the Lord's prayer

3 Forms of Prayer That End Up Forming Us

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Prayer has a formative impact on our lives—the manner or form of our prayers actually shapes the contours and character of our lives. So frequently, it would seem, our prayers begin with our experience: something in our lives occasions a particular prayer, typically a petition or request. And thus the content of our prayers is determined by what is happening in our lives. But perhaps the reverse should actually be the norm. Without doubt, the circumstances of our lives will inform our prayers. But perhaps what should be happening is that our prayers would inform our lives, that our praying would alter our living, that our prayers would shape the contours and content of our daily experience.

PRAYER AS FORMATION

In this way of living and praying, we would allow our deepest convictions—our faith and our theological vision of God, ourselves, and our world—to inform our prayers and be the means by which we know the transforming power of grace in our lives. More particularly, we would choose that the reign of Christ—the kingdom of God—would increasingly be that which defines our lives, our ways of being, living, and responding to our world. We would find that the salvation of God is not merely something that God has done for us—in Christ, on the cross—but also something that God is doing in us.

To this end, our prayers play a crucial role. Indeed, if transformation does not happen through our prayers, it likely does not happen. This is why it is so crucial that we teach new Christians how to pray and that in our patterns and approaches to congregational life we are consistently coming back to the fundamentals of prayer. And this is why all of us, older and newer Christians alike, are always coming back to the basics of the form and structure of formative prayer.

When we pray “thy kingdom come,” should not our prayer be an act of recalibration? Could our praying be an act of intentional alignment and realignment? That is, in our prayer our vision of the kingdom purposes of God will be deepened and broadened; we will be drawn into the reality of Christ risen and now on the throne of the universe. And thus through our prayers we not only pray for the kingdom but also come to increasingly live within the kingdom, under the reign of Christ.

This last point is crucial. So frequently we pray as though God is passive and we are trying to get God to act. But could it be that God is always active? And that in our praying we are aware of how God is actually always at work, bringing his kingdom into effect, and we are seeing and responding to the kingdom even as we pray “thy kingdom come”? In the process, we are increasingly more aligned and in tune with the kingdom, more and more living our lives, individually and in community, in a manner that consistently reflects, in word and deed, the coming kingdom of God.

3 MOVEMENTS IN OUR PRAYERS

Can we do this? Certainly, but only if we are intentional. We need to consider the merits of a very focused and purposeful approach to our prayers. Yes, there is a place for spontaneity. And most certainly there is a place for freeform prayers where we express to God our immediate thoughts and feelings. But when we speak of our formation in Christ and our participation in the kingdom—where the kingdom of God increasingly defines us more than anything else—we should perhaps be focused and purposeful. We can consider the value of consistency and even routine, an approach to prayer that has an order to it. We can even speak of a liturgy, meaning that our prayers have a regular pattern to them so that over time our hearts and minds and lives are increasingly conformed to the very thing for which we are praying.

In this kind of intentionality it is very helpful to think in terms of three movements in our prayers, three forms of prayer by which we respond to and learn to live in the reality that Christ is risen and active in our world—that in and through Christ the reign of God is coming. Three movements, with an intentional sequence.

First, we give thanks. We see and respond with gratitude to the ways in which God is already at work in our world and in our lives. We begin here. We begin by seeing the evidence of the reign of Christ—the ways that God is already at work in our lives and in our world. And we give thanks. We pray “thy kingdom come” in a way that not only acknowledges that God is already at work but celebrates and gives thanks for this work. We cannot pray “thy kingdom come” if we are not grateful for how the kingdom has come and is coming. Thanksgiving is foundational to the Christian life and thus foundational to prayer.

Second, we make confession—the essential realignment of those who long to live under the reign of Christ. We pray “thy kingdom come,” and very soon we also pray—if we follow the sequence of the Lord’s Prayer—“forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” We practice confession. It is clear from Scripture that when the kingdom is announced and when the kingdom is at hand—present, in our midst, and recognized—we respond with confession (Mark 1:15).

