They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Lord Teach Us to Pray: Part 6

Part 6 of a Series on the Lord’s Prayer, found in Luke 11:1-4 and Matthew 6:9-13

Jesus and the DisciplesIn our final post we will look at the last of the the three ”we” petitions found in the Lord’s Prayer and then summarize the results of our study. Matthew 6:13 says, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.” Luke 11:4 says only, “lead us not into temptation” and does not include the “deliver us from evil” phrase. What was Jesus saying when He suggested that we ask God not to lead us into temptation? Does God lead us into temptation unless we ask Him not to? James 1:13 certainly contradicts that statement because it warns us to never say that God is tempting us because God never tempts anyone. How then do we reconcile these difficulties and what are we really asking God to do when we ask Him not to lead us into temptation but to deliver us from the evil one (or evil)?

First of all, the word in Greek that is translated “temptation” can also be read as “trial” or “test”. In his book, “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes”, Kenneth Bailey offers three suggestions as to what Jesus might have meant when He put this phrase in the Lord’s Prayer. The first suggestion leans heavily on the words, “lead us not” or, “do not lead us” into a place of trial or test. The picture is of a divine guide (God) leading an earthly pilgrim (us) down life’s path. The pilgrim has supreme confidence in the guide’s ability not lead him into the wrong place. “God, you alone know the way, so we trust you to lead us on the correct path and keep us away from tests, trials, and temptations.”
The second interpretation of the phrase, “lead us not into temptation”, is the that the Greek words suggest that we are asking God to not permit us to go on the wrong path. “Lord, please hold us back and don’t let us take the wrong path. We know we are weak, so Father protect us and don’t let us take the wrong trail in life.”

The third possible explanation of this phrase could have to do with the story of Peter’s testing during Jesus’ arrest and trial. Jesus warns Peter, saying, “Satan wants to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith might not fail” (Luke 22:31-32). Jesus doesn’t promise Peter that there would not be a time of trial or testing, but that He has prayed that Peter would be able to withstand the test. Later in the garden, Jesus awakens Peter and tells him to pray lest he enter into temptation. Peter doesn’t pray and soon afterwards is tested and fails in his time of trial by denying Jesus three times. This story suggests that we must pray to be protected by Jesus from Satan and his attacks. We are to pray to God for deliverance from the time of trial that evil brings. When you think of all three of these interpretations together, it makes sense to combine all these possibilities into a prayer to ask God to keep us away from the tests, trials, and temptations that life and Satan bring – and also from those that we bring upon ourselves.

Now, what about the statement, “deliver us from the evil one” (or from evil)? What kind of evil was Jesus talking about; evil from without, within or both? There are several places in Scripture where it speaks of God delivering someone from evil or harm (e.g. Psalm 121:7 and Job 5:19). The Hebrew word for evil, ”ra”, is a broad word meaning danger or misfortune as well as sin. It is very likely then that this phrase then could have a very wide meaning that would include evil inclinations as well as keeping from harm. A great, short way to express this is to say, “keep us far from evil and evil far from us”. We are asking God’s protection from what is outside us and what is inside us, as well.

Finally, what about the last lines of the Lord’s Prayer that we have so religiously recited all these years, “For thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory forever, amen”? Surprisingly, this statement is not in either gospel rendering in the earliest manuscripts and is not included in any of the accepted translations. It was a doxology that was added apparently by the early church and is a paraphrasing of one of David’s ancient prayers found in 1 Chronicles 29:11-13. The Roman Catholic Church does not include this final passage when reciting the Lord’s Prayer, however, most Protestants do.

To summarize our study on the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus, in very few words, weaves together some amazing themes and kingdom principles for us to pray for and about. The prayer is remarkably concise and yet vastly comprehensive. Jesus taught us how to talk to our Father in Heaven, how to praise Him, and what to ask for ourselves and our community. Although it is most often prayed as a liturgical prayer, it should not be thought of in this light. At it’s core, it is a model prayer for how to pray to God from the heart. It can easily be modified and added to in order to fit any situation that the prayer finds himself in. The Lord’s Prayer is a timeless and classic masterpiece that has been loved and memorized for two thousand years by followers of Messiah Jesus. If our Messiah said, “this is how you should pray”, then we definitely need to know what the content and intent of his model prayer was. Hopefully, this study gave some insight and instruction in how better to pray to, “our Father in Heaven”. May His Kingdom come and His will be done through us, just like it would be done in Heaven!

