Recently, I was surprised by the story of Cornelius in Acts 10. The angel appeared to him in a vision and said, “Your prayers and charitable gifts have ascended as a memorial offering before God” (Acts 10:4 NASB).
The imagery reminded me of when God gave instructions about the tabernacle to the Israelites in the wilderness. “And when Aaron sets up the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense. There shall be perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations” (Exodus 30:8 NASB). Then, in Revelation, “the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people” (5:8; also see 8:3–4). Continue reading Beautiful, Perpetual Incense→
As a boy, I picked raspberries for several summers. Whenever I had filled a flat with fruit, the farmer would weigh it on a balance scale to discern two truths: the truth of how much I had picked and the truth that I had not hidden rocks or dirt clods under the berries. The pointer or tongue of the scale pointed out the truth of my berries’ mass. In Latin, the tongue on a scale is its examen. Continue reading Examine the Day→
At the time of this writing (started on Jan. 7) the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Iraq by the U.S. has led to serious tensions among these three countries in particular and stress felt by more of the world. It’s a time for prayer and actions toward peace. Continue reading Iran, a Time for Prayer and Actions toward Peace→
Though we just might think that the righteous win, if we keep the rules and we do not sin, the plain truth is that the best man died even though he prayed, he pleaded, and cried, “Father let this pass help me end this pain.” But the silence stayed and the curse remained. In the garden bound, by the high priest tried, he was kissed, betrayed, left alone, denied. Continue reading In the Stillness→
Prayer has always been a mystery to me. I think it was a mystery to the early disciples as well because they seemed baffled by prayer in Luke 11:1 and said “Lord, teach us to pray.” They recognized that when Jesus prayed it was rich and personal and intimate—unlike the religious leaders of their day. It is no wonder that they tracked Jesus down and asked him to be their mentor when it came to prayer.
Were People Shocked, Offended?
The first phrase in the Lord’s Prayer is “Our Father.” Rather than addressing Him as some far-off deity, Jesus addresses him as His Daddy or Father. I wonder how much that must have shocked those sitting in the crowd that day? I wonder if the religious people got offended that God would be addressed so personally and casually?
The second phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, “which art in heaven,” talks about the location or address of God. In other words, God’s oval office is in heaven; that is where He resides and where He does His business. When we remember our position in Him, we can enter His presence with confidence. Colossians 1 says that although Christ is in heaven, He is also in us by His Spirit!
He lives in heaven and yet He lives in us. What a mystery! He alone is master of being in two places at once and yet, interestingly enough, we too live in two places at once: we are on earth and yet we are seated with Him right now in heavenly places.
The phrase I want to tackle today, that follows “Our Father, which art in heaven,” is this one: “Hallowed be thy name.” I took the time to look up the word hallowed, since it is not a word we tend to use today. Webster says that hallowed means “to honor as holy, to make holy, to revere and respect.”
Holy Represents God’s Character
Jesus is describing the Father’s name as holy. What does that mean? A person’s name in the Bible represents who that person is, their character. So what Jesus is saying here is that the Father is holy through and through. That is who He is.
Not only is the Father set apart by being in heaven, His personality and His entire being is holy. Reputation is what others say about us, but character is who we are. God’s character is holy, that is who He is. Sometimes we have a good name with some people and a bad name with others at the same time. The Father, on the other hand, always has a good name for His name is always holy.
God is Not Just a Buddy!
We tend to live in a Christian culture where the attribute that is most often given to God is that He is a God of love. Rarely do we hear about the fact that our God is holy. We can relate to love. We feel comfortable with love. This can lead to us thinking of God as just a friend or a buddy, but God is far more than that. Holiness is something that we tend to be uncomfortable with, and yet it is because God is holy that He stands apart and is worthy of our worship and our reverence. It is because He is holy that we should fear God, and fearing God always leads to obedience.
Did you know that there is only one attribute of God that is repeated three times in a row in both the Old Testament and in the New Testament? It is known that if something is repeated twice in a row in Scripture that the author is trying to make a point that he doesn’t want you to forget, but when something is repeated three times you know that it is something you should never forget. So what attribute is repeated not twice, but three times in two different places in the Bible? The three words are “Holy, Holy, Holy!” (Rev. 4:8, Isaiah 6:3).
