A Lot of Calvinistic Sun in the Sky

The third request of Jesus’ prayer takes a lot of faith. He taught us to ask our divine Father to set apart His name from every other name. Next we ask Him to establish His promised empire among us. Then we’re to pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

I want to ask, how is this possible? And, what would it look like?

How many servants of Christ have prayed this prayer as sworn Arminians? Do we appreciate that when we make this petition—or any of them really—it assumes that the Father has both the prerogative and the power to make this happen? We pray that God will make God’s will prevail over man’s will. We’re not asking men to obey God’s will, we’re asking God to cause them to obey. That’s a lot of Calvinistic sun in the sky, even more than when we acknowledge that the Father knows what we need before we ask Him (verse 8).

If God answered this prayer—and it is His will for us to pray for His will to be done, so we should expect Him to answer—how would we know? What signs would we see? Well, how are things happening in heaven? We’re not asking for something different here, but that it would be here like it is there.

In heaven His Word is heard, His name is hallowed, His commands are obeyed. That obedience is total—not partial, happy—not sullen, immediate—not delayed, and quick—not slow. The angels don’t question His will or rebel against it. They don’t try to ignore or tweak or replace it.

As we pray for heavenly obedience to come down, let us pray that He cause us to obey on earth first.

Pater Noster

We started a series of exhortations about the Lord’s Prayer last week. Jesus assumes that men pray; even hypocrites and idolators pray. When we pray we should avoid pretense and superstition. I’ll probably come back to both of those preparatory instructions later.

But since the subject for my message last Lord’s Day was kids in worship, I want to point out the first part of Jesus’ pattern. “Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven….”

The medieval church referred to Matthew 6:6-9 less as the Lord’s Prayer or the Disciples’ Prayer and more often as the Pater noster. In Greek the prayer begins, Pater hemon, which is Pater noster in Latin, and “Our Father” in English. This is not as much the prayer of a believer as it is a prayer of the church, or at least of the family. We are brothers and sisters who come together to our Father.

When we come to the time of confession in our corporate worship it’s appropriate to think about God, the Lord, the Almighty. He is our Creator, the one with whom we have to do. He is also the Lawmaker, the Judge, and He is perfect in holiness. And for us in the church, He is our honored Father. As the ultimate Father He doesn’t lower the standard, He holds His children to it in love and with discipline as necessary. He also restores His children to fellowship by forgiving them.

Our sin is a reflection on our Father’s name. Our sin has consequences on our family. But He is a faithful and merciful Father who sent His Son to bring many sons to glory. So we confess as children to our Father.

Those Who Don’t Pray

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus addressed common ways that people often practice their righteousness before men: almsgiving, praying, and fasting. There is a way to do any or all of them that misses out on reward from our Father in heaven. After introducing the theme (Matthew 6:1), there are three subjects in four paragraphs, with prayer being the focus of two of them. If we associate prayer with fasting, which we should, then prayer gets a supermajority of attention.

Not only does prayer get Jesus’ attention, His warning and instruction about prayer is also based on a big assumption. Jesus makes a distinction between men who pray seeking reward from men and men who pray seeking reward from God. He does not mention those who don’t pray at all; that’s not an option. He assumes that we’re praying; even hypocrites and unbelieving Gentiles pray.

Hypocrites love to put on a prayer show for men. Gentiles need to pray a lot because their gods get busy and are not entirely reliable, so the more words the better chances of being heard. This performance is before a different audience but it’s still a show.

What does it say about us when we don’t pray at all, or at least in such a way that it could be assumed? It says we don’t understand righteousness, we don’t know the Father, and we don’t care about receiving a reward from Him. A prayer-less life won’t remain a secret, and it’s a sin we should confess.

Hiding Behind a Newspaper

I assume most of you heard about the massacre in San Bernardino two weeks ago. Fourteen people were killed and twenty-one wounded in a terrorist attack. Within hours of the shootings, a number of conservative politicians used their social media channels to communicate their “thoughts and prayers” for the families of the victims. The Daily News (a newspaper in New York City) printed their front page with pictures and brief passages of praying sound bytes with the headline: “GOD ISN’T FIXING THIS.” The page also included the following: “As latest batch of innocent Americans are left lying in pools of blood, cowards who could truly end gun scourge continue to hide behind meaningless platitudes.”

fixingSetting aside the “innocent” adjective applied to Americans as well as the leading label of a “gun scourge,” the mockery has been called “prayer shaming.” It’s as if the media snorted, “Oh, you’re praying? How ridiculous. What a fool. Why don’t you do something.” It’s trying to embarrass the prayers.

