Thursday, November 28, 2013

Lord's Prayer: Hallowed Verbs?

As a kid I had a hard time understanding the connection between "hallowed by thy name" and Halloween. They both were "hallowed" right? Since I understood Halloween with its goblins and ghosts, I struggled with how that fit into the Lord's Prayer. I figured it would make sense one day.

What came to make sense was the heart of this prayer. I was teaching in Venezuela and asked the men to spend time alone with the prayer, elongating each line with their own thoughts. As we debriefed, I did not give much time to this line and a young Christian called me out. "Isn't it the primary thought of the prayer?", he asked.  I had just enough intelligence to pay attention to people with fresh perspectives. And he was so right.

A look at the rest of the prayer confirms it. After praying for "your kingdom and your will" - as opposed to my efforts and my will - comes a list of verbs that are all about submission. "Give us", "lead us", "deliver us", and "forgive us" are all verbs where the action is done either to me or for me. This is not a prayer stating "here is what I think I should do; please bless it" but rather "I am powerless; I surrender". It is submission to a powerful yet caring father God.

The prayer is not very North American - independent, pull yourself up by your bootstraps - and thus it frequently alludes us, becoming a ritual void of meaning. Yet if we pay attention, if we pray from the heart as well as the head, it reminds us of who is really in control and that he cares for us. That makes him worthy of praise. It makes him hallowed.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Lord's Prayer: Father in Heaven

For years I breezed through the first line of this prayer as if they were the first words to a friend on the phone. "Hi, how are you?" "Hey, whats up, John?" It was just the line Jesus used to jump start the prayer, right? After all you have to start somewhere. I overlooked the depth of the words that Jesus chose, words that seem to hark back to creation.

In Genesis 1, God is presented to us as powerful, distant, and awe-inspiring. He stands at a distance and orchestrates creation "ex-nihilo". Whatever our understanding of Genesis 1, we have some form of incomprehensibility and otherness mixed with it. In Genesis 2, God is presented with his hands in the dirt and breathing into our nostrils. He is close, intimate and connected. We see a personal side we did not see in Genesis 1.

So Genesis begins with "in heaven" - the powerful and otherly God followed by "father" - the personal God. We are reminded of both his essence and his power when we pray to "our father who is in heaven."

Jesus had a way of saying so much even when he said so little.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Thoughts from the Lord's Prayer

I am amazed at how new things jump off the pages of scripture through the years. How can you find new meaning, new applications from a text that is thousands of years old and that you have read over and over? Yet, it stays new. The author of Hebrews was right, "The Word of God is living and active."

Lately I've spent hours with the Lord's Prayer - not studying it, just praying it. This has been my norm for the past few years. In the morning, I take my cup of coffee and stroll the neighborhood to talk with God. When I get distracted by the ducks flying over or a pretty tree - it really doesn't take much - I take my thoughts captive by falling back on the Lord's Prayer.  The next few blogs will be what I've discovered from this ancient prayer.

When I begin to say the prayer, I usually get stuck on the first word - "our". I want to start with "my". Yet there is a reason for the communal nature of this prayer. It makes me aware of my neighbors. It makes me think about my family. It reminds me of my students. And it flies in the face of everything North American.

Despite what the advertisements say, life is not about me; its about him and its about us. I'm terrible about that. "Me" somehow crawls up on the throne when I'm asleep. Everyday I wake up to this prayer and find that the first word calls me to repentance. I've tried to skip it or ignore it. Then a passing car honks at me, a jogger shouts "good morning" or a neighbor getting the paper waves. And I know deep in my heart that life is about "our" rather than "my". I also know that tomorrow morning, I will start the day repenting.