In 1993 Dallas began teaching an intensive two-week residential course for Fuller Theological Seminary’s Doctor of Ministry program. His task was to teach about spiritual life in a systematic way so that its full connection to the work of the minister was clear. These sessions from 2012 are from Dallas’s last year of teaching the course before he died. Though a bulk of the course was usually centered on the nature and practice of disciplines, the beginning of the course dealt with more theological themes like the nature of spiritual reality and the end of the course dealt with topics in spirituality like vocational issues. [Editor’s Note: We know that the class was taped on other occasions and would be glad to find these recordings.]
All right—I want to go back and just say a few more words about Worship. Worship is an exercise in seeing the greatness of God. That’s the primary—it’s a choice. Sometimes of course something happens more than you just focusing on the greatness of God. Sometimes God Himself shows up but of course that’s not something you can predict or control. Nevertheless, it does happen and we see this in the Scripture. Isaiah 6 is surely the part that is most well known in this regard. Isaiah was having a bad day. King Uzziah, a good King had died and a wonderful passage—“The year the King Uzziah died, I saw also the Lord high and lifted up, His train filling the temple” and so that’s a great time.
I have on page 89 a little selection from Wesley’s journal. They were having what they call the “Love Feast” at Fetter Lane—about 60 brethren about 3 in the morning, “As we were continuing in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us in as much that we cried out for exceeding joy and fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of His majesty, we broke out with one voice, ‘We praise Thee oh God, we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.’” Now that does happen to groups and it is something I believe that we should pray for and hope for and perhaps wait for—maybe even until 3 o’clock in the morning. Watch Night services were for sometime an establishment practice and they called them Watch Nights because they were watching for God to come and we don’t do that much anymore. But, I believe that we should pray and expect the visitation of God in our worship and I think that it does a tremendous thing to establish us. It’s falls in the category also of a religious experience and we are not in control of it but I think that these things often establish our faith in a way that nothing else really does because it give us a sense of reality and a knowledge of God that is very helpful indeed. [3:20]
Now, when we have this sort of experience, it’s good but we don’t have to have that in order to set God before us in such a way that our minds are established, and the text in Psalms 16: “I have set the Lord always before me. He is at my right hand so I shall not be moved” and that’s an effect of worship and worship perhaps sustained by our habits of thinking that we have cultivated. So, we have a part in this and it makes a tremendous difference for us.
I love a few lines from the poet Sydney Lanier. I quote them on page 135 in Renovation of the Heart and he has some lovely images here. He says,
“As the marsh hen secretly builds on the watery sod,
Behold I will build me a nest on the greatness of God.
I will fly in the greatness of God as the marsh hen flies.
In the freedom that fills all the space betwixt the marsh
and the skies.
By so many roots as the marsh grass sins in the sod,
I will heartily lay me ahold of the greatness of God!” [4:53]
And I think that is one of the outcomes of worship is that we are heartily a whole of the greatness of God and this can be a tremendous benefit to us. There is a lady down in Texas, the testimony on this—somebody made a DVD of it and you may have seen it—and shared her little five year old son was run over and killed by a neighbor, not carelessly or anything as those kinds of things happen. She had a wonderful testimony and a part of it was that the only relief she could find form her sorrow was contemplating the attributes of God. See, you might think how brainy, how cognitive and all of that—no, no—when you contemplate the attributes of God, it has a powerful influence over every part of you. It’s like, since there is God, everything else looks different to me and that language that the only place she found relief from the grief of losing her son was in contemplating the attributes of God. So, a good question for us is, do we ever contemplate the attributes of God? And, of course, that’s more than rattling them off and it would mean something like, well, you have two classes of attributes—theologically, one is metaphysical attributes-present everywhere, all powerful, all knowing and so on and then you have the moral attributes—like being infinitely compassionate and loving and set on accomplishing what is good. There is some—they use the gobblyguk—omnibenevolent —never does anything other than what is good and last week, we read a statement from an old theologian that tries to sort of capture all of that together. But, really practically and with reference to disciplines, we want to recognize what a different it makes to our life and when we go back to things like anger. Anger looks strangely different in the light of a God like this; partly because in dealing with anger, we need to be able to turn our will over to God and so the question is, which God? What’s this God like? That I am trusting to see to it that what is good for me will be accomplished. I really do think it is a great ting to concentrate on worship as a discipline and remember what a discipline is and it enables us to live in a totally different way than we can live if we are sort of seeing ourselves out here on our own or thinking about a little bitty God and a great big universe instead of a itty bitty universe and a great big God. [8:38]