I cannot say for certain that these politicians weren’t posturing. But the Daily News wasn’t accusing them of hypocrisy. I also won’t say that praying is the only and final response. But the purpose of this shaming headline is an attempt to bring believers to their knees before cultural and governmental gods.

Perhaps the biggest shame is that we Christians have prayed so little in front of the world that it’s taken until now to get such clear and negative press. If, as a believer, you have ever lamented that you don’t know “how to make a difference in the culture,” just pray in public and be ready to give an answer for the prayer that is in you. It’s not a good sign that our society wants to pile on the uselessness of praying, but it is a good opportunity to shine as light in the darkness. Prayer is our thing. We can do this! Don’t hide your prayer behind a newspaper.

Be much in private prayer, too, and give up any desire to be rewarded by men. Don’t pray for the photo op, but do pray so plainly and freely and perseveringly and hopefully that others would see your good supplications and glorify God in heaven.


Prayer for Sanctification

Last Sunday we entered a study of John 17. The entire chapter is one prayer by Jesus for His disciples the night before His crucifixion. We learn, or at least we have confirmed for us, what sorts of things the Son desires for us as we hear Him ask the Father. He makes a variety of supplications and we will take a few weeks in our confession time to examine if we are wanting what the Son wants.

First let us consider that Jesus prays, “Sanctify them in your truth: your word is truth” (17:17). Two verses later He says, “For their sake I consecrate myself that they also may be sanctified in truth” (verse 19).

We define (or argue about) sanctification better than we desire it. Christ wants us to be sanctified, to be set apart from the world in our desires and loves, but yet not removed out of the world. Sanctification is not an escape, it is a conscious battle to love God and to love our neighbors who don’t deserve it. The moral behavior part of being made more holy grows out of better and stronger love for the right things.

Jesus prays for our sanctification as our priest, as the one who goes to the Father on our behalf. Not only that, He went to the cross on our behalf. He “consecrated” Himself, He dedicated His life and death for the sake of our purification from sin. He cleanses the inside of the cup first.

Christian, are you pursuing purity in your heart for the sake of your pure, unmixed, uncontaminated loves? Are you loving the same direction that Jesus is praying? Are you living in a way that matches the purpose of Christ dying?

Desperation and Deliverance

I think about “the rhythm of desperation and deliverance” all the time.

A pastor who feels competent in himself to produce eternal fruit—which is the only kind that matters—knows neither God nor himself. A pastor who does not know the rhythm of desperation and deliverance must have his sights set only on what man can achieve.

—John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, 54

Cynicism Is Not Wisdom

“Cynicism is the air we breath, and it is suffocating our hearts.” That’s true on cable news shows, that’s true even in many church leadership meetings, and sadly, that’s often been true of my own heart. Paul Miller wrote it on page 82 of his book, A Praying Life, which I said I would read, so I am. I started a month or so ago and, even though I haven’t loved every turn, there are occasional, exceptional views that keep me from jumping out of the car.

In chapter 10, “Following Jesus out of Cynicism,” Miller opens a window to dispel the smoke of skepticism and suspicion in order to give our prayers fresh air.

Cynicism kills hope. The world of the cynic is fixed and immovable; the cynic believes we are swept along by forces greater than we are. Dreaming feels like so much foolishness. Risk becomes intolerable. Prayer feels pointless, as if we are talking to the wind. Why set ourselves and God up for failure? (85)

Negativity triggers like a safety mechanism of the flesh. But cynicism is not protective or effective, not in the supernatural life. “You don’t have to distance yourself with an ironic, critical stance” (83). The cynic withdraws from people who might possibly disappoint or hurt him (some day), but Solomon says that the man who isolates himself is selfish and rages against all sound wisdom (Proverbs 18:1). A shot of cynicism immunizes us from what makes us most healthy. Iron sharpens iron in contact. Hiding in the sheath all day makes our hearts dull.

