this world to bring about his good ends. This takes place in the life of both the believer and the unbeliever, though as the believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, God moves in us not simply to restrain our sin, but to transform us into the image of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Not only is this passage a reminder that God is sovereign over the actions of unbelievers, but it is a passage that reminds us that God will preserve the lives of his own until he brings about his desired ends through us. It has been said that we are immortal until God is done with his plans in our lives. There is a certain degree of truth to this, and while this ought to cause us to live boldly for the Gospel, this does not give us license to live recklessly. It is God who knows the number of our days and the things he has planned for us to contribute to his Kingdom.

Another interesting point comes out in this passage for those who hold to a free-will theism, for how could Abimelek’s will be totally free if God is restraining his hand from doing what he otherwise wanted to do (he would not have taken Sarah as his wife if he never meant touch her). Clearly, God’s will brings about a change in Abimelek’s will and action, thus Abimelek behaves in a way that is consistent with God’s design. Typical Wesleyans would argue that man has the ultimate freedom to govern his own actions; the Bible presents a different picture here, that of God ultimately governing the people of the earth.

A number of years ago, I was confronted by a man who confronted me about my lifting every prayer before the Lord, both great and small. He contended that God had enough to do with governing the big things that go on in the world (wars, catastrophes, etc…) and that my prayers for healing or help were just distractions from God’s primary work. Beloved, such a view is not consistent with what the Bible teaches about the character of an infinite God who bids us to lay every care before his throne (1 Peter 5:7). He is the great governor over all of his creation, even numbering the hairs of our head (Matthew 10:30). Both great and small, God governs us and hears the prayers of those who know him and are called according to his purposes. It is good to be a child of the King. May we trust in His hand of protection and give Him glory for all he is and for all he has done.

 

Faithfulness that Convicts (Luke 22:39; John 18:2)

“And coming out, he went, as was habit, to the Mount of Olives and the disciples also followed him there.”

(Luke 22:39)

“And Judas, the one delivering him over, knew the place, because Jesus would often be gathered together with his disciples there.”

(John 18:2)

“As was his habit.” What a wonderful picture of the prayer life of our Lord. Jesus would often excuse himself to a quiet and secluded place, taking the twelve with him, and pray.  As we mentioned before, the disciples knew about this place, not because it was some sort of privileged hideaway like the glade in Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest, but because it was Jesus’ habit to come here. Yet, by the same token, it is this habit that informed Judas where Jesus would be so that the arrest could be made later in the night.

Of course, all of the events of the night are part of the Father’s plan from before the beginning of time, but I wonder, sometimes, on a more human level, as to whether our habits would be such that they would betray us in this way. Certainly, I suppose, we all have bad habits that our enemies might shame us for—and shame us rightly, but what about righteous habits? Daniel’s enemies knew of his habit of prayer and that habit was so regular and accessible that they were able to easily arrest him when he would not bow and pray to Darius (Daniel 6:10-11). Paul’s enemies knew that he was in the Temple purifying himself (Acts 21:26-30), remembering just how large the temple was and just how many people streamed in and out on a daily basis (it would be like trying to monitor who was going in and out of New York’s Grand Central Station). And, of course, Jesus’ enemies always knew where to find him when he healed on the Sabbath day or allowed his disciples to pick and eat a handful of grain when walking on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-24).

So, I wonder whether our prayer life might get us in trouble were the laws different in America? If it were illegal to be a Christian, would anyone know to arrest us? If it were illegal to pray during daylight hours, would our enemies know when to burst into our homes as they did with Daniel? If it were illegal to carry a Bible anywhere but to church, would we stand guilty or would anyone notice? Our Lord and the saints of old were faithful to a point that such faithfulness could get them in trouble. Would that our faithfulness would also get us into trouble as well! Sadly, I think that all too often, we rob ourselves of the blessing of persecution by being way too cautious in our faith. It would have been easy, in human terms, to have said to his disciples, “we need to find a different place to pray tonight because Judas knows that he can find us here.” Yet, Jesus’ plan was to allow this arrest to take place and thus faithfully submitted to his Father’s will. May we be found guilty of the same faithfulness.

