The Lord’s Prayer (Part 2)
Part 2 of The Lord’s Prayer by Rev. Billy Kristanto.
In verses 5-7 it is written that before Lord Jesus taught the words in the Lord’s Prayer, He corrected people’s wrong concept of prayer. Some pray in order to be seen. This is a kind of impression management (to use the words of J. Ortberg), to impress other people. This not only happens in prayer, but also in other spiritual acts such as fasting and giving alms. We can be free from this when we learn to do religious activities in hiddenness.
In spirituality, we often get busy in activities, especially men. A man often puts the meaning of life in what he does. If he has many things to do, he feels life is meaningful. Many times what we do in those things make us not knowing who we are any longer. Worse still, those activities turn to be some kind of mask or rationalization for weaknesses that we do not want to admit nor inquire. A Methodist bishop once said that we do not like silence because silence brings us to direct confrontation with God. Often we try to evade this by involving ourselves in many things, so that we have even less time to reflect before God.
Once important spiritual exercise in Christianity is prayer. Prayer is an opportunity where we can be in a ‘confrontation’ with God. Unfortunately, as our Lord says, often prayer fails to be an avenue to know self and to know God. Many pray in order to be seen, that there is no vertical relation in their prayers. Many pray with vain repetitions. They do this like pagans who think that by the amount of the words they could move the heart of God. But in verse 8 it is said that God already knew what we need before we pray, because He is Omniscient. Behind vain repetitions lie an unbelieving spirit.
John 16 records the work of the Spirit as a Comforter. It is written that the Spirit shall convict the world concerning sin, and the core of sin is unbelief. Man sins because he doesn’t believe. He doesn’t believe that sin contains emptiness that only brings distress in the end. Man sins because he doesn’t believe the word of God. Adam and Eve ate the fruit because they believe not what God said but believe more what Satan said. Pagans keep on repeating their requests as if God does not understand what they need. When we keep on repeating our requests to someone, he would be irritated, for he perceives that we do not believe him. Indeed, God is far more patient than us, but when we keep on repeating, actually we are destroying ourselves, too. So one who prays without believing that God understands his needs, he prays like the pagans.
In this context, our Lord taught the Lord’s Prayer. Many important teachings in the Bible come in chaotic situations. God sometimes allow a chaotic setting to bring forth an important teaching for us. In the midst of chaos, God may bring a mighty work (this of course does not mean that God needs chaotic settings to display His works, but that God is able to use even chaotic situations to do His will)
Verse 9 starts with ‘therefore’, which is an antithesis to how the pagans pray. Many pagans pray like that, and that is not how we pray. Therefore pray in this manner…. Lord Jesus does not give a rigid example which must be followed word by word, but He gives the manner, the structure, the form.
The first words are “Our Father in heaven.” In the original Greek, the first word is ‘Father’ and then ‘us’. In Greek, a word that is put first is given an emphasis. ‘Father’ is a designation used in paternalistic culture. Father is a highly respected position, since father is the backbone of the family. All the wealth and name of the family are passed down to the son of the father. ‘Father’ is an important designation and it contains respect as well as intimacy. Asian culture probably doesn’t really show such intimacy. There is a hierarchy that creates distance. But this verse says “Our Father in heaven.” No earthly father is perfect, but our Father in heaven is perfect. Secular psychology has naively stated that Christians call their Father in heaven because they are disappointed with their fathers on earth. Fathers on earth do not carry out their tasks as they ought to, so Christians dream of a Father in heaven. When one examines this claim of secular psychology, one will find that these concepts actually prove that those who make them had childhood experiences that were not pleasant. The theory they taught is in fact born due to their own experiences. By making such a claim they think that it is absolute, that everybody must have the same experiences as theirs. This is over-confidence.
