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Ancient Paths: The Lord’s Prayer

Ancient Paths: The Lord’s Prayer

I attend a church now that recites the Lord’s Prayer as part of every Sunday service. It also encourages its recitation in home devotions, both morning and evening.

That’s quite a leap from becoming a Christian in a church tradition that never recited this prayer. In fact, that tradition never recited anything. We didn’t even have scripture readings. Everything was spontaneous, except for the more-prepared portions of the sermon.

This practice was a bi-product of a strong bias … that written and recited acts of worship aren’t “sincere”. Or “authentic”. Or “genuine”. Only the spontaneous can be “real”. Everything else, because it has taken a preconceived form, if form-al. Because it can be said by rote, one can never know if there’s heart behind the recitation.

offering prayerInteresting. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, Jesus did not say, “Just talk to God like He’s your best friend.” He did not say, “Pray whatever is on your heart, as long as it’s what your really feel” (as though your feelings is the barometer of whether or not your prayer is appropriate!). He did not say, “Pray over these types of topics.” He never said anything like these well-worn approaches to prayer we find in our shallow, contemporary spiritualities.

He said, “Pray thus.” Then He said words. As Christians, we usually are very cautious about mincing the words of Jesus. But not when it comes to the Lord’s Prayer. We not only can find it dispensable … we often consider these words boring and inadequate.

The ancient church did not make this mistake. They recited the Lord’s Prayer. This was central to the liturgy for 1,500 years, and remains central in the expressions of classical Christian traditions today. But, from the outset of Early Modern thinking, the Lord’s Prayer has been trivialized by huge swaths of Christian practitioners. I don’t think what has replaced its use has been anything like an improvement.

A few principles to consider when it comes to written prayers in general, and the Lord’s Prayer in particular:

  1. We should be careful with our words before God. Spontaneous worship acts can get us into big trouble — just ask Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10:1-2). A concise presentation of well-chosen words is to be preferred — just ask King Solomon (Eccl. 5:2) and Jesus (Matt. 6:7-8).
  2. Only pre-written prayers can be prayed in multiple locations at once. In our service book, we have what are called “collects”, from the Latin word collectia, which means “gather people together”. These prayers not only gather the thoughts of everyone within earshot in the service, but also with churches all over the globe. How else could we pray together with our brethren in the global south if we didn’t have written prayers?
  3. The Lord’s Prayer is the Word. Your prayers are not. Recitation of the Lord’s Prayer secures our trust, and demands our reverence. Spontaneous prayers can be a crapshoot.
  4. whiningSpontaneity is a shallow well. Do you really want your congregation’s dialogue with God to be limited to the off-the-cuff thoughts of your leaders? Isn’t it to our advantage to led in prayer by mature, thoughtful saints, from both the past and present? If you’re going to have spontaneous prayer, it had better be done by people with deep doctrinal equipping who know what they should be praying and how.
  5. Spontaneity is no more “genuine” than thoughtfully selected written phrases. For years I have endured “spontaneous” prayers in church that are nothing but the same drivel that has been prayed a thousand times before. Often it’s an auto-pilot prayer which has as it’s only priority providing enough time in the service for the band to get off the platform.
  6. Spontaneous praying makes it hard for people to pray. Do you ever bow your head, and wonder what you should say? Especially when you’re asked to pray out loud, in a group? Written prayers free up those who aren’t so glib to enter into solid seasons of prayer without the pressure of coming up with good stuff. This may be a key reason why there isn’t much actual prayer in most contemporary church services.

My prayer for all of us is that we would be liberated from the cul-de-sac of our limited minds, and be freed to embrace the rich tradition of our church’s prayer life that is stored for us through literature. Jesus’ prayer is indispensable. So are the Psalms. May the Word, and those God has given to us to be its pastors and teachers, give thoughtful shape to our ongoing conversation with God.

– E.O.

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Ancient Paths: Luther on the Ten Commandments

Ancient Paths: Luther on the Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments. To be obeyed, yes. But, to be used for personal prayer? For me, this introduces a new way to walk an “ancient path”. Martin Luther has this to say about reading and praying through the Ten Commandments:

“I think of each commandment as, first, instruction, which is really what it is intended to be, and consider what the Lord God demands of me so earnestly. Second, I turn it into a thanksgiving; third, a confession; and fourth, a prayer. I do so in thoughts or words such as these:

CONSIDERATION

“’I am the Lord your God, etc. You shall have no other gods before me,’ etc. Here I earnestly consider that God expects and teaches me to trust him sincerely in all things and that it is his most earnest purpose to be my God. . . .

