Do We Need to Rethink How We Pray?

Whether we pray often or seldom, we have likely fallen into unexamined habits

Do We Need to Rethink How We Pray?How do you begin your prayers?

What is your common salutation? It might be “Heavenly Father . . .” or perhaps “Father God . . . ” or maybe “Dear God . . . ”  (How about, “Hey, God. It’s me again.”) The Lord’s Prayer opens with “Our Father in heaven,” which is a good model to follow (Matthew 6:9). Some people open with “Dear Jesus . . . ” Have you ever addressed your prayers to the Holy Spirit? He is part of the triune God, after all.

When you finish praying, how do you conclude?

Some traditions end with “In Jesus’s name we pray, amen.” This aligns with what Jesus taught us (John 14:13). Other traditions take their cue from Matthew 28:19 and wrap up with “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.” Some use the shortcut of just “Amen.” (What about just saying “Bye” or “Catch you later,” which is how we talk to other people. Prayer, after all, is conversation.)

What does amen mean, anyway?

The Amplified Bible suggests it implies “So be it” or May it be so.” Saying one of these declarations to end our prayers may get us out of the rut of concluding with a rote “Amen,” but it usually confounds anyone listening to us.

And what should we say in the middle portion of our prayers?

Sometimes I direct my communications with God to specific parts of the godhead according to the character or role of each. For example, I can praise Father for creating me, Jesus for saving me, and Holy Spirit for guiding me. Or I can ask Papa to bless me, the Son to be with me, and the Spirit to inspire me. Doing this helps me see God in fresh, new ways; it enables me to better connect and be more real in my communications with God.

But what if I error and address the wrong aspect of God? It’s happened, but I don’t think it matters to God because Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all the same God, the great three in one (consider 1 John 5:7).

The point is to stop praying words out of habit and think about why we say what we say when we talk to God. He deserves our full attention, so we should avoid using thoughtless words.

So be it.

The Bible Reveals God the Father to Us

Father God is the star of the Old Testament; it explains his expectations and shows his care

The Bible Reveals God the Father to UsThe story arc in the Bible is God’s relationship to us: the creator and his creation. Most people of faith – the Christian faith, that is – understand God as Trinity, as three persons in one: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is an abstract concept, but one we embrace, or at least we accept, in faith, as truth.

God the Father is the star of the Old Testament.

After a casual read of the Old Testament, an easy conclusion is that God is a mad deity; humans need to cower from him; he’s poised to punish people if they so much as blink wrong. A more careful read, however, reveals a patient God. Though he has specific expectations for behavior, he wants his people to succeed, to have a relationship with him.

Yes, a fear of God does come across in the Old Testament (whereas love is the theme of the New Testament), this is a holy fear, a reverent fear.

To understand a healthy fear of God, I consider fire. Fire can warm us, cook our food, purify materials, and mesmerize us. Yet this same fire can burn and even kill if we are not careful. We appreciate fire for its many benefits, yet we respect it for its dangers. Fire awes us. The same applies with God the Father; he awes us.

For a more specific comprehension, a personal understanding, look at God’s relationship with some of the people in the Old Testament: Adam (who walked with God), Abraham (who placed his faith in God), Moses (who looked at God and spoke with him), David (a man after God’s own heart), Elijah (who taunted his enemies because of his complete confidence in God’s power), and so on.

For others, we see their devotion to God and the way he took care of them and blessed them. Consider Joseph, Ruth, Daniel, and Esther.

We can look at the Old Testament to discover grand themes of God’s character. And we can look to the Old Testament to inspire us through the specific stories of his relationship with those who seek him. We need both to fully comprehend him.

Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life

The source of life, truth, and the way to Father God is through Jesus

Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the LifeThe disciple Thomas wants to go where Jesus will go but doesn’t know how to proceed. He seeks clarification. Jesus gives him a five part answer, which another disciple John records for us. Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” (John 14:6, NIV).

I Am: In the Old Testament God the Father effectively tells Moses to think of him as “I am.” When Jesus repeats this phrase in his concise answer we are reminded that Jesus also exists as God, in the form of God the Son.