Blessed are you when they reproach you, persecute you, and say evil and lies of you because of me. Rejoice and Exalt!  For your reward is great in heaven. For thus they persecuted the prophets who came before you.

(Matthew 5:11-12)

Praying for the Church (John 17:20)

“Yet, I am not asking for these alone, but also for those who will believe in me through their words.”

(John 17:20)

It is funny how sometimes we take things said to others in the Bible and freely apply them to ourselves irrespective of the context.  For example, God spoke these words to the prophet, Jeremiah:

“Even before I formed you in the womb, I knew you;

Even before you had come out of the womb, I had made you holy.

I committed you as a prophet to the nations.”

(Jeremiah 1:5)

Now, while it is certainly true that some of this can be applied to us as we recognize God’s ordination of all things according to his own purposes (Ephesians 1:11) and given God’s omniscience, there is nothing that God does not know, this statement was made specifically to Jeremiah, not universally to all people.  In turn, it is not proper to simply claim the text as our own without qualifying these things.  There are other texts that we sometimes do the same thing with and similarly go back and forth debating on whether or not something can legitimately be applied to us in our lives.  Yet, Jesus graciously removes any confusion from us as to this question—he plainly says that this prayer is not only for the Apostles that he has surrounding him, but it is also for all who will come to faith through the preaching of the Gospel through them.  Friends, that is speaking of you and of me—all of us who trust in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and have done so through the revelation of God’s word and the proclamation of the Gospel—he is speaking of us in this prayer!  And these final verses, in particular, will reveal our Lord’s heart for his church.

And what are the themes of this final section of his prayer—what petition is on our Lord’s heart first and foremost?  He prays for unity amongst believers and love as he has loved.  Ouch.  How far we have strayed as a church from those two petitions of our Lord.  How greatly we allow sin to cause division and we allow our lack of love to cause us to be self-centered and prideful both individually and corporately.

Loved ones, we are making a mess of this in many ways and we need to repent of our sins in this area especially.  Yet, simply saying, “I’m sorry” is not enough if we are going to be faithful, we also need to change our ways and work to restore that which has been broken.  Now, that being said, am I suggesting that we throw away the truth of the Gospel and just embrace everyone regardless of what they believe and of what they have compromised?  No, that is not quite it, for Jesus is speaking of those who will believe in him because of the word of the Apostles—the Scriptures.  We cannot throw away the authority and Truth of the Bible and retain any semblance of Christianity.  That being said, I believe that the key is to concentrate on living out the sacrificial love that Christ modeled.  I think that if we begin to get the love part right, the unity part will follow in a way that honors the Father.  Yet, that is still a tall order.  For before we can actually love those around us, we have to start loving God more than we love ourselves.  When this happens, you are ready to love sacrificially and serve with your whole being—holding nothing back as Jesus held nothing back.  A small group of believers, ones willing to do just this, turned the world on its head—what would happen if the church got with the same program?  I believe that God would bring genuine revival once again.

We praise Thee, O God!

For the Son of Thy love,

For Jesus Who died,

And is now gone above.

Hallelujah! Thine the glory.

Hallelujah! Amen.

Hallelujah! Thine the glory.

Revive us again.

-William Mackay

David in the Wilderness: Psalm 63 (part 2)

“O God, you are my God; again and again I seek you.

My soul thirsts for you;

My flesh yearns for you—

In a land that is dry and exhausted without water.”

(Psalm 63:2 {Psalm 63:1 in English Bibles})

 

The wilderness around David is a visible metaphor for the spiritual state of the land of Israel at this point in history.  He looks around him as he flees into the wilderness and recognizes that the dryness of the land around him is much like the dryness of the hearts of those who seek his death—who seek to rule the kingdom of Israel not for the glory of God, but for their own gain and prosperity.

