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

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Power Perfected in Weakness

…There was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”

 

I’m sleeping in a rose bush, man.

 

Sometimes, it seems like I’m just covered with thorns: pain, fatigue, relationships, loneliness, living conditions… there are so many things that I would like to change, but every time I try to pick a direction, it seems that I just spin my wheels. I’ve been beset by temptations, and failed more than a few times. I’ve seen opportunities to serve, and allowed doubt to make me hesitate, just long enough that the opportunities slipped away.

 

I’ve been praying. I’ve been reading Scripture. I’ve been trying to listen with my heart; the silence has been deafening. For some reason, the Lord seems to have turned His face away from me.

 

”My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”

 

I have been clinging to that promise. Certainly, others have a better claim to hardships, than I do—I haven’t been shipwrecked, or scourged—but I do hope and pray for some relief.

 

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.

 

This sustains me. I know that not everything I go through is necessarily for my good, but it will serve to magnify His glory. Somehow. But whatever the reason for this season in my life, there is a reason.

 

I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.

 

So I’ll get through it. I’ll pray for patience, for discernment, for courage; God never promised not to give us more than we can handle, but He did promise never to abandon us. I don’t know where He is right now, but I do know that He’s there– even if, for now, He has left me to struggle on my own.

 

Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

 

No matter what else, His promise of salvation is everlasting. No struggle that I face in this life can diminish my hope for the glory of the next. Praise God for our trials, for when we are weak—then we are strong. And to God be the glory forever.

 

Verses cited:

 

…There was given to me a thorn in the flesh…  II Corinthians 12:7-9a

And we know that for those…  Romans 8:28

I can do all things through Christ… Philippians 4:13

Therefore I am well content with weaknesses… II Corinthians 12:10

Bethlehem

Bethlehem as it appeared in 1882

Bethlehem as it appeared in 1882

Bethlehem of Judah (to be distinguished from Bethlehem of Galilee) is located approximately 6 miles southwest of Jerusalem, in the southern portion of the Judean Mountains. The name, “Bethlehem,” or in Hebrew, “Bet Lehem,” translates literally to mean, “House of Bread.” It is situated at approximately 2,543 feet above mean sea level.

The climate of Bethlehem is typically Mediterranean, with dry summers with temperatures into the low- to mid-eighties, and cold damp winters, with temperatures getting as low as the mid-thirties. Average annual rainfall is 28 inches.

In 338 C.E., Helena (mother of the Emperor Constantine) had a church built over the grotto that is traditionally held to be the birthplace of Jesus. Christian tradition affirming the site to be the birthplace of Christ goes back to at least the Second Century, when Justin Martyr identified “a cave outside of the town” as the birthplace of Jesus; in the Third Century, Origen of Alexandria claimed that the townspeople had pointed out the specific location of the Nativity.

TSbtfran

Modern view of the grotto traditionally held to be the site of Christ's birth

Modern view of the grotto traditionally held to be the site of Christ’s birth

View of the traditional site within the grotto, where Jesus was born

View of the traditional site within the grotto, where Jesus was born

The town itself was bitterly contested during the period of the Crusades, from its initial capture by Crusaders in 1100, until the final defeat of the Crusaders and their expulsion from Palestine in 1291.

And Rachel died, and was buried in Eph’rath, which is Bethlehem. And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave unto this day.

Genesis 35:19, 20

As the traditional place of Rachel’s burial (in addition to being the birthplace of Jesus), Bethlehem is also sacred to Jews and Moslems, who make regular pilgrimages to the site of Rachel’s tomb.

In modern times, the traditional claims for Bethlehem of Judah being the place of Christ’s birth has become the subject of scholarly dispute, with some scholars claiming that there is no historical or archaeological case to support the claims. These scholars claim that Scripture is not to be taken literally, but rather that the use of Bethlehem of Judah was used as a sort of literary device in the narrative of Christ’s birth. Others make the claim that the Gospel writers used the location in order to bolster claims of fulfilled prophecy, and yet another school of reasoning holds that Jesus was not born in Bethlehem at all, but rather in Nazareth.

However, most of these scholars disavow any scriptural references that contain supernatural implications, such as fulfilled prophecy; it is also worth noting that other claims made by certain groups of historians could not hold up unless the traditional location of Jesus’s birth is disqualified. For instance, there are claims by many of the biographers of Herod, who state that the “Slaughter of the Innocents”—the massacre of all infant males in Bethlehem at the time of Christ’s birth—never actually happened, which would validate the claim that the Gospel authors resorted to some creative license in their record of the Nativity. Given the insignificance of the town in Herod’s day, the fact that there was no method for news to travel quickly, and the general ruthlessness that characterized the reign of Herod (who murdered three of his own sons in a bid to retain power), these claims are at best speculative, and at worst specious.

A Fable

Today’s blog was posted to my Facebook page by my good friend and all-around great Christian, itinerant pastor Zeke Whitelock.