We really need to turn that around, and we need to understand that the physical universe is little more than a flick of a finger of a God such as we have. Right? And then things look differently as we go through our lives and we might want to stop talking about Daniel in the lion’s den and ask the lions, “Whose den was that, by the way?” Right? And we might come out with the lions in Daniel’s den. Because why? Well, because God was in that den with Daniel and so you might like to tell the story that way sometime—the lions in Daniels’s den. You could imagine a lion telling you the story of Daniel being thrown down there and what they went through in that night when they couldn’t eat him. That helps us get a better picture of who God truly is. [9:50]
Well, I love to spend time on this but I want to shift now for a moment to celebration. This is at the bottom of your page 88 in your notes and celebration is actually related to worship but it’s different because celebration is tied to “me” in a way that worship is not. “In celebration, I rejoice over what He has done for me and for mine.” This is largely a discipline of remembering. The word, Ebenezer, is a good old Biblical word that refers to “hitherto has the Lord lead us.” Ebenezer—now, the challenge here is to recollect and to be thankful for your life. So, that now may be a problem. We have lots to gripe about in our life and it’s possible to get trapped in that and spend time thinking about how things might have gone differently. And if we do that, we are apt to find our self not thinking very well about God. The real issue here is, “Has God done well by me?” Very nice for Him to be great in the universe and all of that but has He done well by me? Now, I would just ask you now. Just take a moment briefly to think about that. Has God done well by you? Do you believe that? Now, an honest answer to that question can do a lot for your spiritual life and if one is tempted to say, “No, He has not done well by me”—to go into that and to think about it, that’s related to the question, “Is it a good thing for me to be me? Or would it have been better if I were someone else?” [12:21]
I look back down on my life. I think about things that have happened. In my case, I lost my mother when I was 2 ½ and that was something that I was too small to really understand the significance of but it makes a huge difference in one’s life to not have a mother or at least the o ne who bore you and loved you. Or, for many people, they might think it would have been better if their mother had died because they had parents that were, by any objective standard, not good parents. [13:18]
And that gets into this question of honoring your father and your mother and what that would mean. Studies, I don’t like to always quote them but studies have shown 70% of pastors to have a damaged self-image. Now, what does that mean? I think it means that they don’t think well of themselves for some reason and that could create a problem for their faith. [14:05]
I think celebration is one of the most overlooked disciplines. I think it’s tragic and challenging to us to see what needs to be done about it. I think actually celebration is kind of the completion of worship in a way. It is hard to worship God if you think He has not done well by you, don’t you think? And maybe left you sort of second class or something of that sort. So, I would encourage you to look at that question and I think it’s also a very useful question in counseling with people is to, in an appropriate way, just raise that question. Do you think God has done well by you? And some will never have been able to ask that question and when confronted with the question, they are going to find it really challenging and I find that some at least at the first round—want to say, “No, I don’t think He has.” So, a little purposive joy I think would help.
Holy delight and joy is the great antidote to despair and is a wellspring of genuine gratitude. The kind that starts out in our toes and works upward and finds expression in our body often best if done with intimate relatives. One of the great things that happens when cousins and relatives get together is they tell stories and story telling actually is a way of celebrating. That’s the way it turns out but we need to make provision for that and we need to recognize that there is an unabashedly sensual and earthly character to celebration or jubilee and this is interestingly portrayed in Deuteronomy 14. We might look at that for a moment and this may be a use of a tithe that has never occurred to you—maybe—Deuteronomy 14. There is a lot of good stuff in here by the way in this passage going back to chapter 12. It’s just a lot of wonderful things in here. This is second law—really what that means is they are telling the story the second time around and it’s really very interesting to see how different it is and no doubt that’s because it was written, at least edited in a time after [interruption of telephone message and laughter]. All of your secrets are now in the open. [More laughter and comments from students] It’s all right; it’s great. We have a little celebration here in the middle. [Laughter again] We did; this gets very heavy after awhile, you know. So, thank you Keith and thank your Dean for us.