Confession is essential if we truly recognize and believe in the coming of the kingdom. If we have kingdom eyes, the genius of our response is that we see where there is a disconnect. We see and feel that our lives are not being lived ina way that is consistent with the kingdom. We cannot pray “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” unless and until we see the ways that our lives are not lived in consistency with the will of God. And so, recognizing the kingdom, we repent: we practice confession. Repentance, then, is not merely a matter of feeling bad about something we have said or done, but rather an act of intentional alignment—or better, realignment—with the coming of the reign of Christ.

And third, we practice discernment—considering where and how God is calling us to speak and act as participants in the kingdom of God. We pray “thy kingdom come” as those who are also called to be full participants, in word and deed, in what God is doing in the world. And so when we pray we of course ask—or better, discern—how we are called in our lives to witness to the kingdom.

We are not merely observers; we are engaged. We are invited—more, actually called as agents of God’s purposes in the world. Our words and our deeds matter. In some mysterious way, even though God and God alone brings about the kingdom, our lives witness to the kingdom—our words, our work. And so when we pray “thy kingdom come,” we also necessarily must pray, How, oh Lord, are you calling me to make a difference in your kingdom purposes for our world? 


Taken from Teach Us to Pray by Gordon T. Smith. Copyright (c) 2018 by Gordon T. Smith Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Gordon T. Smith (PhD, Loyola School of Theology, Ateneo de Manila University) is the president of Ambrose University and Seminary in Calgary, Alberta, where he also serves as professor of systematic and spiritual theology. He is an ordained minister with the Christian and Missionary Alliance and a teaching fellow at Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia. He is the author of many books, including Courage and Calling, Called to Be Saints, Spiritual Direction, Consider Your Calling, and The Voice of Jesus.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses

Field day was the best day of the year. We got out of class to play outdoors. One of my favorite activities was tug of war since it made me feel a lot stronger than I was. Honestly, my arms are zero percent muscle. One year, we got into place and started out with power. The knot of the rope was steadily budging to our side when I fell, and my leg got caught under it. My ankle experienced the wrath of the great war between the two teams shifting the rope each way. Just as the opposing team broke into victorious cries, they let go, and the rope furiously ran across my skin towards their outburst of triumph.

Jesus teaches us to start our prayers by remembering we belong to God’s family—the family that God has rescued and is gathering together from all nations.

I yelled out and looked up at my team in defeat. As I lifted myself from the grass, my friend asked if I was okay to which I answered with a negative. Immediately, he called the nurse over, and she came running. I was confused, so I told them I was fine and explained that my concern was for our loss . . . not my ankle.

The pain was the least of my worries until I saw the look of disbelief on their faces. To assure them, I grabbed my ankle and looked at it. I winced in pain and saw deep white tissue exposed. The rope hadn’t caused blood, but a blistering white battle wound. I frantically started crying and screaming for help.

Sometimes we don’t feel hurt until we get the courage to look at our wounds. Occasionally, this delayed sense of hurt can reference physical pain, but most often it’s the truth speaking into emotional or spiritual pain. When we courageously acknowledge our hurt, we’re forced to ask for help, which is why forgiveness carries weight.

The Courage to Look at Our Wounds

The power of forgiveness triumphs over pride, jealousy, and death itself, but if we never acknowledge the need for it, then we’ll never engage it. Often, our minds are too distracted with who won the tug of war to look down at our wounds. Our hearts grieve the loss of our victories and ignore the grave repercussions of the battle. Will we continue to ignore hurt for the sake of ourselves? Or can we get to a place where we humbly cry out for help before the mess of scabs and scarring?

“But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes, we are healed.” – Isaiah 53:5

Forgiveness circumvents the untreated mess of unspoken hurt, which is known to spread rapidly across our lives and infect our peace, joy, and love. Forgiveness cleanses us, renews us, and sends us out stronger than before. More than that, it ushers in the reason for Jesus—the gospel.