THANKSGIVING

“Second, I give thanks for his infinite compassion by which he has come to me in such a fatherly way and, unasked, unbidden, and unmerited, has offered to be my God, to care for me, and to be my comfort, guardian, help, and strength in every time of need. We poor mortals have sought so many gods and would have to seek them still if he did not enable us to hear him openly tell us in our own language that he intends to be our God. How could we ever—in all eternity—thank him enough!

CONFESSION

“Third, I confess and acknowledge my great sin and ingratitude for having so shamefully despised such sublime teachings and such a precious gift throughout my whole life, and for having fearfully provoked his wrath by countless acts of idolatry. I repent of these and ask for his grace.

SUPPLICATION

“Fourth, I pray and say: ‘O my God and Lord, help me by thy grace to learn and understand thy commandments more fully every day and to live by them in sincere confidence. Preserve my heart so that I shall never again become forgetful and ungrateful, that I may never seek after other gods or other consolation on earth or in any creature, but cling truly and solely to thee, my only God. Amen, dear Lord God and Father. Amen'”

I will do well to get in a rhythm of praying through these Ten Commandments. Perhaps not every day, but regularly. And not in a rushed way. It can be easy to zip through the consideration / thanksgiving / confession sections, and quickly rush into my litany of things I want God to do for me. I sense that wading deeply through the first three stages with effectively change the content of stage four!

Next up: A few thoughts about the third commandment. We all quickly agree that commandments 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 are still to be wholeheartedly obeyed today. But the third commandment? Many have dispensed with it altogether. I’m talking about Sabbath-keeping … next time. It truly is an ancient path that we should be asking for.

– E.O.

 

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Are We Crying Out to God Enough?

What is the appropriate response for believers to the chaos that is escalating all around us?

  • Turn off the news and isolate from the bad news
  • Lobby for a political candidate who will fix things
  • Complain about the situation on social media
  • Distract ourselves with entertainment
  • Move to Costa Rica

The prophet Jeremiah points us to the one thing needful (Lamentations 2:16-19):

  • (16) “All your enemies open their mouths against you; they hiss, they gnash their teeth, they cry: ‘We have devoured her! Ah, this is the day we longed for; at last we have seen it.'” This feels like our day. Every time we experience an “uncivilized” attack against the West, it is accompanied by maddening, vitriolic claims to victory.
  • (17)”The Lord has done what He purposed, He has carried out His threat; as He ordained long ago, He has demolished without pity; He has made the enemy rejoice over you and exalted the might of your foes.” This is happening under God’s control? Not only that, but by God’s initiative! “He has made” them gloat, and has “exalted the might” of their tactics? He is behind it all. Startling? But this means He can, and only He can, change its course.
  • (18-19) “Cry aloud to the Lord! O wall of daughter Zion! Let tearkneeling-man-bears-witness1s stream down like a torrent day and night! Give yourself no rest, your eyes no respite! Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches! Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord! Lift your hands to him for the lives of your children.”  When facing times of inordinate calamity, the call of God to His people is to pray. But this is so much more than saying a quick prayer before the evening meal, or listing “world peace” as you go down your prayer list. Jeremiah describes a brand of prayer that rends ones mind, heart and body to the Lord. Hands lifted, hearts poured out, from the rising of the sun to the late hours of the night. “Give yourself no rest, your eyes no respite.”

Hope for our world rests in the sovereign God, Who is at the helm of all of our circumstances, pouring out His mercy and grace on the nations. He answers to prayers of His people. So, we know that this is the one thing most needful in our day.

The world doesn’t know, believe or understand this … and will therefore never ask it of us. But they desperately need those who believe in the Most High God to pray, and to pray hard. We’re the ones who know the way out of our tragic international condition. Do we love the nations, our country, our families, and even ourselves enough to hit our knees?

May Lamentations 2:18-19 be a description of the church’s collective prayer life. And may God pour out fresh mercies on us, and on the nations.

– EO

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • I’m not praying like this. I need to.
  • And what if the Lord answers this type of collective wailing with an outpouring of His mercy and grace?
  • so commit themselves to intercessory prayer that they are physically spent –
 

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I Have Until Friday?