One day a farmer’s donkey fell down into a well. The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do. Finally, he decided the animal was old, and the well needed to be covered up anyway; it just wasn’t worth it to retrieve the donkey.

He invited all his neighbors to come over and help him. They all grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well. At first, the donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly. Then, to everyone’s amazement he quieted down.

A few shovel loads later, the farmer finally looked down the well. He was astonished at what he saw. With each shovel of dirt that hit his back, the donkey was doing something amazing. He would shake it off and take a step up.

As the farmer’s neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, he would shake it off and take a step up. Pretty soon, everyone was amazed as the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and happily trotted off!

MORAL :

Life is going to shovel dirt on you, all kinds of dirt. The trick to getting out of the well is to shake it off and take a step up. Each of our troubles is a steppingstone. We can get out of the deepest wells just by not stopping, never giving up! Shake it off and take a step up.

 

Remember the five simple rules to be happy:

1. Free your heart from hatred – Forgive.

2. Free your mind from worries – Most never happens.

3. Live simply and appreciate what you have.

4. Give more.

5. Expect less from people but more from yourself.

This is great advice, folks. Be well, love one another… and step up! God Bless us all!

Proud to be Humble.

I think I’ve noticed a bit of a recurring undercurrent in a number of my threads, lately. Pride seems to be coming up quite often.

It makes sense. I have a real problem with this one; not only is it the root of all other sin, but I actually have a problem with the bald, naked sin of pride itself. My guess is that the Spirit has been leading me to confront it directly; I have to do that from time to time, and I think I’m probably past due.

When I first got straight with Jesus, I spent a lot of time reading commentaries and the like, trying to get every last ounce of meaning that I could from Scripture. I also flailed around, reading different books about various Christian virtues and values and theologies. I hadn’t found a church, yet—or, rather, I hadn’t come home to Bethel, yet—so I was kinda flying blind in a snowstorm. One book that I found helpful, though (there were a lot of books that weren’t helpful at all, and more than one that actually wound up in the round file), was Humility: True Greatness by C.J. Mahaney. It’s a quick little read, not at all difficult to understand, but it is definitely an eye-opener.

After reading it, I had a better understanding of how damaging pride is, how insidious it is, and—most importantly—how to get loose of its grip. The following list is adapted from C.J. Mahaney’s.

  1. Start your day by acknowledging your need for and dependence on God. For some of us, it requires an act of divine grace just to roll to the edge of the mattress and slide off the edge feet-first; for everyone else, you’ll have to make a conscious effort to remember to do this.
  2. Start the day by giving thanks to God. I’m usually thankful that the previous maneuver (rolling out of bed) doesn’t culminate in a face plant into the rug. Usually.
  3. Be spiritually disciplined.

    a. Pray! Do it all day long. Have a running conversation with the Lord. He’s right there, all day long—what are you gonna do, ignore Him? That’s a bit rude, isn’t it?

    b. Study His Word! Seeking meaning in Scripture reinforces our recognition of our dependence on God, and helps us in our daily walk-and-talk with Him.

    c. Worship! This goes along with “a” and “b”, but it goes much further, as well. Acknowledge how awesome God is, every chance you get (a good friend of mine is in the habit of saying, “God is wicked awesome, dude. Wicked awesome.”) See a cool cloud formation? Give praise for the artistry of His creation. Enjoying that crisp autumn air? Thank Him for the season. Just washed your car and drove under a flock of pigeons unscathed? Head directly to your nearest house of worship and immediately break into song.

 

If you commute, what are you doing with that time? Are you using it constructively? If not, maybe you could take the opportunity to catch up on God’s Word while you drive into work, or home again (jiggety jig!). I hear that they’re even putting the Bible on CD these days! Technology—who knew?

  1. Quit sweating the small stuff—and it’s all small stuff.

 

“Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:3,4)

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6,7; emphasis mine)

  1. Every night before bed, acknowledge all that the Lord has done for you and through you, that day. Give Him the glory for all of your successes, acknowledge your fault in all of your failures, and be reminded that we have and do nothing absent His grace—even the act of breathing is a gift from God!
  2. And finally (and a lot of readers are gonna like this one): sleep! Remember that sleep is one of our most precious and important blessings. It renews and refreshes us (better than Irish Spring, even!), recharges our minds and energizes our bodies. (At least, it’s supposed to. If it doesn’t, there may be some lifestyle issues involved. I’m not judging, I’m just sayin’.)

When you lay down to sleep, remember to thank God for this awesome gift that most of us get to experience every day. On warm summer Sundays—if looking around at the congregation is any indicator—sometimes more than once a day. (At least, that’s what I’ve been told. Summertime is when I have the most eye trouble, so I have to pay special attention to the insides of my eyelids.)

Well, that’s it: the primer on keeping ourselves humble! On a more serious note, I really need to practice what I’m preaching here, because trust me: this stuff takes discipline to do it every single day. But I speak from experience when I say that it is helpful—and effective, as long as you continue to practice it. So I’m going to recommit to doing these things every day. Starting with #6.

(Okay, #5. Yeesh.)

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.