Jesus gave his life so that he may enter into ours. The beating, mocking, and even death that he endured was for our freedom. If he had chosen to bypass the brutality of the cross, we wouldn’t have freedom in Christ. The empty grave glorifies his supernatural victory over death, but this victory is not victorious without the pain, hurt, and suffering. Although we did nothing to deserve freedom, his generosity is an indication that the Spirit works on our behalf to reconcile, redeem, and restore.

“Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” – Colossians 3:13

His courage to forgive made way for reconciliation. Jesus had wounds that remind us of our own, which instills in us a reason to look at him as we hurt, suffer, and heal. If God has forgiven mankind, then how much more can we forgive one another?

Spirit-empowered Forgiveness

Forgiving others requires courage because we must look down to inspect the wounds inflicted upon us, and even harder, the wounds we inflict upon others. But this kind of inspection is also good news. Christ provided more than just the command to forgive; he provided his own Spirit that empowers us to forgive.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” – Romans 8:1-2.

Wounds are tender, and they have to be treated with care. When I was a young girl playing tug of war, I felt more pain when I grabbed my leg in arrogance. I had to dig my fingers into the fleshy burn and see it with my own eyes, instead of just accepting that I was hurt and in need of help. We must examine our hurt as well.

We try so hard to prove that we’re invincible, that our hurt isn’t worth our time, and that the wounds will heal themselves. If we never care for our wounds, then they won’t heal. Acknowledging our need for forgiveness empowers our hearts to generously give and receive forgiveness. God has been showing me my need to do this and the freedom that’s found in doing so.

Hoping for Forgiveness

My hope for you is:

  • I hope you will have renewed gratitude for Christ’s forgiveness.
  • I hope you will approach your own hurt and forgive the people who have caused it.
  • I hope you will humbly seek forgiveness from (at least) one person that you have hurt.

Life has its battles, and we can’t escape that harsh reality. However, we can be more conscious of what they do to us. Jesus fought for forgiveness, let’s humbly follow him.

“Christ performs the office of a priest by once offering himself as a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice, and to reconcile us to God, and by making continual intercession for us before God.” – John Piper

Chelsea Vaughn (@chelsea725) has served a ministry she helped start in the DFW Metroplex since she graduated from college. She received her undergraduate degree at Dallas Baptist University in Communication Theory. She does freelance writing, editing, and speaking for various organizations and non-profits. She hopes to spend her life using her gift for communication to reach culture and communities with the love of Jesus.

Thy Will Be Done

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You don’t have to read the papers, watch the news, or scroll through social media to know this pervasive truth: the world is not as it should be. Society is not right. Culture is corrupt. Institutions are failing. The market is not moral. Humans, in our sin, are destroying the earth as fast as we can, only to be outdone by the destroying of one-another. We abuse; we steal; we kill; we neglect. Earth does not look like heaven. While Jesus prayed, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we point to the grand disparity of earth and the notion of heaven and dispute the existence of God. We often wonder: “If there is a God, when will he do something?”

This doubt transforms into one of the best prayers: “God make our world whole.”

Jesus Is God’s Will on Earth from Heaven

Jesus taught his disciples to pray these words amidst cultural chaos, on land that looked nothing like heaven. Jesus had come proclaiming and demonstrating a world of peace, without sickness, evil, or death. Fresh from petitioning God’s kingdom to come into our lives, into our communities, and into our world, Jesus emphasized this kingdom—God’s will on this earth.

In other words, the kingdom is all about God getting his way. It means God ruling with peace, justice, mercy, grace, and love. God’s will is lasting peace and abundant joy.

Jesus calls us to invoke, in our prayers, an imagination of our world looking exactly how God intended. Our minds, hearts, and vocal chords are to call on God to do and be all that he intended: “God be with us. God take charge.”

The poignancy of this line in the prayer is found in the person praying it: Jesus prays as God’s will on earth from heaven. Jesus, himself, is God’s will on earth. He is with them. He is in charge, commanding the earth, weather, and all material. Jesus is God’s will from heaven.

Paul poetically describes Christ’s laying down of all his divine attributes to take the form of man and enter humanity (Phil 2). Jesus’ birth is the advent of this prayers’ answer: God’s will has come to earth! Heaven has dipped into humanity. God is his own answer to this prayer. In Christ, God’s will is advancing on earth.