Lord Teach Us to Pray: Part 5

Part 5 of a Series on the Lord’s Prayer, found in Luke 11:1-4 and Matthew 6:9-13

Jesus, Teach Us to PrayIn this post we will look at the second of the three, “we” petitions found in the Lord’s Prayer. For review, the model prayer that Jesus gave to His followers first contained three petitions that pertain to and speak towards our Father in Heaven and His holiness. First, we must pray to the source of everything and ask for His holiness and His kingdom to be magnified. Only then are we ready to pray for our own needs to be met. The order is important; God comes first and our concerns, although important, are secondary. The key to understanding and implementing this section of the Lord’s Prayer lies in the following statements: in the three, “we” petitions, we are asking for daily bread, daily pardon, and daily protection. Just like we need daily physical sustenance, we also need daily forgiveness and daily protection from evil and the evil one. As a western thinker, our first thought is that these requests are just for our personal needs. In the context of the Lord’s Prayer, however, they are presented as communal needs. These three petitions are to be prayed in the first person plural. We are not praying for ourselves as individuals but for ourselves as a church, corporately. The Lord’s Prayer is at its core a family prayer for the church community. Although it is used in personal prayer time, Jesus gave us this prayer to offer up for each other communally. The heart of the Lord’s Prayer is in these two concepts:

  1. We are to use the Lord’s Prayer as an opportunity to pray with and for one another and
  2. We are to request on a daily basis that God will be magnified in our lives and that He will provide, pardon, and protect us.

Now that we have reviewed the previous posts, let’s take a closer look at the next section of the prayer.

The second,”we” petition in Matthew’s gospel says, “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors”. Luke’s version says, “forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us”. What happened to trespasses? How do we know whether to say debts, trespasses or sins? Surprisingly, the King James Version does not have trespasses either, but debts and sins in both accounts in the gospels. However, the word, “trespasses” is used in the KJV in verses 14 and 15 of Matthew 6, after the end of the Lord’s Prayer. Evidently this was a word used by the Episcopalian and Catholic faiths in their translations of the text. What then did Jesus mean by the phrase, “forgive us our debts, trespasses, and sins, as we forgive those who do these same things to us”?

The word “debt” refers to unfulfilled obligations both towards God and our fellow man. Debts in this instance are things that we have left undone; things we should have done but did not. Trespasses, or sins, on the other hand, refer to a failure to do the right thing when we did act. The prayer to God to forgive us for our debts, sins, or trespasses, is a prayer to ask not only for a release from the guilt and burden of wrongdoing, but also the release from the guilt of unfulfilled responsibilities. Psalm 19:12-13 says it well. “But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins, may they not rule over me…”

In the second half of the petition, (Matthew 6:12 and Luke 11:4), “as we forgive our debtors, or those who have sinned against us”, the Lord’s Prayer seems to make a connection between the forgiveness we receive and the forgiveness that we offer. Could this be right? In the two verses immediately following the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But, if you do no forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins”. Later in Matthew 18:23-34, Jesus tells a parable of a servant whose master forgives an enormous debt. The servant then turns on one of his fellow servants and refuses to forgive even a small debt. When the master found out about the servant’s actions in light of what he had just done for him, he had the servant thrown into prison and tortured. Later, when Jesus was crucified, He followed His own words with actions from the Cross as He cried out, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

When people do us wrong, they put themselves in our debt. How will we react when we are asked to forgive like we are trusting that God will do for us? If we forgive, we are showing our family resemblance to our Father in heaven. If we choose not to forgive, the text is very plain that God won’t forgive us either. So the forgiven must forgive; otherwise we are not grasping the concept of what grace really means. Just as Jesus forgave His trespassers while He was hanging from the cross, we also, must forgive. For like the angry mob, we also “do not know what we do”. Freely we have received and freely we must give! Knowing that our forgiveness from God depends on our ability to forgive our neighbor is a sobering, yet revolutionary concept from the Text that challenges us to be more like Christ in our dealings with our fellow man.

