Archives For Spiritual Life

Let’s be honest, it’s hard to pray. At least consistently. Daily. Effectively.

We can spout all the super-spiritual mantras about prayer that we want. We know it’s vital to Christian living, the health of our daily relationships, our family, the impact of our work, our ability to lead. We know we should pray. We believe we should want to pray.

But when it comes to the practical reality of actually praying, most of us find prayer frustrating, mysterious, and difficult. So we carry the shame of underachieving in this lifeblood of the Christian faith. So what do we do?

I hate doing things that make me feel dumb (this is why I stay far away from hardware stores), so how do we get smarter at praying? I stumbled upon an ancient tool that has helped me immeasurably over the last few years. Martin Luther and other church fathers used this as a simple gateway to prayer, and I think you will find it powerful in your life, too.

The Lord’s Model Prayer

Before “freeform” praying for his own needs or the pressing issues of the day, Luther would pray through the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6 putting each phrase into his own words. I’ve found this process incredibly liberating! It gives me a biblical roadmap to express my own thoughts, hopes, and fears and doesn’t leave me stranded in the wilderness of my own wandering ideas and emotions.

So let’s take a moment and look at each of the six phrases in The Lord’s Model Prayer and see how they might provide a simple pathway into the powerful discipline of prayer.

1. “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.’”
–Matthew 6:9

The first phrase of The Lord’s Prayer is positional, placing us in our rightful place and God in His.

First, it’s relationally positional. We are part of a family. We have a Father. Perhaps that word conjures up bad images in your mind from your own upbringing, but I assure you that God is the true and beautiful standard of Fatherhood. He’s what you always imagined a loving Father to be. A covering. A trustworthy patriarch. He’s our eternal identity source. We are image bearers of our heavenly Father, carriers of His DNA.

It’s also morally positional. Our Father is holy. His is the Standard. This idea of God is not popular in today’s post-modern culture, but it’s vital for our flourishing as image bearers of the Creator. Yes, God is love. But He is also holy! He is truth and love. We are under God’s leadership both relationally and morally.

Forming this phrase into your own words might look something like this:

“Our Father in heaven, holy is your name.” Lord, we thank you today that you are our Father. We are made in Your image. We trust ourselves to your loving care and nurture today, but You are the One in charge. You are the standard bearer, and we look to You and not our own desires, not the influence of our culture, but to You today as our holy and loving Father. As our Father today, resurrect your DNA in our lives. May we honor your name and your position in and over us today.

2. “Your kingdom come, you will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
–Matthew 6:10

Here we are submitting to the sovereignty of God in our lives, our families, our work, our communities, our nation, and in the world. The word Kingdom refers to God’s dominion, His reign and rulership. Jesus resurrection ushered in God’s Kingdom, but His dominion over all creation is not yet complete. We live in the “already but not yet,” the middle act of God’s Great Story, and so we experience both the first-fruit blessings of Christ’s Kingdom alongside the broken realities of this sinful world. We live in this tension, and so we pray for more of God’s Kingdom to reign in us and through us and through His people.

We also pray for God’s will, His desires, plans, and purposes. I often find myself praying that God’s will would “swallow up” my own, that down to a cellular level God would resurrect my impulses so that they mirror His, that He would “re-order” the things I love. That I would want to want what He wants! This act of daily submission to the dominion and will of God is a vital and powerful part of daily prayer.

Putting this portion into your own words might look something like this:

“Your Kingdom come your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Lord, today I ask that your Kingdom would take more dominion in my heart, in my family, in my work, and in the world around us. God, I don’t trust my own heart. I’m not sure which desires to trust and which ones to be suspicious of, so I give you all of them. I need you to come and reorder the things that are important to me. Lord, I want to want what You want today! Rewire me. May your purposes come to bear in my life and in all my circumstances today.

3. “Give us this day our daily bread,”
–Matthew 6:11

This portion of The Lord’s Prayer is about daily returning to our Source. Our power is not in our stored up knowledge, our job, our source of income, our bank account, or our political system, it’s in our ongoing dependence on Jesus Christ. Left to our own devices, we begin to trust in things other than Him.

Pastor Jack Miller phrased it this way: “We organize our lives and plan our futures, and what lurks deep in our hearts is a desire for security to replace our need for Jesus.”

