Thoughts on THE Prayer Pt 2 :: “In the heavens…”

Our Father, who lives in the heavens,
May Your name be kept holy.
May Your Kingdom come,
May Your will be done,
On earth just like it’s done in Your presence.

Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive our sins
As we forgive those who sin against us.
Don’t bring us to the times of trial,
But deliver us from the evil one.
Amen.

Where does God live, and why does it matter?

This phrase introduces two ideas about God that exist in constant tension: God’s transcendence and God’s immanence. 

God’s transcendence is the “clouds-in-the-sky” part of God: the I-created-the-whole-world aspect of God’s character. This incredible power was important to God’s people; it established YHWH’s credentials as the ultimate power in the world. This is the power that is present at, over, and above creation; in fact, you could say that the point of Genesis 1 and 2 is not to show that God can count to seven or invent the platypus. It’s to show that God is separate from and has power over the creation.

Jesus is not using this phrase so that his prayers have the correct “address” to get to God. He uses the phrase as a form of worship, as a way of reminding himself of God’s infinite power. No matter what life on earth looks like, Jesus prays to the God who created the whole operation, and is more than capable of intervening at any point.

Simultaneously, the phrase “in the heavens” indicates another—and almost more profound—mode of God’s existence. Simply put, “the heavens” doesn’t just indicate a specific address beyond the clouds where God lives (with an awesome beard).

The heavens can mean anywhere.

Even right next to you…

even inside you.

To pray to “our Father in the heavens” is not merely to call on God’s infinite creative power, it’s to call on his intimate presence. 

It means that He is not standing (sitting?) far off watching us succeed or fail, watching us walk or stumble or crawl or fall. He is capable of being everywhere: in our vehicles, in our classrooms, in our dining room, in our cube farm.

Because of His infinite (transcendent) power, He has can be absolutely (immanently) anywhere.

A couple of questions:

  • Does your prayer life involve worship? What would it mean to turn your thoughts to God’s infinite power during prayer, to dwell on the fact that He is in control of everything? How powerful (or weak) is the God of your prayers?
  • Does your prayer life address the fact that God is very, very near? That He has not left us to languish, but is dynamically and constantly present with us? What would it mean to understand the infinite as intimately present with you? How close is the God of your prayers?

Father God you are infinitely present in the heavens; in control of all. You were present before creation, and at creation, and will exist forever. You are all powerful, and nothing is beyond your doing. I thank You that You in control of all the situations that stress me out, or that cause me distress, and I ask You to sustain me through them. At the same time, Lord, I know that You are very gently present with me, even as I sit in this kitchen typing. Not only are You ‘Lord Most High,’ You are also ‘God With Us.’ You are here as I walk through my day, and are always inviting me into a deeper, fuller life of submission and obedience. I pray that I might exist more completely in Your presence, in order to see Your creative power at work in my life. Amen.

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James Brown and Lent

(I originally wrote this for my church. I added a couple of thoughts).

Bear with me just a minute.

One of my favorite records is James Brown Live in Paris in 1971. It is one of the most intense sets of music I’ve ever heard. In terms of flat out energy, I’d put it up against releases from most metal and industrial bands. For 73 minutes (the entire CD), the band just cooks. There are, however, breaks: times when James needs to hang back and sing a ballad, in order to give the band—and the audience—a break.

In short, funk—and art, and life—needs contrast. 

Dark so that light can stand out.

Silence so that noise can be pronounced.

If all you ever have is noise, life gets exhausting. If you only ever go “full throttle”, sooner or later you run out of gas. A holistic, healthy life needs to swing back and forth between exertion and rest, engagement and retreat, waking and sleeping. A holistic life needs silence, needs rhythm, needs diversity.

Our spiritual life is no different. In a sense, every Sunday is a miniature celebration of the resurrection, and all of the joy and excitement that comes with it. However, it can be easy to become addicted to “resurrection,” and to begin to think that our spiritual lives should only ever be full of joyful shouting.

For our own spiritual health, sometimes we need to engage in a different perspective.

