Christianity 201

July 9, 2020

Father in Heaven: How Praying the Lord’s Prayer Can Help us Pray Through the Disconnect

by Clarke Dixon

We may feel a certain disconnect in prayer. Like we are trying to connect with God, but it feels like he is up there, we are down here, and “never the twain shall meet.” We may feel like the Psalmist in Psalm 42:

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
the face of God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”

Psalms 42:1-3 (NRSV)

Our best, sometimes only, prayer may be like one of my brother’s favourite expressions “beam me up Scotty, this planet sucks!” Lord, just let me escape this world and its problems.

Our prayers are to go much further than that, prayer itself being much deeper than that. Prayer is connecting with God, inviting God to participate in our lives as we seek to participate in God’s.

We are going to take a deep dive into prayer over the summer and we will do so through the core teaching of Jesus on prayer; the Lord’s Prayer. So let us begin, appropriately enough, at the beginning.

The very first word of the Lord’s Prayer, if we are reading the original Greek, is Father. This means that the very first thought, the very first thing we are to expect to experience, is intimacy with God. That is where prayer begins, with a recognition and acknowledgement of intimacy with God.

Prayer begins with the recognition that praying matters, because prayer is heard. We need not pray wondering and worrying if there is some God up there who might hear us. We pray knowing that God has revealed himself to us as the one who does hear, who listens as a good father does.

There are speed bumps on the way to this experience of intimacy.

For starters, religion may have taught us to doubt God’s desire for intimacy. Religion may teach us that God is there, yes, but God is just waiting to punish us.

The story of the prodigal son comes to mind. The story of a son who demands his inheritance even before the death of his father. The story of a son who went away from his family chasing the “good life.” The story of a son who realised that being a servant in his father’s household would be much better than where he ended up.

“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’
“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

Luke 15:20-24 (NLT)

This is our story. God is not waiting to punish us. God is waiting for us to come home. When we are done with trying to live life on our own, when we recognise that we have separated ourselves from God, when we return to the Lord, he runs to us and embraces us. No matter what religion may tell us, intimacy with God is possible, for it is something God longs for.

The whole story of the Bible comes to mind. God created us for intimacy with Him. We ran away. God kept in relationship with us through the covenants and prophets. We continued to be on the run. Then God came to us in Jesus, and in doing so opened the door to our coming home. When we return, God runs to us with a warm and welcoming embrace.

The second speed bump on the way to intimacy is that our own fathers may have taught us to be frightened of fathers. We may have learned from an early age that intimacy with a father is not possible. Some people have been seriously hurt by the very people that should make them feel safe.

I was trained in seminary to never begin a public prayer with “Father.” This is out of sensitivity to those for whom the image just won’t work. While I’m not inclined to move away from traditional language for God, some people think of “Heavenly parent,” or even “Heavenly mother” instead. Since I don’t know what it is like to live with such wounds, I think holding out some understanding is the “do unto others” thing to do. What we don’t want to lose sight of, though, is the intimacy of God the relational terms provide. Always beginning our prayers with “Creator God,” or “Lord God,” misses the reminder of intimacy which Jesus would have us think of as pray.

A third speed bump on the way to intimacy with God is our own idea that God is far away. We may, in fact, think this is what Jesus has in mind when he teaches us to pray “Father, in heaven.” There is a reason that Jesus teaches us to pray “Father, in the heavens” and it has nothing to do with distance. It has to do with the transcendence of God. Heaven is not far away, it is a completely different realm. God is not far away from us, but He is very different from us.

What we mean by the transcendence of God is that, though we are created in the image of God, God is not like us in fundamental ways. God is God, we are not. God is eternal, we are created. God is Creator, we are created to be creative, but we cannot create out of nothing. God is able to save sinners. I do well to save a document. God knows all truth. We do not, and we would do well to admit that more often than we do.  God is omnipresent, try as we might, we cannot be in two places at once. God is holy, we are often wholly messed up.

As we pray, we begin with the reminder that God, though intimate like a father listening intently beside us, is not limited to sitting beside us, nor prone to the limitations of even the best of fathers. Our Heavenly Father is God, with all the powers and purposes that go along with being God. He is profoundly capable.