How quickly we forget, as we go through life, that riches are not found in the things of this world, but they are found in the things of God and in his righteousness.  Jesus says one of the marks of a true Christian, though, is that they hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6).  And as I have said many times before—hungering and thirsting is not a casual wondering what you will have from the buffet line tonight, but it is a deep hungering that recognizes that if the need is not met, you will die.

The illustration that we are given here is of being in a dry and barren land—the wilderness of Judea—in a time of drought.  We must remember that one of the most common judgments against God’s people when they entered into idolatry was just that—drought.  Yet, in the midst of judgment and fleeing for his life, David seeks to find his strength in prayer.  And David’s model that is one of constant prayer—seeking God’s face over and over again.  The verb for “to seek,” which is the verb rx;v’ (shachar), is found in the Piel stem, which simply means that it reflects continued, repeated action.  Thus, again and again, David is presenting himself before the Lord, seeking his face in prayer.

Oh, how we need to keep this principle before us as we go through our daily lives.  No, we may never be forced to flee into the wilderness because someone is seeking our life.  Yet, there are trials and struggles enough in this life that should force us to our knees.  And, beloved, it is on our knees that the man or woman of God finds their strength.  Friends, do not take this privilege for granted, but instead dedicate your life to continually seeking God’s face in prayer, and even in the midst of a dry and dusty land, God will provide you with an ever-flowing stream of soul-quenching water through his Holy Spirit.

Are we weak and heavy-laden,

Cumbered with a load of care?

Precious Savior, still our refuge—

Take it to the Lord in prayer!

Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?

Take it to the Lord in prayer!

In his arms he’ll take and shield thee;

Thou wilt find a solace there.

-Joseph Scriven

God is Glorified

“For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever.  Amen.”

(Matthew 6:13b, KJV)

 

As we mentioned before, this is not the only prayer that a believer can pray, nor is it the only prayer that Scripture offers to us, but it is the model upon which all our prayers ought to be based.  And all of our prayers ought to have this as their goal—that God be glorified forever.  That God be glorified in our world.  That God be glorified in our families and in our own lives.  That God be glorified in all we think, all we do, and in all we say.  That God be glorified in every aspect of our living and that through whatever we do in life, that we convey to the unbelieving world that Jesus Christ is Lord and King over all creation.

This, dear friends, is our purpose in life and there is no other, that we glorify God with an aim to enjoying him forever.  Oh, that all the nations would come to hear and understand this one thing!  Oh, that missionaries would reach every corner of this planet to proclaim God’s glorious gospel!  Oh, to see that time when all of God’s elect will gather before the throne of the risen Christ—people from every tongue and tribe and land—singing praise to the King in one accord!  Oh, what a time that will be!  Believer, I look to join you at that time, but what about those we care about who have not joined us in faith?  Will you bid them to join us at the throne of Christ?  Will you share the gospel with them one more time and then another time again as the Lord allows?  

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

“May you not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”

(Matthew 6:13)

 

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil; for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever, Amen.”

(Matthew 6:13, KJV)

 

In this last verse of the prayer, we have the final two petitions—“lead us not” and “deliver us.”  The first of these addresses our mental needs and the second deals once again with our spiritual needs.  You will also notice, as you look at the two translations back to back, that the King James Version contains a benediction at the end of the prayer.  This benediction is not included as part of the oldest Biblical manuscripts that we have access to, which is why most English Bible translations do not include it.  It is likely that the last line was added somewhere in seventh or eighth century; never-the-less, it is a wonderful benediction and is a staple part of most of our prayers.

We must always remember that the act of being tempted is not sin.  Christ, our Lord, was tempted and tested in every way, yet was free from sin.  It is where temptation leads when we give in to it—that, as James tells us, is sin, and sin leads to death (James 1:14-15).  Thus, the language of this prayer is not one which pleads with God to prevent testing or tempting, but to be kept from being led into temptation—to be preserved from succumbing to the testing and to be preserved from its end—namely death.  This ties quite closely with the language of the fourth petition—to be kept from evil or from “the evil one.”  Though we may walk through dark roads, we are asking God’s provision and protection that we don’t find ourselves in the mouth of the roaring lion. 

