The Quintessentials

Raise your hand if you are a WordNerd. I am. One of my favorite words is “quintessential.” The dictionary defines this word as “perfectly typical or representative of a particular kind of person or thing.” For example, the quintessential dressy party attire for women is the LBD (little black dress). The quintessential fruit on a hot day is watermelon. Examples of ‘quintessential Americana’ include baseball and apple pie. And taxes. Don’t forget taxes.

Today we will look at a quintessential prayer, which of course is the “Lord’s Prayer”:

Matthew 6 (Common English Bible)

Pray like this:

Our Father who is in heaven, uphold the holiness of your name. 10 Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven. 11 Give us the bread we need for today. 12 Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us. 13 And don’t lead us into temptation,but rescue us from the evil one.

Jesus was teaching his disciples how to pray in anticipation of the time when he would leave the earth. He wanted them to know how to talk to God in his absence. Jesus begins with “pray like this,” so let’s break this beautiful quintessential prayer down.

  1. Pray to God, and God alone.
  2. Remind yourself of the power and holiness of God’s name.
  3. Ask for God’s kingdom to come: this will remind you of where your citizenship truly lies.
  4. Ask God to show you HIS will for your life, setting aside your own.
  5. Ask for what you need to sustain you for the day. Then ask again tomorrow.
  6. Ask for forgiveness.
  7. Offer forgiveness to those who have wronged you.
  8. Seek God’s help in resisting evil of every manner.

This succinct outline serves as a way to frame our every prayer, not just the “Lord’s Prayer.” If we follow this in our daily conversations with God, we will be set to receive all the daily blessings that God has to give us.

Probably one of the most important aspects of this prayer is the word “daily.” It is a reminder to us to seek God in the good times, the bad times, the boring times, and the lonely times. With prayer as our way of communicating with God, we can be assured that God is present in our every moment, mood, and need. Day after day, every day. Thanks be to God!

So when you pray, pray like that.

“For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. AMEN!”

Flowing Water by Bruce Winterstine

Where Have All the Manners Gone?

Etiquette has all but gone out of style. In a world focused on selfies, pot-stirring posts, road rage, and entitlement, the “niceties” of our grandparents’ era have flown out the proverbial window. When I was first married, my mother-in-law gave me her copy of the Military Wives’ Etiquette Handbook. I scoffed when I read passages that referred to gloves and the girdle-wearing directives that were common in her generation of Navy wifing, but some of the foundational instructions were spot on. Courtesy, manners, proper small talk at large events, the appropriate use of forks and elbows at the table … there was a code, and we all lived by it.

Now people wear pajamas in church, fight (sometimes with their fists) with flight attendants over FAA regulations, drive as though they are the only ones on the highway, and think nothing of cutting you off at the gas station or the grocery check-out line.

Where are our manners?

In the sixth chapter of Matthew, Jesus gave us instruction on prayer and giving to the poor etiquette. In short, he advises that we approach these things with sincerity and avoid attention:

Matthew 6 (Common English Bible)

6 “Be careful that you don’t practice your religion in front of people to draw their attention. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

“Whenever you give to the poor, don’t blow your trumpet as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may get praise from people. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that you may give to the poor in secret. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.

Showy prayer

“When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. But when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.

I once heard a wonderful speaker named Terry Tykle liken prayer to playing the lottery. He said that just as people buy more tickets to increase their chance of winning, some of us use more words when we pray to try to increase our chance of getting God’s attention. Jesus agrees that this is not a good or necessary practice:

Proper prayer

“When you pray, don’t pour out a flood of empty words, as the Gentiles do. They think that by saying many words they’ll be heard.Don’t be like them, because your Father knows what you need before you ask.

I love that last sentence. Your Father knows what you need before you ask. A plethora of words isn’t necessary … just a sincere word that comes from a genuine heart.

God loves when we approach our religious life with humility. After all, his son approached the cross that way. So when you have the opportunity to give, share, lead, and pray, remember Jesus’ example and do it quietly. That is the best way to shine a light on your relationship with God.

After all, he knows.

God Knows by Lynn Benson

Called to Pray

A few years ago, I attended a prayer vigil for a missing child. After the pastor gave a homily, we were invited to form groups of ten people to pray. The pastor gave very explicit directions and said that if people felt uncomfortable praying aloud, they were welcome to remain silent. I was in a group of folks from different faith systems, including a man who described himself as an atheist. I was surprised that each person elected to pray when it was his or her turn. I think my favorite prayer came from the atheist. He simply said, “God, I don’t know what to say. But hear every else’s prayer.”

That might have been the best prayer of the night. 

Matthew 6:5-6 (Contemporary English Version)

5 When you pray, don’t be like those show-offs who love to stand up and pray in the meeting places and on the street corners. They do this just to look good. I can assure you that they already have their reward.

6 When you pray, go into a room alone and close the door. PRAY TO YOUR FATHER in private. He knows what is done in private, and he will reward you.

