Oh THAT Kingdom….

Some manuscripts contain a postscript to Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer. It reads:

“For Yours is the kingdom, power, and the glory forever. Amen.”

When I pray the Lord’s prayer, I often think about God’s strength and power, and how He is Lord of all the kingdoms on earth, and has unending power. However, recently I stumbled across an interesting passage in the Old Testament that prompted my thinking. In 1 Chronicles, King David is telling everyone that his son Solomon is going to build a temple for God. He ends with this pretty cool prayer that has some interesting echoes:

“Blessed are you LORD, God of our ancestor Israel, forever and always.
To you, LORD,
belong greatness and power, honor, splendor, and majesty,
because everything in heaven and on earth belongs to you.
Yours, LORD, is the kingship, and you are honored as head of all.
You are the source of wealth and honor,
and you rule over all.
In your hand are strength and might,
and it is in your power to magnify and strengthen all.” (1Chronicles 29:10-12)

Do you see the similarities? It’s interesting language that Jesus chooses here.

However, what really jumped out to me as I read the 1 Chronicles passage is the specific location and occasion of God’s power.

When David pray, “the kingship belongs to you”, it’s a very specific thing. God was meant to be, in a very real way, Israel’s king. (When the people demand a king in 1 Samuel chapter 8, God basically says, “You are rejecting me in favor of a human king.”)

So David has a very specific place/kingdom that he’s thinking of when he prays this prayer—it’s the place where God rules, and is meant to rule.

What struck me is the way in which we have a kingdom as well. In a very real way, we are the kings and queens of our bodies, our lives. They are our kingdom; we choose, make decisions; make rules for ourselves.

What if to pray, “yours is the kingdom” means “yours is THIS kingdom—this life?”

What if this epilogue to the Lord’s prayer is actually the most radical part of all? To utterly surrender our kingdom—our lives—to God and allow Him to take the throne?

*e

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THE Prayer, Part 8 :: Deliver Us From Evil

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.

It doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to believe in the presence of evil. In fact, it may be easier to believe in the power of evil than it is to believe in God. After all, the headlines are definitely sexier:

  • suicide bombers
  • poverty
  • drug addiction
  • promiscuity that leaves lonely and shattered lives in its wake
  • acts of hatred committed in the name of religion (almost all of the religions)

And that’s just off the top of my head.

The last line of the prayer (at least in Mark’s version) asks us to deliver us from “evil” or “the Evil One”, and sometimes it seems like God has chosen to ignore this request.

Has He?

Ultimately, I have neither the brains or space or typing capacity to wrestle with the question of why evil ultimately exists, but I do have a few thoughts.

  1. Jesus’ ministry, especially as portrayed in Mark’s Gospel, is a running battle with evil: over and over again we are told that Jesus confronts “evil spirits” and though they seem to know exactly who Jesus is (in contrast to most everybody else, including his own closest followers), they don’t stand a chance against him. So Jesus knows what evil looks like, and he doesn’t like it. At all. We like to think of Jesus running around, showing everyone what God’s love looks like, and being a good teacher; I don’t think we often think about Jesus primarily focusing on confronting evil, but that’s pretty much what Mark describes. 
  2. This battle with evil comes to a head, in a way, in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus leaves his closest followers behind and goes into solitary prayer. By this point, he can easily see where his actions are taking him—to death—and so he prays to God one of the most honest prayers we’ll ever read: “‘Abba, Father,’ he cried out, ‘everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.’”

    And God said, “No.”

    As N.T. Wright put it, “We have to come to grips with the fact that Jesus gave this prayer to his disciples, but that when he prayed it himself, the answer was ‘No’… He would be the one who was led to the Testing, who was not delivered from Evil… Jesus was called to throw himself on the wheel of world history, so that, even though it crushed him, it might start to turn in the opposite direction.”