That’s where seasons such as “Lent” can be helpful. Lent is a traditional season of the church that is useful for preparing for the earth-shattering, paradigm-shaking event of the resurrection at Easter. To that end, it’s historically been a season where Christ-followers reflect on their lives and thoughtfully contemplate the forgiveness that God offers us through Jesus, often through activities such as fasting, silence, and confession.

The season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, where we are invited to remember our mortality, to remember the beginning of Jesus’ journey towards the cross, and to symbolically begin our own. E3 will have two traditional Ash Wednesday gatherings—at 7:30 am and at noon—on February 22.

… Because even the hardest working man in show business needs some occasional quiet time.

Lent is traditionally about reflection, fasting, and giving. Here are a few questions to get you thinking:

  • Where/how do you need contrast in your life? Do you need silence? Or maybe you have the silence thing down, and you need “engagement”; where can you give—but give secretly—over the next forty days?
  • What have you become too dependent upon for life? What needs to be removed in order for you to re-orient yourself towards your dependence on God?
  • How can you follow Jesus to the cross this season?

Remember

Remember how the LORD your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands. (Deuteronomy 8:2)

I used to read about how worship was about “remembering”.

I disagreed.

I didn’t like that language. To me, at the time, worship was about passion, intensity… Tears, repentance, joy.

The list went on and on; I preferred words like that over “flat-line” words like “remember.”

I mean, I remember to get milk from the store; I remember to pick up a pen before I leave for work (no really, I do).

I wanted worship to be more about “remembering.” I wanted it to be like … well…

A Rage Against the Machine Concert…

… Or … what was that band from Ireland?

THAT was what I wanted worship to feel like.

(and yes, EVERY Sunday)

But this weekend I reconsidered.

To put it bluntly, worship is absolutely based on remembrance: of our salvation, of the things God has done for us.

If it’s not, it’s idolatry.

Harsh, I know, but if worship isn’t grounded in the acts of God, than we are either making up things up or worshiping “worship.”

And that adds up to idolatry.

It’s easy to sing songs; it’s not too difficult to get people to sing with you  (well, some Sundays it is).

But that’s not the point.

Over and over, God tells people to “remember” how He set them free from slavery, and brought them through the wilderness to the land that He promised them. He could’ve put on an amazing light show; he could’ve parted the sea (again)…

… He probably could even have played “Fix You” (just to get ‘em all crying and to show how relevant He is).

But He didn’t. He just said, “Remember that I’ve done this thing for you and for my mission in the world. That tells you everything you need to know about me.

The point is to get people to remember their salvation, and to thank God for it, and to remind themselves what He is capable of, what His character is.

That’s a bit harder.

 

Thoughts on “THE Prayer”, pt 1 :: “Our Father”

“The Lord’s Prayer: (or the “Our Father”, depending on your tradition) is a simultaneously a prayer of vast width and incredible intimacy. I thought I’d do a series of blogs on it.

If you’re looking for a way to begin your prayer life, this is a great place to start. You can just start off by praying the words, and allow your mind to expand the phrases as you come to understand them.

Here’s the first one.

Our Father, who lives in the heavens,
May Your name be kept holy.
May Your Kingdom come,
May Your will be done,
On earth just like it’s done in Your presence.

Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive our sins
As we forgive those who sin against us.
Don’t bring us to the times of trial,
But deliver us from the evil one.
Amen.

Right off the bat, let’s be clear: Jesus’ use of the word “father” (or even “abba”) in prayer was not unique. There are plenty of ancient examples of folks addressing God in this way. Jesus’ use of the phrase is much more incisive, much deep than this.

In the book of Exodus, God tells Moses to tell Pharaoh, “‘Israel is my firstborn son. I commanded you, ‘Let my son go, so he can worship me’” (4:22). God is about to decisively act to free His people, and begin a new phase of His great rescue operation that began in Genesis 2, and will eventually end in Revelation 21. After God frees “his son,” he declares in Exodus 19 that they are now “my kingdom of priests, my holy nation” (v6).

