The Lord’s Prayer (Part 3)
Part 3 of The Lord’s Prayer by Rev. Billy Kristanto.
I would like to repeat this reading, although we have reached verse 10 in our previous exposition. In our reading of the Scripture we need to learn to read in a spiral model. It is not that after finishing one verse, we enter into the following verse, but as in a chain, there is repetition as well as progression. Perhaps now we only learn up to a certain stage, but later we can enter into the next stage. This is in line with what the Bible teaches, for the Bible is dynamic, not static. Knowing is a progressive thing. Jonathan Edwards dared to even say that in heaven, progression still happens, whereby the joy of the believers will be forever increased. Here also we find a principle that heaven is not a static thing.
This is what we should experience. The most fearful thing in Christian life is that there is no growth, no matter where our spiritual level is. In Reformed theology we put more emphasis on the process of growing rather than spritual achievement (at certain levels). It is better to concentrate ourselves to spur others to grow; by doing so we put more importance on progress than target, for we do not have the right to determine God’s ‘target’. Our task is to sow and to encourage others to grow. As Luther says, one who serves as such will have peace and abandonment (Gelassenheit).
Turning to our exposition, here we see the phrase ‘Our Father’. Jesus teaches about prayer in the spirit of fellowship and community, not individuality. When we pray this prayer, we are demanded to love to fellowship in prayer. All these principles are related to one another. Why is it ‘Our Father’, not ‘My Father’? It doesn’t mean that our Lord did not agree with people who pray individually, since He Himself prayed individually. One needs to pray individually. But in the Lord’s Prayer, He emphasizes the fellowship aspect of prayer. This is directly related to the sentence “Your kingdom come” (not my kingdom). It has a global meaning. One who never prays with other people tends not to have a struggle of the kingdom; he is only concerned with his own personal matters. He prays for his struggles; the furthest he could pray is for his family (not for others’ families). So the Lord’s Prayer also becomes an invitation for us to be involved in prayer meetings, praying together with others who may have different concerns, but as we pray together, we can pray for others’ concerns and vice versa. Our hearts will grow wider. As our hearts grow wider, this is what is meant by understanding the kingdom of God, which is global. The kingdom of God demands us to have a wide heart, not narrow. Bernard de Clairvaux was once asked to expound on the theme “steps to humility”, which he later answered by writing “steps to arrogance” because for him, steps to arrogance and steps to humiliy are equal but only opposite in direction. In this famous writing he writes (in the monastic context) that a characteristic of an arrogant monk is that he is reluctant to pray together and always prefer to pray alone. A sign of arrogance is the preference to be always alone (read: independent) and not willing to fellowship with other people.
Coming back to this principle, Lord Jesus teaches us to enjoy the blessings of fellowship in prayer as we fellowship with others; this is a sign that we have concerns for the kingdom of God. The church which only tries to enlarge its physical territory (as in the Middle Ages), its institutional-organisational power, actually does not understand the biblical principles. If the church does not have a worship place, does not have a strong institutional position, we do not need be disappointed since the work of God will not be hindered by those. In Reformed theology we try to teach these two aspects (institutional aspect and also the aspect of fellowship of the saints). The church which puts too much emphasis on its institutional aspect tends to be a narrow church, which may even identify itself as the kingdom of God. Do we become furious when we hear that a church where we don’t worship at has experienced a tremendous growth? If we are furious then this is a sign that we are actually narrow, for our church is not the kingdom of God. Let’s pay attention to the works of His servants who are blessed by Him. They must have thought that they were serving in God’s kingdom, not just in a local church (eventhough they are indeed involved in a local church that is visible and not abstract). Paul served in the church in Ephesus for three years and continued to remember the congregation in his next ministry, and he did so for all the other congregations. If Paul only thought and built the church in Ephesus, if this church broke down–the lampstand were removed–Paul’s work would be shattered. But it is not (eventhough the church in Ephesus is no longer today!). Paul’s writings are still studied by many people and become a blessing for the church of God throughout all ages. Why is this so? Because when he served in Ephesus, he served in the context and concept of God’s kingdom. Paul’s work is preserved in eternity because he worked in God’s kingdom.
