Friday, October 30, 2009

Our Daily Bread

What does "Give us today our daily bread" mean? It means that we are asking God to take care of all our physical needs. The Bible teaches us that God not only created all things but provides for their needs as well.
All look to you to give them their food at the proper time.
When you give it to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. (Psalm 104:27-28)

The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time.
You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. (Psalm 145:15-16)

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:25-34)

We pray for God to supply our daily needs so that we come to know that he is the only source of everything that is good.
[God] has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy. (Act 14:17)

[God] himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. (Act 17:25)

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)

If God is going to give us all these things, why do we need to pray for them? Because by praying we realize that neither our work or worry nor God's gifts can do us any good without his blessing.
He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:3)

Better the little that the righteous have
than the wealth of many wicked; (Psalm 37:16)

Unless the LORD builds the house,
its builders labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchmen stand guard in vain.
In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves. (Psalm 127:1-2)

Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

By praying to God for our daily provision we are showing our dependence upon him for our every need. We need his help to give up our trust in creatures and to put our trust in him alone.
Cast your cares on the LORD
and he will sustain you;
he will never let the righteous fall. (Psalm 55:22)

This is what the LORD says:
"Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who depends on flesh for his strength
and whose heart turns away from the LORD.
He will be like a bush in the wastelands;
he will not see prosperity when it comes.
He will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.
But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose confidence is in him.
He will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit." (Jeremiah 17:5-8)

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
"Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you."
So we say with confidence,
"The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?" (Hebrews 13:5-6)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thy Will Be Done

It is striking to me that the prayer Jesus taught his disciples focuses chiefly on God and not us. The first three petitions concern God: his name, his kingdom, his will. This is in sharp contrast with the way I normally pray--too often my prayers are self-centered and egotistical. A failure to give God the glory due him and seek our own glory (be our own God) is at the heart of our sin-marred lives. This petition is meant to bring us to a place of surrender--to pray as Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, "Not my will, but yours be done."

But how are we to determine God's will? Some say that the will of God can be discerned through impressions on the mind or emotions. This usually leads to thought about God's will in terms of what best pleases us. Others think they have a direct line of communication with God that enables them to speak with confidence about knowing the will of God concerning some matter. Others read into unusual events the voice of God directing them in one way or another. Others seek to block out all the noise by making their minds 'blank' so that God can fill them. Does God intend to guide us through these subjective means--through a variety of impressions, urges, dreams and promptings of intuition?

We have been taught the Scripture is our only rule for faith and practice. The Bible is to be our guide. The apostle Paul put it this way: "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17). God gave us his Word to instruct, convince, heal and equip us so that we might live the life he intends. Scripture instructs us concerning God's will: Scripture read, Scripture preached, Scripture interpreted, Scripture applied, Scripture hidden in our hearts, Scripture lived out in our lives.

But is the Bible really relevant to our lives in the 21st century? The truth is that there isn't an aspect of our lives that doesn't fall under the scope of what the Bible teaches. God's will is to be discerned from the Scriptures, either expressly or by inference. The Bible may not tell you which pair of shoes to by, or who to marry, or whether to be a lawyer or a linebacker. But the Bible does give us principles by which to make these decisions. We are to use our common sense, seek the advice of others, and heed to voice of conscience. The subjective nudges that we sense are no more than a conscience which has been trained by Scripture to recognize God's way as opposed to the world's way. "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it'" (Isaiah 30:21).

Derek Thomas in Praying the Saviour's Way writes that discovering God's will involves four things:
1. Asking what most glorifies God in any particular action and always choosing the best.

2. Studying Scripture to see what it has to say, either directly or by good and necessary consequence.

3. Using our minds and rational faculties: that is, employing the maxim of Psalm 32: 'I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you' (vv. 8-9). Too many errors come at this very point.

4. Only having done these three things first should we ask what 'burdens' God may have placed on our hearts, or what providence may have 'cornered' us into allowing no room but to go in a certain direction.

Going back to the Lord's prayer, we must be ready to give up our will and yield to God's. We must be prepared to discover that God's will may be the opposite of what we desire. We will never go wrong when we pray for what God has promised.

He promised his presence ("I am with you always..."). He promised to accept those who come to him ("those who come to me I will in no wise cast out"). He promised comfort to those who come to him in need ("as one who is comforted by his mother, so will I comfort you"). He promised mercy and pardon for those who call on him ("I have blotted out your transgression and your sins: return to me"). He promised safety to the righteous ("No evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague will come near your tent"). He promised protection ("He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways"). He promised strength ("they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength"). He promised wisdom ("He gives wisdom to the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding"). He promised eternal life ("this is the promise that he promised us, even eternal life").
All of these promises (and more) are granted through Jesus. "For all the promises of God in him are yes, and in him Amen, to the glory of God by us" (2 Corinthians 1:20).