In any case, this is a beautiful passage here and I hope sometime you might just be able to read it for fun and delight. It has a lot of things in it that show you a different kind of heart. I love verse 21 of chapter 14: “You shall not eat anything which dies of itself. You may give it to the alien who is in your town so that he may eat it or you may sell it to a foreigner for you are a holy people to the Lord your God.” And then out of the blue, “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” Where did that come form? What kind of sensitivity would give expression in that way? Well, you know a kid is supposed to live off of its mothers milk and to turn around and cook it in its mother’s milk, it’s just somehow—that’s not the way things are supposed to be. And, of course, in the Torah, there is a deep sensitivity to the nature and what is fitting and what isn’t. But let’s go on to 22: “You shall surely tithe all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year. You shall eat in the presence of the Lord your God at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tithe of your grain.” Now, this is a tithe that you are to eat and this is to be part of a celebratory occasion. “The tithe of your grain, the tithe of your new wine, your oil and the firstborn of your herd and your flock, why, in order that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always.” You think about the connection here. And, of course, you are going to want to read that in order that you may learn to stand in awe of God. Awe of what about God? God’s goodness, right? So, now He’s basically saying, you have to save up for a paid vacation. And He’s calling it a tithe. Look at how this goes. “If the distance is so great for you that you are not able to bring the tithe—that is, the goat or the sheep or the oil and the wine and the grain and all of that—you don’t have to carry that all the way down from Dan in the north or Beersheba in the south—carry it to Jerusalem. He says, verse 25, “Then you shall exchange it for money, and bind the money in your hand and go to the place where the Lord your God chooses. And you May spend the money for whatever your heart desires—now, here again, the old version is much better—“whatsoever thy soul lusteth after.” Doesn’t that do a lot more for you? “Whatsoever your soul lusteth after”—“for oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink,”—now strong drink isn’t wine and it isn’t sassafras tea—and again, it says “whatever your heart desires or whatever our soul lusteth after and there you shall eat it in the presence of the Lord our God and rejoice. You and your household and you will not neglect the preacher for He has no portion or inheritance. The end of every third year you shall bring out all of the tithe of your produce and shall deposit it in your town and the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the alien, the orphan, and the widow, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.” Can you preach that? Hmmmm? See, this is a different idea than most people have about God and their life before them. The generosity of God is one of the things that makes us rightly understand and see Him and you and I then, we need to think about how we would do this because obviously, we don’t have the goods that they had to bring to the occasion so what kind of occasion of celebration would be suitable for us? [24:07]
Now, do I need to tell you that life is hard? Life is hard and sometimes the only answer to the hardness of life is to celebrate and one of the best movies ever made, in my opinion, is Zorba, the Greek and it’s really a hard life but that is how Zorba responded to it by dancing. I’ve encouraged you to do a little ecstatic reading here and perhaps you have picked up a few steps that you might be able to use in celebration.
There’s a nice passage in Screwtape Letters where Screwtape is chiding Wormwood because Wormwood allowed his “patient” to “read a book he really enjoyed and take a walk in the country that filled him with joy.” And Screwtape says, “In other words, you allowed him two real positive pleasures. Were you so ignorant as not to see the danger of this?” It says,
“The man who truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the world for its own sake and without caring tuppins what other people say about it is by that very fact forearmed against some of our subtlest modes of attack. You should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food or books he really likes in favor of the best people, the right food and the important books.” “I have known a human being defended, Screwtape continues from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions.” Elsewhere Screwtape remarks, ”When demons are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, they are on the enemy’s ground. We’ve won many a soul through pleasure.” He says, “All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures. All of our research so far has not enabled us to produce one.” When you celebrate, you turn loose of your sorrows and turning loose now is really big in living in the Kingdom of God, but then you also take hold of good things and you praise God for them. So, that’s really important. Celebration, heartily done, makes our deprivations and sorrows seem small. Now, that of course goes with worship and all of this is hanging together now. We find in celebration a great strength to do the will of God because His goodness becomes so real to us. [27:59]
Well, I spend time on this because I think it’s so important and of course, in our Catholic churches, we celebrate the Mass and celebration is actually lifting something up to God. Celebrate! Lifting something up to God! We sort of—in a manner, “heavenly-ize” it. When you go back through your life, how many things like that do you find? And maybe you don’t feel very confident about them because perhaps you think that’s not holy. If it’s holy, it hurts. No! That’s not true and so, we have a few things in the old hymns to help us. One of my favorites is:
“When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
do not be discouraged saying, all is lost;
Count your many blessings; count them one by one;
and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”
Those last words are so intriguing because it actually is true. People are surprised at the good things that have come and that really does help us to then go back and recognize the goodness and greatness of God and it’s consistent with a lot of things that were sorrowful. It’s just that we want to hold those together and that changes the complexion of everything when we do that. [30:09]
