2018 RLT #28: ‘Hallowed’

“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.


2018 RLT #27: ‘Father’

I think we can probably take it for granted that the prayer life of Jesus was formed by the psalms. In one respect, however, he departed radically from that model: his name for God. In the psalms God is usually addressed by such titles as ‘Yahweh God of Israel’, or ‘God the King’, or ‘Yahweh my rock’. Very rarely, however, is any sort of parental metaphor used. Jesus, however, takes the parental metaphor and makes it absolutely central to his way of understanding and addressing God. ‘Father’ is not just one title for God among many for Jesus. In fact, there is only one time in the entire gospels where he talks to God using any other name, and that is when he was nailed to the cross and was quoting from the psalms: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me’.

So Jesus’ way of addressing God is entirely simple and unpretentious. He doesn’t make speeches to God; he simply comes to God and says, ‘Father…’ And he encourages us, his followers, to do the same. ‘One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples”. He said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father…’ ” ‘ (Luke 11:1-2a, NIV).

The Anglican liturgical tradition in which I was raised has a long history of making beautiful poetic speeches to God (‘O Lord our Heavenly Father, Almighty and Everlasting God…’). Many of us Anglicans have been intimidated by the poetic genius of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and his Book of Common Prayer. But Jesus does not encourage us to make speeches to God. Nor does he appear to be in favour of long prayers. He encourages a simple and unpretentious approach to God.

What’s the most important thing we can know about God? That he is our parent (which means that he loves us more than we love ourselves; that he will die rather than not provide for our needs; that he is a role model for us; that he guides and teaches us, and that he disciplines us because he loves us). We can be entirely secure and confident in his love for us. Children who are secure in their parents’ love don’t make speeches to them; they talk to them naturally, simply, and without any sort of pretention.

“When you pray, say: ‘Father’ “. What a privilege!

2018 RLT #26: Rest

Which commandment of God is most consistently ignored in the western world? I would argue that the command to take a weekly day of rest is a strong contender for that position.

‘Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work…’ (Exodus 20:8-10a)

‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath’ (Mark 2:27).

In years gone by. the Sabbath (interpreted as referring to Sunday) left a bad taste in the mouths of many Christians. It featured a long list of things you could and couldn’t do. Could you go out for a meal? Could you read a newspaper or watch TV? Could you go to a soccer game? In some houses all you could read was the Bible or Pilgrim’s Progress!

Nowadays we’ve gone to the opposite extreme. Very few Christians seem to have any qualms about going out for lunch after church on Sunday (and thereby requiring others to work). Sunday sports is completely acceptable; in fact, if you’re a parent of a child in a sports league, it will likely displace church for at least half the year. We’re proud of the fact that we’re no longer legalistic. “We don’t interpret the Sabbath literally”, we say, meaning we don’t actually take any notice of it at all.

Also, society has changed; we no longer live in Christendom, and there is now no longer a single, agreed-on day of the week which is completely safe from the demands of economic activity. Your employer can require you to work any day they like, and require you to be available, via smartphone, at the times you aren’t at work (and if you’re self-employed, your customers will certainly expect that!).

I find it interesting that we so often counter an extremism by going to the opposite extreme! And all the time, looking at the people in my parish (especially the younger people), I find myself thinking, “Wow, they could really use a rest!” I’ve read that we sleep on average two hours a night less than our grandparents used to sleep. Most of us don’t work in jobs that wear us out physically, so we don’t go to bed exhausted and fall asleep right away. Also, we drink lots of caffeine, use electric light all evening and stare at screens – which plays havoc with our bodies’ production of melatonin, the hormone that helps us sleep.

Do we now begin to understand the sheer generosity of God? In Egypt the slave-drivers required the Israelite slaves t work 24/7 to produce bricks for their building projects, but when God led the slaves to freedom he gave them the priceless gift of a day off! Yes – the Sabbath was made for our benefit! God taught them – and he teaches us too – that we run best if we don’t give ourselves over to economic activity 24/7. Once a week, we need to take a break. ‘For best results, follow Maker’s instructions’!

Never mind what society says is legal or illegal; we can’t expect a secular society to make it easy for us to follow God’s instructions. We have to take responsibility for this ourselves. Maybe our Sabbath will not be Saturday (the Jewish Sabbath) or Sunday (the Christian ‘Lord’s Day’). All right – so what day of the week are we going to take as our Sabbath? And how are we going to take it?

Monday is my Sabbath, and I try to start it at least by Sunday evening. I don’t work on that day, I don’t book meetings for it, and I don’t check work email through the day. Marci and I are both off, so we have things we do together (one of my ideals is to spend a couple of hours outside, but I’ll freely admit that’s more of a summer than a winter thing).

I know of people who observe a digital sabbath – once a week they disconnect from all their screens and spend the day doing other things. In today’s world, where the screens so often summon us back to the demands of employers/customers and the relentless, 24/7 economy, I find that idea rather attractive, although I don’t do it myself (because I use my computer to write, and writing is one of the things I do for relaxation).

This is not about legalism. This is about health, wholeness, well-being, shalom. We have been told quite clearly that we run best if we take a regular weekly day of rest. ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath’. In other words, it’s not a law, it’s a gift. Which makes it so sad that today we so often refuse it. In the end, we’re the ones who suffer by that refusal.

What concrete steps could you take to receive the weekly Sabbath as a gift from God?


2018 RLT#25: Spirituality for the Road

At its best, Lent can be a wonderful opportunity to grow in love for God and love for other people. but all too often, Lent doesn’t reach its best. Sadly, Lent is often a self-centred time. We can spend six and a half weeks focussing on ‘my’ prayer life, ‘my’ spirituality, ‘my’ walk with God’, even ‘my’ sins. It can be all about me and God, and the neighbour never even enters into it.