What is God’s will? Jesus came into the world to make God’s will plane. God’s will is to reconcile humanity to God. The symptoms of this will are the healing of the sick, the mending of the broken, and expelling of evil.

God’s will is to pour his love generously into the world through Jesus. His will is to defeat sin, death, and evil and make all things new by his own death and resurrection.

When We Pray, It’s a Call for Incarnation

“Prayer is a moment of incarnation—God with us.” — Paul Miller

The act of prayer, any prayer, is one that beckons the will of God on earth. This kind of petitioning is what prayer is. It’s a statement of belief, a realization of God’s presence in earth, a cry to the one who can change earth. Furthermore, prayer itself is an act of submission. Our prayers are always a petition for God to be with us. All prayer is about God and his will being made visible in our world.

Our current American prayer crisis comes, in part, from godless prayer. We don’t seek the presence of God in our lives and world. We seek God’s activity—a to-do list. We are more like the people crowding around Jesus in Mark 3:7–12 than we’d like to admit. They pressed to be close to him to use his power for their healing. Jesus flees from these people into a boat for fear of being crushed.

The people wanted healing, not a healer. They were content to use Jesus like a charm, not welcome him as Christ. In teaching us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” Jesus instructs us to welcome God with us. He teaches us to pray centered on his mission.

When we Pray, It is for Home

The gospel message of Christ’s death and resurrection is one that unifies heaven and earth. While the incarnation Christ on earth is God’s will dipping into earth, Jesus’ death and resurrection is the advancement of that will. God creates a new reality of heaven and earth in his resurrection.

“When Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning, he rose as the beginning of the new world that Israel’s God had always intended to make. That is the first and perhaps the most important thing to know about the meaning of Easter…the stories of the risen Jesus have a different quality altogether. They seem to be about a person who is equally at home “on earth” and “in heaven.” And that is, in fact, exactly what they are.” — N.T. Wright, Simply Christian

When we pray, “on earth as it is in heaven,” we are praying for home. We are praying as refugees without a native land we can return to. We are praying for the completeness of resurrection life into our life today, tomorrow, and forevermore. We are praying for resurrection hope.

Prayer orients us toward our rest, the risen Christ whose will is on earth as it is in heaven.

When we pray, It’s for His Will

We pray as people between two worlds. We pray on behalf of the world. Our prayers are invitations to God: bring your will into our city, culture, government, and marketplace. This prayer is certainly one of trust and confidence in his sovereignty. This prayer is also one of compassion, empathy, and desperation in a lost and dying world.

We pray for his resurrection hope in every moment of death. We pray for his great reconciliation in the face of every sin. We pray for his advancement and victory over every kind of evil.

Brad Watson (@bradawatson) serves as a pastor of Bread&Wine Communities where he develops and teaches leaders how to form communities that love God and serve the city. Brad is the author of Raised?Called Together: A Guide to Forming Missional Communities, and Sent Together: How the Gospel Sends Leaders to Start Missional Communities. He lives in southeast Portland with his wife and their two daughters. You can read more from Brad at www.bradawatson.com.

Hallowed Be Thy Name

Arguably the linchpin of the entire Sermon on the Mount, the Lord’s Prayer fills a critical role in as Jesus taught his disciples. Up until this point, Jesus has issued his blessings as the Supreme King in the Beatitudes and has given marching orders to his vassals. He now arrives at the matter of prayer. “Pray like this,” Jesus commands.

Jesus teaches us to start our prayers by remembering we belong to God’s family—the family that God has rescued and is gathering together from all nations.

OUR

The Church belongs to Christ. His blood purchased her through the ransom of the Cross. Because of the Father’s election, the Spirit’s regeneration, and the Son’s propitiation, we belong to him.

When we pray our prayers, the entire army we call “Church” comes together to petition the heavenly throne room. Our God. Our Father. Our Lord. He is ours.

