The Human Heart is Built for Hope!

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The human heart is built for hope.

This internal hope-construct explains all of our drives and ambitions.  From one’s ambition to conquer what lies ahead to another’s drive to find a life-long companion: hope is the furnace which fuels our heart’s greatest desires.

The Lord’s Prayer is the proper end for this hope and honoring the Father is the only way toward its fulfillment.

This post marks week four of our Lord’s Prayer exploration.  If you’d like to catch up, click here.

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The Way Every Prayer Ought to Begin!

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When his disciples asked Jesus how they should pray, he responded with a profoundly simple opening clause: 

“Our Father in heaven. May your Name be kept holy.” Matthew 6:9

It is, quite simply, the way every prayer ought to begin.

This week, leaning on our metaphor of the Lord’s Prayer as Precious Diamonds, I am going to hold two gemstones to the light that will help us understand why.

They are:

  1. In Heaven.
  2. Holy

In Heaven expresses the idea of rule and sovereignty that our Father enjoys.

Your Name Be Kept Holy expresses the invitation to Honor God in all ways and above all things.

It’s rare that I begin with such acknowledgment in my prayers.  I typically skip the whole “God you are holy” prayer and jump right to “God I need help” prayer.

Usually I start with something like,

“Lord, I could really use your help on this one.”  Or,

“Lord, where are you?”  Or,

“Lord, if you could just get me out of this one jam . . . “

Where Every Prayer Ought to Begin

The term Father might be rendered dad or dear Father.  While some use daddy here, there is a hint of irreverence toward that term in modern society.  Our irreverence is unfortunate because daddy is a beautiful term of endearment, love, devotion, and dependence.  Each of these realities is crucial in any response to an invitation, particularly an invitation extended by our heavenly Father!

Whatever term we use, the beauty of this precious diamond is stunning:  Jesus says that when we come to God, we come to our Father, which indicates that in Christ we have a brother.  Each familial term drips with the hope of intimate relationship and ongoing care and compassion!  Rarely do I begin my prayers by exclaiming the joy of an intimate relationship established by and with my heavenly Father.

our-father

We then move from Father to IN HEAVEN.

Typically, when we think of life in heaven, we think of the hereafter.  For some, we imagine a world of white clouds and fat, little cherubs, playing harps and singing well-worn songs like Kumbaya all day long.  Well, doesn’t that sound like a wonderful place?  No wonder, few people give heaven much attention these days.  Our imagination is corrupted, if that’s our idea of heaven.

This misconception of heaven has been perpetuated in some of America’s most iconic literature, by some of our most popular authors.  Consider Mark Twain’s depiction of heaven, as seen through the eyes of everyone’s favorite miscreant, Huck Finn:

Mrs. Watson takes a dim view of Huck’s fun-loving spirit.  According to Huck, “She went on and told me all about the good place.  She said all a boy would have to do there was go around all day long with a harp and sing, forever and ever.  So I didn’t think much of it . . . I asked her if she reckoned Tom Sawyer would go there, and she said not by a considerable sight.  I was glad about that, because I wanted him and me to be together.”

Heaven: An Acquired Taste

In this compelling section of the Adventure of Huckleberry Finn, Huck conveys, in stark terms, how uninspiring life in heaven seems to be.  If his friends aren’t there and if there will not be any fun, then it’s certainly no place for him.  Particularly if he has to live there forever.  Heaven, in Huck’s eyes, actually looks more like hell.

Sad.  This impression continues down to this day.

Perhaps that’s why writers and thinkers such as C.S. Lewis said that heaven is an acquired taste.  For Lewis, and others, our earthly affairs – and the way we satisfy our desires – tend to obscure the beauty and boldness of heaven.  The Last Battle is my favorite novel in the Narnia series!

In the final pages of this imaginative piece of writing, Lewis accentuates the reality that heaven is better than any of us ever imagine.  He does so by contrasting the breadth and depth of heaven with the thin and gaunt qualities of earth.  He imagines heaven as the end of all stories; the chapter which is always better than the one before.  For example, toward the end of this novel, we read:

And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”†

The difference between Mark Twain’s version of heaven and Lewis’ version of heaven couldn’t be greater.  It appears that Lewis is a bit more informed by the Gospels.  Indeed, Jesus always invited his disciples to imagine heaven as a world beyond belief.  It’s this type of Messianic invitation that helps us experience the power of praying to our “Father who is in heaven and whose name is honored above all.”

In the Gospel of John, after a particularly grueling series of discussions concerning persecution and his oncoming crucifixion, Jesus assures his followers that, even in the face of tremendous pain and uncertainly, there is great reason for hope.  He grounds this hope in the reality of heaven.  Doing so by painting a picture of heaven that should awaken even the most deadened imaginations among us.

In John 14:2 – 3, He says:

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

Wow.

Read it again.

Quit smart-phoning or skimming it.

Read it.Diamonds

Meditate on it.