The word ponhro/ß (ponaros), which refers to evil, wickedness, or being degenerate, is an adjective that occurs in this verse with a definite article.  In other words, the literal translation of this clause is: “deliver us from the evil.”  Usually, in Greek, when an adjective is used in such a way, it is used to refer to someone or something that embodies what that adjective describes, hence the translation, “deliver us from the evil one.”  It is a recognition that as believers we are in a battle with the evil one of this world—Satan himself—and that it is only by the strength of God’s hand that we can be delivered from such a foe.  Just as it took God’s hand to deliver his people from the ruler of Egypt, so too, it requires God’s hand to redeem us from ruler of this world, Satan.

Friends, these two petitions are prayers for provision in the battle.  Provision that our minds be kept sharp and straight and keep us from entertaining the lusts of our heart, and provision from falling prey to the dragon who only wishes to destroy the people of God (Revelation 12:17).  That provision we need every day and every moment of our lives.

Forgive Us Our Debts

“And forgive us our debts, even as we forgive our debtors.”

(Matthew 6:12)

 

“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

(Matthew 6:12, KJV)

 

Though the language of this petition is financial language, in the context, Jesus is using this language to reflect that which we owe to others as a result of sin (which is why some people say “transgressions” here—though I have yet to find a translation of the Bible that reads “transgressions” and not debits).  This is the only petition of the prayer that our Lord actually goes back to and explains (see Matthew 6:14-15) and when he explains the petition, he does so in terms of our sins. 

This, indeed, is our great spiritual need—to be forgiven.  Christ begins the list of petitions for our needs by addressing our physical needs and now he moves to the spiritual—the mental will come next.  But also note, that while this is our great need, this is also the only petition of this prayer that is qualified by something that we must do—that is to forgive.

This is heavy stuff.  What we are praying to God is that he should forgive us in the same way we forgive others.  If we withhold forgiveness, we are telling him that he should withhold it from us as well.  This is a terribly high standard to have before us if we are entirely honest.  Certainly, there are some people who it is relatively easy to forgive, but then again, there are others who have hurt us so badly and so deeply that forgiveness seems impossible—yet loved ones, with God, all things, all things are possible.

You who have been forgiven so much in the eyes of God, how can you fail to forgive others?  We owe a debit to God for our sin that we could never even begin to repay, yet Christ chose to pay it on our behalf—and pay it he did, in his own blood.  No wickedness that another man can do to you, no matter how hurtful and severe, can come close to the wickedness of your sin in the eyes of a Holy God.  Even the angels shield their eyes in God’s presence.  Yet for you, believer, God has not withheld his forgiveness—how is it that you can withhold forgiveness from others? 

Jesus never ceases to stretch us as we grow in faith, and to take seriously the words of this prayer, we are forced to grow beyond ourselves.  The reality is that it is impossible for us to forgive some people on our own strength—the hurt is just too deep and it is not in our heart to do so.  That is why we ask God to change our hearts and conform them to his will—that we may forgive even where it seems impossible to do so.  Beloved, will you pray that God will enable you to forgive others as he has forgiven you?

Daily Bread

“Give us today our bread, which we need to survive.”

(Matthew 6:11)

 

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

(Matthew 6:11, KJV)

 

There is some debate over whether Jesus is speaking of our physical needs or our spiritual needs—the bread that sustains physical life or the bread of life—God’s Word.  I would suggest that Jesus is talking about the food we need to sustain us during the day.  Note that this is the first request of the seven that deals with our needs for the day, and two of the following requests will deal with our spiritual needs and the other deals with our mental needs.  Thus, it is sensible to see this as a petition for our physical needs during the day.