I am not going to have time today to go into this piece on the reformed tradition. I mention it at the bottom of 88 but it is in the back of your notebook and I really encourage you to read it and see how the people of the reformed tradition at least for a long period of time, they made the Lord’s Supper—man alive, it was Hallelujah day! Hallelujah three days! You know, we don’t do well the way most of our churches do the Lord’s Supper. It isn’t a celebration in the way it’s carried out and I think we could do a lot to help our people if we are able to bring a celebration and concentrate on it and lead up to it and it should be a celebration because it stands for Jesus’ teaching that you must “eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man or there is no life in you.” Now, we know He is talking about Himself. We have to take God’s Son into you and we know that it’s not referring to doing it with your teeth, right? We know that but on the other hand in this very earthy way, Christ chose to leave us a ritual that would make the most basic part of our salvation stand out regularly in community and I think that it’s one of the things that we really should focus on and that could do a tremendous lot for our congregations. Among other things, it would stop them from rushing out to get on with their lives possibly or perhaps you could do it in a special service, not in one where you just sort of trying to take care of business and get out of there. You’ve got to crowd it into the hour of worship, whatever that is; don’t crowd it. Give it time. Have some time of silence for people to sit and read things to them they need to hear and meditate on and then come to the symbol of the broken body of Jesus and let that soak in and then help them go through that to resurrection life. [33:12]
So, we really need to do that; just one more point here—I commented on laughter at the top of 89 and this book, Laughter: A Theological Reflection—laughter is a curious thing in the animal kingdom. Hyenas do not laugh; people laugh and the ability to laugh as well as to cry is one of the defining features of the human being. So, I just commend all of that to you and ask you to think about how you might celebrate and come to a position where you can say with emphasis and clarity, “God has done well by me!” Now, you might slip out into the brush here and practice that out loud. “God has done well by me!” [34:19]
Q: What are your opinions on celebration to God compared to thankfulness?
A: Well, thankfulness is a more encompassing sort of thing. You could be thankful without celebrating and probably it would be more difficult to celebrate without being thankful but still thankfulness is a more encompassing sort of thing and it does not necessarily relate just to you. You can be thankful for a lot of good things and that probably would be a part of worship of admiration of the greatness and goodness of God. Celebration is a very specific kind of thing that really does come home to you and specific things that you have in your life to celebrate. Now, one of those of course could be Christ’s death for you on the cross. That opens the doorway to resurrection life and we can certainly be thankful for that but sometimes I think maybe we ought to celebrate it and make it more personal.
Thankfulness is a more inclusive sort of attitude and I do encourage you—it’s not just about the Lord’s Supper but the discussion of that comes right at the bottom of 157 called the Sacred Meal and the next few paragraphs are quite illuminating. “A reformed spirituality finds in the celebration of the Lords’ Supper, a sign and seal of the covenant of grace” and He goes on to talk about in the next paragraph the preparatory services before communion and how, in some periods, you had three days devoted to this and something about the people who have written on it but we don’t really do justice to it normally. [36:41]
OK; well, let’s make a start on prayer now on page 90 of your notebook and this turns out to be a topic that seems difficult for people and I think actually—a lot of it just comes from a genuine puzzlement as how there could be such a thing and what is it anyway. I imagine that that is because our enemy has in mind to confuse us about one of the most powerful things that God has given to us to engage with Him. Frank Laubach had a little book titles, Prayer, the Mightiest Force on Earth.” I think I mentioned it earlier. Prayer is the mightiest force on earth because it moves—if you dare believe it—it moves the only source on earth and so, obviously this is something we need to devote some attention to. Again, I point out that it is not just a discipline. It is a major part of Kingdom living and so, now then, it has tremendous disciplinary affects. On page 90, I start with this statement, “What is prayer?”—to stay in action with God by asking and waiting—to stay in action with God—note the preposition—with God. Prayer is something that we do with God; not just to God. We are in action with Him and we stay there and it isn’t like putting money in the Coke machine. That is not a genuinely cooperative sort of thing. Another description I give here is “Prayer is talking to God about what we are now doing together.” What do you talk about?—well, what you are doing together with God. That’s the main thing that you would focus on. So, a lot of things that are called prayer, I think really have a marginal relationship. For example, praise and thanksgiving; perhaps, what is now often called centering prayer and if you watch you will see that there are a lot of things that nahhhh, they might go well with prayer but they are not prayer because they are not focused on asking and waiting. OK? You say, “Well, where did you get that crazy idea?” Well, how about the New Testament, right? Luke 11; now, he prayed a lot apparently in front of his students and they thought we don’t do that? But we should do that. And so, they say, “Lord, teach us to pray. Teach us to pray.” This is Luke 11:1 and what was His response? He gave them words. That’s the first thing He did. He gave them words and we get slightly different forms of this but He said, “When you pray, say—now, the first part of prayer is address because when you are talking to someone, you need to address them. You don’t just walk in the room and start talking. You say, “Hey, Tom” and so now you want to remember that prayer is a conversation. It is an interaction between people. It’s not mood adjustment, though it will probably adjust your moods. It is a conversation. When you pray, say and the first thing is address and that is very deep—“Our Father, the one in the Heavens.” Now, you have to put your mind into that and don’t just say the words. That is to say, when you do this, make sure that you are setting the Lord before you and you’re talking to Him and once that’s in place, then the requests come.
