Random Lent thought for Friday March 24th: ‘Hallowed be your name’

“Father, hallowed be your name” (Luke 11:2, NIV 2011).

I once preached a Lent series called ‘Living your life as a prayer’. It was a series on the Lord’s Prayer, considered not so much as a prayer, but as a guide for daily discipleship. What would it mean to ‘put legs on our prayers’, and live our lives so that we are part of the answer to our prayer?

‘Hallowed be your name’ means ‘May your holy name be honoured’. How do I live my life in such a way as to make that happen? Or, as someone once put it, how do I live in such a way that God’s reputation in the world is enhanced, and not diminished, by my life?

Once when I was going to an Alberta registries office to renew my vehicle registration, the agent called up my driving record on the computer and was shocked to discover a list of drunk driving convictions! For a few minutes we had a rather tense conversation; then she tried to call the list up again, and was unable to do it; it had all been some sort of computer glitch! But for a few minutes I experienced what it was like to have your reputation in the world diminished and your good name dragged through the mud!

What am I doing to God’s good name? How can I live today in such a way that his reputation is enhanced, and not diminished, by my behaviour? Father, hallowed be your name in our lives today. Amen.

Random Lent Thought for Thursday March 23rd: ‘Teach us to pray’

‘One day, Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray,just as John taught his disciples”‘ (Luke 11:1-2).

There was no such thing as privacy in the time of Jesus, and there wasn’t much silent praying either. People prayed in public and they prayed aloud. Jesus’ private prayer life was often not private, except when he withdrew to lonely places to pray.

I’ve learned a lot about prayer through books, but I’ve learned more from people who’ve been open about their prayer life and have been willing to invite me into it. I’ve learned the most from good friends who have ended significant conversations by offering to pray with me, and modelling for me what genuine, unpretentious prayer really is.

Jesus’ prayer life was attractive to his disciples; they wanted to learn to pray like that. And if the prayer that follows is any indication of the way Jesus habitually prayed, we can describe it as short, simple and unpretentious, focussing on God’s concerns first, not greedy for things we don’t need, but focussing on our real needs (daily bread, forgiveness, strength in times of testing).

Lord, teach me to pray as your prayed. And Lord, help me to teach others too. Amen.

Random Lent Thought for Wednesday March 22nd: A Selfish Lent?

It seems strange to say it, but Lent can easily become a very selfish and self-centred time of year. During Lent, we are encouraged to examine ourselves, make changes, and try to draw closer to God. In our emotion-driven age, we can often fall into the trap of interpreting ‘draw closer to God’ as ‘have a deep feeling of peace inside’. It’s a short step from here to spending Lent monitoring our feelings and focussing on our emotional well-being.

Jesus offers a better way to draw closer to God.

‘Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me”.

‘Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

‘The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”‘. (Matthew 25:34040 NIV 2011).

Lord, deliver us from the snare of a selfish Lent.

Random Lent Thought for Tuesday March 21st: Contentment

‘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”‘ (Hebrews 13:5).

in the Letter to the Hebrews, the section immediately before this one is about sexual immorality, which gets a lot of attention in the church and in the world (the media celebrates it, the church obsesses about it). It’s an important subject and I make no apology for giving attention to it from time to time, but it’s good to remember that the author to the Hebrews gives just as much attention to the danger of the love of money. I live in a covetous and greedy culture, with a powerful advertising industry dedicated to growing a spirit of discontentment in me. And whenever I give in to it, people cheer me and say, ‘Good for you! You deserve it!’

The author of Hebrews gives two remedies: contentment, and trust in God. As Sheryl Crow would say, ‘It’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got!’ To be happy with what I have and not to be always wanting more – what Paul calls in 1 Timothy ‘godliness with contentment’ – is a great spiritual secret which I have not yet fully learned.

The second thing is trust in God: ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’. God has promised to provide for our needs (not our wants – a category which includes most of what I worry about!). So growing closer to God and learning to lean on him is what it’s all about.

I’d add a third strategy for dealing with the love of money: generosity. If the false god of wealth is wrapping his chains around my heart, cheerful giving is always a good strategy for defeating him!