The Way: Jesus is the path to God the Father. Jesus points us in the right direction and provides the means for us to get there.

The Truth: Jesus personifies truth. He exemplifies truth, proclaims truth, and models truth. We can rely on the words of Jesus as true.

The Life: Not only does Jesus give us life, he is life. As taking part in creation, he emerges as one with life eternal.

The Door to Father God: The first four parts of Jesus’s answer, culminate in his conclusion: it is through him that we are reconciled with God the Father.

Jesus provides all that we need for our journey in this life and into the next.

What does Jesus mean to you? How do you understand Jesus?

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is John 13-15, and today’s post is on John 14:5-6.]

Did Jesus Have Second Thoughts?

Before Jesus is captured and executed, he spends some time praying. At one point in his prayer, Jesus asks God for a reprieve – that he won’t have to die – even though that was the plan all along. But he’s quick to add an addendum, confirming he’ll do whatever his papa wants.

I wonder if Jesus is thinking about the test God gave Abraham, commanding the patriarch to kill his son Isaac. Just as Abraham is preparing to plunge the knife into his son in total obedience, God says, “Wait.” Then he provides a different sacrifice, a substitute. Isaac is spared.

I wonder if Jesus pauses, hoping that God will again say, “Wait” and provide a substitute sacrifice or a different solution. But this time God the Father doesn’t, and Jesus willingly dies as a once-and-for-all way to reunite us with Father God.

When it comes to Jesus dying instead of us and taking our punishment on himself, he doesn’t have second thoughts, but he is open to alternatives.

When John writes about Jesus, he records a different prayer. In this prayer, Jesus admits his anguish about dying, but he knows he can’t ask God to intervene. He acknowledges that dying is why he came to earth.

He will do it – and he does. Jesus dies to make us right with the Father. Though our wrongs separate us from him, Jesus takes our punishment upon himself, thereby making us right with the Father.

[Matthew 26:39-42, Mark 14:36, Luke 22:42, Genesis 22:1-19, John 12:23-29]

The Importance of Being in Community

The ideal in the United States is personal self-sufficiency. But this is a myth, an unattainable pursuit that will eventually leave us broken or alone – or both. John Donne understood this. He said “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” We need others; we need community.

God knows this, too.

God lives in community. The Father with the Son, the Son with the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit with the Father. We call this the Trinity, God as three in one. Though we don’t fully understand how one entity can be three, we accept it. It is community at its finest.

God created us to be in community as well: in community with him and in community with others.

One of the descriptions of community from the Bible tells us to encourage each other to love and help people and “not give up meeting together.” While a quick reaction to the phrase “meeting together” implies going to church, this is an oversimplification. Although meeting together can happen at church (though it’s not guaranteed), these times of meeting together can also happen in homes, at work, in coffee shops and restaurants, and even when we play.

When done with purpose, our meeting together can produce meaningful community, the community God created us for, the community we need to thrive and be complete.

May we pursue community with great intention; may we embrace it as God’s plan for us.

[Hebrews 10:24-25]

Thank You, Father!

Everyone has a dad.

Some know their dads and respect them, whereas others don’t. Too many are estranged from their dads, and a few don’t even know who their dads are. Yet we all have dads. As a result, some people celebrate Father’s Day, others tolerate it, and a few try to ignore it.

Regardless what we think of our biological dads and Dads’ Day, we’ll do even better to turn our attention to our spiritual Father on this Fathers’ Day, our Father in heaven: God the Father. He is the perfect Dad. He loves us unconditionally, always gives us what’s best, and wants a forever relationship with us.

For some people, seeing God the Father as a perfect Dad is easy. This is because their own dads were such a good model of what it is to be a father. They weren’t flawless men – for perfection is impossible – but they did succeed far more than they failed, apologized when they messed up, and did anything for their kids.

My dad did a great job, so it’s easy for me to see God the Father as the ultimate dad. It’s easy to love him, for I know his deep, passionate, unending love for me. Thank you Dad, and thank you Father.

Unfortunately, not everyone has this advantage. Some have or had dads with more flaws than not; others had dads who did some terrible things; and a few have no idea what a dad is, let alone a good one. My heart aches for you.