Because He is Holy, We Can Trust Him
Why, of all the different ways to describe God the Father, would Jesus address His Father as holy? I think it is because Jesus knew something about holiness that we have either never known or have forgotten about over time. You see, it is because God is holy that we can trust God. God is not just love; He is holy. Therefore, His love is a holy love. That’s what makes His love so different than human love. Man’s love is imperfect, but God’s love is not—because He is holy.
Not Just a Prayer to Memorize
Jesus did not give these words to the disciples as just another prayer to memorize. Earlier in Matthew 6:5-8 Jesus railed against simply repeating religious sounding words to impress both man and God. It is rather ironic that many people have learned the Lord’s Prayer by memory. It is common to say this prayer in many churches; and what often happens is as they corporately say the words they once again fall into saying words that have no meaning.
I think that is what happens when we forget that the words Jesus uses here are to instruct us how to pray, not necessarily what to pray. Prayer is God the Father and us, His children, communicating. It is not about getting what we want, but about getting God.
May You, Jesus, Be Holy in Me!
Lord Jesus, hallowed (holy) be your name. In other words, may you be holy in both my personal and public life this day. I want to be more aware of what you say about me and think about me than what my friends think or say. May you be holy in me so that I am more concerned about my character than about my reputation. Amen.
Ron Thiessen is “married to my best friend Rita,” and they are blessed with three adult kids: Kendra, Jayden, and Myron. He is the pastor of Community Bible Fellowship in Swan River, Man.
Editor’s Note: There will be a series on the Lord’s Prayer in 2019. This follows the Apostles’ Creed (2016), the Protestant (Radical) Reformation (2017), and the Mental Health Initiative (2018), whose articles are, or soon will be, available online in booklet form.
The Lord’s Prayer 2019
by Dr. Arden Thiessen
I once made a bad mistake. I had concluded a committal service at the cemetery by inviting the group to say the Lord’s Prayer with me. Later, at the church reception a total stranger approached me in anger. “You treated my God with contempt,” he shouted. “You said, ‘Our Father which art in heaven.’ ‘Which’ implies God is a thing. That’s terrible; you insulted God.” He was furious.
I was so taken aback that I could not even explain why I had done it. I just apologized for my bad language. After he turned away I realized what had happened. I had recited the King James version as I had once memorized it and as I had used it for decades. I still use the Prayer when I lead committal services. But I’ve left the language of 1611.
We speak about reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Or about saying it. Such expressions have a liturgical feel about them. Let’s just pray the prayer from the heart. It should seem like a conversation. However, prayer seems like a mystery; the longer I toil at it the more mysterious it seems.
Maybe that should not surprise us. Even the Apostle Paul, who understood many things far better than I do, says simply, “We don’t know how to pray as we ought” (Rom. 8:26). So, while I may not understand it either, I will try to say a few sensible things about it.
I am puzzled. The first line of Jesus’ prayer sounds as if the prayer is intended to be used in the assembly of believers. “Our” implies the prayer will spoken by a group. However, the context shows that Jesus was not thinking of group prayer here (He did that in Matt. 18). Here he says if someone wants to pray they are to go to their room, shut the door, and then pray (Matt. 6:6). This sounds like personal, private prayer.
Jesus used the term “Our Father” only this once. Normally, when he taught his disciples, he spoke of “Your Father.” (The concept that Jesus and his followers have the same Father is, however, taught in Hebrews 2:11-12. When we allow ourselves to be sanctified by Jesus we become his brothers and sisters.)
I have thought that Jesus meant that he and we have the same Father. Like, “When you speak to the Father you are also speaking to my Father.” Helmut Thielicke has a significant addition to that. He suggests Jesus taught us to pray “Our Father” because we are to remind ourselves that Jesus is with us when we pray. “Our” refers to Jesus and me.