In teaching us to pray “Father, who is in the heavens,” our prayers begin with a focus on an absolutely amazing fact: God, who is so not like us, and whom we rebelled against, still wants an intimate relationship with us. God, who could have hit the delete button on us ages ago hit send instead; He sent his son. God came to us Himself, as God the Son. This is the opposite of “beam me up Scotty” we mentioned earlier. Far from taking us out of the world, God enters our world of suffering, to begin the process of making a better world, to help us look forward to an even better world still. God came to us in Jesus so that intimacy with God whom we sinned against could happen.

We may feel a certain disconnect in prayer. The Psalmist is honest about that feeling of discontent in Psalm 42. But the disconnect is a feeling. The Psalmist also knows the fact of the connection:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

Psalms 42:11 (NRSV)

The feeling of disconnect we may feel from God is just that, a feeling, and it is temporary. The connection with God through Jesus is a fact, and is permanent.

Jesus teaches us to remember the facts as we begin to pray, praying “Father in heaven.” Let us remember the amazing intimacy we can have with an amazing God, thanks to his amazing grace.


Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor. This reflection comes from the “online worship expression” which has replaced regular church services where he ministers due to COVID-19 precautions.

October 9, 2019

As Often as Fear Knocks, The Lord is Near

Today we’re back again at The Serener Bright, and writer Ian Graham. Click the title below to read this at source where Ian posts periodically through the Psalms.

Psalm 34: Weathered Hope

Psalm 34 is the testimony of a weathered, God-facing life. Its fine-wine wisdom, aged and oaken, each note bearing witness to years, disappointments, but ultimately the triumph of a long and loving obedience in the same direction. David begins with his resolution:

I will bless the Lord at all times (v. 3).

This seems like the naive proclamations of over-eager youth. But as we will see, this promise has gray hair and experience. This is not a decision that has been made in a fleeting moment but the accumulated awareness of what it means to live life looking to God with radiant, expectant, unashamed eyes (v. 5). This proclamation is not a conversation that David began, it’s an answering word, a response to steadfast and unfailing love, of a man who knows that God not only can save him but also actually enjoys being in his company.

David then recounts his past:

I sought the Lord and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears (v. 4).

David’s not recalling one isolated incident. Think of how fear works. It labors endlessly, it’s never far and its work is never done. But David is here to tell us, as often as the fear comes knocking, as often as the pain of this world shows up with its very real terror and its false gospel of doom and despair, the Lord is always near to the brokenhearted (v. 17). When your spirit is crushed under the agony of anxiety, even if all you can muster is a faint groan, a longing too deep for words and too broken for articulation, the Lord will answer your cry (v. 17).

David doesn’t discount the reality of the fears that faces us. Many of them are venomous, injecting the most bitter poisons of loss, bitterness, and disillusionment. But what he suggests is that those fears are real in the same way a black hole is real. In black holes, gravity accelerates at such a pace that no particles or light can escape. Fear does this too. It traps us in its vortex of nothingness.

But what David proclaims is Gospel. Salvation. God is present even in the places where nothing escapes, he can hear our cry because he is not beyond the black hole of despair, he is right there with us.

David then teaches us a “holy fear” a fear with actual weight to it: the fear of the Lord. The first invitation David offers is simply a practice of the presence of God. “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (v. 8). Like any good thing we taste, it perpetuates a longing for more. Fear of the Lord is not a fear that alienates us from God, it aligns us with the rhythms of grace. David then shows us more by offering his second invitation, “Depart from evil, do good, seek peace and pursue it” (v. 14). Fear of the Lord is being remade again in his image, excavating the goodness of the architecture of our world, turning from the ways of figs and leaves, of shame and fear, to the abundance of shalom. David says, here, in this way is life. And I know because I’ve seen it all.

Finally, David offers one stern warning and one resounding promise. As David writes, “Evil brings death to the wicked, and those who hate righteousness will be condemned.” It’s not that God is up in some far-off heaven with his eternal ledger—as we’ve already seen he’s near to the brokenhearted. God is life. His ways are the only way to sustain life. Any way opposed to his is to choose death. Any other way than God’s way folds in on itself. But for those who serve the Lord, who seek his face, and take refuge in his grace, the Lord will redeem your life, there is no condemnation (v.22)

The apostle Paul will later pick up on this echo in his letter to the Romans. In Romans 8, he will write, “Now there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 8:1) and “nothing that can ever separate us from his love.” (Rom. 8vv38-39).