What happened to the manna in the wilderness when the Israelites tried to store it up? It went bad! God said, “I will feed you every day, just trust me,” yet His people tried to take His miraculous provision and store it up so they didn’t have to depend on Him anymore. We do the exact same thing! We want to trust what we can see, feel, touch, and control, but God knows we’re only living as we were created when He is the ongoing object of our dependence and trust.

This part of The Lord’s Prayer in your own words might look something like this:

“Give us this day our daily bread.” Lord, I know my heart wants to find it’s rest in things I can control. I make idols, I store up treasure, I desperately try to create my own security. But today I return to You, the only true Source! I place my dependence in you, not my family, my job, my retirement account, my preferred political party. In You. Be my wisdom, be my strength, be my provider, be my daily bread. For this day. Tomorrow I’ll be back again, because it’s in You that I place my trust.

4. “…and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
–Matthew 6:12

God’s grace is the lifeblood of our daily existence. Our only righteousness is Jesus’s righteousness that is given freely to us. Even when we do right, outside of Jesus, we do it for the wrong reasons! We must bring our brokenness to Him for healing and wholeness each new day. We must live in this grace!

But it’s not just our need for forgiveness that this prayer illuminates. Jesus harshly warns us just a few verses later, “if you don’t forgive others the Father won’t forgive you.” There’s an image of us reaching up to God for mercy with one hand while strangling our brother with our other hand, and this can’t be.

I don’t know what you’ve experienced. You may have extreme pain and brokenness in your past, things so dark and painful you don’t know how to let go of them. If you can’t find grace for others inside yourself, let God’s grace to you overflow from your life into theirs, even those that have hurt you deeply.

Putting this part of the prayer into your own words could look like this:

“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Jesus, I come to you again as a humble sinner in need of grace. Sin is like a disease that is rooted in my flesh, and You are the only remedy. May I live and breathe your grace today! May I live from your forgiveness in my own life and may that grace empower me to holiness today. And for those I struggle to forgive God, may your grace to me overflow as grace through me. May I be a forgivEN forgivER today.

5. “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
–Matthew 6:13

There is sin in me and there is sin all around me. I need to pray for protection from both. Left to my own devices, I will migrate toward fulfilling the identity hole in my life through my own means. I will look to my idols, and in seeking to satisfy my own internal longings, I will be tempted to do some awful things.

We need to pray for protection from the sin within, but we also need to pray for protection from the sin all around us! Pray protection over families, spouses, children, businesses, communities, our countries, and the entire world. Pray for supernatural preservation, that the “locusts” wouldn’t devour our “crops,” that evil would have no foothold, and that what the enemy intends for evil God would turn to good!

Phrasing this portion of the prayer in your own words might look like this:

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Left to my own devices today Lord, I will succumb to sin. I will worship my idols. I will seek to fulfill my own identity in my own way, and it will break my relationship with you and others. Protect me from my own depravity Lord! Protect me from this sin within as well as the evil all around me, from those who would try to kill and destroy what you are resurrecting and renewing. Protect us from the evil one and his work in this world.

6. “For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever, Amen.”
–Doxology

This doxology was only found in certain fragments of original scripture, so most modern translations no longer carry it. I love to include it because I think it wraps up this model prayer by refocusing my spirit on who God is and my place within His greater narrative.

There is this inherent imagery we cling to that tells us we are the central characters in our own story, but that’s not how we were designed, nor is it how we flourish and find eternal meaning in this life. We were not created to be the main character in a story that we are writing about ourselves, we were made to be beloved members of the supporting cast in a Divine masterpiece that God has been writing since the beginning of time!

When we live as if we are the center of our story, as if our happiness, our desires, and our passions are central, we are actually living outside our created design and heading for ultimate misery. This doxology puts me back in my proper place and God fully in His!

Wrapping up The Lord’s Model prayer in my own words might look something like this:

“For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory!” I declare today Lord, that You at the center and I am on the periphery. You are at the center and I revolve around you! You are the main character in the story of this day, and I am here to serve the telling of Your story. Today is Yours, Lord. The dominion, power and glory are Yours, Lord. I am yours, today, Lord. Amen.