As you study the gospels, you will not be able to help but notice the concern that Jesus has with all areas of our need—spiritual, mental, and physical.  It makes sense that the prayer that he would teach us would reflect all these things.  Jesus regularly speaks of God’s physical provision for his people as well.  Thus, we begin the four petitions that are directed toward our own lives with a petition that God supply our physical needs.

Note a few things, though.  First, just like the Israelites who were in the desert, being fed with manna only were given a day’s provision at a time, so too, when we ask, we ask for God’s provision on a daily basis.  We who walk in the church-age are much like the Israelites in the wilderness.  We are pilgrims in a land not our own, we are heading toward a promised land (this time one that has been kept free from corruption by Christ), and we still need God’s daily provision, lest we die.  Admittedly, there are times when God allows us to save up, but do not take those times for granted for savings can disappear overnight.  God won’t. 

Secondly, note that this is not a prayer for our “daily steak dinner with a lobster tail on the side.”  This is a prayer for our daily bread.  We are to ask God to provide that which we need.  How there is a difference between those things which we need and those things which we want.  The difficulty lies in understanding that difference.  There are a lot of things that I think I need that I don’t really need.  God sometimes blesses us with the wants, but it is the needs that he promises to his people.

And, thirdly, this is a prayer that recognizes that we are desperately in need of God to provide our daily needs.  It is a prayer that reminds us that without God, we cannot even provide the essentials of life (bread and water) for ourselves.  It recognizes our dependence upon God.

Friends, we are poor and weak creatures, desperate and bankrupt if left to our own.  But in the Lord’s hands, we will be provided for every day.

Thy Kingdom Come

“May your kingdom come; may your will come to pass, as in heaven, so too on earth.”

(Matthew 6:10)

 

“Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

(Matthew 6:10, KJV)

 

Beloved, in heaven, the angels wait, ready and prepared—anxious to serve God’s every command.  Their actions define absolute obedience, and while they wait for God’s next task, they stay busy worshiping before the throne.  So, tell me, does that describe your life?  Is perfect obedience to God’s will what you are striving toward?  If you are praying this prayer, then that is what you are asking God to make your life look like.  In heaven there is no hemming and hawing about doing what God commands, it is simply done.  To pray that his will would be done on earth is to pray that your life and every life around you will be conformed to that same image.

Now, there will come a time, when God remakes the earth, free from the effects of the fall, that His will will be done as eagerly on earth as it is done in heaven.  But right now, I don’t think that most of us fall comfortably into that category.  I know that I wrestled with my own calling to the ministry for 5 years before God finally said, “enough.” 

When you pray this prayer, you are asking God to conform you to obedience.  You are asking him to conform your every desire to his will.  Sadly, as I reflect on my own life and my own struggles to grow in obedience, I am not entirely sure whether I am ready for God’s will to be done in my life as it is done in heaven.  Are you ready?  Were God to call you to sell everything you own and leave for the mission field, would you be willing and ready to do it or would you hem and haw and find excuses not to?  Abram was 75 years old when God called him into service. 

As you reflect on this portion of the prayer, reflect on your motives for doing things in life.  Is Jesus the reason you do what you do?  Is he the reason you get up in the morning?  Is the reason you draw breath to do God’s will?  Do you live or do to the glory of God?  This is what you are praying for when you pray this prayer.

Thy Kingdom Come

“May your kingdom come; may your will come to pass, as in heaven, so too on earth.”

(Matthew 6:10)

 

“Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

(Matthew 6:10, KJV)

 

We now move to the second and third of the three petitions that we pray with an aim toward God’s glory.  Both of these petitions begin with an imperative (may it come and may it be done).  In Greek, when imperatives are used in this way, they place stress upon the request that is being made, but do so in a polite way (i.e. it is not a command).  In other words, the force of this request is found in the heartfelt desire that God fulfill these requests.