Reflect on it.

Memorize it.

Internalize it.

A Weekly Walk Toward the Hope Heaven Affords

Next week we will turn our gaze to John 14: 2 – 3.  We will do so by reflecting on Honor from the perspective of the Heart-Dripping Hopes Heaven Alone Affords.

Until then, add John 14:2 – 3 to you daily Lord’s Prayer rhythm.  Meditating on the two together might just provide meaningful moments of communion with the Lord.

Moments your soul longs to experience.

To help facilitate these meaningful and meaning-filled moments, I am providing what I call a ‘bookend’ practice.  This practice is designed to launch you into your day and bring your day to a close.  You can do this on your own, or with others.

bookend-prayer-practice

Over time, through the course of the week, you might find that such a rhythm helps you celebrate God and His goodness in your midst.  Every rhythm I provide is one in which I participate.  I hope you find these practices meaningful.  I’d love to hear from you if you do!

We are just beginning to explore and examine this great prayer, which is designed to aid us in our desire to enjoy God and celebrate His goodness in our midst.

Pray it today – pray it every day!

Come back next week as we behold the diamond, gift, and treasure – and examine the beauty within.

Disrupting to Renew!


†C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle (Macmillan Publishing Company: New York, 1956) p. 183

Let Me Know How Your Weekly Walk Is Going!

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Five Precious Diamonds, Pt. 2

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Let’s begin our exploration of the Lord’s Prayer by considering Diamond #1: HONOR.

This is, after all, where Jesus began his instruction.  In Matthew 6:9 we read:

“You, therefore, pray like this: ‘Our Father in heaven! May your Name be kept holy.”

Within this first diamond, the one I am calling HONOR, four gemstones command attention:

  1. Our
  2. FatherDiamonds
  3. In Heaven
  4. Your Name Be Kept Holy

These four gemstones frame the initial invitation of the Lord’s Prayer. This invitation shapes the foundation of the stone.  It provides a brilliant hue through which the beauty of our Holy Father can be discovered.

Four Hues of Our Holy Father

The first word, our, often overlooked, is the first gemstone.  The term, found in the first person plural, provides a hue which colors the entire prayer.  It does so by accentuating the corporate and communal thrust of this prayer.  Many have been encouraged to practice this prayer by exchanging the plural form, our, with a singular form, I.  This fatal exchange diminishes the context of and design for the prayer, which is community.

Indeed, the prayer was birthed in a rich communal environment (1st century Judaism) and is designed to enrich the communal environment and experience of being in community together.

In his commentary on this text, Craig Blomberg notes pervasiveness of the plural form throughout the prayer when he says:

The use of the first-person plural pronouns throughout the prayer reminds us that our praying ought to reflect the corporate unity, desires, and needs of the entire church.[1]

Perhaps this is why churches, at one time, would recite or pray the prayer together during the corporate, weekly setting of worship.  There is certainly no mandate to pray this prayer on a weekly basis.  The rhythm of doing so might, however, connect us – even if only mystically – to one another and to the larger body of Christ’s kingdom in our world.

I wonder if this prayer – prayed together across all tongues and tribes – is somewhat like a chorus of praise to the ears of our Father in the heavenlies?

I wonder if, when God’s people across the globe exclaim – in unison – his Son’s prayer, does He rejoice?

 I wonder if He looks upon us with gladness in His heart as we worship Him in unity in our midst, and with honor on our lips?

A Prayer for We Who Enthrone the Almighty “I”

Given the isolated and atomistic atmosphere of modern society, such a prayer might also help us move beyond the rampant individualism that exists in our midst.  Would such a prayer help us acknowledge others in the inner man or woman as we navigate the world in which we live?  Would beginning our prayers in this way help us – on some core level – respect those with whom we disagree and treat them with kindness and compassion?  Would it help us see that those with whom we disagree are also of great value to our Father?

I know that, in my own life, when my individualist needs and desires for self-glorification rear their ugly head (and yes, I struggle with that too), such a prayer reminds me of my Father who is also our Father.  The Lord’s Prayer, with its initial invitation to community, helps me extend compassion to my brother and sister as I seek their best and place their interests above my own.

I need more of this in my life.

We need more of this in our world.

The next term, Father, expresses the intimate and relational characteristic of God.  The yearning for intimacy and relational bonds rest within the heart of every human who has ever lived.  To address God as our Father gives voice to our desire for intimacy.  It also provides the anchor relationship from which all others might be birthed:  our relationship to and with our father.

In short, to pray to our Father is to confess an abiding and enriching relationship that’s designed to nurture and shape all other relationships.

It’s been observed that the absence of a father’s presence in the home leaves a love-hungry hole in the heart.  Indeed, many of the cultural issues we face today may well be traced back to the absence of a life-giving and intimately involved father figure.