Random Lent Thought for Monday March 20th: ‘What We Do’

A few years ago I re-read Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, a book I hadn’t read for about twenty years. I have also watched a couple of movie and TV versions of it.

Whenever I go back to a book after watching movie adaptations, I’m usually impressed by two things: (1) How much better the book is than the movie! (2) Nonetheless, every now and again the scriptwriter put a line in that is so good and so true to character that you think ‘I wish the author had put that in!’

So, in the 2007 BBC miniseries of ‘Sense and Sensibility’, after a long period of hard-earned wisdom in the School of Hard Knocks, Marianne Dashwood says to her sister Elinor, “It is not what we say or what we feel that makes us who we are, it is what we do – or what we fail to do”.

Yes – I think Jane Austen would have agreed with that 100%!

And so would someone else: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21, NIV 2011).

Enough said. Carry on.

Random Lent Thought for Saturday March 18th: ‘Who is My Neighbour?’

It’s such a convenient question, isn’t it?

A young lawyer comes to Jesus asks him what the most important commandments are. In response, Jesus says, “The most important commandments are to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself”.

‘But the lawyer wanted to justify himself’, says the gospel writer What does that mean? It means that he knew he wasn’t keeping the commandments, perhaps especially the second one, and he wanted to find an excuse. More than that – he wanted to preserve his right to continue in his disobedience! Maybe there were all kinds of people in his life he would have preferred not  to love – Samaritans, for instance, or tax collectors, or plain ordinary sinners who didn’t come up to his exacting moral standards. And so he asks Jesus for a clarification: “Who exactly is my neighbour?”

The point of that question, if you think about it, is to find out who you’re allowed not to love.

But Jesus doesn’t believe there’s anyone in the world we’re allowed not to love. In the Gospels he calls us to love our brothers and sisters, to love our neighbours, to love the poor and needy, and even to love our enemies. There’s no escape from the command to love.

And so Jesus refuses to answer the question about the neighbour. Instead, he tells the story we call ‘the Good Samaritan’. A man was attacked by robbers and left bleeding and unconscious on the side of the road. But he wasn’t dead. Who would stop to help him? A priest and a Levite went by on the other side. But a Samaritan (if you want the same impact today, read ‘a Muslim’) stopped to help him. “So who was a neighbour to the man in need?” Jesus asked. The answer is obvious: the one who showed him mercy. “Go and do likewise”.

So don’t waste time asking yourself who you’re allowed not to love. Immigrants? Refugees? People who voted for Donald Trump? Rednecks? Communists? Somalis? Syrians? First Nations people? Settlers? Sorry: you’re under orders to love all of them. So don’t waste time asking “Who is my neighbour?” When you see someone in need, don’t hesitate: if it’s in your power to help them, do so. “Do this”, Jesus says to the lawyer, “and you will live”.

Carry on.

Random Lent Thought for Friday March 17th: ‘The Boldness of our Spoken Witness’

In the 1962 Canadian Book of Common Prayer, on page 555, there’s a little section giving guidelines on developing for ourselves a ‘rule of life’. It suggests six areas we might like to consider as we think about such a rule; the fifth is this: ‘The boldness of our spoken witness to our faith in Christ’. Yes, talking about our faith with others, spreading the good news of Christ – this also is part of our Lent discipline.

On March 5th 1972, just over forty-five years ago, a process of a few weeks of spiritual inquiry in my life came to a head when my Dad gave me a gentle challenge to give my life to Christ. I responded to that challenge with a simple prayer of commitment, alone in my room. I was thirteen, but by the grace of God it ‘stuck’, and today I look back with great thankfulness, knowing that if it had not been for that day, the last forty-five years would have looked very different.

My parents gave me a strong Christian upbringing but my Dad didn’t trust to that alone to bring me to faith in Christ; when the time seemed right, he spoke a few faithful words, and the Holy Spirit did the rest. Today, may I also be on the lookout for opportunities to speak those few faithful words, to pass on what has been entrusted to me.

How is ‘the boldness of your spoken witness to your faith in Christ’ these days?