The Power of Prayer

Do you see how this simple model can work as a bridge to prayer? It makes the ethereal mystery of prayer more accessible, and I think that was Jesus’s intent. From this point, my prayers and petitions can flow in their own freeform manner because they have been shaped by Jesus’s gateway.

Prayer is powerful because it forces our hearts into a place of humble submission and surrender, right where we were created to live and flourish in God Himself.

30 Day Challenge

I challenge you to faithfully use this model for 30 days and see if it removes the normal fear and struggle most of us associate with prayer. Jesus told us to pray and He showed us how. Prayer doesn’t just supplement our work, it is the work. Let’s get to it!


This article was originally posted at The Stone Table, a resourcing community for faith, work, and missions.


My first job out of college was as a staff auditor for a CPA firm.
As far as accounting firms go this one was pretty good, but it only took two busy seasons for me to realize this wasn’t what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. One Christmas Eve, I found myself 3 stories high on a cherry picker in an unheated warehouse doing an inventory count for a manufacturing company in northern Indiana.

  1. Take widget out of one box.
  2. Put hash mark on inventory sheet.
  3. Shiver from the cold.
  4. Place widget in second box.
  5. Blow on frozen fingers.
  6. Lose will to live.
  7. Repeat.

Surely this was some cosmic punishment for sins I didn’t even know I committed! (I was 23, so yes, I was overdramatic).

We experience difficulty, frustration, and purposeless in our work as part of this fallen world, and so most Christians assume work must be a result of sin. It’s an unfortunate reality we just have to put up with here on this earth, but one day “when we all get to heaven” work will be cast into the lake of fire with the devil and all his minions, and there will be much rejoicing!

Nothing could be further from the truth. Here’s a jaw-dropping discovery:

In the beginning there was work!

Work was part of God’s original design for mankind. Before you think this is some conspiracy perpetrated by your boss, I can prove it to you:

Genesis 2:1-3 (ESV, emphasis mine) – “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation…”

(Now look at this….this might be the most important part)

Genesis 2:15 (ESV, emphasis mine) – “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”

We’re in Genesis chapter 2. The tree and the apple and the fall of man doesn’t happen until chapter 3! So what does that mean? Work is not some post-fall punishment for sin, it’s part of God’s original design for mankind. The brokenness with which we experience work is the result of sin, but not the work itself. This is exciting stuff!

Contrary to Warner Bros. cartoon theology (you know, where Wile E. Coyote falls off the cliff and finally ends up floating on a cloud in a robe playing a harp), we weren’t created to sit around and binge-watch Netflix all day. We were created to dream and build and serve and cultivate and problem solve – to make culture and add value to the world around us – we were created to work!

In the beginning, there was work! Work is not punishment, it’s purpose. This is foundational to good work theology. I know the 23-year-old version of me could’ve benefited greatly from this understanding up on top of that warehouse lift all those years ago. But no matter where you are on your work journey, it’s never too late to replant your roots in the truth.


This article was originally posted at The Stone Table, a resourcing community for faith, work, and missions.

 

My first job out of college was as a staff auditor for a CPA firm. As far as accounting firms go this one was pretty good, but it only took two busy seasons for me to realize this wasn’t what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. One Christmas Eve, I found myself 3 stories high on a cherry picker in an unheated warehouse doing an inventory count for a manufacturing company in northern Indiana.

  1. Take widget out of one box.
  2. Put hash mark on inventory sheet.
  3. Shiver from the cold.
  4. Place widget in second box.
  5. Blow on frozen fingers.
  6. Lose will to live.
  7. Repeat.

Surely this was some cosmic punishment for sins I didn’t even know I committed! (I was 23, so yes, I was overdramatic).

We experience difficulty, frustration, and purposeless in our work as part of this fallen world, and so most Christians assume work must be a result of sin. It’s an unfortunate reality we just have to put up with here on this earth, but one day “when we all get to heaven” work will be cast into the lake of fire with the devil and all his minions, and there will be much rejoicing!

Nothing could be further from the truth. Here’s a jaw-dropping discovery:

In the beginning there was work!

