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 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 3 :: “May Your name be kept holy.” (or, “More Holy Than a Coaster”)

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.

When I was a kid, I had some pretty strange religious beliefs.

For instance, I determined that prayers “bounced”. Since people always prayed with their heads down, and since God was “up there” in heaven (though now I know better), I determined that our prayers must bounce off the floor and then soar up to heaven to God.

Unfortunately (for me), the opposite also held true: if I somehow made the mistake and prayed face up (like lying on my back in bed), then my prayers would bounce off the ceiling and go, you know, “down there.” 

To the devil.

Heavy, right?

I remember one evening when I prayed to go to sleep quickly. Unfortunately, I was facing up when I did. I didn’t go to sleep until like 3 or 4am.

Well, it was probably more like 11:30, but you know how things feel when you’re a kid. It was terrifying!

I was also unreasonably concerned with the Bible. It had to be face-up on my nightstand (even if I seldom read it, much less followed its teachings), and never, ever, could something—such as my ever-present bedtime snack of a can of Coke and peanut butter toast—be set on top of the Word.

While it kept my Bible in pristine condition, this is not what God means by “holiness.”

Keeping God’s name holy is much more than setting him aside and making sure that he doesn’t get sugar or toast crumbs on Him or His bible. It’s much more revolutionary and active than that.

To state it succinctly: God’s people are entrusted with maintaining the “holiness” of God’s name. 

“The house of Israel, as the chosen people of God, were the guardians of His reputation in the world. By worthy actions they brought credit upon Him and ‘sanctified His name’ … A bad action more than involved the Jew in personal guilt; it was treachery to his God and people.” (Abraham Cohen, Everyman’s Talmud, 23)

In the book of Ezekiel, God lays it out plainly: “But when they (the Israelites) were scattered among the nations, they brought shame on my holy name. For the nations said, ‘These are the people of the LORD, but he couldn’t keep them safe in his own land.’ Then I was concerned for my holy name, on which my people brought shame among the nations.” (36:20-21)

There’s something almost human and tender about the idea that God—the Creator of the universe—allows His reputation to hinge on the behavior or humanity. He is not above being hurt by us, and He openly entrusts this to us.

So to pray “may Your name be kept holy” is to actually pray , “God may I live my life in such a way that I enhance your reputation in the world. May my life be filled with the fruit of Your Holy Spirit so that people will see my life and wonder, ‘What fuels her life? What or Who is behind that?’”

It’s about a whole lot more than just making sure your bible isn’t a coaster.

  • What does it mean to you that we are entrusted with God’s reputation?
  • Understanding that your life is on stage, are you “keeping God’s name holy”? On Facebook? On Twitter? In “da club”?

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.