Lord Teach Us to Pray: Part 4

Part 4 of a Series on the Lord’s Prayer, found in Luke 11:1-4 and Matthew 6:9-13

Grace - Old Man Blessing Meal/Praying/GraceIn our fourth post on the Lord’s Prayer we will begin our look into the three requests that Jesus asked us to make to “Our Father” on our own behalf. The first of these three “we petitions” is, “give us today (Luke says, “each day”) our daily bread” (in Hebrew, Et Lechem Chu’Keinu Tein Lanu Ha Yum). Let’s examine this phrase in detail in light of culture and history and see what we find.

First, we must note that the beginning of the phrase says to, “give us” not, “give me”. This continues the theme of “Our Father” that we discussed in our second post and suggests that we should not just focus on our own needs but our community as a whole. This concept of us vs. me continues through all of the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer and conveys a mindset of not just thinking of ourselves but others as well.

Why does Jesus have us pray for bread and not some other foods as well? In Hebrew, the word for bread, ”Lechem”, can also mean food in general. When Jesus broke bread and blessed in Matthew 14:19, he was thanking His Father for the whole meal. Bread is the staple food of Middle Eastern people so bread symbolizes not only what we eat, but God’s provision for all our needs as well. In John 6:35, Jesus says, “ I am the bread of life”, suggesting that He is all we need and will provide all we need in this life.

What about the word, “daily”? The Greek word that is translated “daily” is “epiousios”, but this is the only place in the Bible or any other Greek literature where this one word is used. This causes tremendous hardships for the translator because there is no place else to compare what this word might mean. Kenneth Bailey in his book, “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes” (pp. 119-122) has a very interesting four page discussion on the different ways that scholars have wrestled with how to interpret this singular Greek word. For the purposes of this post we will attempt to simplify our discussion by looking back to the Old (Hebrew) Testament for some answers to the meaning of “daily” bread.

The words “daily bread” certainly brings to mind the manna in the desert. If you will remember the story, God miraculously provided the need of the Israelites each morning in the form of manna. He gave them strict orders just to pick up enough for their families needs for that day. If they tried to store and save it, it ruined and was not fit to eat. They had to trust God that He would provide again for them in the same way the next morning. The phrase, “give us today our daily bread” then certainly speaks of asking God to take care of our families today and trusting Him to do the same tomorrow and in the future. It has been said that the definition of worry is wondering if God will provide tomorrow’s bread today.

We have a tendency in the United States to be myopic and think that the Lord’s Prayer was just given to us. Praying for daily bread is a hard concept for Americans to grasp. We don’t worry if we are going to have food to eat, we are trying to decide what kind of food we’ll have, Chinese, Mexican or Italian! We don’t really think of God providing our daily bread, we’ve already got it covered. However, this is not the case in most of the world. An Ugandan pastor who came to America to study at a seminary for a year was asked what he would most remember about America when he went home. He replied, “I will never forget this one year when I did not need to worry about food”. Another quote from a foreigner who got to visit America exclaimed, “America is amazing, even the poor people are fat!” In light of the poverty throughout the ages and in the rest of the world today, and the anxiety that so many have just to get enough to eat each day, Jesus’ prayer for daily provision makes perfect sense. Americans however, have difficulty thinking about God being our daily provider and don’t often remember to give him credit.

There is also an Old Testament verse, with which Jesus would have been familiar, that may add some additional insight into the meaning of our daily bread. Paraphrased, Proverbs 30:8-9 says, “please don’t give me poverty or riches, but give me only my daily bread (just enough).” The writer is implying that too much makes us forget God and think we are providing all this bounty by ourselves and too little turns us into being so desperate that we break God’s laws to get something to eat. This also supports the same thought as God providing just enough manna for today’s needs.

