The Perfect Prayer

Pray, then, in this way: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

 

~Matthew 6:9-13

 The perfect prayer. Given to us by God Himself.

Here’s a bit of personal testimony:

 About 2 years ago, I was driving up to New York, to visit my girlfriend and her daughter. It was a pretty dark time in my life, just a few months before my conversion.

As a practicing pagan, I had opened myself up to demonic obsession. As I was driving through Pennsylvania I heard a voice in my car with me, telling me that if I just let the car go I could end all of the pain and all of the doubt I was having about my life. All I had to do was get to the top of the next hill and let go of the steering wheel.

 That voice was so soothing, and it made so much sense… I knew that I needed to do something but it seemed like there was a fog in my head. And then the first words of the Lord’s Prayer came to mind, and the words began to spill out of my mouth.

At first, it was from the head. I was a pagan, after all. But the voice in the car hesitated as I recited the prayer. The voice would get louder, and then I would get louder. Every time I came to the end of the prayer, I would start over from the beginning. Eventually I was driving through the midnight darkness of the Pennsylvania mountains screaming the Lord’s Prayer, watching the road through tears and driving snow, wondering if I would careen off the road and into one of the many deep gullies that bordered the highway. I don’t remember anything except saying the Lord’s Prayer over, and over, and over again.

I lost an entire hour of that trip—I simply did not remember getting to where I was. You can decide for yourself how that happened; I don’t know, God knows… but I was safe. There was nothing in the car except the sound of the tires burrowing through salty road slush and the soft blue glow of the dash lights. I was about thirty miles from where the “argument” had begun, in a small town, sitting at a stoplight. I was safe.

In this case, reciting the Lord’s Prayer by rote saved my life. It was the fact that I was so familiar with it that allowed me to pull it up and speak it, even when I couldn’t actively think for myself.

I’m not going to say the Lord’s Prayer can’t be used alone. It most certainly can be, if it’s said from the heart, and not the head. The problem that many of us run into, however, is that we tend to pray the Lord’s Prayer by rote. I know that this is a problem I have had in the past—I am so familiar with this prayer, that I can say it without feeling it. That’s a problem, because God insists that we seek His face earnestly. Just shuffling along, saying the words while you’re thinking about something else just doesn’t cut it. But in general, I have found that unless I’m saying it out of desperation I often repeat it mechanically, without feeling. So what I have taken to doing is using the prayer as the outline for my own prayers. This way, I know that my prayers are said in way that is pleasing to God; by not repeating the prayer verbatim, I am forced to really focus on each part of it as I say it. It also constructs my prayer in a way that gives glory to God before asking for my needs.

God wants us to ask for His help, but He wants that we should be humble about it. When we pray, we should be seeking His face, not His hand; “… seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

 I’ll be unpacking this in the next few articles, but here’s the basic scheme:

  • “Our Father, who art in heaven”: come to the Lord with an admission of God’s Lordship over us, by acknowledging that He is our Father and confess that, being “in heaven,” He is higher than us in stature and in power, omniscient and omnipotent
  • “hallowed be Thy name”: the name of God is above all other names. “I AM THAT I AM,” eternally and infinitely. We ask that His name be honored above all others, and that He be recognized as sovereign over all Creation.
  • “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”: we acknowledge and ask for His return in glory, we anticipate His kingdom; we ask that all things be in accordance with His divine will, not only in heaven, but also in this corrupted, perishable earth
  • “Give us this day our daily bread”: we ask for His provision for our physical, bodily needs—food, shelter, clothing—in order that we have the health and strength to glorify His name
  • “and forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors”: we not only ask forgiveness  for our own sins, but we affirm that we have forgiven those who have wronged us “in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous… Therefore you are to be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:45, 48)
  • “and do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil”: God does not tempt anyone (James 1:13), but He may allow us to fall into temptation in order to test us, or humble us (1 Corinthians 10:13). This is a petition that He not allow us to come into temptation before we are ready; to give us grace to recognize and avoid temptation; and an acknowledgment of our weakness and dependency on Him.
  • “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen: The final verse of the prayer is not in the oldest New Testament manuscripts, but it is still worth noting. After asking for our own needs to be met, this is a final affirmation of God’s power and glory, and our promise to recognize His sovereignty.

Wow. This has been a longer post than usual! Y’all are probably sitting there with your eyes rolling back in your heads, muttering, “BlogDude, puhleeeeeeease let this end!” Well, I will, for now. But we’ll be coming back to this subject again in the near future; I just think that it’s important to understand a few points that I couldn’t cover today.

