Today we begin our online class on prayer. I hope when you join us each week you will not only read the lesson, but will use it as a springboard for further study. Each lesson will include homework questions to help you dig deeper into what we’ve talked about. I will also include a weekly discussion question in hopes of stirring some online community with others who are also taking this course. As with all classes, we learn best from each other, so I hope each of you will join in our discussion at least once throughout the summer. As added incentive, I will be drawing a name each week from those who comment and awarding that person a small prize. Each weekly participant will also be added to a pool of names that will be eligible for a grand prize at the end of the class in August. To participate, simply click on the words Leave a reply at the end of each blog and type your comment in the box that appears. The more you participate, the higher your chances of winning. I’m so looking forward to learning more about prayer along with all of you.
We will be structuring this class on the framework of the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. In both instances the context of the prayer is one of teaching. The Matthew version, which is the longer of the two and probably the most familiar, is a part of Christ’s teaching on prayer in his Sermon on the Mount. In Luke, the prayer is Christ’s response to his disciples’ request, “Lord, teach us to pray.” The Lord’s Prayer will serve as our foundation, but we’ll also draw from examples in scripture that give evidence of the power of living Knees to the Earth.
Before we can truly grasp the power of prayer, we need to understand who it is we are praying to . . . in other words, we need to know whose we are. Prayer has been a practice of humans from the beginning of time, yet for many it is nothing more than a vague hope that something or someone out there–some distant deity . . . some unknown god–will hear their plea. A prayer like that doesn’t breed a lot of confidence, does it?
In the opening line of his prayer, Christ gives us all we need to know about the recipient of our prayers and with this knowledge comes power. He begins with the words, “Our Father.” He uses those words not in the figurative sense as was common in Jewish tradition. He literally is talking to his father. Just how radical this concept was can be seen in the reaction of the religious leaders of his day. In John 5:18 we read: “For this reason they [the Pharisees] tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”
Jesus is addressing his prayer to his father and with the word “our” he extends that same privilege to us. Throughout the New Testament we are told that we too, through the shed blood of Christ, can claim a personal relationship with the Almighty God of the Universe. He literally is our father.
“For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are the children of God.” Romans 8: 14-16
“And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, ‘Abba, Father.’” Galatians 4:6
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” 1 John 3:1a
Now for some of us, Shereen and I included, the word father does not engender warm and fuzzy feelings. Our experience was with imperfect fathers who were often cold, distant or absent. For some of you the experience may have been even worse. But that is not the type of father Jesus calls us into relationship with. He calls us to pray to his father—one who is slow to anger and abounding in love . . . one who delights over his children with singing . . . one who welcomes the prodigal with open arms. This, as the next words of the prayer remind us, is our heavenly father and because of that, he is so much more than even the best earthly father could ever be.
Jesus finishes his teaching on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount with this comparison:
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Matthew 7: 9-11
Jesus invites us to bring our pleas, our requests, our prayers to a father who wants only the best for his children, who loves his sons and daughters beyond their earthly imaginations.
But God as Father is only one side of the equation. The final part of the opening sentence of this prayer reminds us the recipient of our prayers is also HOLY. In The Holiness of God, R.C. Sproul explains: “When the Bible calls God holy, it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. He is so far above and beyond us that He seems totally foreign to us. To be holy is to be ‘other,’ to be different in a special way.”
The prophet Isaiah, when confronted with God’s holiness had this response, “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” [Isaiah 6:5]
Job’s response was similar. “I’m speechless, in awe—words fail me. I should never have opened my mouth! I’ve talked too much, way too much. I’m ready to shut up and listen.” [Job 40: 3-5]
The children of Israel, faced with God’s holiness at Mt. Sinai, were overcome. “When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.’”
Man’s response to a true revelation of God’s holiness is fear and a healthy respect for his “otherness.”
So what’s the point? Why does Jesus remind us of these two seemingly opposite sides of God’s character? Why does it matter that the recipient of our prayers is both our Father and a Holy God? The answer is simple. When we consider only the personal nature of God without taking into consideration his power, our prayers are no better than conversations with a good friend or an earthly father. Yes, he cares. Yes, he understands, but without his power, there is really nothing he can do for us other than lend an understanding ear. On the other hand, if we consider only his “otherness,” his awesome power and ability to do whatever He wants, our first response is fear. People faced with God’s holiness tend to shut up—not the most conducive way to engage in an active prayer life.
We need to embrace both aspects of God. His personal nature give us the boldness to approach his throne and share our deepest selves, trusting and knowing without a shadow of doubt he has our best interests at heart. [Hebrews 4: 14-16] And the powerful, “otherness” of God reminds us we bring our requests, our weaknesses and hurts, to the feet of one who does not know the word IMPOSSIBLE.
As daughters of an almighty, HOLY God, there is nothing our prayers can’t accomplish.
“But Jesus was matter-of-fact: ‘Yes—and if you embrace this kingdom life and don’t doubt God, you’ll not only do minor feats like I did to the fig tree, but also triumph over huge obstacles. This mountain, for instance, you’ll tell, ‘Go jump in the lake,’ and it will jump. Absolutely everything, ranging from small to large, as you make it a part of your believing prayer, gets included as you lay hold of God.” Matthew 21:21-22
GOING DEEPER (for personal study)
- In your experience, has the word “father” been positive or negative for you? Why? If your experience has been mostly negative, spend some time meditating on the following passages that describe the love of your Heavenly Father. Psalm 103, Zephaniah 3:17, Luke 15: 11-32
- Do you remember a time when you were confronted with the holiness of God? Read Job’s prayers in Job chapter 10: 2-22, 13: 20-27. Read God’s response in Job 38-41. Why do you think God responded this way?
DISCUSSION (please feel free to share your answer to this with the class by clicking the LEAVE A REPLY tab below. Remember there are prizes involved!)
How could focusing on both aspects of God’s nature—the personal and the holy (otherness)—change your prayer life? Do you find yourself leaning more toward one side or the other? If so, which one? Why do you think that is?