Work was part of God’s original design for mankind. Before you think this is some conspiracy perpetrated by your boss, I can prove it to you:

Genesis 2:1-3 (ESV, emphasis mine) – “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation…”

(Now look at this….this might be the most important part)

Genesis 2:15 (ESV, emphasis mine) – “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”

We’re in Genesis chapter 2. The tree and the apple and the fall of man doesn’t happen until chapter 3! So what does that mean? Work is not some post-fall punishment for sin, it’s part of God’s original design for mankind. The brokenness with which we experience work is the result of sin, but not the work itself. This is exciting stuff!

Contrary to Warner Bros. cartoon theology (you know, where Wile E. Coyote falls off the cliff and finally ends up floating on a cloud in a robe playing a harp), we weren’t created to sit around and binge-watch Netflix all day. We were created to dream and build and serve and cultivate and problem solve – to make culture and add value to the world around us – we were created to work!

In the beginning, there was work! Work is not punishment, it’s purpose. This is foundational to good work theology. I know the 23-year-old version of me could’ve benefited greatly from this understanding up on top of that warehouse lift all those years ago. But no matter where you are on your work journey, it’s never too late to replant your roots in the truth.

This article was originally posted at The Stone Table, a resourcing community for faith, work, and missions.

 

It’s hard to jump into a new television series in season 3. You have no context for the characters, why they act the way the do, how they’re connected to one another, or where they’re going. Perhaps you can piece together enough to get your bearings, but you miss so much depth in the storyline by beginning in the middle.

Thanks to Hulu, Netflix, and other streaming services, starting a TV series mid-stream is now a thing of the past. Unfortunately, when it comes to understanding our everyday work from a Christian standpoint, most of us have jumped in at “season 3.” We’re only viewing a small portion of the Grand Storyline. We’ve “started in the middle,” and so we lack context and struggle to find meaning. We don’t know where the story began or where it’s heading, and perhaps worst of all, we haven’t even identified the main character yet.

If we want good “work theology,” if we want to discover how our faith and our day-jobs collide, we have to go back to the beginning. We have to re-discover the origins. We have to place our current reality inside a much Bigger Plot.

When most of us think of faith and work, we primarily think about applying “biblical principles” to our current work experience. We pick out moral teachings on greed and honesty, leadership examples like Nehemiah “rebuilding the walls,” or practical wisdom from Proverbs, and try to implement them like a how-to manual of tips, suggestions, or inspiration. And that’s a noble pursuit.

But ultimately, these efforts are more about trying to write God into our stories rather than understanding we have been so graciously written into His. We are living in the unfolding storyline of God’s Grand Narrative! But our self-absorption zeroes in on our individual chapters, and so we’re never able to grasp the full meaning and depth of what’s really happening or the roles we’ve been designed to play.

Before we can talk about the practical, everyday reality of faith and work, we have to zoom out. Way out. We have to see the whole arc of God’s storyline clearly. If you want more meaning in your work, more purpose in your 8-5, less dread when the alarm goes off on Monday morning, you first have to place your story inside of God’s story.

Creation >> Fall >> Redemption >> Consummation

Why did God create us in the first place? What in the world went wrong? What did God do to fix it? Where is all this heading?

These aren’t new questions or discoveries, they’re recapturing the historical roots of Christianity from which everything beautiful grows. The faith and work journey starts here.

This article was originally posted at The Stone Table, a resourcing community for faith, work, and missions.

 

Humans have a fascinating propensity to swing the pendulum. Like an instinctive throwback to our childhood days on the school playground, we almost find joy in stomach butterflies created by the repetitive back and forth. When we see an area of abuse, misuse, brokenness, or failure, we assume the opposite is the answer. We prescribe to offset the abuse with equal balance, rather than seeking to return it to wholeness and original design.

Not even the Gospel of Jesus Christ is immune to this phenomenon.

I see two main ways we completely miss the message of the Gospel – two swings of the pendulum, two opposite extremes, two ways of taking a portion of the message and turning it into the whole message – and I believe both are hijacking humanity’s understanding of true Christianity.

The first we’ll call Moralism. Or Legalism. Pharisaism (if you like big theological words). This side of the pendulum is typically associated with religious people, and understandably so. But moralism isn’t a religious problem, it’s a human problem.

Moralism screams, “There is a standard and I will meet it! In many ways, moralism the default setting of the human heart. We instinctively celebrate the meritocracy of those who “get it right” and malign those who so obviously and pitifully fall short of the standard. The only problem for moralists is that Scripture clearly says we all miss the standard.

