forgiving others so that we might be forgiven

And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Matthew 6:12, 14-15

and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

Ephesians 4:32

Our Lord tells the parable of the unforgiving servant who although he was forgiven a huge debt outright, would not forgive a servant of his who owed comparatively little, but didn’t have the resources to pay it back readily. And in the Lord’s teaching on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount, we’re taught to ask for forgiveness of our sins, since we’ve forgiven others of their sins against us. And then after the prayer that unless we forgive others, we ourselves won’t be forgiven. Yet Ephesians tells us to forgive each other just as God in Christ has forgiven us. What are we to make of this?

I think this might be akin to John in 1 John telling us that we’re to confess our sins, and that as do so, God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins (1 John 1:9). We’ve been forgiven which we’ve been taught is past, present and future because of Christ and Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross. But we’re to live that out in the present. 

We might hold grudges against others, against another, and we withhold forgiveness from them, maybe in some kind of passive aggressive way, but oftentimes that apparently being so receded that we’re unaware of it, but we simply don’t forget the offense and still hold it against the person. Instead we’re told that we’re to forgive them. As we’ve already been forgiven as we’re told in Ephesians. But also so that we might experience forgiveness ourselves for the sins we inevitably commit. Including the sin of not forgiving that other person.

This is something we have to do, and keep working at doing. It may involve struggle, and time, but in our hearts and minds we need to be committed to that. God will help us follow through as we set our face toward that goal. In and through Jesus.

Jesus’s blessings and woes

Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Luke 6:17-26

Perhaps an echo of the blessings and curses found in Deuteronomy, Jesus gives his version, which like almost everything Jesus did was surprising, often turning expectations on their head. And even to this day, though we’re used to the idea that these words exist, we hardly take them seriously, much less live by them.

We want to live in the full flourishing of the kingdom now. We want everything to be okay, good, great. And at least we want to have our slice of “the American dream.”

But Jesus calls us to accept something entirely different. Really, just how he lived. It’s not like he didn’t take responsibility. We can see that he did, the first thirty or so years of his life. I mean responsibility in the way we think of that: earning a living, providing for one’s family, etc. But when it was time for him to fulfill the Father’s calling, and his ministry, then it was done in complete dependence on the Father. Jesus’s words here are not something he didn’t live out himself. God’s riches we’re not meant to be hoarded, but shared with others. There was never to be a moment of self-sufficiency, but instead an utter trust in God for God’s ongoing provision. We see this all through Jesus’s life along with his teaching, including the prayer Jesus taught us to pray.

The blessings and woes are meant to encourage and warn. Encouragement to those of us who struggle from day to day, maybe due to no fault of our own, or more likely with some fault, but seeking to live in God’s will. And warning for those who are self-sufficient, well able to take care of things themselves, often with their own agenda. The woes are meant to be warnings that the rich would hear so that they would change. One classic example that comes to mind of a rich person changing is the story of the tax collector, Zacchaeus.

So we need to take heart, regardless of where we might fall on the spectrum. God will take care of everything as we endeavor to follow Jesus. To the very end. In and through Jesus.

Jesus teaches his disciples (and us, hopefully disciples, too) on prayer

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

He said to them, “When you pray, say:

hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.’”

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Luke 11:1-13

If you want Jesus’s teaching on prayer in a nutshell, you probably can’t find a better passage then here (see also the great passage in the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 6:5-15).

Jesus tells us the general pattern we should use in praying. While we can see from Scripture, including Jesus’s own life, that all kinds of prayers are acceptable, we do well to evaluate our prayer life in comparison to the “Our Father” prayer Jesus taught us. And to even pray the words of that prayer together, as well as to God, ourselves. So much in that prayer that can become individual prayers. Like in confession of sin, letting God know our needs, etc., not to mention what is basic, God as our Father whose name is to revered, and whose kingdom we long for.

Then Jesus tells us that we’re to pray in expectation, knowing our Father will answer. We come as God’s children in Jesus, believing that God always has our best interest at heart. And committing our cares, our loves ones, ourselves, and the world to him. In and through Jesus.


the breath of the Christian: prayer

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Colossians 4:2

Not to be confused with the Christian spiritual practice of breath prayer, which I personally have nothing against from what I understand of it, we as Christians, believers and followers of Jesus, need to make prayer a vital part of our lives throughout the day. When I say prayer, I’m thinking primarily of petitions to God for others, and also for one’s self, but it certainly ought to include worship and praise of God, as well as confession of sin, and as we’re told in the great passage on spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6, we’re to “pray in the Spirit with all kinds of prayers and petitions.” It’s good to utter the Lord’s/Our Father’s prayer regularly, daily, and that helps keep us on track in what and how we should pray.

