Tag Archives: Prayer

Monday Morning Sermon: Giving God Our Coloring Book

“‘This, then, is how you should pray:

‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.'”

Matthew 6:9-13

When I was a young child, like many young children, I was given coloring books and crayons so that I might be entertained. There were no “rules” to this per se, as long as I did not make a mess by coloring on things off the page. The line between the coloring book and the table was a boundary that I was told I needed to respect. As I matured my boundaries narrowed. I was told that I needed to stay within the lines on the page. I could choose whatever colors I wanted but I needed to try to stay within those lines – those were my new boundaries.

The elementary school I attended had two “fields”. One was smaller, had playground equipment, and was fenced in. The other field was much larger and more open. It was used for baseball or football and it had no fences. We called the two fields, quite appropriately, the “big field” and the “small field”. Younger children were rarely allowed on the big field. So for some time the fence on the small field was my boundary. When I was finally allowed to play on the big field during lunch and recess, there was no fence but we were not allowed to go beyond certain points. “You can’t pass the parking lot”, they said. “You can’t cross the railroad tracks.” “You can’t cross the alleyway”. Those were now my new boundaries.

When I attended high school, I had to take a biology class. When we got to the topic of evolution, our teacher told us that this was a time to set our faith aside for a while. My teacher said that faith has its place and science has its place. But she made it clear that there was a boundary between the two.

As I matured I grew accustomed to the fact that everything has its boundaries – a place where it belongs. Countries and people have boundaries. Different schools of thought have boundaries. Politics has its boundaries. Our values have boundaries. Some of these boundaries are clearly defined for us; a border between countries, for example. Others are more abstract but are still very much present.

The problem with the gospel is that it has a way of breaking through those boundaries that we have come to find so important. The gospel doesn’t always stay in the lines of the coloring book; in fact, it doesn’t even always stay on the page.

This is probably why most of us are not bold enough to pray the Lord’s Prayer.

This is a prayer that is often recited but it is rarely prayed. What I mean by that is that we have grown so accustomed to the words that when we do say them we are simply mimicking what we have heard in Sunday School.

We cannot pray this prayer because we do not believe its words. See, what we pray reveals what we believe about God. A person who prays the Lord ’s Prayer believes that God is our Father in heaven – which means that He is both intimate (because He is our Father) and He is also a clear authority (because He is our Father in heaven). The one who prays this prayer is asking that God’s name be hallowed, or set-apart.  To pray, “Hallowed be your name” is to request that God be a unique presence in this world; an authority dependent on no other.

The one who prays this prayer is asking that God’s kingdom become even more present than the kingdoms of this world. It is to desire to see the Kingdom of Heaven overcoming the kingdoms of humanity.

But we don’t believe this prayer because we certainly don’t live like we believe it. We don’t see God as our set-apart authority, dependent on no other. We don’t see His kingdom as greater than kingdoms of our world.

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past couple of months, then you know that gay marriage is now legal in all 50 states. When the Supreme Court made that decision, there were two reactions that I noticed. On the one hand you had those celebrating this as a victory for civil rights. On the other hand you had those who cried that this went against the authority of scripture and against the authority of God. Not too long ago, a county clerk in Kentucky named Kim Davis was thrown in jail for not giving marriage certificates to gay couples. When asked on whose authority she did this, she said on God’s authority. Once again, there were two sides in this debate. One side said that she was discriminating against these couples. The other side said that she was standing up for God’s authority.

Throughout this whole debate I have realized something that bothers me about the way our country has reacted on both sides: we don’t see God as a set-apart authority. We don’t want His name to be hallowed or holy. We want to ignore His authority completely when it clashes with our own agendas. Or we assume that His authority is somehow at stake because a country says that a piece of paper and a law defines marriage rather than God. Which means that we believe His authority is dependent upon what our country calls reality. So no, we apparently don’t want His name to be hallowed. We don’t want His kingdom to come because we see the kingdom of this world as the final authority.

On Christmas in 1914, there was an unofficial cease fire on the western front between German and British soldiers. The two opposing armies lit Christmas trees together, exchanged gifts, played football, and celebrated the birth of our savior. On that one day, the world got to see a glimpse (just a glimpse) of what the gospel thinks of the boundaries of this world. Because on that day there were no Germans nor Englishman. There were neither French nor Austrian. As Paul says in Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28, NIV).