Here are a few ways the moralism side of the pendulum swings away from the true Gospel:

  1. Moralism creates horizontal comparison and always leads to pride or despair. In Luke 18, the Pharisee arrogantly prays, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people.” Last week on our way to dinner, my wife told me I was driving way too fast. My instinctive reaction was to remind her which of the two of us has more speeding tickets! My comparison was no longer with the posted speed limit, but with my wife’s driving record. This is what moralism does. We no longer compare ourselves to the Father’s standard but with other fallen people. When that comparison is favorable, we feel a sense of self-righteous pride. When it’s unfavorable, we fall into shame and condemnation. This isn’t the message of the Gospel.
  2. Moralism dumbs down God’s standard of righteousness to an attainable level. Moralists misdefine sin. They look at outward words and behaviors when Jesus so clearly looked at the heart. The Sermon on the Mount wasn’t good advice from Jesus on how to live a nice, moral life. It was intentionally crushing demands from God incarnate intended to leave us pleading “who then can be saved?” Jesus didn’t lower the standard, he upped the ante! The Gospel does not offer us a dumbed down standard of righteousness.
  3. Moralism makes ME the savior. If righteousness is a standard I can meet, then when I achieve that standard I am my own savior. As a recovering moralist, the Gospel did not really come alive to me until I had lived long enough to realize how huge God’s standard of righteousness actually is and how far short of it I actually fall. The Gospel leaves no room for self-salvation.

But the answer to religious moralism isn’t the removal of morals. The opposite arc of this pendulum is equally off-base. We’ll call it Progressivism. Or Human Enlightenment. Or antinomianism (if you once again like big theological words). If moralism says I will meet the standard, progressivism says I will REMOVE the standard. This swing is typically associated with “secular” people, but unfortunately it finding it’s way into the Church, too.

Here are a few ways the progressive side of the pendulum swings away from the true Gospel:

  1. Progressivism seeks first to remove the standard. Romans 1:21 tells us plainly, “Yes they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship as God or even give Him thanks.” Individuality is one of the dominant gods of our day. When I was a kid, my parents wanted us to stop watching TV and do something together. Now I find myself begging the family to put down their own individual entertainment devices so we can watch a TV show together! Everything is personalized, even our definition of righteousness. And like the serpent in the Garden, our personal preferences whisper deceptively in our ears, “did God really say?” The Gospel leaves no room for self-defined righteousness.
  2. Progressivism always results in the creation of a new standard.And they began to think up new ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused.” (Rom 1:21). The problem with removing God from the equation is that human beings will always worship something. As our individualized worship begins to bump up against one another, a new set of cultural standards develops with new human arbiters. Our God-stamped identities long for the truth, joy, and beauty of His Kingdom, and so we try to create it (without the King). The Gospel leaves no room for other Kings.
  3. Progressivism makes ME the savior. If I can make the standard or just remove it altogether, I become my own savior. Or perhaps I just eliminate my need for a savior altogether. The Gospel leaves no room for self-salvation.

Sound familiar? It should. Moralism and Progressivism are just two sides of the same self-righteous coin. Moralism redefines the standard in a way I am able to meet, progressivism just removes the standard altogether. Both put me at the helm, me at the center, me on the throne. Neither swing of this pendulum is the Gospel. In fact, they’re the anti-gospel.

There are three aspects to what I’ll call a “Wholistic” Gospel:

  1. The Law Crushes. The purpose of God’s Law is not just to give us great advice to live by, it’s to completely destroy any and all confidence in our flesh. If we don’t first grasp the immeasurable weight of God’s Law, then there’s no need for Grace.
  2. Grace Resurrects. As Brennan Manning so eloquently put it, “all is grace!” We are incapable of living the lives God designed us to live without the merciful gift of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is not about making bad people good, but dead people live!
  3. The Spirit Empowers. This is one element often left out of the conversation. Romans 6 tells us that the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead now dwells in us! (Chew on that for a minute). We are now empowered to live lives pleasing to God because His very Spirit dwells in our grace-resurrected bodies. It’s not our ability to meet God’s standard, but His power in us!

This is the good news. The WHOLE Gospel. Jesus Christ has done for us what we could never do for ourselves! Get off the swinging pendulum and find real life in the center of this beautiful Gospel message.