Have blessed day, everyone. I love you all—truthfully, I’ve been through some difficult spiritual times lately, and it has been a blessing and an encouragement to know that I have a family in Christ. It gives me the spine I need to face my own shortcomings, and just try to be a better man and Christian. I’ll see you back here on Tuesday.

~BlogDude

Bad Dreams and King David

Sunday night, I had a bad dream.

This wasn’t a nightmare, just a very unpleasant dream. It was also a dream that contained a lot of symbolism. For me, a dream that has a great many recognizable symbols usually catches my attention. It’s usually important.

I say that it’s usually important, because in my experience over the last eighteen months it usually turns out to be God, trying to tell me something. In this case, it was telling me that my life was getting to be a mess again.

Well, I kinda already knew that it was headed in that direction, but I was having trouble figuring out why, exactly. I had been praying about it for a couple of days, but to be honest, I was starting to wonder if I was going to get an answer, or if the answer I got would be obvious enough for me to take notice of it.

Yes, I know, I shoulda known better. The dream was a wake-up call (figuratively and literally). Troubled by the fact that it was my own voice that had awakened me from an otherwise sound sleep, I got up to an almost oppressive impulse to get into God’s Word, and try to find some meaning beyond what I had just seen in bed.

As is my habit when I’m looking for something specific in Scripture, but I have no idea where to begin looking, I just flipped the Bible open to a random page. It came up on the story in 2 Samuel 2, about the battle at the Pool of Gibeon. This sort of got my attention because I had just written a blog about the Pool of Gibeon and had actually just been speaking to my Dad about it, last night. So I started to read, but I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere; it was all, “David was victorious. The LORD gave David’s enemies into his hand. David kicks major tail all over the land of Israel,” et cetera, et cetera… how does this apply to my situation? David isn’t having any trouble! In fact, in all of this, the only really negative thing that happened was Uzzah getting smoked by the Lord for grabbing the Ark, when it nearly fell off the wagon!

(It was only while writing that last line that I remembered God’s sense of humor leaning toward the ironic. Hopefully you’ll get it, in a minute or two.)

Frustrated, and more than a little impatient, I read this line in 2 Samuel 8:4:

And David captured from him [Hadadezer] 1,700 horsemen and 20,000 foot soldiers; and David hamstrung the chariot horses, but reserved enough of them for 100 chariots.

Okay, really? I’m getting nothin’ here! So, I figure, “One more chance,” and just flip the back pages of the Bible with my thumb, figuring maybe something will pop this time. A chunk of pages rolls over, and the first thing my eyes fall upon is this line:

And David took from him 1,000 chariots and 7,000 horsemen and 20,000 foot soldiers, and David hamstrung all of the chariot horses but reserved enough of them for 100 chariots.

~ 1 Chronicles 18:4

Um, ahem, okay, sorry, Lord. There’s obviously a reason that I’m supposed to be reading this. I get it.

I read on. Still, all I’m seeing is “David rocks, David kicks butt, David is da man,” but now, at least, I know that this is leading somewhere. And then:

Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel. (1 Chronicles 21:1)

I still didn’t quite get it. Sometimes I’m a little thick. And then, I got to this line:

And David said to God, “I have sinned greatly, in that I have done this thing. But now, please take away the iniquity of Thy servant, for I have done very foolishly.” (1 Chronicles 21:8)

and,

And David said to Gad, “I am in great distress; please let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are very great.” (1 Chronicles 21:13)

I still didn’t get it. But as I read that last line, I had a feeling that I had gone as far as I was supposed to. I needed to discern what the Lord meant, though, so I prayed that the scales be removed from eyes so that I could understand the message He meant for me to receive. The answer came to me almost before I finished asking for it.

Satan made David forget—for a moment—that God was the strength behind all of his victories. David took a census of his fighting men in order to ascertain his “strength.” David, in a moment of pride (I assume it was pride behind the error), put his own abilities and resources above the blessings of the Lord. When David realized his error, he begged forgiveness from the Lord; God gave him three choices to pick from by way of punishment for his transgressions.

Two of the punishments took place at the hands of men; the last would be a punishment from the hand of God. David, recognizing the Lord’s merciful nature, asked to be delivered into the hand of God.

The parallel to my own situation became very clear. Recently, I have been falling deeper and deeper into a sense of false security, thinking that God would be with me almost no matter what I chose to do. I was relying on my own judgment, on my own wisdom, to make decisions and do things “my way.” (Note on irony: David was transporting the Ark improperly when Uzzah got smited; rather than do what God wanted, I was doing what I wanted. There was also the obvious “fell off the wagon” reference, floating around in there somewhere.) A lot of this, I think, came from the notion that things weren’t going for me as I had hoped; money is still tight, the things I wanted to accomplish have been held up by circumstances, people that I have wanted to help out have been struggling and I have been unable to help because my own situation has left me unable to.