To summarize the phrase in English, “Give us today our daily bread”, we are asking God to give us just enough bread (today’s bread) for today. If we are hungry, deliver us from the fear of not having enough to eat and if we have plenty for today don’t let us forget where it came from. Give us confidence that tomorrow we will have enough and keep us from worrying about tomorrow’s bread today. Although this seems a simple concept, to master it brings the peace that only the author of the Lord’s Prayer can give to his followers.

In our next post we will look at the principles of forgiveness as set out in this ancient prayer.

Lord Teach Us to Pray: Part 3

Christ, the King

Part 3 of a Series on the Lord’s Prayer, found in Luke 11:1-4 and Matthew 6:9-13

In our third post we will tackle the second phrase of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom come (tamklikh malkhutkha), thy will be done (yei’ase retzonkha), on earth as it is in heaven (ba-shamayim u-va’aretz). The teachings of Jesus on the subject of the “Kingdom of God”, or the “Kingdom of Heaven” are found in many places in the gospels and have been discussed and debated extensively throughout the centuries. In this post, we will not try to cover all the many facets of this important subject, but we will attempt to understand what Jesus would want us to know about praying for His Father’s Kingdom to come and His will to be done.

It is interesting to note that Jews had been praying for God’s Kingdom to come long before Jesus put it in His model prayer. An ancient prayer, called the, “Alenu” (which is still prayed in synagogues today), has the following lines concerning the Kingdom:

“Therefore we do wait for you, O Lord our God, soon to behold your glory….when the world shall be regenerated by the Kingdom of the Almighty…. So will they (the world) accept the yoke of your Kingdom and You will be King over them forever….for yours is the Kingdom and to all eternity shall you reign in glory. The Lord shall reign forever and ever, and the Lord shall be King over all the earth.”

As we shall see, knowing that this was how they prayed and how they viewed God’s Kingdom will really help us to understand the Lord’s Prayer. We have always been taught that, “Thy Kingdom come”, meant God’s second coming, as in “Come soon Lord!” This may well be a part of the meaning, however, the Kingdom is much more complex than just His second coming and contains several paradoxes that are hard to comprehend. Let’s look at the paradoxes as they are presented in the gospels.

First of all, we know from Jesus’ teaching that the Kingdom of God has already come in the person of Christ (Luke 11:20). Yet, in the Lord’s prayer it sounds like we are to ask for it to come, and speaks of a future time when it will show up. In essence, the Kingdom is both “already” and “not yet”.

Secondly, we know that the Kingdom of God is near as Jesus stated in (Mark 1:15). Yet, in (Luke 19:11-27) Jesus told a parable to a crowd of people that were expecting the Kingdom of God to appear immediately, telling them that the Kingdom was not near but was to appear at some time in the future. So, the Kingdom is near, but far away.

Thirdly, it also seems from the gospels that the time of the coming of the Kingdom is unknown and unknowable (Matthew 24:36), but yet in Matthew 24:3-35 and Luke 21:5-36, Jesus gives us the signs that tell us when the Kingdom will be coming! The Kingdom then is unknown, yet known.

Finally, read Luke 17:20 where it says that, “the Kingdom of God is within you”, yet it is also described as an outward event that we can see with our eyes. The Kingdom is both within and without.

In light of these apparent paradoxes, how do we know what we are praying for when we pray for his Kingdom to come? The answer lies in the ancient prayer that we cited at the first of our post. The ancients prayed that all the world would come to know, worship, and serve the Jewish God and that the people would be subject to His rule and reign. By praying for His Kingdom to come and His will to be done here on earth, we are praying for the gospel to go forth and for people to be subject to His Kingship with all that entails. Instead of just standing by waiting for the world to come to know Him, we are to be actively making His Kingdom come by bringing people to a knowledge of Him and to worship Him as their Lord and King. To have a Kingdom, you have to have a King, and subjects who obey the King and live according to His laws. Jesus, in the Lord’s Prayer, was talking about Gods’ rule and reign over the daily lives of His people and not just a future time when He would show up in power at the end of time.