Charles Spurgeon, the pastor and great preacher in London used to be known as being a busy man in pastoring the church, and in teaching at the school his church had for pastors. It didn’t seem like he would have much time for prayer, but he said that there was always a prayer under his breath. And it’s interesting that it seems like he had a gift of the Spirit of faith for those who were ill, maybe a gift also of healing. It was said that there were more people healed through his prayers than through all the medical doctors in London. And he was a Baptist, and therefore not given to any special emphasis in that direction. It was just a gift he had.

Let me also note that kindness and generosity toward others, even when it would be easy to do otherwise, ought to mark our speech, beginning with our thoughts of others. We also need to remember that we all need mercy and grace. Instead of criticizing someone who may even well deserve it, we need to bite our tongues and pray for them. We need to be in prayer left and right for everyone and everything.

Note too that prayer is not some great way of praying on our part, so that God accepts it. No, no, no. It is just a simple prayer to God in all of our weakness, perhaps pain, and even sin. We just pray to God with simple prayers in all our own weakness and brokenness. Maybe having a hard time sometimes even uttering a word, or thinking it matters, but just doing it, and doing it again and again, so that hopefully it becomes a habit of life.

I like to be in the word all day, both reading it, and especially throughout the day going on to the next phrase in another kind of Bible reading. Ironically, I shouldn’t let even that get in the way of praying. With the kind of job I have, I can sometimes easily take the next phrase and shove my small Bible back into my pocket. But other times I’m so busy, I can’t do that. Those can be times where I can practice prayer all the more. However it works out for us, what we need to do is pray, pray, and pray some more. And never stop praying. An important exercise of our faith, and for helping us live in God’s will with others in and through Jesus.

the our Father/Lord’s prayer in thinking about the gospel and life today

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,[a]
    but deliver us from the evil one.[b]

Matthew 6:9-13

How do we look at what the good news (which is what gospel means) in Christ, and all of life? Oftentimes we evangelicals are criticized for being navel gazers so to speak, the idea of it being all about my salvation and walk with God and management of life. And when it comes to the world at large, we are also criticized for not seeing community as more important than the individual, without bypassing any individual. I think much of the criticism is probably justified to some extent. Not that other groups don’t have their blinders on. And not that the evangelicals don’t have some strengths, because I believe we do.

But regardless of what Christian tradition we’re a part of, the Our Father/Lord’s prayer can help us get a view in keeping with the Biblical view of God’s will for us and for the world. And what is to be basic for us. It is a prayer worth repeating every Sunday as a church (the evangelical mega church where we’ve been taking our grandchildren, and probably will join does not), and every day of our lives, or at least regularly. Of course it has to be read in light of all the rest of scripture. But it is basic and formative in helping us understand what our view of the impact of the gospel and the world should be. All of this in and through Jesus.

avoiding our own agendas

“This…is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.’

Matthew 6

The prayer the Lord taught us ought to guide us not only in our praying, but also in what agendas we take up and promote in this world. As well as what we see as important in this world, from what is not as important, and might even be idolatrous, or maybe a waste of time.

And above all, we in Jesus need to be people of prayer. If we are praying about something, then we are at best, entering into a stance of interactivity with God, which means that more often than not, we will be involved in some way in God’s answer. At least we’re to be open to that.

And we do all of this with God’s agenda of the gospel in Jesus in heart, mind, and deed. The good news is of God’s grace, as well as kingdom in Jesus, and so is political, but not of the politics of this world. It might impact this world’s political systems, but it remains separate from them.

What is shocking to me is the notion that politics and the gospel have nothing in common. The good news in Jesus involves one’s salvation and personal relationship with God, yes. But that gospel is as big as all of life, with a promise which involves everything, and in the end, forever.

But concerning the politics of this world, we do well to have the attitude that regardless of how we vote and our own tendencies in regard to that, that God’s answer to it is as we find in Joshua, “Neither. But as Captain of the LORD of hosts, I have come to you.” In other words, we hope for the best for our nation and the world. But we are first and foremost, and in a certain sense exclusively on the Lord’s side. On King Jesus’s side. As we continue to pray, and begin to live out the prayer he taught us.

avoiding functioning deism

I ran across a fascinating post this morning (When God Shows Up: What’s A Douting Functional Deist To Do?; HT: Scot McKnight) on how we, over concern of embracing pop theologies which tend toward self-centeredness, etc., can end up embracing a “hermeneutic of doubt.” Well worth the read.

It got me to thinking about my own life. I would hope that I am more and more growing in my faith, so that I’m developing the faith of a little child. That seems to be a part of the adult maturity we’re called to as followers of Jesus, the one who while on earth implicitly trusted in his Father. But in my case, I’m a skeptic by nature, and one given to doubt and to ask more questions. So that there’s a crunch which occurs when God is “showing up to me” which for me is commonly through the narrative of scripture. I don’t look for miracles in my life, though I believe for example, that God does heal in answer to prayer. I’ve experienced that myself.