  3. As Jesus embraced his call to the cross, I believe that he knew this call was to be a sort of ultimate battle with evil. However, this battle would not be fought on “evil’s terms”. It would be fought on God’s terms; which meant

    … surrender, not slaughter

    … humility, not arrogance

    … sacrifice, not triumphant destruction

    In other words, Jesus’ would fight and win the battle against evil by (ironically) letting evil do its worse to him.

  4. The early followers of Jesus struggled to make sense of the cross. Among other things, they recognized that something cosmic happened there, and it had to do with the power of evil in the world. One of those followers wrote this to a small church in Asia: “He (Jesus) canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.”

So what do we do this this? Is evil defeated? Because sometimes it sure doesn’t look like it… How do we live in light of this?

  • Evil has been defeated, so we no longer have to pay undo attention to it. We are free. Some would call us to retreat from the world so that we won’t be contaminated by its evil, but we can say, “look at the cross; the powers have been defeated there.” We are called to live as free people in a world that God has created, and is redeeming.
  • Evil has been defeated, but that doesn’t mean we ignore it completely. Redemption is a process. History is moving. Jesus ultimately defeated the powers at the cross, and ultimately evil will be completely defeated, but in the meantime, we are called to help in its defeat, but using the method that Jesus used: by exposing the vacuous and empty nature of evil—of violence, of power, of economic supremacy, of consumerism (just to name a few)—through the humility, meekness, and even irony of the cross.

To pray, “deliver us from evil” is to simultaneously claim the power of Jesus’ ultimate victory and to embrace the call to be a part of defeating it, daily, hourly, moment-to-moment in our world and in our lives.

Shalom.

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THE Prayer, Part 7 :: Times of Trial

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.

Following Jesus is not an invitation to pretend that the world is wonderful and perfect, and that nothing bad will ever happen to you again. Headlines sing a loud song to this illusion. Neither is following Jesus an excuse to believe that the whole world is going to hell in a handbasket, and so our main task is to be patient and wait until we die and go and meet Jesus somewhere in the sky.

The truth is somewhere in the middle, and it’s also hinted at by this line in the prayer.

It’s not strange that Jesus would leave us these words, because he knew “times of trial” intimately. Consider:

  • Though we don’t know when exactly, we know that Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph is out of the story fairly quickly. The assumption is that he has died, leaving Mary and her children at risk socially and economically. He wasn’t one of the “insiders”.
  • His ministry begins with 40 days in the desert, culminating with a confrontation/temptation with Satan.
  • He experiences constant surveillance and opposition from the religious authorities in Judea.
  • His ministry was marked by a constant confrontation with evil spirits.
  • His closest disciples and inner circle consistently misunderstand him.

Jesus knows what the times of trial look like and feel like.

They are the times when we are most susceptible to doubt, to fear, the times when we’re most tempted to give up, to surrender.

To be faced with a trial is to be faced with the temptation to fall, to fail. To pray that we aren’t brought to the “times of trial” is to implicitly acknowledge that they exist, but not necessarily to allow our lives to be governed by them. In the face of the difficulties that Jesus faced, he went about his ministry fully and faithfully, even in Gethsemane when the trials began to be backed by Roman fists and clubs, whips and swords.

If you find yourself in difficulties, understand that Jesus knows all too well what it feels like. He is there with you, and he knows what it feels like. 

Ironically, Jesus ultimately confronts the times of trial not with glamourous victory but with blood, sweat, peace and eventually the cross… but that’s for another post.

What about you? What does it mean to pray, “don’t bring us to the times of trial” (or more traditionally, “lead us not into temptation.”?

THE Prayer, Pt 6 :: “Forgiving Sins”

Infinity Design from Mosborne01on Creative Commons

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.

It’s easy to read this part of the prayer and remind ourselves that God is a forgiving god, and His forgiveness stretches “as far as from the east is from the west” (Psalm 103).

But buried inside this phrase is a much more subversive reality, encapsulated in the the word, “as.”

The way we live our lives, we much better suited to the idea of “forgive our sins, and we will forgive others…”

Or, “forgive our sins, so we will forgive others…”

In other words, we think of it as a sequential, or maybe even an unrelated, reality: God please forgive my sins. I understand there are other people who I need to forgive, but I’ll get to them another day…

… Maybe.