The first of these requests is that God’s kingdom come.  We must understand what we are praying for here.  God’s kingdom was inaugurated in the earthly ministry of Christ (Mark 1:15), yet, the fullness of God’s kingdom will not come until the full number of elect from every tribe and nation are gathered into the kingdom and Christ comes again.  Right now, we are somewhere in the middle, in the tension between what has already happened and what is yet to come (theologians cleverly call this “the already and the not-yet” J). 

Thus, when we pray for God’s kingdom to come, we are not praying for what has already happened, but we are praying for what has yet to come—namely the second coming of Christ.  Friends, for some of us, this is a dangerous prayer, for while I am ready to see my Lord and Savior return, there are many, many people I care about that are definitely not ready for such a thing to happen.  For me, Christ’s return means redemption from this fallen state into a glorified body that will know no sin and spend eternity in the presence with Christ himself.  For those who are not ready, Christ’s return means judgment and eternal condemnation.

Friends, make sure that when you are praying this prayer, you understand fully for what you are praying.  At the same time, as Jesus has not yet returned, make good use of the opportunities you have to share the gospel with those you are in contact with.  Find others who do not know the Lord in a personal and saving way and share the gospel with them as well.  Ultimately it is the Holy Spirit that brings someone to faith or not, but if you don’t take the gospel to them, they will not hear the words of life.

Reverencing God’s Name

“Thus you shall pray in this way:  Our Father, who is in the heavens, let your name be reverenced.”  (Matthew 6:9)

 

“After this manner, therefore, pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.”  (Matthew 6:9, KJV)

 

I wonder whether we spend enough time in our own lives reflecting on the nature an attributes of our God.  God is to be reverenced; his name is hallowed; God is the very definition of holiness and righteousness and purity and power.  God is glorious above all things that we think of as glorious.  And he is wonderful and just.  He is light and truth.  He is the beginning of all things and the end of all things.  He is God and God alone. 

We should adore God for who he is.  All too often, when we speak of why we worship, we only speak of worship in relationship to what God has done for us.  Indeed, we should be eternally grateful for what he has done for us and worship him as a result.  But don’t let yourself fall into the trap of worshiping him wholly based on what he has done, because that will lead you to a self-centered relationship with him.  When things are good you will worship with gusto.  When things are bad, you will be lead to question.  Worship God first for who he is and then for what he has done.

Think about things in this manner.  When you go to a fine restaurant and dine on a fine meal, you naturally praise the chef.  You don’t praise him because he has done you any special favors.  You paid a fair price for the meal and it can be assumed that the chef prepares equally fine dishes for each and every patron of the establishment.  You praise the chef for two reasons.  First, because the chef has demonstrated his skills by creating a meal that was remarkable in every way.  It would be rude not to compliment him on his skills in the kitchen.  And secondly, you praise the chef because it brings a sense of satisfaction to you and it is pleasing to do so.  Given that we are assuming that none of us are world-renown food critics, writing for a prestigious culinary magazine and given that the chef has already secured for himself a good job at a respected restaurant, it would seem that the chef neither needs your compliments nor would be heartbroken without them, never-the-less, they are pleasing to him as well.

Now, let us turn our eyes toward God’s work.  Certainly, God is infinitely more remarkable than a fine chef.  He demonstrates his glory in his works of creation.  And just as God is infinitely more praiseworthy than a fine chef, it is infinitely more appropriate that he be praised.  He neither needs our praise nor is his existence based upon it—he is God—yet he gracefully accepts our praises and is pleased by them.  Just as it would have been rude to deny the chef praise for his fine meal, it is infinitely more rude—in fact, downright damnable—to deny God praise for his being who he is and for his revelation of his glory in the universe.  And, just as it is satisfying and pleasurable to praise the chef for his fine creation—it is infinitely more satisfying and pleasurable to praise God for his being.  In fact, since God is the most infinitely fine and good thing that we might praise, I would suggest that the praising of God brings the highest and most infinite pleasure and satisfaction.