If that is you, I offer this encouragement: despite the flaws and faults of your own dad, I urge you to spend today considering what a ideal one would be like. Realize there is a perfect Father – God the Father. Maybe you’re not ready to embrace him, perhaps you don’t know how, or possibly you don’t even want to. Yet, ask for his help, that he’ll open your heart, show you how to love, and that you can love him back. May today be your best Father’s Day celebration ever – and the first of many more.

On this Father’s Day, as we thank our earthly dads, may we even more so honor our Heavenly Father.

Thank you, Dad!

A Thought for Fathers Everywhere

A friend recently asked for advice about fatherhood. Over the years, I’ve done some things right and some things wrong. I had much to share, but I wanted to reveal the best, the most important thing. Here it is:

There will always be time to work late, volunteer more, take it easy, or do the things we want to do for ourselves, but time spent with our children is precious and limited; we must savor it – for all too soon it will be too late.

Eventually we will run out of time. They will grow busier and have less time for us. Or we will run out of time altogether.

Regardless of their age, we need to invest in our children now. I think it’s the best investment we can make.

Happy Father’s Day!

Technology Isn’t Needed to Have a Good Service (Visiting Church #10)

It’s Father’s Day and we visit our fourth Baptist church in ten weeks. Like two of the others, this one is both a small congregation and an older congregation. They’re friendly and welcoming, but an absence of younger people points to a bleak future. Despite efforts to keep the facility nice, there remains subtle reminders of its age and neglect.

At the start of the service, the minister announces things will not proceed as intended. A small technical glitch has large ramifications. The retractable screen over the baptismal is in the up position and refuses to lower. Three segments of the service rely on overhead projection, including a recorded interview, which, based on the bulletin, I suspect was the focal point of the service. However, had the minister not mentioned this, I wouldn’t have known the difference; the pastor makes adjustments smoothly, with a meaningful service unfolding despite this problem. There’s a book for each dad, which we must go forward to receive, but I’d gladly forgo the gift in order to avoid the attention.

The pastor’s message is “a brief tribute to our Heavenly Father.” The minister reads sections of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. “God always responds to our prayers.” Sometimes it’s with a “yes,” sometimes with “wait,” and other times with “no.” But regardless of the answer, it’s always for our own good.

This is an important Father’s Day message, one that gremlins cannot thwart. We all have a Heavenly Father who is good and perfect, giving us exactly what is in our best interest.

[Read about Church #9 and Church #11, start at the beginning of our journey, or learn more about Church #10.]

Three in One: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

The prophet Isaiah gives four descriptive names for Jesus. They are Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.

However, I tend to think of Jesus as Savior, Healer, Redeemer, and so forth, but not so much the names Isaiah gives.

In fact, to me, Wonderful Counselor seems more descriptive of the Holy Spirit, while Everlasting Father and perhaps even Mighty God seem to point to God the Father.

Does Isaiah have his names mixed up? Am I confused? The answers to both questions is “no.”

If we truly perceive the God who is revealed in the Bible as three persons in one, then the names given to one part of the godhead appropriately applies to all three.

Therefore, Jesus really is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace — as are the Holy Spirit and God the Father.

They are, three in one.

An Army of Angels

The young girl gazes out into the desert; something is coming towards her. It is Solomon, her lover, traveling by carriage. He is accompanied by a protective band of weapon wielding warriors, tested and poised for whatever threat awaits them. With Solomon — and his army — she will be protected.

In a spiritual sense, this is how it is with God and us. He is coming towards us; with him, we will be protected. (That doesn’t mean there won’t be risks as we journey with him, because there will.)  We will also be afforded a band of warriors, ready to battle on our behalf. In the spiritual realm, this is an army of angels.

Centuries later, Jesus tells Satan, “Don’t you know that I could ask my Father, and right away he would send me more than twelve armies of angels?”

While we might not see angels, we have good reason to believe that they are nearby, ready to protect us from both physical threats and spiritual foes.

Our God, who loves us, will make sure we are protected.

[Song of Solomon 3:6-8, Matthew 26:53]