This makes perfect sense when added to the next line in the Lord’s Prayer, “On earth like it would be in Heaven”. As His disciples, we are to expand His reign over the earth so that His will is done, just like it would have been done in heaven. To say that, “His will be done”, implies that we have a choice whether to obey God’s will or not and we must accept responsibility for what we do here on earth. Even here, there is a paradox as God is sovereign and directs history – His will is always done. Yet somehow, we are free to oppose His will and His plan for us. It is all God and we are unable to add anything to the equation, yet He demands our obedience. We live our daily lives between these two stones. This tension is exemplified in the phrase, “on earth as it is in heaven”. Our lives here on earth and the way we live them is what fits us for heaven, but our purpose is for His Kingdom to come here on earth. We must be about doing His will and letting people know about His Kingdom while we are here on earth.

To sum up these first three sections of the Lord’s Prayer: We pray to, “Our Father“ (not my father – think community), “who is in heaven”, and sovereign over us, and pray that “His name would be made Holy” in our lives and actions and that we would do nothing to make it unholy. We pray for,”His Kingdom to be made known” to all people here on earth, and for us to be obedient subjects to His will “just like it would be done in heaven”. These three petitions, “Hallowed be your name”, “Your Kingdom Come”, and “Your will be done”, have long been called the, “Thou” petitions because they focus on our thoughts and prayers towards our Heavenly Father.

In our next post we will turn our attention to the three ”We” petitions, where we ask God to help us in our daily lives.

To Pray Without Ceasing

“Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”
–1 Thessalonians 5:17

"Rabbi, Is There a Blessing for a Sewing Machine?"Rabbi: There is a blessing for everything! -- Fiddler on the Roof

“Rabbi, Is There a Blessing for a Sewing Machine?”
Rabbi: There is a blessing for everything!
— Fiddler on the Roof

I’ve always been puzzled and confused by this verse and others like it, thinking that only a monk would spend all his time praying. I couldn’t imagine a situation in life where all I would do was pray. However, as I’ve begun to learn more about the Eastern mindset and how Jewish people view and approach life, I think I am beginning to see what it means “to pray without ceasing”.

To the Hebrew mind, everything was centered around God. There was no distinction between the sacred and secular areas of life. You didn’t just pray to God and think about God while in church or during a specific prayer time. Life wasn’t compartmentalized into church functions for just a few hours and then regular life the rest of the time. To them, all of life was controlled by God and God’s hand was on every circumstance and situation, whether good or bad. Prayer was the means by which Jewish people communicated with God concerning those circumstances. Instead of making prayer a certain time where you went by yourself, bowed your head and spoke to God, the Jewish person talked to God in short one or two sentence prayers about everything that was happening to them during the day. They said the Shema (Deut 6:4-6) three times a day and then uttered short sentence prayers to God as every circumstance unfolded during the day. They had over one hundred of these “blessings” (berakhot) that were recited to acknowledge God’s direction and hand on everything in the universe. Each prayer started with the Jewish words, “Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam”, which says, “Blessed are you O Lord, our God, King of the Universe”, and then added what they were thanking him for. They recited a prayer on hearing good news or bad news, when smelling something cooking, or a even a fragrant plant. They also had prayers for seeing the sunrise, thunder, lightning, rain or a rainbow. They even had a prayer for going to the bathroom. The Jews believed that by praying for and about everything, you were able to stay attuned to God and keep His divine perspective on life. They constantly praised God throughout the day with these single sentence prayers, looking for God in the common place events of the day. Each hour, each place, each event, every word spoken was a chance to see God’s hand at work.

Now, when I look at praying from a Jewish perspective, the verses on praying continually make more sense. I am trying to adopt the philosophy of thanking God and talking to God more on a moment to moment basis rather than just having a once daily quiet time. I’m trying to see him in all the small events that happen throughout the day, as well as the obvious big things that happen. Praying without ceasing has taken on a new and more significant meaning. When I read Ephesians 6:18, Philippians 4:6, 1 Corinthians 10:31, and Colossians 4:2, I have a deeper understanding of what the writer was trying to say. Colossians 3:17 may sum it up best – ”And whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him”.

P.S. A great lesson that is a companion to this story is, ”All of Life is Sacred” and conveys some of these same truths.