It seems that the reason that we do not pray the Lord’s Prayer is because we are afraid of Him, His Kingdom, and His will messing with the boundaries that we have created and have become so comfortable with. When we allow God’s will to be done in our world, our values tend to be messed with. We think a poor boy who pulls himself up by his bootstraps to become rich is a hero and the rich boy who gives all his possessions away is a fool. Our Lord tells us that former will have a difficult time entering the Kingdom of Heaven and that the latter will inherit eternal life. We think of one who desires for a promotion and a pay raise as ambitious. The gospel calls such a person one who covets. We think of industry and big business as a foundation for our country. The gospel reveals it for what it often really is: greed. Quaker theologian Richard J. Foster writes, “We really must understand that the lust for affluence in contemporary society is psychotic…it is time we awaken to the fact that conformity to a sick society is to be sick” (Foster, 80).

If we want to pray the Lord’s Prayer more than merely reciting it, we must be ready for God’s set-apart authority to come into our world, destroying the boundaries of our country and our values because we want His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. To pray this prayer is to ask God to take our coloring book and do whatever He wants with it even if He begins drawing outside of the lines.

Prayer has power. The one who would be bold enough to pray, not recite, but pray this prayer is asking for God to transform reality. I am fortunate enough to have a wonderful Earthly father. Not all of us can say that. There are many who have been let down in terrible ways by their Earthly father. The picture of father in our world has become so distorted. In television, the father is seen as stupid and incompetent. Stories of father’s abandoning their children are all too often heard. Our prisons are filled with hateful and abusive fathers. But this prayer shatters the world’s picture of a father and reveals to us that God is our good, heavenly father – and He overcomes the reality of our Earthly fathers. And even those, like me, who have a wonderful dad – none of us had a perfect dad. Praying the Lord’s Prayer reminds us that God is our true Father – the true intimate authority in our life.

We are blessed to live in a very privileged country and society. But folks, the U.S.A. is not the Kingdom of God. It never has been and it never will be. Despite all our privileges we sometimes find ourselves oppressed by what America calls freedom because it is so easy to get sucked in to the materialism, the greed, and the self-centeredness in our culture. Quite frankly, the values of our country often clash with the values of the gospel. Praying the Lord ’s Prayer gives us power to step out of the self-centeredness because we don’t seek our will – we seek that His will is done. And we don’t seek for America’s kingdom to come – we seek to have God’s Kingdom overcome it and every other fragile human boundary.

God, through the power of prayer, transforms our reality from one that oppresses us to one that saves us. It should not be a frightening thing to pray that His will is done because we know and believe that His will offers the world salvation. Nothing else can do that! We are a people who proclaim that Jesus is the answer and we want to see His will cross every boundary that the world holds sacred.

We are a people. The very first word of this prayer, in English, is “Our”. The Greek text very clearly makes this prayer plural. We do not pray, “My Father.” We pray “Our Father”. The Church is the people to whom we belong. Like British and German soldiers during Christmas of 1914, we reject the boundaries of the kingdoms of this world and call our fellow sisters and brothers in Christ our people. There is no British nor German. There is no French nor Austrian. There is no Chinese nor Russian. There is no American nor Mexican. For we, who are part of the Church, are all one in Christ Jesus and we all say this prayer together: “Our Father in heaven.”

Helmut Thielicke was a German preacher and theologian during World War II. During the war, he was preaching a series on the Lord’s Prayer. The week before he intended on preaching about the phrase, “Thy Kingdom come”, American bombers wiped out the bulk of his city. The cathedral that he preached in itself was mostly destroyed. But Sunday still came and he was there, as were the surviving members of the congregation. They gathered in the choir loft (which was all that was left of the building). Theilicke began with these words, “Isn’t there a comfort, a peculiar message in the fact that, after all the conflagrations that have swept through our wounded city, a sermon can begin with these words: ‘We shall continue our study of the Lord’s Prayer’” (Weigelt, 43)?

The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer that changes our perception of boundaries and reality. Who is bold enough to pray this prayer?