In prayer we stand beside Jesus and tell the Father what we need; in other words, Jesus and I are together on this. This is another way of reminding ourselves of the same truth that we verbalize when we conclude our prayers with “In Jesus’ name” (Matt. 18:19, 20; John 15:16). By reminding ourselves that we are onside with Jesus, that we are praying with him, that we are praying for that which we can request in Jesus’ name, we are reminding ourselves that it is important that we pray for that which agrees with Jesus’ will.
Jesus was the messenger of the Holy Trinity who came to us in the far country of earth to seek us and reconnect us to the Triune God in heaven. Among other things he wants to be with us in our praying. If we could remember this, our prayers would likely seem more valid and more essential in heaven. It might also destroy our self-centred, narcissistic focus on ourselves. That would likely be seen in heaven as a healthy and wholesome change. And maybe we could even learn to enjoy the liberty of being more interested in Jesus’ concerns than in ours.
Father, a New Concept?
I’ve heard it said that Jesus introduced a new God concept when he spoke of “Father.” That hardly agrees with the evidence. First of all, God himself assumed the role of father when he declared, “Israel is my firstborn son” (Ex. 4:22, 23). The Lord assured King David about the son who would succeed him, “I will be a father to him and he shall be a son to me” (2 Sam. 7:14). The Lord in his compassion is compared to a kind father (Psalm 103:13). Isaiah uses the “Father” term three times (Isa. 63:16; 64:8). What Jesus does is that he takes a concept that had been only sparingly used in the Old Testament and makes it central for the lives of his people.
Jesus is not only teaching his disciples how to pray, he is showing them how to think of God. In Israel’s history it was a momentous day when Moses heard that the God with the generic Semitic title of Elohim was for them the God with the personal name Yahweh. Now Jesus takes the revelation of who God is one step further. Not only is God personal, he is like a father.
God is There for Us
Like a good father, God is there for us before we pray. He has far deeper and more informed interests in our lives than we ourselves have. It may seem as if God is not hearing our prayers; but like a good father he may be waiting to give us what we need instead of what we desire.
Like a good father he knows our needs before we report them to him (Matt. 6:8). Why then pray if God already knows more than we ourselves know? Because God wants us to grow into a relationship with him. Good relationships require intelligent verbal interaction. That is true of the spousal relationship, of the parent-child relationship, of the members on a hockey team, and of the corporate board. It is especially true of our relationship with God.
It starts by turning to him and speaking out, “Our Father.” With that we treat him as a personal God. And the greatest blessing of the prayer life is not that we get a few things for free, without our toil, but that we sense we’ve been in fellowship, we’ve been in the presence of our Father. When people stop talking with God they may still do some theologizing, but they are then only talking about God.
I understand Roman people would pray to “Father Jupiter,” and Greeks would turn to “Father Zeus” in prayer. Jesus’ followers are to pray to the Father who is in heaven. This is where the mystery of which I spoke above reaches its depth. How is it possible that we people of earth can with our words, even just with our thoughts, connect with God in his eternal, spiritual dimension?
The mysteries of heaven continue to confound me. Where is it? What is it? How can the God of heaven, who is Spirit, influence affairs in our kingdom of sticks and stones and flesh and bones? I wonder, and I keep on praying.
And now a concluding thought for your reflection. I suggest that if every one of the seven billion people on earth would pray to God simultaneously, God would pay fatherly attention to each one of them. That’s how it works in heaven!
Arden Thiessen, DMin, has long served our conference as a pastor, Bible college professor, EMC moderator, and author. He and his wife Helen live in Steinbach, Man., and are part of Steinbach EMC.
PARAGUAY Often when we send in prayer requests we concentrate on the negative or all the things we’d like God to change in people or certain situations, and then rarely share the results of answered prayer. However, I’d like to make a list of positive things that we see happening here in our church plant.
Two men made a decision to follow the Lord in my last Bible study with the women. They have both agreed to join the women in a discipleship study.
A couple who went through the marriage course finally decided to go through with their marriage. After the wedding they plan to be baptized.