Yes hardship, pain, fear, loss, and ultimately death will come to us all in this life. But David stands as a docent in the museum of grace: in every circumstance, even at our darkest hour, the Lord hears and he rescues (v. 17). Selah.

April 7, 2019

Set Free By Worship

Today we’re back with Ronnie Dauber who is a Christian author who lives in Canada with her family. She has written several young adult novels and Inspirational books. Click the header below to read this one at source.

Worship Breaks the Shackles

As exciting as worship can be on Sunday mornings at church, it should never be limited to just Sunday. It should be part of our daily lifestyle that bursts forth because the heart can’t stop singing praises to God. We need to worship continuously because it’s the fuel that keeps us going. As it says in Psalm 22:3, God dwells in the center of our praises, and when we worship God, His presence breaks all the shackles that bind us.

When we only worship God once a week, that is the only time we spend with God to give Him thanks for all He’s done for us, and one hour just isn’t enough time. If we could see all that He’s done to keep us alive and healthy, most of us would fall on our faces and worship Him around the clock. We have so much to be thankful to God for, and it all begins with our salvation. God sent His own Son to come to earth and die on that gruesome cross for our sins. We need to close our eyes and imagine what it was like for Jesus to be beaten and nailed to that cross for you and for me. Then maybe we can get a glimpse of the love that He has for us.

  • But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.—Psalm 13:5

When we worship, the bonds of evil literally break and the evil one flees from us. This is because worship brings God’s presence, and as it says in James 4:7, when we resist the devil—which means we don’t focus on him or the problem he’s brought to us but instead, we focus on God—then that evil one flees from us as fast as he can. So we come to God in worship because with the enemy gone from us, we are free to receive God’s peace and whatever instruction or words God has for us.

We don’t praise God for the problem, nor do we thank Him for giving it to us, but rather, we praise God that He is greater than our problem. As we seek His presence, we ask God if He has allowed this for a particular reason, and if so, to reveal that reason to us. We praise Him for loving us and for saving us, and we praise Him for hearing and answering our prayers. We praise Him for the joy and freedom of being able to praise Him. Then we praise Him again.

  • To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.—Psalm 30:12

We should make time each day to focus on God and praise Him for His goodness and His mercy towards us, for all the blessings in our life, and for our family and friends. It’s good to have a designated time to worship God but this is more for our own sake so that we don’t “forget” to do it. But God is loving and merciful, and He understands the life we live and how it’s not always possible to do the things we set out to do at the time we plan to do them. So we can get around that issue by coming to worship any time during the day or night. It doesn’t really matter, as long as we spend time in worship.

Even so, we can worship God all day long in everything we do. When we eat our meal, we give thanks and praise to God. When we arrive at work safely, we thank God for His hand of protection. When we see someone in need, we help them and pray for them and give God praise for hearing and answering our prayers. When we see a beautiful rose in a garden, we can rejoice in our heart and praise God for His wonderful creation. As believers, we should have our thoughts and mind always directed towards God so that throughout the day we are rejoicing in our heart and praising God.  We don’t need to shout it out for God to hear us. He sees our heart and He knows that we are worshiping Him in Spirit and in truth, and that it’s personal and not done for show. There is no end to praising God throughout the day because He is literally in everything we see!

  • But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.  God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”—John 4:23-24

However, there are times when we can’t just stop everything and worship God, but it’s during these times that we especially should worship Him and bring in His presence. We can overcome this, though, by having worship music always playing in the background of our home and car.  The music fills the air with God’s praises so even the stresses we sense are stifled because of the peace that flows from it. It’s good to have worship music playing in the background throughout the day (and night) so that the peace of God is always present, and so that we can be steadily reminded of His love for us.

Most of us can’t listen to music at work but we can listen to it before and after so that we are steadily refilled with God’s peace and joy. The stresses of the world fall off when our spirit is renewed with praise music. Let’s resist the devil! Let’s fill our heart with the peace of God as often as we can so that when we go to bed at night, we know that even though we had jobs to do during the day, we were able to praise God in everything we did. Life is so much better when we celebrate the joy of the Lord whenever we can and let His peace flow through us so that bonds of shackles fall away.