Cynicism is not realism. Doubt redefined as wisdom doesn’t fly any higher than my house does after affixing wing stickers on the outside.

Cynicism looks reality in the face, calls it phony, and prides itself on its insight as it pulls back. Thanksgiving looks reality in the face and rejoices at God’s care. (90)

The cynic grumbles about all the bad; “Oh, the depravity!” His policy is to see the nightmare in every situation. But, according to God’s Word, God is still on the throne, God’s will is not thwarted, God is still working each and every thing for believers’ good and His glory. Not only does cynicism snuff out trust in God, it is also disobedient to the degree that it delays or distracts us from thanking God. The wise are thankful, not cynical. We must watch out for “bitterness, the stepchild of cynicism” (89), and spend more time with the daughters of gratitude.

With our pride well wounded halfway through the chapter, Miller then stabs deeper with C.S. Lewis’ finger. Lewis wrote in The Abolition of Man:

You cannot go on “explaining away” for ever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on “seeing through” things forever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it….If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To “see through” all things is not the same as not to see. (quoted in A Praying Life, 91)

“[Cynics] assume they are humble because they offer nothing. In fact, they feel deeply superior because they think they see through everything” (91). The Pharisees thought they saw best only because they were blind (cf. John 9:39-41).

Everyone fears something, and the object of fear separates wise men from fools. The cynic fears exposure of his own weaknesses, attacks from the small-minded, redirected or unsuccessful endeavors, all leading to loss of influence or esteem. That means he isn’t fearing the LORD, and that means cynicism isn’t wisdom (cf. Proverbs 1:7).

Maybe worst of all, cynics wear clothes from the hypocrite’s closet.

A significant source of cynicism is the fracture between my heart and my behavior. It goes something like this: My heart gets out of tune with God, but life goes on. So I continue to perform and say Christian things, but they are just words. I talk about Jesus without the presence of Jesus. There is a disconnect between what I present and who I am. My words sound phony, so other’s words sound phony too. In short, my empty religious performance leads me to think that everyone is phony. (91-92)

That’s a worldly wardrobe, and certainly no outfit for a pastor like myself. So, “While attempting to unmask evil, the cynic creates it” (93). Claiming to be wise, the cynic exchanges the glory of gospel power for the water pistol of pessimism. Cynicism keeps us from fear of the LORD, faith, joy, sacrifice, friendships, accountability, prayer, and love. That’s not smart.

Lord, help me to have serpent insight and dove innocence. Give me hopeful wisdom grounded in gospel promises and guard me from proud cynicism. Help me trust that You see what I see, that You see beyond what I see.

proskartereo

προσ•καρ•τε•ρέ•ω

verb — [pros-kar-te-reh-oh]

definition: to stick by or be close at hand; attach oneself to, wait on, be faithful to; to persist in something; to be busy with, be busily engaged in, be devoted to.

example usage:

Τῇ προσευχῇ προσκαρτερεῖτε, γρηγοροῦντες ἐν αὐτῇ ἐν εὐχαριστίᾳ (Colossians 4:2)

“Devote yourselves to prayer.” (Colossians 4:2, NAS, NIV, NRSV) Or the ESV, “continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (“continue earnestly” NKJV).

Paul likewise urges devotion to prayer in Romans 12:12. The disciples of Christ, in the days following Christ’s ascension, were “devoting themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14). They “devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

To “devote” oneself means to give oneself to something with such dogged commitment that one becomes known, even identified, by that devotion. A husband devoted to his wife has eyes and time for no other woman. A teacher devoted to his or her students is committed, in and out of the classroom, that the students would learn and flourish. A fan devoted to his favorite college or professional team wears his team colors on game day, loves to talk about his team, and senses the joys of winning and the pain of defeat along with the players.

Christians are called to devote themselves to prayer. To be devoted to prayer means to commit ourselves to prayer in such a way that our lives (not merely our pre-meal rituals) are defined by prayer. Being devoted to prayer means that our eyes are on God and the moments in our days are filled with prayer. Being devoted to prayer means that we make every effort to battle for souls, our own and those of others, asking, knocking, and seeking God’s work. Being devoted to prayer means that we will be marked by an obvious, fanatical, intense, and unwavering practice of prayer.

Devoted to Prayer