When I was sixteen, my friends assumed I was good at fixing cars. It seemed reasonable. I’d been around cars for most of my life. But what my friends failed to consider was that in the wrecking yard, the valued skill wasn’t fixing cars but dismantling them. Fixing was what our customers did. So I could rip parts out of a car pretty well . . . and then I could stare at the pile of parts and wonder how to put everything back together.
All too often, prayer has been exclusively viewed as a time of petitioning. However, the truth is that petitions are an aspect of prayer, not the only expression. Instead of dialoging with God, some of us are guilty of using prayer to only gripe and ask. We rattle off our lists of wants and desires, complain about the difficulties of life, slap an “amen” at the end and go on about our day. But Jesus has shown us a different way through this template in Matthew 6.
What do you cherish in your life? Is it your marriage? Is it your family? Perhaps your job, business, friendships, an item you received from someone? Who do you revere or respect? What is considered sacred to you? Can you say that you honor God? Does he hold a special and separate space in your time, heart, and life? Do you respect his input as the ultimate priority over all other feelings and pursuits?
Last week, just after the sun appeared, I opened my bedroom curtain and there, in the field beside our house, I saw a burning bush. It was burning, but it was not consumed, and my breath caught in my throat. Of course, I thought of Moses. The bush wasn’t literally on fire. But the bright red leaves of the small sapling against a backdrop of yellows and blues and pinks and greens of fall was stunning. I knew, right then and there, I was in the presence of God.
As the residing realm for the Creator of all things, heaven is a place of primacy. This is not just the place where God resides, but also the place where he rules and reigns as Sovereign. Heaven is the place where God legislates, adjudicates, and appropriates resources—not unlike many of the government systems in our earth. So when Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, he intentionally ascribes Heaven as the address of all things God.
Why did Jesus use the specific word father? He could have used the general description of God. He could have also instructed them to use the formal address of King, or Sovereign, or even Lord. Any of these terms would have been right or acceptable, yet Jesus encourages them to address him as Father. Contrary to modern popular ideals on teaching, Jesus gets right to the point in disclosing what his secret ingredient was to effective prayer—intimacy.
Human beings were created for community. As the creation account reminds us, when God said of Adam, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). One of God’s greatest gifts of being human is the gift of the other… We need others to help us rightly see the world around us. Without other perspectives, our view of the world flattens out. Without different perspectives, we lose vital nuance and depth.
“How many times should we forgive?” Many of us can identify with the question Peter poses to Jesus. It’s humorous to think that Peter might have been trying to figure out the cap at which he maxes out of forgiveness to give each person. However, it would seem that behind his question, and ours, is a fear of people taking advantage of our forgiveness. I can almost hear and resonate with Peter’s heart in trying to assess when enough is enough.
Miraculous! That was the most fitting word that I could use to describe what had just happened to me. I had literally just finished my prayer time and had asked God for insight on what forgiveness was. Journeying back to my tent, I was approached by a stranger who gave me her brand-new Bible, and in its cover was a pamphlet on forgiveness. No one had been miraculously healed from a physical malady, but nonetheless, this felt like my “money out of the mouth of a fish” moment.
Meanwhile our little friend kept running around the house. And then, he started screaming, because why not scream in an empty house that has an epic echo, right? The running and screaming got our attention. We stopped talking and watched him. The more I watched the more I laughed. “Man!” I thought to myself, “kids sure know how to have fun!” Then I remembered I was in my own empty house and what rules were there against running around in circles while screaming in your own house? None. Zero. Nada. Zilch.