July, 2007

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The Disciplines: The Model Prayer, Matt. 6:9-13

Friday, July 20th, 2007

I appreciate the way that Eugene Peterson in The Message gives us the model prayer

prayer at the table“Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best
as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
Yes, Yes, Yes.

I am reading this against the background of the Beatitudes.
Recall how the 5th thru 7th of them speak of the fact that as born again Christians we live out of the characteristics of mercy, a pure heart, and peacemaking in our relationships. I see these reflected in the model prayer.

Also present is an affirmation the greatness of God, our submission to and dependence upon Him, the realization that the Devil still works on us, and the awareness of the goodness of God. One finds also a desire to know God better and a hope for a better world to come.

I so wish that I could live everyday with these truths on my mind, in my heart, motivating my actions. Certainly, this is a matter for regular prayer.

The Disciplines: prayer. Matt. 6:5-8

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007

Many fine guides for prayer have been published in recent years regarding prayer. Generally, they follow the points found in this passage and build upon them. Pray is to God, not to others. It is to be honest conversation with God. The topics dealt with in the Model Prayer, which follows, should be addressed. Simplicity in prayer is a virtue.

This past Sunday I worshiped with an African American and with an Hispanic congregation. The first is a church which was burned by arsonists in February of 2006. In August of 2007 a new building, one that many volunteers contributed to and on which many other donated work, was dedicated by the congregation.

This morning’s prayer centered on thanksgiving to God for life, for care, for comfort and for blessings. Often, the content was very personal. Lines that expressed thanks for awakening that morning clothed in one’s right mind were uttered. The serice concluded with an altar call prayer in which the worshipers expressed their needs and their petitions to God.

I did not understand much of the content of the prayers in the Hispanic worship. But I sense that they were heartfelt and directed to God.

Public prayers may be the point of most difficulty in complying with the teachings of Jesus in this passage. Sometimes, I find myself preaching to the audience more than having a conversation with God. Sometimes, I find myself tempted to use the traditional prayer phrases of my people. But in my better moments, I see myself as uttering the prayers on the hearts of myself and my fellow worshipers. I see myself as an advocate for us all.

During the period that a friend was the interim pastor in a nearby church, I enjoyed Wednesday night prayer meetings very much. He would lead us in “directed prayer.” That is, he would speak out topics for prayer and give each of us time to pray about that matter silently. This insured that we talked with God about many, appropriate things.

The Disciplines: alms or charity. Matt. 6:1-4

Tuesday, July 10th, 2007

Richard Foster and Dallas Willard, among others, have reintroduced the spiritual disciples to many Protestant and lay Christians. In the next portion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus looks at three of the classic discipines–alms, prayer, and fasting. Peterson identifies the basic, underlying position regarding these three disciplines, do not make a performance of them when you practice them.

In this passage, Jesus tells us to not help other folk in such a way that we call attention to ourselves, and I assume so as to not embarrass the person for whom we are providing assistance. Many of us struggle with this. I suppose our sinful nature is reflected in the desire to be praised.

The ways of giving alms in our society are varied. There are massive plans such as United Way, the Red Cross, and UNICEF. There are denominational appeals. My denomination calls for World Hunger funds on the Second Sunday of October each year. There and the needs of friends and neighbors. The massive efforts provide an easier way to comply with the teaching of Jesus here. Helping a neighbor often get known by others. Yet many of us feel a special pull toward helping those we know and whose situation we understand.

Often there are more needs than one has resources to give. This brings guilt. I have noted that often poor people are more ready to share their resources than those of us who have more than enough.

Jesus does not say anything here about the “deserving poor” and yet this has become something of a criteria for many of us when needs arise. Another point at which guilt and issues can come into our hearts.