Pastoral Relief and Retreat

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Wethersfield, CT, United States
I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

What do you need?

The way Luke recalls The Model Prayer (why do we call it The Lord's Prayer... that makes it sound like that was all Jesus ever prayed!) is a bit briefer than the version we're used to reciting in church.  He writes:

Father, hallowed be your name.  
Your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread, 
and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.

And lead us not into temptation.

The way Luke frames it Jesus is giving us a pattern for our whole prayer life that is larger than the five phrases here rendered.  To suggest that Jesus meant us to repeat the prayer as a matter of rote memory is to drain it of all its power.  A few days ago we glanced by the S'hma Yisrael (Deuteronomy 6).  Imagine if the whole extent of God's design for those words was that they should be placed in little Mezuzas on our doorposts so we'd have something to touch to vaguely remind us that God is there!  

The five clauses of The Model Prayer are: Praise, Power, Provision, Peace, and Petition.  The disciples have asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. Jesus gives them more a process than specific items.

Praise.  There is no single activity a person can enter into that will change their heart and life as much as the regular practice of praising God does.  A career won't change you this much.  A relationship won't change you this much or this profoundly.  No service to the poor or philanthropy can possibly impact your heart like praise.  The reason is that nothing else puts you in the proper relationship to God better than directly praising him.  One thing I love about this prayer is that in it Jesus is telling us that we don't need to commit to an hour of praise a day in order to be changed.  He only offers just one sentence of praise here.  But without it, none of the rest is worth anything.  And you will find, if you make a habit of praise, that it will snowball on you.  Paul, in writing his final words to the church in Philippi, tells these dear Christians "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."  You can't arrive at a life that exalts these things if you don't begin with praising God as a habit first.  

Power.  Once you have established a life of praise to God, the most natural thing is to recognize and exalt his authority over you.  The codified version of The Model Prayer ends with, "for Thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory."  It is the one thing in the prayer that doesn't come off as a petition.  It is simply recognition of what is: God is Sovereign and The Kingdom (that is, all authority in heaven, on the earth, and even to the darkest reaches of hell) belongs to him.  Still, Luke has Jesus framing the clause as a request.  As if God's Kingdom wouldn't come unless we asked it to!  There is something unnatural to us, because of our rebellious hearts, in wanting someone else to have rule over us.  Jesus knows this.  And so, making a joyful, daily, relentless recognition of God's power over me is absolutely vital if I am going to live the life he wants me to.

Provision.  The notes to the ESV Bible make it clear that the translation here could just as easily read, "Give us our bread for tomorrow."  This is a reminder of the provision God made of Manna in the wilderness to keep Israel alive during the forty years they had to wait (because of their own sin) to enter the Land.  Each night when they fell asleep there was no bread left in their larder.  It was promised to fall like dew in such a way that they could harvest it in the morning.  They were told not to take any more than they absolutely needed for that single day and not to try to keep any over to the next day.  That's because God's provision is always for one day.  To try and hang onto what God did yesterday and live based on that is to stop trusting in the God who is here now.  That old provision spoils very quickly and turns rancid.  He wants us to go to bed every night expecting him to act again tomorrow in a dramatic way.  It may not be the same way as yesterday.  But he will provide.

Peace.  Nothing stands in the way of my being able to sleep at night more than the feeling that I am out of sync with either God or my neighbor.  And the closer the neighbor, the worse my sense of unrest is.  Ever try to sleep after a fight with your spouse?  If you have, you know how difficult it is to get any real rest.  Forgiveness is absolutely necessary to my being able to relax.  The more I hang onto the hurt or the anger or the bitterness I feel, the more impossible it will be for me to truly be at peace.  Since we live in the era self-first living, I really should point out here that there is nowhere in the clause that Jesus instructs us to forgive ourselves.  That is a distinctly twentieth century thought, and really is a useless goal.  It is much better for me to acknowledge my sin, ask for forgiveness from God, and then agree with God that it is over.  Will I tend to feel guilty even after that's been done?  Sure.  But that kind of guilt is also an effect of sin -- me focusing on my self and my own failings rather than focusing on God and his greatness.  If you want peace with God you are going to have to practice a life of forgiveness the way Jesus taught it, with as little emphasis on yourself as possible.

Petition.  Jesus finally gets to the one true petition in the prayer.  Everything else in The Model Prayer is there either to acknowledge something that already is (God's praise and sovereign power) or to help us get in the right place before him (provision and peace).  Having done all that, what does he tell us to ask for?  At first glance, it looks like we're to ask God to keep us safe from the tricks of that old liar, Satan.  The devil is, of course, the source of all temptation.  But there's something deeper he's really telling us to ask for, and Jesus takes the next whole paragraph in Luke 11 to help us understand.  If you have the time, read verses 5-13.  I'll just shortcut it here and take us directly to Jesus' punchline.  "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  There it is!  That's what I really needed all along.  I don't need enough money or a great relationship or a fulfilling career in order to make it in life.  That's such an American idea!  What I really need is the Holy Spirit in me to control, guide, and empower me.  It is like the old scenario where the genie tells you that you can have three wishes.  The best thing in the world you could ask for is to have a genie around all the time to come to your aid when you need someone strong there on your behalf and to love you when you hurt and to care for you when you're alone.   And this isn't a game.  Praying for the presence and power of the Holy Spirit takes me right back to the beginning of The Model Prayer, because the chief office of the Holy Spirit is to give praise to God in all ways at all times.


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