Our focus on prayer during this season of Lent brings us to this passage in Matthew. Jesus is warning against the hypocrisy of praying loudly for the sake of praying loudly. I think we can stretch this a bit and consider that it warns against all kinds of hypocrisy in the church. If our intentions grow beyond serving the Lord with humble gladness, we have lost our way. You and I have seen preachers who parade around the stage calling attention to themselves. We have sat beside the matriarch dripping in jewels who seeks to bar “others” from participation in the church. We have watched the soloist sing a song for the sake of performance and adulation, not worship. We’ve watched the fog machines that defined “contemporary worship” go in and out of style. Pretense is not worship. Pretense is not worthy of our Lord.

Prayer is a calling to “get naked” with God. This certainly is an activity that should be done in a room alone. God invites us to strip off all pretense of faux righteousness and come clean. I have a friend who invites God to do “heart surgery” on him when he prays, and the analogy is good. Lying under a hospital sheet and exposing our hearts to the great Physician’s scapel is a Lent-worthy endeavor.

As we continue to move through this Lenten journey, I challenge you to set aside all your facades and just be real with God. Ask him to reveal any unconfessed sin that remains hidden deep, and be willing to be searched and known by him. I promise you that God will hear this prayer and heal you of everything that stands between you and him.

Use this beautiful verse from Psalm 139 as you pray:

Psalm 139 (New Revised Standard Version)

2Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts!
24 And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting!

Amen!

Hear Our Prayers, Oh Lord by Michelle Robertson

Lent Rules

Let’s talk about the Lectionary for a moment.

The Revised Common Lectionary is a prescribed set of scripture assignments in a three-year cycle. The purpose of the Lectionary is to provide preachers with a compass. Those who follow it will be sure to draw from a wide range of readings, as opposed to choosing what to preach on each week based on our own preferences. Trust me, we would all like to stay in the safe waters of the Gospel of John or the Psalms, but the Lectionary throws us into the deep depths of Amos and Revelation as well. Those are books a smart preacher avoids like the plague! So following the Lectionary ensures that the entire Bible gets preached.

A Lenten discipline that I am practicing for the second year now is to do these devotionals following the Lectionary. Usually when I sit down to write, God has presented a topic that has captured my attention and I find a scripture that speaks directly to the issue. During Lent, the scripture will find me instead, as I will be following the four prescribed weekly assignments for Year A. (Fridays will be writer’s choice!)

Yes, this is a harder approach. But Lent is designed to stretch us, challenge us, and allow God to teach us his wisdom into our secret hearts. So come along with me as we allow the Lectionary to drive this train!

Matthew 6 (The Message)

“Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding.

2-4 “When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—‘playactors’ I call them—treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.

Isn’t this an appropriate text for our first week in Lent? It lays out the rules: don’t make a performance out of being good. Don’t call attention to yourself when you are doing something for someone else. Don’t show your compassion only when someone is watching. Don’t focus on how you look when you are helping someone.

Be quiet. Be unobtrusive.

Pray with Simplicity

“And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?

“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.

This last verse nails Lent: go to your quiet and secluded place and JUST BE THERE as simply and honestly as you can manage, and shift your focus to God.

Ponder that as you move through your day. When and where can you quiet down your life so that you can sense God’s grace today? When and where can you enter into God’s presence and shift your focus to him?

Lent is calling. Go into your prayer closet and shut the door. Shut down your ego, shut the door on your need for attention, and especially shut out the clamor of the world around you…and simply BE.

https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=23

“Did Anybody Drop This?”

I was buckled in with my cell phone in airplane mode, and my tray table in its upright and locked position. I was ready for takeoff. We had just started to push back when the PA come on and the flight attendant asked, “Did anybody drop this?” Of course everybody looked up, craning their heads around the seats and leaning into the aisles to see. She continued, “OK, now that I have your attention, let’s go over the safety demo.”

Touché! Well played, Southwest Airlines, well played!

If God could completely have your attention, what do you think he would say?

Here’s one thought:

Matthew 6 (The Message)

34 “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

Whoa. Did you hear that? Are you craning your head around all your problems to see what he is saying? Don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. Whatever it is, God will help you deal with it.

Do you believe that? Do you have a well of trust deep enough that when you dip your worry-bucket in, it comes out filled up to the rim with hope? Yeah, me neither. I mean, it is hard to face your unspoken fears with courage and faith. Instead, our human tendency is to immediately dive deep into fret and worry. It’s normal. It’s natural. It’s understandable. And it’s also useless.

Scripture reminds us that God loves the wildflowers he created, and….wait for it…he loves us even more:

30-33 “If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving.

People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.”

Do I have your attention yet?

So here’s the thing. You know God. You know how he works. Every day you check in here to read, learn, and grow in your understanding of his word. So pick this up today: the best defense against useless worry is to relax in his promises.

Steep your life in God-reality.

Steep your life in God-initiative.

Steep your life in God-provisions.

When you do that, you’ll find all your everyday concerns will be met by the God who loves you, who created you, and who died on a cross for you. Thanks be to God.

Outer Banks Starfish by Michelle Robertson.