The Lord’s Prayer begins with corporate solidarity. We are one, and one are we. Together we make up the Body of Christ, and together we petition him. The Church is a unit that functions together in such a way as to be more than just a bunch of individuals who have shared interests in common. No, we are his, and he is ours. We are one in Christ, and together we approach him.

Together we make up the Body of Christ, and together we petition him

FATHER

But who is this God? Sure, we come together and approach his throne, but who is he? God is our Father, and we are his children. He is compassionate, patient, loving, and majestic. He is sovereign, yet approachable, and transcendent, yet immanent.

We can knock on his door at 3:00 am, and he will still let us in. We can approach him with whatever is on our minds because he is Father, which means he is love.

To approach our Father is to approach the infinite God of the universe with tempered fear and courageous boldness. He is both other and majestic. He is utterly distinct from his creation, yet his heart is so full of joy.

He takes part with his creation with much delight. His ear is never too full and his attention never too short; he is our Father, and our Father is eager to hear from his children.

HALLOWED BE

We are not careless when we approach our Abba. Yes, Father cares for you and me, but we aren’t flippant. If we wish to pray like this, we must be sober in our approach to the throne of glory. The throne is still holy. The fact that we can even approach his throne is only by the mercy and grace of Christ. We needed someone to let us in, and Jesus did just that!

God is holy, which means he’s entirely unstained by sin and evil. His clothes are white, and there’s no stain remover in heaven. Because of his morally uncorrupted nature, we pray that God’s name would be revered and honored as holy everywhere. We desperately want not to just see God’s glory, but to taste it as well. And not just taste it; we want to share it with the world!

To hallow something is to revere something as entirely distinct and separate. We wish to see the holiness of God on display in the world so people will respect and pay tribute to him. We say, “Hallowed be” because God is.

YOUR NAME

We long to see the name of God venerated in all nations. We want God’s name—his character, personhood, and glory—to be treasured, valued, and esteemed by everyone everywhere. The Lord’s Prayer is a global prayer.

We hope that God’s holiness, majesty, knowledge, love, wrath, purity, patience, loving kindness, justice, righteousness, and light will become the priority of all peoples in all nations.

The name of God is sacred. His character is wrapped up in these two words, “I AM.” God simply is. Because he is, we pray that his name be hallowed. To pray likes Jesus is to approach God with joy, happiness, fear, and trembling. We come to God together because he is our Father. And we want the name and fame of our Father to be revered everywhere! He’s just that important.

MATURING DISCIPLES

What about you and your prayer life? Does your prayer life reflect these things? Do you pray to our heavenly Father? Is there a hint of trepidation and elation in your prayers or are you glib about it? Do you come to God knowing that he is both “Father” and “holy”? What about the content of your prayers? Are they simply a reflection of whatever randomness you have going on, or is there a hint of cosmic significance?

When it comes to the issue of maturing disciples, we need to keep in mind that our aim is twofold:

  • We want the glory of God to be revered in our lives and the lives of others;
  • We desire to see the gospel restore the imago Dei in us.

Maturation takes time—it takes much practice to restore virtue in a heart once ruled by vice. To accomplish this task of learning from Jesus, we must be people of prayer. We must be people who live within the confines of the Lord’s Prayer; we must be people who practice the Lord’s Prayer.

Whoever you are, wherever you are located, know this: he is our Father, and he longs to hear from you. Turn to him this very moment, like a child to his father, jumping into his ginormous lap and know that his ear is turned towards you.

And let that joy ruminate deep within your soul with the prayer that everyone everywhere would hallow God’s perfect name. As we seek to make, mature, and multiply disciples, the Lord’s Prayer is the gold standard for accomplishing such an audacious vision.

Reflections

  • Do you pray to our heavenly Father?
  • How does prayer play an integral role in making, maturing, and multiply disciples?
  • Why must we approach the Father through Jesus?

Rev. Jason M. Garwood (M.Div., Th.D.) serves as Lead Pastor of Colwood Church in Caro, MI and author of Be Holy and The Fight for Joy. Jason and his wife Mary have three children, Elijah, Avery and Nathan. He blogs at www.jasongarwood.com. Connect with him on Twitter: @jasongarwood.