Read Amos 7:1-9

I have a hypothetical situation for you. Suppose God came to you with a choice: He was either going to send Jesus to return right now, or on Friday. If He returns right now, you are changed to your immortal body in the twinkling of an eye, and all the features of heaven are yours to experience, right now! Or, if you wait until Friday, you have three days to make one last appeal to the unbelievers in your life … and then you get the blessings of His coming.

Which would you choose?

By the way, this isn’t very hypothetical (except the Friday part). The Apostle Peter tells us that “the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly … The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come, like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise, we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:7-13).

I thought about this passage from the New Testament while reading Amos 7. Here, Amos is privy to a vision of a God-initiated infestation of locusts, in judgment of the people of Israel. Amos says, “O Lord God, please forgive!” The LORD relents. Next, Amos sees that God is preparing another act of judgment – this time a catastrophic fire. Amos cries, “O Lord God, please cease!” The Lord relents. Amos knows they are guilty. Amos knows they are deserving. But He begs the Lord for mercy, and they receive it because of Amos’ intercession.

Are you ready to stand in the gap between the promised judgment of your righteous God, and the hell-bent people around you? Would you do all you can to delay that final verdict and sentence on their sin? I guess the question isn’t, “are you ready?”, but rather “are you doing it?” … because this is our situation right now. Actually, we may not have until Friday. It may be in the next five minutes.

But maybe God will relent on His own? Maybe the universalists are right – that everyone will enjoy God’s favor, because He’s a God of love, and our “sin” ain’t so bad? Verses 7-9 put an end to such talk. Yes, God has twice shown mercy to His sinful people, but this time…

“Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass by them [e.g., extend my mercy and wait] and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam [cf., Israel] with the sword.”

Image result for "everyone goes to heaven" signA plumb line is “a ​piece of ​string with a ​weight ​attached to one end, used either to ​test if something ​vertical is ​exactly ​straight”. God is going to, once and for all, measure the people. It will be based His standards, his right-ness, His holiness. On that day, if you don’t “measure up”, your destruction is upon you.

“But nobody’s perfect! Who will be able to stand up against the measure of God’s plumb line?” Only one has ever been perfect- Jesus, the Christ. He offers you His righteousness for the plumb line test. In fact, He offers His righteousness to everyone you know. Have you let them know that it’s available? You may want to get that word out …

Because it may be useful on Friday.

A bit more on this text tomorrow…

– EO

 
 

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One Fruit Cake Too Many! Third Saturday of Advent – 14.12.20

personalized-christmas-cookies-500x262A brief offering for you today – in light of the growing pile of Christmas goodies on your kitchen counters.

(First, let me preface this with an apology to any over-sensitive Germans there might be out there. I’m just quoting Luther!)

Today, we hit upon this Advent-related verse from 1 Peter: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.Now, when I think of being “sober”, I think about avoiding the effects of inebriation. Luther has a broader view….

schlaraffenland2“’To be sober’ means that we eat and drink only sufficient, so that the body may practice abstinence and perform its functions aright … On this subject there should be a great deal of preaching, for we Germans are about sinking in ruin under the shameful vice of overeating and overdrinking!”

I rarely connect my physical fitness with my spiritual life. But Luther does, and calls us all to temperance in our appetites – not so we’ll look good, feel good, or live longer, but that our prayer lives would be stronger! What do you think?

(And a brief word about 16th century Germans: I don’t know anything about your eating habits, but I must venture a calculated guess that you didn’t suffer the propensity to obesity that we collectively experience in 21st America, land of fast lifestyles and fast foods. If anything, we need to hear Luther’s thoughts more than the people of his day did!)

Again, in the irony that is the Advent-turned-commercial-Christmas season, what once was a time dedicated to heightened discipline has turned rather into a less-than-holy-day of license, even gluttony. Fitness clubs’ biggest month of the year is January, partly because everyone lets themselves go during the days around Christmas.

sfIf Luther is right … could our over-eating be a key reason why Jesus has slipped from being the reason for the season? Is there any chance that some of us might do the edifying, counter-cultural thing … that is, stay disciplined during this season, allow Christ and His Word to remain on the throne of our lives, and help make the holy-day genuinely holy?

By the way, our feast is coming on the 25th … and for 12 days after that! Hang on, everyone! And pray richly and deeply during these last few days of Advent as we prepare for the true celebration ahead.

E     *     O

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2014 in Advent 2014, Discipleship

 

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