Submitting to the will of God is always difficult. Taking up our cross and denying ourselves is never easy. Doing the will of God is often a process of submission that takes some time. We must deal with the intrusion of our sinful responses to God's will: stubbornness, distrustfulness, anger and resentment, all of which make the process even more difficult. The will of God for our lives is hardly ever revealed in full at any one time. God give us sight of only so much of his will as we are able to take in at the time. The issue is whether we are willing to submit and obey the will of God that has become clear to us. That is the point of the prayer: "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Parable

There was a splendid fishing trawler docked at a seaport near some of the world’s richest fishing grounds. The large boat was well equipped with everything necessary for netting, landing, and preserving fish. On a regular basis, the officers and crew gathered for instruction in fishing theory. Afterwards they discussed with zeal and intelligence the various approaches to fishing. Sometimes they invited professors from the marine biology academy nearby to offer special lectures. Some maintained that the only way to fish was to anchor and pray that the Lord would send the fish into the nets. Few of these men attended the prayer meetings called for this purpose. Several argued for friendship fishing, noting that fish are easily frightened. Others held to the position that it is best to seek out the young ones, otherwise they will soon swim away into the deep.

In the meantime, day after day the other fishing boats went out early in the morning and returned at evening loaded with fish. The officers and crew often analyzed the catches of the other boats. “Mostly culls, easy catches of surface fish,” they said. “Their boats are not as sound as ours. Their nets leak and their engines are net kept up. Their refrigeration systems are bad, so that what they catch they can never keep long enough to get it to the cannery.”

Yet the trawler remained tied to the dock with heavy lines. The engines never roared into life.

One day, a young crewmember was called before the captain and the crew. He had been critical of the continuing education program and very frustrated by the ship’s inactivity. “Why do we always sit here tied to the dock? Why do we study fishing theory without going out into the deep? Why do we watch others fish and never fish ourselves? I know other ships are not as well equipped as ours, but isn’t what they do imperfectly better than what we don’t do at all?”

Some wanted to fire the young man right on the spot. Others argued caution. A committee was selected to study the matter. That was five years ago.

(Source: Letter from Ray Cortese)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Lunch with Charlie

Heather and I recently took a quick trip to NY. We saw a lot of the city in just a couple of days, but one of the highlights was meeting Charlie Drew for lunch. Charlie is pastor of Emmanuel Presbyterian Church near Columbia University. I highly recommend Charlie's book A Journey Worth Taking: Finding Your Purpose in This World. It presents a comprehensive and clear Christian perspective on life calling--a great book to give to college student or read yourself!

Thy Kingdom Come

The second petition of the Lord's prayer, "Thy kingdom come," encapsulates the entire purpose of God in the world. Why did Jesus come into the world? What is the relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament? What is the function and role of the church in God's redemptive plan? What is God doing in the world today? All of these questions revolve around the kingdom of God. It has been said that this petition is at the heart of the message of the Bible.

Derek Thomas in Praying the Saviour's Way, gives the following explanation of "Thy kingdom come":
First, this petition alludes to the sovereign rule of God as King over the entire universe. The Lord who merely speaks all things into existence at the creation is King. His word is authoritative and powerful.

Second, this petition alludes to the covenantal rule of God over his people... On every page of the Old Testament there is the expectation that God is working out a plan and purpose in which he is gathering a people to himself and over which he intends to exercise his rule...The church of the New Testament is the gathered people, the seed of Abraham: 'If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise' (Gal. 3:29).

Third, this petition alludes to God's intention to overthrow all of Satan's pretension to power...'The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work' (1 John 3:8). 'And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross' (Colossians 2:15).

Fourth, this petition alludes to the as yet incomplete nature of the kingdom of God. We live as the time between the two great advents of Christ. The Incarnation is past; the Second Coming is future. The kingdom of Christ has come and the kingdom of God is yet to come! There is 'now,' but there is also a 'not yet'...The decisive battle has been won, but the ultimate victory celebration must await the final triumph of Christ in the establishment of the new heavens and new earth...In personal terms, this means that although the decisive change has taken place in our regeneration and union with Christ (we are not, nor can ever be, what we once were), the change is incomplete. We are sinners still, and hence we feel the pull of sin that would (if it could) drag us down so as to deny Christ entirely. We wrestle, then, against the world, the flesh and devil and cry out for deliverance.