Friends, it is a joyous thing to worship the great King of the Universe not just for what he has done, but simply for who he is, and that is why unbelievers who refuse to praise God stand guilty—because their offence, is infinitely condemnable.  We don’t often think in these terms, but we must.  One of the things that the Baptist preacher, John Piper regularly points out is that God desires us to worship him not because he is needy, but because we are needy and God understands that the worship of him is the highest pleasure that we can experience and he wants us to experience that pleasure.

Hallowed be Thy Name

“Thus you shall pray in this way:  Our Father, who is in the heavens, let your name be reverenced.”  (Matthew 6:9)

 

“After this manner, therefore, pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.”  (Matthew 6:9, KJV)

 

In the opening statement of this prayer, we also make a statement that calls for God’s name to be hallowed or reverenced.  The term that is used here is the Greek word a�gia¿zw (hagiazo), which is a verb that means “to make sanctified, consecrated, or reverenced.  It is related to the noun a‚gioß (hagios), which refers to something that has been dedicated toward holy use, and is the word we translate as “saint” when it comes to dealing with believers in Jesus Christ.  When we call someone a saint, we are not commending their Godliness as the Catholic church would suggest, but we are recognizing that God has set them apart for service—something that God does with every believer.  Thus, when we speak of God’s name in such terms, we are not speaking of making God’s name holy—for holy it is without our help—but we speak of recognizing the holiness of God’s name.  In fact, this verb is an imperative, which emphasizes all the more the urgency of recognizing the holiness of God and reflecting that in our lives.

Believers live with a sense of dichotomy.  On one hand, we say “Our Father…” yet on the other hand, we are to express the deepest reverence when we come into his presence.  Though you should adore the intimacy which God extends to us, when you come to him, it ought to make you tremble as well.  As one of my professors often says, we should come into God’s presence with goose-bumps.  It is he who spun the stars into space, who ordered the cosmos and everything in it, and who has written the history book of all creation who you are coming to and calling, “Daddy.”  Treasure that privilege; it came at a terrible price.

Thus You Shall Pray

“Thus you shall pray in this way:  Our Father, who is in the heavens, let your name be reverenced.”  (Matthew 6:9)

 

“After this manner, therefore, pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.”  (Matthew 6:9, KJV)

 

This prayer begins with a wonderful statement of both faith and assurance.  This is not a “dear God, whoever you are and wherever you are…” statement, but this prayer begins with a confident statement of exactly who God is, where he stands, and where you stand in relationship to him.  The believer can refer to God as “Father” because of the work of Jesus Christ.  Jesus fulfilled the old covenant that Adam failed to fulfill and he died a sacrificial death to pay the debit of sin that his people owe to God.  He substituted himself in our place, taking the wrath of his father that we deserve, so that we might stand in his place and be adopted into his father’s household.  Thus, in the confidence of our faith in Jesus Christ, we can boldly proclaim, “Our Father.”

But not only is this a statement of confidence in your relationship with the heavenly Father, but this is a statement where you affirm from the depths of your heart that you know and understand where God is.  God is in heaven; he reigns over the earth, yet is not bound by the things of the earth; and God has the authority to do what he chooses for he is above all things.  We as sinners are infinitely separated from God on high, yet he has chosen to make a way to bring us to himself.  That in itself is an amazing statement!  God does not need us, nor does he derive any part of himself from our existence or relationship with him, but it is his good pleasure to bring us to himself that we might enjoy him.  That God would condescend to a relationship with a wretch like me is beyond my ability to comprehend—but I gratefully receive such grace and immerse myself in its awesome truth. 

One of the things we often struggle with is saying “who art in heaven” when times are bad.  When times are good, we revel in God’s sovereignty, but usually, when our lives fall apart, we cry out, wondering where God has gone to.  We like to think of God as sovereign over good, but when it comes to God’s sovereignty over evil we balk.  Yet, God is in control over all things.  Though God is not the author of evil, he is sovereign over it.  Evil does not frustrate his plans, but God uses the evil of this world to bring his plans to fruition.  The question is, can you stand on God’s sovereignty in the midst of personal loss?  Can you stand on God’s sovereignty when a loved one dies or a child dies suddenly?  Can you stand on God’s sovereignty when people rape or molest or torture?  These are not easy questions to answer, but if we are going to answer them Biblically, we must stand on the sovereignty of God, trusting that God has worked all things for the good of those who love him—even those things that are horrid in our eyes.