Those whose works are perished by fire and fail the test, are those who work for his own kingdom and not God’s kingdom. We need to have broad-heartedness as a natural Christian character. What differs one who works in a company which is controlled by secular philosophy and one who works in the field of God? From the secular point of view, one who puts emphasis on skill does not put too much emphasis on character. No one would be laid off because of his pride or greed. The world does not care about character; what matters is skill and ability. A manager who has a bad character will not reprimand his subordinate because of bad character, won’t he? However, in God’s field the highest priority is character (which is Christ-likeness). This doesn’t mean that skill and ability are not important, but we believe that one who is willing to be used and molded by God will not find it difficult to have the ability from God who is All Powerful. The most difficult investation is character shaping.
The Scripture says that many people seek after things outside themselves (external), while they do not know how to appreciate that which is most precious in their lives, that is their own souls. They don’t care. They prefer to work as much as possible, to achieve this and that, but never think about their own souls. This is not ‘just’ a matter of life and death, but also a matter of loss. The Scripture says about ‘suffering loss’, so it need not be death but it may be some loss. They are saved but suffer loss for they don’t care about God’s molding. We must put more emphasis on being rather than prestige or achievement. Richard Mouw once criticized the WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) movement, which has widely been used as an ethical standard for many envangelicals. In the positive sense, this question is of course good since it essentially deals with what our Lord would do in the condition that I am facing. But how if we are faced with a situation where we were late to visit someone who was dying, who subsequently died as we arrived at his home, and that this man had two sisters who loved him very much and were not willing that he would have left them? So we ask, “What would Jesus do?” Yes, in the Scripture it is clearly written: “Lazarus, go out from the tomb!” That was what Jesus do! How if one time we were on a boat and then came great dangerous waves? We would find it hard to ‘follow’ Jesus at those moments, wouldn’t we? The point is, WWJD is not really applicable in the Christian life. We can add one more point, that after the industrial revolution men seemed to enjoy talking about doing more than being, since machines do not have a being. Slowly men are resembling machines–one’s dignity is determined by how many one has produced. Perhaps “What would Jesus do” is also a post-industrial revolution question. Why don’t we ask, “Who Jesus is?”–being, not doing, which seems not always able to ‘follow’. Two different people who share the same love for the Lord would not necessarily do the same thing, and therefore, what we should follow is being, not doing.
In God’s kingdom, being, not doing, is what matters. Doing is actually a very simple matter. If being is alright (as Jesus), doing will surely follow naturally, because Jesus is not passive (not doing anything); the work of God will surely be revealed. The problem is that though our being is not right, we want much doing, and worse still is one who tries to rationalize his weakness in being with a doing mask! The Scripture calls ‘doing which doesn’t display being’ hypocrisy. We may pray while we don’t really pray in our hearts, give alms while we don’t really care, or serve while we actually build our own kingdom! Doing is easily manipulated, while being is not. Being will surely be displayed in doing, but doing can be done without being–this is the problem. So in God’s kingdom, including in all aspects of life, we must put more emphasis on being rather than doing. This is not trying to form a dualism between doing and being, since we believe that believing, understanding/knowing, being, and doing, all is in one package. A true believer has a true understanding, does what is true, and has a character that is transformed by God. But the problem is how many are Christians who are willing to serve but are not willing to be transformed by God! We have to appreciate God’s molding in us. We are busily after those which are outside us, as we think that those are the things which determine our diginity, but ironically, God is after our souls. We don’t appreciate ourselves who are sought by God and in contrast we seek after other things, things which will finally disappear. How full of ironies are the lives of men who are not in conformity with God’s most beautiful plan that He is doing in our lives. I don’t know whether we pay attention to character transformation in our study, work, family, etc., while God is ‘investing’ the most there. One of the characters that we need to learn throughout our lives in the context of understanding the kingdom of God is broad-heartedness.
People who are narrow-hearted are ironically eager to work as great and as wide as possible, (compare Hitler who did expansions everywhere!)–here is a contradiction–working hard only thinking of the scope of his own territory, not thinking of building the kingdom of God. How is it possible to do much while having a narrow heart? Broadness in the kingdom of God is about the heart attitude first before the field we are going to work at. If we have a broad heart, God will entrust us with ever broadening work. So it is not the work that becomes the standard, but the standard is firstly, our being. Can we honestly admit and appreciate the strengths of others? Or are we, rather, anxious and trying to prove ourselves that we are not in any way less than them? This kind of attitude is a childish attitude which will never bring us anywhere. It will just make us go around without progress. The world is full with the spirit of competition, a culture which results from narrow-heartedness.