How should Christians respond to the claim of secular psychology regarding our Father in heaven? We believe that the concept of father on earth is actually a part of the image of God. We are mistaken if we think that the Trinity is a ‘photocopy’ of what we see on earth. In fact, we are the ‘photocopies’ of the concept Trinity in eternity. The relationship between the Father and the Son is an eternal existence, which becomes a model for father-son relationship on earth. The reverse is not true. This concept is not a human projection expressing disappointment with the picture of a father on earth. This is mistaken. If we want to understand the actual father-son relationship, we have to dig from the concept of the Trinity, that is the relationship between Jesus and His Father in heaven. Lord Jesus gives us the perfect example. In His lifetime He relied completely to His Father in heaven. He is God in perfection and always does what God the Father has entrusted Him to do. All that He does He receives from the Father. This is related to the theology of grace, that is in all life, we ought to do what God has entrusted us to do, not what God has not entrusted us (how many people try to do many things which actually have never been entrusted to them by God? Such works are the results of sinful ambitions rather than the desire to do God’s work).
‘Our Father in heaven’ teaches an attitude which should be entrenched deeply in our hearts. It demonstrates our existence as children, heirs, and people who ought to be dependent on our Father in heaven. ‘In heaven’ means that He is transcendent, above His creation. This should be the attitude of our prayers. We should be lifted from our condition up to the presence of God in eternity. The philosophy of prayer is that through faith we go out of the ephemeral to connect with the eternal. In prayer, we do not say “Good morning, Holy Spirit” since by praying as such we make God bound by temporarity, constained by time, just like us (this God did in Jesus, God incarnate). The Spirit is not man and does not become man (who is bound by time). This is a misconception in Christian teaching.
The Scripture teaches that God dwells in heaven and as we pray to Him, we should be lifted in faith to meet Him. This is what frees us from the pressure of our problems in the world. This doesn’t mean that we run away from reality or life difficulties, but that we draw strength to face reality that is ever-changing in our lives. Those who are not able to transcend will be overwhelmed and dictated by events in this world. Consequently they will be very responsive towards things that seem to need their attention. They will be exhausted. They will have no strength to face the demands of the ever-present problems surrounding them. And then their lives will be poor, that their lives cannot bring blessings unto others.
In prayer we learn to ‘leave’ the temporarity so that as we open our eyes, we will see the world with a different view (the view of God). When we close our eyes, we are in darkness, symbolically understood as keeping ourselves away from the glitters the world attracts us to. In ‘darkness’ towards the world we go to the presence of God and receive the light of God, so that when we open our eyes, we see the world with a new perspective (this principle is well understood by Christians in Middle Ages). A prayer should bring such transformation. One who after praying still feel that he is carrying a heavy burden only tells that his prayer has not surpassed temporarity.
The following says, “Hallowed be Your name.” This is the first request. The request is related to God Himself, that His name be hallowed. Luther says that this request is actually the only request in the Lord’s Prayer. The other are the subrequests or elaborations of the first. Prayer is not divided as if there is the will of God and the will of men, God’s matters and our needs. Prayer is not teaching dualism. In fact, our need is God’s desire. But the problem is that sometimes our will is not in God’s will. This is a disaster. We express our own will without thinking of God’s will. If we think of God’s will only, this is actually already included as our need. Even some of our needs are known by God, without ourselves knowing them, since we are often mistaken in understanding our needs. Therefore, this first request is the basis for the other requests. John Piper in his book, Desiring God, cites Jonathan Edwards saying that to glorify God and to enjoy Him is actually the same thing. When one hallows God’s name, then happens the highest fulfilment of life. The life of the man will be in true happiness.
Shakespeare, in one of his works, writes, “What is a name?” This is one famous sentence which, seen from the perspective of the Bible, is not right. In biblical understanding, a name represents the quality and nature of the man. Jesus means Saviour. Names are qualities that are supposed to live out in life. When one is said to know God’s name, it means that he also has His power. So in Hebrew culture, knowing someone’s name means having the power of the person. But often nowadays it is regarded that name doesn’t really mean anything, so that when we read this part, we think that God’s name is God’s name, that’s all. The Bible says that we should not call the name of God in vain, meaning that we shouldn’t think as if we are worthy to call upon God’s name if we ourselves do not know Him. In other words, it is not hallowing God’s name. “Hallowed by Your name” can mean seeing God as the most holy God. When we say “hallowed be Your name,” it means that we acknowledge that He is the only purpose of our lives. In the midst of those who do not take the name of God seriously, yes, even blaspheme the name of God, this prayer is a holy request that is very rare, which is a uniqueness of those who know His name.