But I don’t want to see God as merely a go-to-God to fix my problems. God is about much more than that. In the end everything is taken care of, and actually throughout, though perhaps in ways we would not imagine or choose. The point here is that we can’t hold God in a box, as if God is going to do either this or that. But we can hold God to his promises in scripture in and through Jesus. God is faithful and true, and will answer. Although again, his answer at times can be “no,” or “wait,” or be more concerned about something much bigger than what we asked for. Though nothing is too small for the Father’s care.

And so I’m thinking and praying. Could it be that how I see the Father’s care for us, for my family and myself correlates to my care for others? Am I concerned about not only the big picture, but small details in it which may seem trivial at times, and yet are important in their place?

The panacea for avoiding common errors and pitfalls is to seek to follow the Lord through being in God’s written word, scripture, and in prayer. And of course remaining steadfast in the fellowship of the church, working through the highs and lows and what is in between in that. Not a bad place to start might be our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). After which we could find a one year Bible reading program as well as slowly work through at least the New Testament and Psalms and Proverbs– which is what I’m doing. Right now along with that I read two chapters a day from both the Old and New Testament along with five psalms per day lining up with the day of the month (30 days, 150 psalms). And I listen now and then to Max McLean read scripture on Bible Gateway (the app for that is nice).

A good place to start is to both pray the words (Luke 11) and learn how to pray in this way, the prayer the Lord taught us (found in the Sermon on the Mount):

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one,
for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Matthew 6:9-13

really praying

I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.

Psalm 77

Lord, they came to you in their distress;
when you disciplined them,
they could barely whisper a prayer.

Isaiah 26

[Jesus] said to them, “When you pray, say:

hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.’”

Luke 11

There can be value in saying prayers, especially when we practice what our Lord taught us so that we recite together and alone what is called “the Lord’s Prayer,” or the “Our Father” prayer. But if there’s no sincerity, saying prayers amounts to nothing more than mouthing words. The Lord looks at the heart.

There are times when we want to pray, but barely can. Those might be times of the Lord’s loving hand of discipline upon us, as the above passage says (Isaiah 26). But it’s a part of the human condition to be weak. We are weak and we cast ourselves on the grace and mercy of God. The Isaiah passage is encouraging in intimating that no matter how we’ve strayed, we can come to God. It may require much effort on our part, although prayer normally takes some effort. We may feel it is useless, that there’s a barrier between us and God. But it is always good for us to lift our voices to him. To do so when our hearts are torn or broken, or even seemingly distant from God for that matter.

Sometimes we are in more or less desperate straits. We cry to God over someone else’s plight, or over something we’re concerned about in our own life. And hopefully we keep bringing petitions to God for those in need. This is good, because inherently we are not people of prayer, people dependent on God. Life can draw us into that prayer which is an expression of faith, drawing us closer to God, hopefully into a deeper relationship with him.

Scripture is not superficial anywhere, very much attuned to life. Prayers are as human as they may be caught up into the divine. Sometimes blood, sweat and tears. Made holy and received by God through Jesus Christ.

reflecting prayers of the psalms

There are times when I simply am trying to hold on. When much if not all seems lost and life seems difficult. When others may be in grave situations, or maybe one’s self. And when grace just doesn’t seem to be getting through.

We need to be in all of scripture consistently and over time, and the psalms is no exception. Some of the psalms are beautiful and idyllic, Psalm 23 and 72 come to mind. Others contain lines that are either awful, or seem beneath what a Christian ought to be experiencing. “After all, aren’t we people of the light? Then how can we struggle with darkness?” one might ask. And I’m thinking here not of darkness due to overt sin, although sometimes it’s hard to know where the line of sin is crossed. But by simply living in this world, one’s experience will have some valleys, maybe deep dark ones.

Today, as I ponder life in my neck of the woods and beyond, I will take some consolation that whatever darkness I feel is well reflected in the following psalm. And will conclude with “the Lord’s prayer.”

A song. A psalm of the Sons of Korah. For the director of music. According to mahalath leannoth. A maskil of Heman the Ezrahite.

Lord, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you.
May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.
I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.
You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
my eyes are dim with grief.
I call to you, Lord, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.
Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction?
Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?
But I cry to you for help, Lord;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, Lord, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?
From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.

Psalm 88

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one,
for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Matthew 6

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on who rightly prays the prayer “Thy kingdom come”

“Thy kingdom come”—this is not the prayer of the pious soul of the individual who wants to flee the world, nor is it the prayer of the utopian and fanatic, the stubborn world reformer. Rather, this is the prayer only of the church-community of children of the Earth…who persevere together in the midst of the world, in its depths, in the daily life and subjugation of the world.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Berlin: 1932-1933 quoted by Scot McKnight, Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church, vii.