So one way of understanding these two simple words is that we are identifying ourselves as Israel, God’s redeemed people. In the same way that God claims “his son” as Israel, we are claiming Him as “our Father”, and also saying, “I’m a part of your people; I want to be a part of your redemption in the world.” Along with our participation in that mission comes our forgiveness, the opportunity for transformation, and membership in the family of God.

In some liturgical traditions, the prayer is introduced by reminding the congregation that “we are bold to pray” this prayer.

True enough: It’s bold to walk right up to the Creator of the Universe and just declare, “I’m yours!”

But that’s what we’re invited to do.

Remember that God declares that Israel is His son before they’ve done anything for Him. 

He just pronounces it.

As a gift.

Jesus ultimately is saying, “I’m leading a new Exodus from evil and oppression, and you are welcome to join. Come and be a part of a new freedom movement, an ultimate  defeat of evil and oppression, and the beginning of the era of resurrection.”

So, “Our Father,” is a big declaration of the graciousness of God, of His ultimate victory, and of our role (as priests!) in His world and in His plans.

You can pray it with a sense of awe, but you can pray it boldly.

A Professional Faith

Stephen King has written 49 novels. Forty-nine. 

Since 2000, Ryan Adams has released 13 records. He released five records—Cold Roses, Jacksonville City Lights, and 29—in 2005 alone. 

King and Adams have a mutual admiration society. King has included excerpts of Adam’s lyrics in his books, and has said, “I won’t say that Adams is the best North American singer songwriter since Neil Young…but I won’t say he isn’t either.”

For Adam’s part, he has said that King “works harder and twice as fast and has more valid ideas than many people know how to deal with…”

Both guys are relevant, vital artists who are well respected in their genres.

In Steve Jobs’ (and others) words, “They Ship.” 

How do they ship? How do they work through the laziness, the fear, the doubt and just produce over and over again?

While I’m not ultimately sure, Stephen Pressfield says that real artists work through all of these barriers—he calls them “The Resistance”—by doing one thing:

Becoming Professional. Being a professional means that you do “the work”—write, research, create, play—no matter what. It means you arrange your life in order to facilitate this work, and that you remain relentlessly focused on getting the work done. You make an appointment to write; to sketch; to play; to sculpt. You don’t wait for “inspiration,” because inspiration is capricious, and is easy prey for distraction.

Someone asked William Somerset Maugham asked if he only wrote when he was inspired. He replied that yes, he only wrote when he was inspired, but that fortunately inspiration struck at 9am every morning. 

Okay, okay, we got it: professional. ship. Got it.

What does this have to do with faith?

Simply this: as God’s people in the world, we are charged with being transformed in God’s likeness; bearing fruit, producing works of righteousness out of the overflow of the love of God in our hearts.

We have work to do.

Unfortunately, most of us never dream of the fact that we could be as prolific as Ryan Adams or Stephen King; furthermore, we have a tendency equate “professionalism” with “mechanical”, “detached”, and “unemotional”.

However, do you think Stephen King isn’t passionate about writing?

Do you think Ryan Adams’ music is uninspired?

So often, we save our spiritual “work”—praying, worship, service, scripture study, meditation, etc.—for the times when we feel inspired. We would never think about becoming “professional” Christians, until we consider that we have something to ship: namely our gospel-infused lives. 

If we consider our lives as a work of “gospel art” than we realize—like Ryan Adams and Stephen King—that nothing else matters besides “shipping our art.” 

And the best way to “ship” is to become a professional.

A professional Christian. We pray; We don’t wait for inspiration. We worship; we don’t wait until we feel like it. We embrace community; we don’t wait until it’s convenient.

  • Is your life arranged in such a way to become a professional? Are you still relying on inspiration—rather than faith and determination—to foster the Holy Spirit’s presence in your life?
  • Can you make an appointment to pray, to read the Bible, to worship, each day?

… Because the most important thing is to get the work done…

… To have our lives transformed…

… To produce fruit…

… We have lives to ship.