There is a phrase that I have grown fond of that was popularized by the television program, Mythbusters. The phrase is, “I reject your reality and substitute my own.” Praying the Lord’s Prayer empowers us to turn to the world and say: “We reject your reality and substitute God’s.” Amen.

Works Cited

Foster, Richard J. A Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. 3rd ed. San Francisco: Harper, 2002.

Weigelt, Morris A., and E. Dee. Freeborn. Living the Lord’s Prayer: The Heart of Spiritual Formation. Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill of Kansas City, 2001.

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Beyond the Failure

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I am going to be a little open, honest, and self-revealing here.

The idea of failure is something that I struggle with. I realize that I am merely human and that failure, from time to time, is always going to be inevitable. But failure is something that, for some reason, is something that I have never wanted to be associated with.  I think that I would like to believe that I am above failure. Perhaps this is only my own pride shining through but, for me, failure is just not an option.

Yet, obviously, failure happens — even to me. I am not above it and I cannot always avoid it.

About nine month ago now, my wife and I moved to a tiny town in eastern Oregon known as Vale. The purpose of our move was to pastor a small church of about 10 people. This was my first assignment. Within a year’s time I graduated college, got married, and ended up in my first pastorate. The transitions in life were coming hard and fast and I was just trying to hold on. Of course, I had no intention of failing.

The goal for this church, from the beginning, has been to bring it back to a healthy and stable place. It was not always as small as it has been but various factors resulted in some difficult times. I had hoped to be able to come in here and bring new life to a church that desperately needed it; however, I have learned very quickly that this is not a very easy thing to do. Nine months out from the move and not only has our congregation been unable to grow, it has shrunk.

A couple of weeks ago, I prayed before the service for God to give me a glimpse of what He has in store for the future of our church. I just prayed for a glimpse. On that Sunday, we had the smallest attendance of any week since I had been there. I do not think that anyone saw me, but as we sang the words to “Shout to the Lord’, I could hardly sing a note and I just there crying. Feelings of failure just overwhelmed me and I felt completely defeated. Somehow, I made it through the service with composure but I finally broke down in tears once I was back home with my wife. I told her, “I know it’s probably not true, but I feel like I’ve come in here with all that I have but I’ve failed”.

I have learned that sometimes failure catches up to you and it does not care whether or not you have considered it to be an option but it is going to overwhelm and consume you until you realize that you are not immortal regardless of what your pride tells you. Failure is always an option whether you, I, or anyone else wants it to be. I have had to learn this the hard way.

So, there I was. I had given it my best effort, but, obviously I had failed. What next?

Well, I am still working for the church and we have not missed a Sunday yet. Our attendance is not up (we have actually had a couple of Sundays with even lower attendance since). But my outlook is very different today than it was when I fist arrived in Vale because I am learning to live beyond the failure.

As humans, we will always experience failure. Not every moment in our life is going to be a success or an achievement. So, we have to decide whether or not we are going to allow ourselves to be defined by our failure or be defined by something greater.

The day after “Failure Sunday”, I spent about an hour or two in the church in prayer just asking God what He wanted from me. I spent most of the time just sprawled on the floor in front of the alter asking if God was done with me — He made it clear that He was not. But, finally, I was where I needed to be: face down before God. Over the next few days, I began to realize that there never was any way that I could “grow” the church. I could read 100 books about church growth and try all the ideas of this and that but the only way that the church would grow is if, in fervent prayer, we gave control up to God.

Living beyond failure is learning to first depend upon God and leave the results up to Him. Yes, I will work as hard as I can to be His hands and feet but, at the end of the day, it is not about me and it certainly is not depending on me. It is not about my pride or my fear of failure. It is about giving up control to God.

Since that Sunday, I have challenged myself and everyone in our congregation to find two hours over the course of the week to pray for our church. This is where it has to start. And let me tell you, I believe that our greatest days are ahead of us. I say this not because I believe that I cannot fail (I most certainly can) but because I do not believe God makes mistakes and it is more clear now than ever that this is where God has called me to be. We have exciting things planned for the next couple of months and I am blessed to see where God is going to take us beyond the failure.

 


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