In Eight Deadly Thoughts by Evagrius of Pontus (which became a source for Seven Deadly Thoughts developed by Thomas Aquinas), it is listed that one of the sins that hinder one’s growth is vain glory. One who delights in vain glory likes to be acknowledged, recognized by others. He will be furious when others are praised, because his heart is narrow. He doesn’t like others to surpass his ability. This kind of attitude makes us difficult to enjoy the blessing of the kingdom of God. One whose life is narrow receives narrow blessing since his heart is narrow. God gives us blessings so that we channel those blessings to others–this is the biblical principle. We are given to give. If we can’t pass those blessings, why should God give us abundantly? Isn’t it better to give the blessings to those who can pass them to others? A life that cannot appreciate God’s blessings is a narrow life. A narrow life is a life that doesn’t understand the broadness of grace and God’s work. Jesus Christ is our perfect example, since He died to bear the sin of the world. In a healthy spiritual growth we should grow in this aspect. What spiritual discipline can we exercise in order to have a broad heart? A spiritual exercise we can do is learning to pray for others–it is that simple. Learning to pray for others, to encourage others, these will help us to have a broad heart. One who has a broad heart understand more what God’s will is, what God’s kingdom is.
“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Why ‘as it is in heaven’? Because in heaven God’s will is accomplished perfectly. As we have discussed, we see as if there are two wills of God that contradict each other: the sovereign will of God and the moral will of God. One classic question which is always put forward is: if God foreordained everything, how can men be said to have free will? This question actually came from those who follow the Enlightenment, which put much emphasis on the freedom of mature man (that is a freedom without God). A believer should not be trapped with a question produced by the Enlightenment. The problem of free will is actually related perspectively to the moral will of God. We don’t need to be confused and to collide free will and God’s sovereign will because this is a mistake in perspective. God has sovereign will, whatever happens happens in His sovereign will, even the falling of a piece of hair is in His sovereignity. So, nothing happens outside the sovereign will of God. But the Scripture also affirms the moral will of God such as, that we should love one another, tell the truth, not giving up meeting together, etc. God’s moral will is often violated. When we talk about free will we are connected with God’s moral will, not God’s sovereign will. Does man have free will? Of course, because man can disobey God. We have free will, but our free will is always in God’s sovereign will. We find it difficult to unite the two since this world is fallen, sin has caused much destruction that it creates contradictions including contradictions in thoughts, so that godly and humble theologians finally had to admit that this is a paradox. We believe that in heaven this paradox will be clear since God’s sovereign will is consistent with God’s moral will (read: sin will be no more). There will be no more problem like what we are facing in this world where God’s sovereign will seems to collide with God’s moral will. So again, we taste more of the pleasure of the integrity of life in heaven by obeying God’s will. The more we obey His word, the less we face contradiction (read: disintegration) in life, and not only the problem of paradox above, but also disintegration of life in general.
Hell is a place of contradiction. J. P. Sartre, an atheist, once described hell in a very interesting way. One is locked inside a room. He tries to go out, but fails. So he thinks, “Ah, maybe tomorrow the door will be opened.” The following day he tries again, but it is still locked. He waits and hopes for the next day. And so forever he waits and hopes without getting what he hopes for. Hell is depicted as one who hopes everyday but actually what he hopes for will never be realised. It may be some kind of love for his relatives who have not repented but actually there is no possibility for him to express his love (the parable of Lazarus and the rich man). It may be a remorse for what he has done in the past but actually there is no possibility to repent. All contradictions are there. An absolute theological madness–this is hell. It is a contradiction and disintegration which never have any way out. On the contrary, heaven is a life that is ever moving towards integrity, ever complete, as Paul says, “we see face to face.” While on earth we see as in a mirror, partial, and not complete, in heaven we are complete. The kingdom of God should be understood that way, connecting it to God’s will whereby as we live on earth, day by day we become people who are more obedient to the word of God. As we obey Him more, we understand more of His kingdom, we hallow His name more, we enjoy fellowship with one another more. Why are there Christians who can’t really relate or cooperate with others, even with their fellow brothers and sisters? Because of the lack of praying the Lord’s Prayer. May the Lord teach us to pray as what He has taught us.
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- March 19, 2006 / 06:29