Praying this petition of the Lord's Prayer, then, has in view the ultimate triumph of Christ in the gathering of the church, as well as the visible defeat of Satan in our own lives as we struggle with ongoing sin. Every victory against sin and Satan is an advancement for the kingdom of God.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Telescope Magnification and Microscope Magnification

The fist petition of the Lord's Prayer is "Hallowed by thy name." What does "hallowed" mean? We don't use the word that often. Does it have something to do with Halloween? Actually, both words have hallow (from the Old English word halgian) as their root, meaning "to regard as holy." So how do we regard God's name as holy? One translation puts it, "May your name be honored" (NLT). Eugene Peterson's The Message reads, "Reveal who you are." In English, the verb form of holy is sanctify, meaning "to set apart." Peter says, "Set apart Christ as Lord" (1 Peter 3:15). We are to revere God--to exalt him above everything (and everyone) else.

But how can we sanctify God? Can we make him more holy and majestic than he is? John Piper's distinction between telescope magnification and microscope magnification is helpful here.
There's telescope magnification and microscope magnification, and it's blasphemy to magnify God like a microscope. To magnifiy God like a microscope is to take something tiny and make it look bigger than it is. If you try to do that to God you blaspheme. But a telescope puts its lense on unimaginable expanses of greatness and tries to just help them look like what they are. That's what a telescope is for.
When we pray "Hallowed be Thy name" it is not that God is made more holy than he is, but that he is more holy than we have imagined him to be. We are to pray that he will be more glorious, more beautiful, more wonderful, more magnified in our eyes.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Our Father

How are we to pray? Jesus taught his disciples the Lord's Prayer (or perhaps better the Disciple's Prayer, because Jesus did not pray the Lord's Prayer himself--the petition for forgiveness would not have applied to him since he was without sin).

When we use this prayer as a pattern for our own, we begin by addressing God, 'Our Father in heaven' (Matt. 6:9). This is how Jesus constantly addressed God, and how because of Jesus we can address him too. The beloved Apostle John tells us how it is possible that we can call God our Father: "To all who did receive [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12). But do we recognize the significance of being able to address God this way? John later writes in astonishment, "See (Behold!) what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are!" (1 John 3:1).
J. I. Packer, in Knowing God, wrote:
You sum up the whole of the New Testament teaching in a single phrase, if you speak of it as a revelation of the Fatherhood of the holy Creator.
Sinclair Ferguson, in Children of the Living God, wrote:
You cannot open the pages of the New Testament without realizing that one of the things that makes it so "new," in every way, is that here men and women call God "Father."
Derek Thomas wrote in Praying the Saviour's Way:
To be able to call God, 'Father,' is what the message of the New Testament is principally about...The Fatherhood of God, or its corollary, our sonship or adoption, is the very heartbeat of the new covenant.
So Christ commanded us to call God "our Father." Why did he do so?
The Heidelberg Catechism answers the question this way:
At the very beginning of our prayer Christ wants to kindle in us what is basic to our prayer--the childlike awe and trust that God through Christ has become our Father. Our fathers do not refuse us the things of this life; God our Father will even less refuse to give us what we ask in faith.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Praying the Savior's Way

I am amazed at the sheer selfishness of much of my praying (when I actually get around to praying!). Far too often, I rush into asking God for things or asking for God's help to do this or that, without first being amazed that I can address God at all!

Making prayer about what God can do for me--my wants and needs, my anxieties and cares, my agendas and to-do lists--reveals that I am once again putting myself at the very center of things. The Bible calls this idolatry. Calvin wrote in his Institutes of the Christian Religion that man's heart is a perpetual factory of idols. The idols of my heart often reveal themselves in my spoken and unspoken prayers.

Derek Thomas in his helpful book on the Lord's Prayer called Praying the Saviour's Way gives some penetrating questions to analyze our prayers.
Are they worshipful?
Are they God-centered?
Are they focused on the kingdom of God?
Are they humble and not presumptive?
Do they reveal an increasing sense of our sinfulness?
Is their chief end to glorify God?

When I ask these questions about my prayers, they are too often sorely lacking. For example, many of my prayers become a series of medical reports. Prayers about health concerns are not wrong, of course. But without worship and adoration and praise and thanksgiving accompanying them, they become self-centered in an unhealthy way--as I'm praying for health! Derek Thomas comments:
The very sickness which solicits the prayer may well have been sent to make us focus on the Sender, that in our frailty we might acknowledge his sovereign purpose and worship him accordingly. "Some graces grow best in winter," wrote Samuel Rutherford, "and some prayers mature when life is bitter."

There is no better model for our prayers than the prayer Jesus taught his disciples:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.