Verse 10 says, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” One interpretation says that this is a prayer which is taught with eschatological concept, the awaiting of the second coming of Christ. The kingdom of God is a great theme in Jesus Christ’s teaching. Here He teaches the disciples to pray that God’s kingdom come. In Jesus’ age actually the kingdom has come. In Christianity we understand the aspect of already and not yet. In one hand, God’s kingdom has come: He cast out demons, He healed the sick, there He presented Himself as King who has come. But we see that His kingdom in full has not yet come. There are still many people who oppose God, so that we need to continually pray for His kingdom to come.
This verse teaches that the coming of the kingdom is related to the fulfilment of the will of God. The coming of the kingdom means the increasingly perfect fulfilment of God’s will on earth. Indeed, God’s will surely happen in terms of His sovereign will. We understand God’s will in two perspectives: God’s sovereign will which will surely happen, and God’s moral will as stated in the Scripture. We don’t believe in deism which states that after God created the world, He does not intervene, does not control the world until He comes again. We believe that God controls (read: upholds) everything. On the other hand, God’s moral will is not always obeyed by men, so that this will does not always fulfilled perfectly. Whereas in heaven, God’s moral will happens together with God’s sovereign will. Heaven can be defined as a place where God’s sovereign will and God’s moral will happen perfectly. Therefore this paradox of God’s will will be answered perfectly in heaven.
In this world, paradox makes us as if we are living in two poles. Ecclesiastes talks about this principle beautifully. It solves this paradox in the concept of time. There is a time for crying, there is a time for laughing, and so on. There is a time we should build, there is a time when we should destroy what is wrong. Time becomes a means given to solve the problem of paradox which we have to go through as long as we live on earth (which is constrained by time). One who knows how to use his time rightly is called a wise man. In Ecclesiastes it is said that God makes everything beautiful in His time. This means that the passing from one time to another is beautiful in God’s tapestry. This is closely related to the concept of God’s sovereign will. When we disobey God’s will, we have the potential to destroy our own lives. In the contrary, when we obey His will, we will not have difficulties to face paradoxes in our lives, for as in heaven, God’s sovereign will and God’s moral will actually are one will of God (with different perspectives) and not two wills of God. In other words, we can be free to accept God with His sovereign will when we fully obey Him (disintegration may happen not as disintegration of the will of God, but of our lives which are not always obedient to Him).
When we struggle to know God’s will, let us not think in terms of individual. For example, often when we talk about holiness, we talk about personal holiness. This is indeed not wrong. But how to talk about holiness as community concept? In this verse we are once again reminded that the scope of God’s kingdom is very wide, even wider than the Church itself. We can’t say that the kingdom is equal to the Church. Catholic teaching in the Middle Ages tends to identify the kingdom of God and the institutional church. Now we see that God allows Vatican to be the smallest country in the world. What does it mean? God doesn’t allow the expansion of His kingdom as the institutional expansion of the church! The Bible teaches that we should not be trapped in the concept of institutional expansion. When we pray “Your kingdom come,” we ask that God’s will will be fulfilled more perfectly. So when we pray thus, we still can pray for people who are not Christian (in the government, for example), because through them also God’s will can be accomplished. We can’t have a narrow mindset by just praying for Christians. This does not mean that unbelievers will finally take part in the kingdom of God. But even those not in God can be used by God to fulfil His will and plan. Preaching the gospel is a mandate that we need to undertake faithfully. Unbelievers can be used by God, however limited are their understanding, sensitivity, and love for the truth. They still need a change of heart, a regeneration which can only be wrought by the Holy Spirit. Therefore as we pray “Your kingdom come. Your will be done,” it also means a task to preach the gospel to those who have yet to know Him. May God, who continues to do His work to this day, move and involve us to take part in His glorious plan.
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- March 11, 2006 / 04:03