A Prayer for We Who Had – and Are – Imperfect Parents

Let’s face it, none of us are perfect fathers and none of us had perfect fathers.  Admittedly, some are better at the whole fathering thing than others, but none – not one – is perfect. Whether we had a great father or a not-so-great father, our longing for intimacy can never be fully fulfilled in any earthly father.  That’s why this prayer – our Lord’s Prayer – holds particular significance for today’s church and community.  We are, preeminently so, a distracted and disconnected people who seek satisfaction in all sorts of distorted and destructive ways.

Our Father Pic 1 Intimacy and Relationship

If we could anchor our longing for intimacy in the love of our heavenly Father and the beauty of relationship He provides, then our quest for intimacy would no longer overwhelm and burden those in our lives who aren’t capable to fulfill it in the first place.

How do we anchor our longing for intimacy in the love of our heavenly Father?  I think the answer to this question rests in the beautiful portion of Scripture that portrays the baptism of Jesus.  The account is found in all four Gospels.  I like the short but life-giving account found in the Luke 3:21-22:

21 Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, “You are My beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.”

Experiencing the Love of Our Father

This text expresses and encourages us to experience the love of the Father by way of three phrases:

  1. Heaven was opened.
  2. The Holy Spirit Descended.
  3. You are My Beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.

I love, love, love how Luke begins his version of the baptism by saying that heaven was opened.  I have trouble imagining what that looked like. When I try to imagine it, I see the brilliant splendor of our glorious and good heavenly Father reframing, if but for a moment, our drab and dreary world so that He might re-narrate our dark and desperate soul.  It’s a picture of splendor.  It’s a picture of radiance.  It’s a picture of a good and generous God.

This is the picture we long for today.  We thirst for the opening of heaven in our midst.  We need to know – experientially – that there is life – abundant life – beyond what we see. This picture conveys the image of a beautiful God who is constantly in pursuit of communion with His people!  As Francis Thompson captured in his classing poem, The Hound of Heaven, when heaven is opened, we hear the exclamation mark of God as He says:

Ah, Fondest, Blindest, Weakest,
I am He whom thou seekest.

To experience heaven’s in-breaking in our world is to enjoy God’s empowering spirit in our midst!  This is exactly what we encounter when we read that the Holy Spirit descended!  The Spirit’s descension means, among other things, that God’s empowering Spirit in our midst restores and renews our hope for intimacy.  Even more importantly, that intimacy is anchored firmly and fully in and by God’s empowering Spirit.

In other words, the intimacy we long to experience is realized in the coming of God’s Spirit.

Experiencing the Empowerment His In-Breaking Secures

Among Jesus’ last appearances, after his resurrection and before his ascension, He breathed on his disciples and promised His presence by virtue of the coming of His Holy Spirit.  Such a promise, from the hands and lips of our Messiah, serves as a tired and true anchor in a world awash with peril and pain!

The Lord's Prayer Pic 2, IdentityTo experience heaven’s in-breaking in our world, and to enjoy God’s empowering spirit in our midst, is to discover our identity as His beloved child!  The power of identity cannot be overstated.  We live from a sense of who we are and how we fit into the larger world around us.  This image is distorted and tried at nearly every level and in every way in our world. When we pray as Christ prayed, that God is our heavenly Father, we confess that we are His beloved children.   Children with whom he is well-pleased.

The reality of being His beloved is beautifully expressed in the culmination of Luke’s passage.  Luke begins with an explosion of heaven.  He then continues with the descension of Gods’ Spirit.  Finally he concludes with the booming voice of God proclaiming His unyielding and unflinching pleasure in His son, Christ our Messiah.

What a beautiful picture of a good, generous, and loving heavenly Father.  Jesus then, thankfully, teaches us to approach the Father as He approaches the Father.  In doing so, conveys the truth that the Father approaches us – those in whom Christ dwells – as His very own sons and daughters.

More than Mere Words on A Page, It’s A Proclamation from the Heart

Praying the Lord’s Prayer is nothing short of the proclamation of God’s empowering presence in our midst.  To Pray the Prayer is to experience life as His child and to explore our world as ones whose lives have been invaded – wonderfully so – by the love of a Heavenly Father and the hope of His son, our savior.

No, we are not reciting mere words, here.  When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we are making the astounding proclamation that God’s Kingdom has invaded our hearts and this world.  With this invasion, His very presence has come through the empowering of His Spirit.  The combination of His Kingdom invasion and the empowering of His Spirit secures us in our identity in Him.

It’s obvious that we tend to live our lives and make our decisions based on our concept of self-image.  As we pray, we are reminded that our identity is founded on and birthed in our  life-giving heavenly Father.

Indeed, this prayer is uniquely designed to aid us in our desire to enjoy God and celebrate his goodness in our midst.

Pray it today – pray it every day!

By the way, we are only half-way through the first Diamond, Honor.  Come back next week as we behold the diamond, gift, and treasure – and examine the beauty within.

Disrupting to Renew!

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[1] Blomberg, C. (1992). Matthew (Vol. 22, p. 119). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

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