So I had taken to trying to make it happen on my own, getting impatient, and trying to talk God into hurrying up, already, I just needed a little break and I could take care of this stuff.

I could take care of this stuff.

Lack of faith. Pride. Those are my sins.

Everything happens according to God’s plan for us, and in His good time. I forgot. I ask that He forgive me for my sins. I know that He will. And from now on, I’m going to try to just relax and let Him handle it.

But I also gotta ask that he doesn’t smite 70,000 people because I screwed up. It’s hard enough, getting readers for this blog.

Annihilationism and Universalism

Today we’re going to run through annihilationism and universalism. I had previously intended to do a full evaluation of each of these doctrines, but they are both heretical doctrines that have no founding in Scripture. I think we are all better served as long as I can inform as to what to be on the lookout for.

Annihilationism: Annihilationism (sometimes also called conditional immortality) is the idea that when a non-believer dies, their soul, rather than suffering an eternity of torment in Hell, is simply snuffed out of existence. Most annihilationists believe that there is an actual Hell, but they deny that its punishments are eternal; rather, they say that Hell is a giant incinerator, where the souls of the wicked are consumed and utterly destroyed. Others hold that there is no intermediate state (that of a disembodied soul) after death; the souls of the wicked simply cease to exist when the body dies (similar to the view of death held by atheists).

The annihilationist view has been embraced by such evangelical leaders as John Wenham, John Stott, Basil F.C. Atkinson, and Edward Fudge. (It is also noteworthy that annihilationism is a doctrinal teaching of the Jehovah’s Witness, the Socinian heretics, and materialists.)

Annihilationists use various biblical verses to justify their claims. Rather than list them here, I will simply comment that in reading through the annihilationist’s claims it becomes increasingly clear that their arguments boil down to theological hair-splitting. Even those passages that can be seen as somewhat ambiguous—and therefore supportive of annihilationist views (and they are precious few)– cannot be held up in light of the rest of Scripture as supportive of the doctrine of conditional immortality.

The biggest problem with the annihilationist view, however, is that it attempts to elevate itself to a moral high ground above that upon which sits the Word of God. Take the following quote, from annihilationist supporter Clark Pinnock:

Everlasting torment is intolerable from a moral point of view because it makes God into a bloodthirsty monster who maintains an everlasting Auschwitz for victims whom he does not even allow to die. How is one to worship such a cruel and merciless God?

In response to this comment, Millard J. Erickson said, “… he had better be very certain he is correct. For if he is wrong, he is guilty of blasphemy.”

Universalism: Universalism is the belief that all people—saved and un-saved alike—will be redeemed at some point. The un-saved will spend their intermediate state in Hell, where God will essentially “turn the screws” on them until they finally get the message, repent, and accept Christ. There are other flavors of this doctrine—including one espoused by John Hick—maintaining that “all roads lead to God” (a theology known as religious pluralism).

The foundational belief of universalism is that God’s plan of salvation cannot be completed until all men are saved; as a result, temporal death does not represent the end of a person’s chances to repent. In other words, Hell (if it exists at all) is really nothing more than a dungeon of God’s Divine Inquisition, into which the unrepentant are thrown and tortured (!) until they recant. Again, this belief stems from non-biblical sources and pre-conceived notions of the nature of God, which are then read into the texts, rather than read out of them. Pluralism even goes so far as to incorporate teachings from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. These ideas, again, presuppose that the human idea of mercy, love, and God’s Divine Nature are more moral than the clear teachings of Scripture.

The dangers of these teachings (annihilationism and universalism) are many, but it could be argued that the greatest of these dangers (to the human spirit) is that by teaching these false doctrines, many theologians are giving people a “get out of jail free” card to commit sin. In the case of annihilationism, the concept is, ”Well, if I sin too much, and I don’t accept Jesus before I die, then I’ll just take a forever dirt nap.” For universalism, the argument is, “If I sin too much, and I don’t accept Jesus before I die, the Big Guy will give me another chance. I’ll just recant before they get the oven doors opened!”

If we were to ignore all other teachings of the Scripture, Hebrews 9:27 defeats both views: “And inasmuch as it was appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,” (NASB, emphasis mine).

Those interested in further reading on this subject can find excellent information in the following:

–       Norman Giesler, Systematic Theology, Chapter 81: Annihilationism

–       Cristopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson (editors), Hell Under Fire (this is a collection of essays written by leading fundamentalists theologians, defending the orthodox Christian view of Hell)

–       Robert A. Peterson, Hell On Trial

 

And that’s it for today’s post! See you Monday, folks! Have a blessed weekend!