The Lord’s Prayer: Introduction

Introduction:

 

How many times have we prayed the Lord’s Prayer?  Hundreds?  Thousands?  Tens of Thousands?  I remember my parents teaching me this prayer as part of my bedtime prayers as a child, and as my son grows (and any other children the Lord may choose to give us), my intention is to teach this prayer to him as well.  Memorization is a good thing, but sometimes, when we become terribly familiar with a song or a prayer, we fall into the trap of simply repeating words rather than dwelling on what those words are saying.

Thus, I would suggest that it is a good idea to every once in a while take the time to reflect on what those words mean and what they imply.  And, in the case of the Lord’s Prayer, be sure that you know what it is that you are praying for.  Thus, I thought it good for us to do just that.  My prayer is that, over the next few days as we work through this prayer, you will gain a deeper appreciation for just what it is that Jesus has taught us to pray.

Yet, before we jump into the prayer itself, there are a few things by way of introduction that need to be laid out before us.  First, this is given to us as a model prayer.  This is not the only prayer we can pray, but it is set before us as a guide.  There are many other prayers in the Bible that are commended to God’s people to pray.  Jesus taught and prayed other prayers, though this is the one he most formally taught.  I would encourage you to not only pray this prayer, but look to the Psalms and begin praying through some of them.  Look to the prayers in Revelation or Paul’s epistles or in the book of Genesis.  We can go on and on.  The Bible is filled with prayers to support us in our spiritual growth—through both the good and the bad times.

Second, This prayer assumes that it is being prayed by a believer.  It begins with, “Our Father…”  Friends, if you are not a born again believer in Jesus Christ, you have no right to call God “Father.”  It is presumptuous and arrogant.  One of the problems with our culture is that people think that we are all God’s children.  The Apostle John makes it abundantly clear in first epistle that there are two families:  one of God and one of Satan (1 John 3:4-10).  Everyone has a spiritual father to which they belong—believers are given the privilege to call God their father because of the work of Jesus Christ, unbelievers may only call Satan their father.

Third, this prayer is a corporate prayer—it begins with “Our…”  While you may pray this for yourself, this prayer forces you to recognize that you cannot be inwardly focused as a Christian.  We are part of a body and we should pray in a way that reflects our unity.  When we pray, we pray for and on behalf of those we love, those in our Churches, and those in the Christian church worldwide. 

Fourth, this prayer begins with petitions for the glory of God.  It is a God-focused prayer, not a man focused prayer.  Nearly half of this prayer (3 of 7 petitions) is focused on God’s glory.  I wonder if our prayers reflect this.  All too often, when we pray, we pray as if God is just a celestial gumball machine—we put a quarter-prayer in and expect a sweet treat out.  God is not Santa Claus.  Yes, he gives good gifts, but our prayers should not be, “gimmie, gimmie, gimmie…” 

Lastly, when Jesus teaches this prayer, he teaches it on the assumption that prayer is a part of a believer’s life.  He does not say, “if you pray, pray like this…”  No, Jesus says, “When you pray…”  A healthy prayer life is something that many believers struggle with.  And one of the reasons that we struggle with it is because Satan loves to run interference, bringing us to frustration or distraction.  Prayer is one of the most amazing privileges that a believer has and it should be cherished and looked forward to.  It is something that should be so natural to us that it becomes a part of who we are—because it is a part of who we are. 

One last note:  when most of us learned the Lord’s prayer, we learned it with the language of the old King James Version.  Though I usually do my own translation work, this passage just does not sound the same outside of the King James English, thus, I have included it as well.  I pray that both translations of this wonderful prayer will speak to your heart.