Two couples started the SEAN TEE course and have experienced God’s work in their lives. We have seen changes in the attitudes of one couple who now arrives early for Sunday services and attends other services more regularly. The other couple is experiencing new trials in their work and family that seem to point to the Lord doing a refining work in their lives.
We are seeing a rising up of the youth in our church. One young man got baptized not long ago and others are showing more interest in the things of the Lord after having the opportunity for the first time in their lives to attend youth camp.
The over-all attendance in our church services seems to be up somewhat, although it varies depending on the weather, holidays, work schedules, and health issues.
We are “expanding” our church facilities by adding a roofed area with a cement floor in the back of our church lot. This will help give shade and protection from rain when we divide for Sunday School as well as when we have special activities like weddings, VBS, and Easter and Christmas programs.
We are seeing a gradual improvement in the participation of our members in the activities of the church (teaching Sunday School, involvement in VBS, sharing and praying, regular attendance in weekly services).
Personally, my health issues have regulated themselves after my post-op depression and other minor physical complications.
In recent weeks we have had the opportunity to share the gospel with various new contacts. The Lord is gradually bringing more people to us to get to know and draw to Himself.
Sometimes we get so caught up in the daily business of life and one crisis after another that we forget to look at the big picture and see how God has been working slowly but surely to grow his kingdom before our very eyes. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches” (Matt. 13:32-32).
As we continue to sow the seed of God’s Word, we trust that God is causing it to fall on fertile ground, bear fruit and grow so that the whole community of Guavira Poty will not only see the power of God in the lives of those who accept and follow him, but also experience an overflow of that power and goodness into their own homes, and give glory to God.
Joanne Martens (Kola) serves in Guavira Poty, a neighbourhood in Minga Gauzú, a city in Paraguay located near its border with Brazil.
“Not bad, but since February I’ve been running like a chicken with its head cut off. Crazy busy.”
Why do we keep reminding everyone about how busy we are? We inform whoever will listen that we are busy. Why? Of course this is mostly done in a tone of complaint, as though this busyness was inflicted on us by some bad fate.
But let’s be honest, telling someone you’re busy is like complaining about how terribly much income tax you pay. I challenge you to tell a few people you respect that you are not busy and how much you enjoy all the free time you have. For many of us, that would feel like a confession of sin—we are clearly failing to be important, trustworthy people.
We tell ourselves that we are busier than people used to be. I doubt it.
My grandfather had stuff to do when he rolled out at dawn and he did it until he lay down at night. All day long he did things: eat, work, go to town for the mail, go to brotherhood meeting, back to sleep again. Next day, repeat. He was hardworking, though he did not remind everyone that he had continuously been involved in human activity since he woke up that morning. Today we would call him busy-busy.
Perhaps we would all be happier if we just accepted the fact that life will be full and that there is nothing wrong with that. It’s okay. Humans are creatures who do stuff all day. It’s a sign that we were born onto a path and that we must go somewhere in this sojourn.
We are not created to stand in one place. We have not been wronged if life is full, nor have we been elevated as especially important people. Life takes all our time, and part of accepting our creaturelyness is learning to quit marvelling at how all day long we have things to do.
I worry, though, about that word “busy.” It sounds different than “hard-working.” To call our full slate of activities “being busy” suggests we see little meaning in our work. A man digging holes and shoveling them shut all day would tell you he is crazy busy.
Is that how we think of our jobs, schoolwork, eating, serving in church, or bathing the baby? Maybe the real problem is that we have lost the experience of working before God, and so everything becomes mere busy-work, somehow secular.
Perhaps rather than angling for some idyllic spa-like existence of rest and leisure, what I need to do is pray while I work: Pray about my work, pray in my work, and pray through my work. If my work is something I do alongside God the Divine Worker, maybe I could stop being a busy person and start being a regular ol’ hard-working guy. Life with God will take my last breath and my last bit of strength. Being workers is a good sign that we are created by a Worker.
May you have the strength to work hard and accept your lot as a human. May you give up the need to remind others of your busyness. May you “work heartily, as unto the Lord” (Col. 3:23 ASV). Those who work heartily must also sleep as unto the Lord.
A publication of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference