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

“Love Your Enemies”

 

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those that persecute you 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 5:43-45, 48

If ever I had trouble keeping a commandment of the Lord, this one may take the prize. How do we “love our enemies?” When someone goes out of their way to do us harm, how are we to summon up the patience and compassion to love that person, anyway? In the words of the song, “…to love even when we don’t feel it?”

Well, first we need to define what we mean by, “love.” This isn’t “romantic love,” that we’re talking about. For our purposes, I will define this type of love as an unprejudiced desire for the personal welfare and wellbeing of all people individually. Not much help, is it? Now we can just hate one person at a time!

Um, no. We still have to summon up this “unprejudiced love.” The answer, of course, is that we choose to love someone. The world we live in forwards the idea that “love” is something that just happens—we have no control over it. We “fall in love;” we “fall out of love.” We are never told that we “choose to love.” In modern terms, love is a passive emotion; it comes and goes, regardless of our inclinations. But this isn’t true at all; love is something that can be triggered, but we make a decision to love someone. This applies in romantic love, but it is especially true when we are asked to love our enemies.

Consider this: in romantic love, we have a compulsion to love another person based on what that person’s love will mean to us in return. There is an element of physical desire, of kinship, and of intellectual attraction that prompts us to decide to give this person love, in the hope that he/she will return the affection. But the initial compulsion comes from a personal want; you want, and expect, something in return for your attentions.

But when we love our enemies, we have no such motivation. In fact, we can reasonably expect that our love will be returned with acrimony. The only “return on investment” we can expect is more trouble! But God tells us to love them, anyway.

A while back, I wrote about forgiveness. This idea of “loving your enemies” goes hand-in-glove with what Jesus said to Peter about forgiveness:

I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. (Matthew 18:22)

Jesus was speaking in hyperbole, here; He obviously doesn’t mean, “Okay, give the dude 490 chances, and then, if he doesn’t come around, stomp a mud-puddle in his backside.” No, what he means to imply here is that we should never put a limit on our capacity to forgive. Forgiveness comes out of love.

Now, saying that love is a choice doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be a pleasant choice; sometimes, it’s going to make us very unhappy to make ourselves love someone (or, in the case of the federal government, a lot of someones). But God never promised us a rose garden. You never see God say, “Be ye happy, because I your God am happy, and since I’m a happy Dude, it’s alllll good!” Nope. What God says is,

…You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. (Lev. 19:2)

You’ll notice that God doesn’t say “should be holy.” He says, “shall be holy.” It isn’t a suggestion. He isn’t giving us options. So consider this: Despite all the ways that we abuse God, every day, He chooses deliberately to love us, anyway. He would be perfectly justified (by our standards) not to love us; in fact, by our standards, the best we could probably hope for from Him would be a sort of lukewarm antipathy. Instead, He loves us so much that He came to be among us, in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer and to be humiliated and to experience death at the hands of His own chosen people and the gentiles. He gave us the way to avoid the torment of an eternal Hell, but that isn’t all; He loves us so much that He allows those who reject His gifts to experience the consequences of their own conscious decisions! That last bit, well, it stretches my brain a little bit. I know it’s a love-thing, but I can’t really get my head around it.

I once worked with a guy whose mantra was, “Always be nice to people—even when you’re hurting them.” His point was that anger is self-destructive; sometimes it is necessary for us to hurt or allow hurt to happen to other people—just as God sometimes has to hurt us in order to make us more holy. But it isn’t necessary to feel anger when we are doing what is necessary. Anger is self-destructive (the only real exception to this is the righteous anger that we experience when we defend the Gospel against heresies and false teachers; Jude talks about this quite a bit). God’s wish is not that we destroy ourselves, but that we have life, and have it abundantly. But we don’t have to hate. We can choose not to hate. Even more, we can choose to love, and in doing so, we disarm our enemies. A Christian being tortured by Communists was told by a Communist officer, “I am almighty, as you suppose your God to be. I can kill you.”

The Christian replied, “The power is all on my side. I can love you even while you torture me to death.”