A few years ago I read an excellent book called ‘Mission-Shaped Spirituality’. I love that title! Christian disciples are called to be in mission with Jesus – “Come, follow me…and I will send you out to fish for people” (Mark 1:17 NIV). There’s a spirituality that’s appropriate to this mission-shaped life, and we need to discover it.

Today in our prayer time Marci and I read this passage:

‘Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

‘These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

‘They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.’ (Mark 6:76b-13 NIV)

Obviously there are specific details in this commission that are particular to the time and situation: Jesus wants his message to get out to as many people as possible before the great crisis of his death and resurrection. But I think there are some points of connection with our own experience as we try to grow a ‘mission’-shaped spirituality’.

Mission-shaped spirituality involves growing in faith. If we disciples are going to be obedient to our master, we will sometimes need to go places and do things without a reassuring support-structure in place. If we have learned to trust God in the little details of daily life, it will be easier for us to trust God in larger things. This is why people who live in poverty are often better at living by faith than rich people (For a thrilling story of how an ordinary person learned to live by faith, I highly recommend ‘God’s Smuggler’ by Brother Andrew).

Mission-shaped spirituality is about delivering people from the power of evil. Whatever you think about ‘impure spirits’, it’s unquestionable that the spiritual forces of wickedness are alive and well on planet Earth, and many people suffer under their whip. Millions today suffer under the cruel hand of poverty, war, prejudice and injustice. Millions also suffer because they have never heard that there is a God who loves them and has come as one of us in Jesus to love them to the end. Gospel-shaped mission includes spoken witness, healing love, and deliverance from evil.

This Lent, how am I growing in mission-shped spirituality? Are my faith-muscles being exercised so I learn to trust God more and more each day? Am I looking for opportunities to be a blessing to the people around me through spoken witness, healing love, and deliverance from evil?

Lord Jesus, help us today to follow you, so that you can send us out to fish for people. Amen.



2018 RLT#24: Faith and Familiarity

We’re used to thinking of doubt as the opposite of faith, but for long time Christians, I wonder if familiarity isn’t a more pressing concern.

Today I read this passage:

‘Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

‘“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

‘Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.’ (Mark 6:1-6a NIV)

“Who does he think he is, claiming to be a wisdom teacher and a wonder worker? We watched him grow up and we saw all the things he got up to! He’s just the carpenter’s son; we see his family in the coffee shop every day! Nothing special about him”.

Familiarity breeds contempt – or just boredom. Every Sunday I stand up in church and say ‘On the third day he rose again’ and it barely registers. But for the first disciples it changed everything – absolutely everything – about their lives. The Jesus project went from abject failure to stunning victory in the space of twenty-four hours. They were shocked, afraid, excited, thrilled, awestruck – but they definitely weren’t bored.

Familiarity breeds contempt – but not automatically. I see here a list of family members of Jesus; so far in the Gospel of Mark all they’ve done in response to Jesus’ mission is call him a madman and tried to take him home before he harms himself (3:31-35). But thirty years later, one of these names, James, will be the revered leader of the Jerusalem church – a devout Jewish disciple of his brother Jesus, and one of the most radical teachers of faith and works in the New Testament.

So here’s my Lent thought for today. I need to learn to be like James: to grow old as a follower of Jesus, but not to grow bored.



2018 Random Lent Thought #23: Jesus and Prayer

I once heard Eugene Peterson talk about how Jesus transformed the prayer lives of his followers.

As far as we can tell, most people who came to Jesus in the Gospels did so because they wanted something from him – usually healing. There is no evidence that Jesus discouraged this; in fact, several times he asks people ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ If we can describe these requests for help as prayers, then almost all praying people in the gospels prayed out of a deep sense of personal need. And Jesus was happy to answer those prayers.

However, some of those people went on to become disciples of Jesus – as members of ‘the Twelve’, or of the larger group of those who followed him. These were obviously people who were beginning to move beyond self-interest and learn from Jesus to ‘seek first (God’s) kingdom and his righteousness’ (Matthew 6:33 NIV). And as we saw yesterday, these people were attracted by the quality of Jesus’ prayer life, and so at a certain point some of them came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1 NIV). In response, he gave them the Lord’s Prayer, and two things about that prayer stand out.

First, it’s a prayer that starts with God’s concerns: ‘Hallowed be your name…your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven’. In this prayer we learn to delay our own felt needs and focus first on God’s vision – the glory of God, the love of God, the healing reign of God. ‘Not my will, but yours’.

Second, it’s a prayer that replaces the word ‘me’ with the word ‘us’. “Our Father…Give us each day our daily bread…Forgive us our sins, as we forgive…Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil”. Christian prayer may take place from time to time in a solitary place, but even when we pray alone, we don’t really pray alone; we pray as part of a community. And the fundamental prayer in the New Testament seems to be community prayer, just as it was for the Old Testament people. “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20 NIV).

Still today, Jesus is happy to teach us to pray. When we start out in our journey with him, we tend to come out of need – forgiveness, healing, comfort, strength, loneliness, fear etc. And Jesus is happy for us to start there; he has not one word of reproach for us.

But he’s not happy for us to get stuck there. Growth for us is going to mean  growth in learning to seek God’s will ahead of our own, and learning to see ourselves as part of a praying community, not just as isolated individuals. So when we ask him to ‘teach us to pray’ (and I hope we all continue to do that), here is his guidance: first, pray, about God’s will ahead of your own, and second, find someone else to pray with.

Lord, help us put these things into practice today.


2018 Random Lent Thought #22: 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.