What is the first request in the Lord’s Prayer? [42:33] “Hallowed be Thy Name”—now, I can pray that all day and I do sometimes carry on for long periods of time with part of this and I actually prefer some of these phrases to the Jesus Prayer—at least as something to trade off and so you think about these as really kind of categories but the first request—the first request is “Hallowed be Thy Name.” You remember you have this thing in The Ten Commandments—you shall not take His name in vain? You don’t take His name in vain—what does that mean? Don’t use it empty-headedly. Don’t use it in a way that is just sort of decorating the walls or something. When you use His name, you want to have Him in mind and you want to be thinking about Him as is fitting to Who He is. [43:42]
Now, another thing that goes into that is the fact that He is the Creator and when you take your Bible and you study the prayers in the Bible, you are going to see over and over how they are prefaced with, “Well, you made everything—you made the Heavens and the earth,” right? Acts 4, for example, the great prayer there in Acts 4, that’s where it starts. “You made everything.” See, this is recognition. Who am I talking to? Well, I am talking to a person who deserves to be called Father and this person is in the Heavens.
Now, again, I don’t want to go back and spend much time on that but you remember, the Heavens is not far away. The Heavens are here so that’s why I like to paraphrase this, “Our Father, always near us; our Father, always near us.” That’s what it means and now, you incorporate other things into that. “Our God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ—Our God who made everything visible and invisible.” So, that’s all a matter of getting in focus the Person you are speaking to. [45:21]
Now, once you have that, then of course you can go on. “Hallowed be Thy Name, Thy Kingdom come—second request. “Your Kingdom come.” Now, at this point, of course if not before, you are ready to preach a sermon on that. “Thy Kingdom come;” I hope you would understand was not praying for the millennium. The millennium is good too but what He is talking about here is the action of God coming into the world where it is not present. Where is it not present? Where some person has excluded it and He permits His action not to be present and He says, “OK, you be ‘the King or you be the Queen’ and we will see how that works.” That’s a part of God’s relationship to human beings. That’s from the first chapters of Genesis—right up to the end, because God respects personality and if you don’t want Him to be where you are, you can put it away. Reject it. [47:00]
It’s very touching about the Holy Sprit that He can be grieved—that He can be resisted. Don’t you find that touching? “Grieve not the Holy Spirit whereby you are sealed unto it”—well, the Holy Spirit can be grieved and we need to remember that. This is who we are dealing with when we come in prayer because what that means in other dimensions is that He hears our prayer, that He is interested in what we are concerned about. [47:40]
So now, “daily bread” and the juxtaposition here of these things itself is so touching and instructive. “Give us each day our daily bread.” That’s very carefully worded and it doesn’t say, “Give us tomorrow’s daily bread today.” Right? It doesn’t say that and if you had a child and you noticed that they were scooping the Wheaties into their box that they take to their room, you might say, “Well, why are you taking the Wheaties?” “Well, I want to be sure to have Wheaties tomorrow.” And you might say, “I am going to be here. There will be Wheaties. You don’t have to do that.” You see the difference in the picture. “Give us today our daily bread.” It’s living from the Hand of God today and it’s such a lovely juxtaposition here between giving us our daily bread and forgiving our debts. You get daily bread right down there with forgiveness and the continuity here is simply showing the goodness and greatness of a Present God. [49:20]
“Forgive us our sins” and now then, because we are standing in a Kingdom of forgiveness. “For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us,” right? That’s actually in the same category as the daily bread because what it means is, we are not holding on to stuff. We are turning it loose. We are trusting a forgiving God who is available to take care of us and we are trusting Him and so we can forgive. Now, the connection between forgiveness and the Kingdom is very great and you will recall in Mark 11, for example, that He just says outright, you know, “If you don’t forgive others, the Heavenly Father will not forgive you.” Looks like works salvation to me? Really? Well, in that passage, He links answered prayer to forgiveness. Remember that? That passage comes out of the experience that the disciples had of seeing Him say to the fig tree