  • But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You; Let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them; Let those also who love Your name Be joyful in You.—Psalm 5:11

 


This message was taken from the soon to be released book, The ABC’s for Believers. This book is a devotional that will encourage believers to know God and His amazing love for them. It’s easy to read and understand and will help young and new believers alike to understand what it means to love and follow Jesus and know Him in a very personal way.

July 24, 2017

Mystery: God’s Transcendence and God’s Friendship

Last year at this time we quoted Gary Henry at WordPoints as part of a longer article. Today we’re back with two recent posts from his site which show two sides of God: That he is wholly other (transcendence) and can also be our friend (immanence).  Click the titles of each to read at source and then take some time to look around the rest of the site.

Awed by God’s Grandeur

“How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!” (Genesis 28:17).

ON SOME LEVEL, EVERY HUMAN BEING CAN UNDERSTAND THE AMAZEMENT OF JACOB WHEN HE REALIZED WHAT HE WAS SEEING

As he slept that night at Bethel, fleeing from his brother’s wrath and with a stone as his pillow, he dreamed of “a ladder [that] was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it” (Genesis 28:12). Above the ladder was God Himself, who spoke to Jacob words of promise and hope. And having grasped this portion of God’s greatness, Jacob was a man changed for the better.

Like Jacob, we need to contemplate the majesty of God and the marvel of His communication with His creation. Nothing is more healthy for us spiritually than to be struck by the wonderful lightning of God’s grandeur. It is a truly transforming experience.

It was Immanuel Kant who said, “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing wonder and awe — the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” The connection between these two sources of wonder is more than coincidental. We can’t give serious consideration to God’s greatness without being appalled by the huge chasm between His perfection and our imperfection. To be awed by God’s grandeur is to be moved to turn away from anything inconsistent with His glory. Thus for fallen creatures like us, there must always be strong elements of humility and repentance in worship. “Repentance is the process by which we see ourselves, day by day, as we really are: sinful, needy, dependent people. It is the process by which we see God as he is: awesome, majestic, and holy” (Charles Colson). For us, godly sorrow should be a quite natural part of our reverence.

God’s grandeur . . . our need . . . unutterable awe. These things are the very heartbeat of religion. If we really live in God, we’ll lose ourselves in wonder before Him.

For worship is a thirsty land crying out for rain,
It is a candle in the act of being kindled,
It is a drop in quest of the ocean, . . .
It is a voice in the night calling for help,
It is a soul standing in awe before the mystery of the universe, . . .
It is time flowing into eternity, . . .
[It is] a man climbing the altar stairs to God.
(Dwight Bradley)

What Good Is God’s Friendship?

“Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8).

COULD WE POSSIBLY PUT A PRICE TAG ON GOD’S FRIENDSHIP?

Even among all the good things that are available to us, is there anything that a wise person wouldn’t give up in order to have God? The privilege of knowing God through Christ so far surpasses the value of everything else that Paul said he would gladly “count all things loss” in order to have this one thing.

God’s friendship is good not because it “pays” us to be His friend, but simply because of God Himself. Whatever blessings may flow from God (and there are many indeed), these are only secondary benefits or by-products of our friendship with Him. If such things ever take center stage and become our primary motivation, they cease to be good things and become idols. Nothing must be allowed to take the place of God in our hearts, not even God’s own gifts to us. To have God alone is to have wealth untold, and to be without Him is the very definition of poverty.

But although God’s friendship surpasses the worth of anything else in existence, we not only fail to value it as we should, but there are times when we go so far as to trade it away. Faced with a choice between God’s friendship and that of our worldly peers, we often seek the favor of our peers by doing things that greatly damage our relationship with God. Maybe we suppose that we can have it both ways, or maybe we’re just being thoughtless. But in any case, we’re being quite foolish when we try to maintain equal measures of God’s friendship and the friendship of the world. James put it bluntly: “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).

“Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,’ says the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:23,24).

“We regard falling from God’s friendship as the only thing dreadful and we consider becoming God’s friend the only thing worthy of honor and desire” (Gregory of Nyssa).