What a difference a couple letters makes.

Because the word is, in fact, “as”.

The two acts of seeking and offering forgiveness are intrinsically and intimately related. As Jesus makes it clear in other places of the Gospels (Matthew 18:21-35 and Luke 6:27-36, for starters), his followers should be marked by a willingness to forgive. 

You might even say that we are supposed to engage in a constant cycle of forgiveness. Maybe it looks like this:

As we take responsibility for our own brokenness and receive forgiveness from our heavenly Father, it become easier to recognize the brokenness in others, not so that we can clobber them, but so that we can offer the same forgiveness to them.

  • Take responsibility means to own our brokenness; to step out of a victim mentality and to say, “regardless of how this happened, I am responsible for my life.”
  • To receive forgiveness is to go to God in humility and seek His grace. It means acknowledging that all human beings—including you—stand in need of forgiveness.
  • To recognize this in others means to release them from the motives we often give them—”They are intending to harm me”—and instead to understand that they are broken too, and perhaps operating out of the same fear and uncertainty that you do.
  • To offer them forgiveness is to be willing to see them as your equal, and to relinquish the right to “take revenge” in some way.

* An aside: Forgiveness can be a difficult process that is more complicated than four bullet points. Other folks have unpacked forgiveness in thorough and compelling ways. 

So how “open” is your cycle of forgiveness? Is it flowing freely through you?

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THE Prayer Pt. 4 :: “May Your Kingdom Come…” REDUX

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.

I wanted to revisit this phrase once more.

It’s easy to get swept up in the glory and excitement of God’s kingdom coming “on earth as it is in heaven.” We think of the time for the fulfillment of all the promises of salvation and love that we’ve received. We think of conquering evil, of stamping out the “bad things” we’ve seen, or even experienced.

But another aspect of God’s kingdom coming is revealed in Revelation 21:

I heard a shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.

Wow.

This statement is the ultimate fulfillment of the promise of Exodus 25:8: “Have the people of Israel build me a holy sanctuary so I can live among them.” But when God makes his home among his people, the result isn’t just an excuse to brag, or to get an “eternal hug” from YHWH.

  • It means the healing of hurts that we’ve carried for years.
  • It means removal of sorrow.
  • It means shalom—God’s perfect peace, contentment, and completion.

In short ,praying “Your kingdom come and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” is a desperate cry for healing now. 

And we shouldn’t be afraid to pray it.

Peace.

THE Prayer Pt 4 :: “May Your Kingdom Come…”

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.

There are three critical parts to this section: God’s Kingdom to come, God’s will to come, and His presence (presence is a slightly better translation than “heaven”, since we need to remember that God is not limited to living in heaven).

God has a Kingdom. This is no small thing.

In fact, it’s such a large thing that it’s the first recorded statement of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel:

‘The time promised by God has come at last!’ he announced. ‘The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!’

Notice Jesus did not say, “Repent and believe in my  coming death and resurrection so you can go to heaven.” Again breaking it down:

  • God promised this
  • The Kingdom is near
  • You have to change your way of thinking
  • This is Good News 

There is no exact consensus on Jesus’ “Kingdom” teachings: did he intend it to be established while he was alive? Is it visible, or more spiritual? However, what is clear is that it comprised the major thrust of his teaching while on earth. Perhaps we could just say this:

To the extent that a “Kingdom” exists wherever a king’s will is put into place and performed, God wants His presence in your life to make a difference.

In a sense, the King’s Kingdom starts with you, and then spills over to the rest of the world as well.

To pray for God’s Kingdom to come is to pray for that to be true in your life.

Which means we need to take seriously the call to change, to become more like Christ, to in fact, “be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

We shouldn’t be afraid to pray this line of the prayer, but we should also be willing to go on the journey to relinquish our place in our kingdom, and to let God have His place in it.

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.