that wasn’t operating rightly, “You are dead” and so they come back and it’s dead and they are astonished. And He says, “Look, you are standing in a Kingdom of Power and you need to learn how to do that” and we are going to have to talk about that more in a little while here because that turns out to be an awesome threat along with other passages like John 14 because it just presents this idea that there is no limit as to what could be done through prayer and then I have to look at myself and say, “Well, I obviously have some limits.” So, now, how do I understand that? But the important thing JUST NOW is to see that connection between prayer and forgiveness. You can put it simply; if you are not on forgiving ground, you are not on praying ground. Hmmmm? Because the generosity out of which the bread flows is the same one out of which the forgiving flows—the generosity, the generosity of the Kingdom of God. [52:26]
Now, this version here of course doesn’t contain everything that is in our standard version of the Lord’s Prayer. Matthew 6 contains some other things but you have this finishing in terms of “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” and then the end which goes back and lays the foundation for the request because “yours is the Kingdom and yours is the Power and yours is the Glory forever and forever. Amen.” [53:08]
Now, I’ve already shown you on the screen the version that I have paraphrased. It’s on page 92 of your notebook so let’s look at it and see how this works in the things we’ve been talking about so:
Dear Father, always near us,
May your name be treasured and loved.
May your rule be completed in us—
May your will be done here on earth
In just the way it is done in Heaven.
Give us today the things we need for today,
And forgive our sins and impositions on you
As we are forgiving all who in any way offend us.
Please don’t put us through trials,
[Those are temptations. You don’t have to ask God not to lead you into being tempted to sin. He doesn’t do that, right? But if you don’t have your heart set right and you fall into trials, those may tempt you to sin depending on you.]
But deliver us from everything bad,
Because you are the one in charge
And you have all the power
And the Glory too is all yours—forever—
Which is just the way we want it! [54:48]
That’s not a bad way of saying “Amen;” you can experiment with other ways of doing it. You might want to say, “Hallelujah” or something like that. You think that would be acceptable to God? I would try Him out with some things that are a little different because when most people say, “In Jesus’ Name” it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just like saying, “over and out.” I’m done with this transmission. Now, we have to come back and talk about “In Jesus’ Name” because that’s really scary and very difficult to come to terms with so we will have to come back to that but I just wanted to lead you through that and get you to thinking about what Jesus said when He was asked to teach to pray. [55:53]
Now, I wasn’t done. I said, “Asking and waiting.” Jesus tells a little story. “Suppose one of you shall have a friend and shall go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves.’ Now, familiar story, you know. It’s not odd—nothing really big about it. “A friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him; and from inside he answers and says, “Do not bother me; the door has already been shut”—now, you have to understand that shutting the door was a big deal. It was an operation— “and my children and I are in bed;”—and you know what it’s like to get children “down” as we say and so he has all these reasons. I can’t get up. I’ll wake the kids. I have to unbolt that door. I can’t do it. This is a lovely picture you see. The guy has no real claim; he’s just asking. Jesus says “Even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his”—hmmmmm, little hard to translate that; shamelessness my margin says. He’s just shameless; he’s just standing out there with his teeth in his mouth and his bear face hanging out saying, “Give me some bread.” Doesn’t he have enough sense to go away? Persistence is another word but it really doesn’t capture the kind of emotional tone that is in these circumstances. “Even though he’s his friend and won’t get up for that, yet because of his shamelessness, persistence, he will get up and give him as much as he needs.” [58:05]
Now, that’s the power of asking. Asking in a universe such as this is a cosmic force. It’s a cosmic force. You know people who will walk to the other sides of the street and not have to go by a beggar. Why? They don’t want to feel that pull. See? And to get real shameless, if you have to watch a dog watching someone eat a sandwich—see, that’s utter shameless. Isn’t it powerful? [Comments from students about a golden retriever – laughter] Yes, they are the worst. [Laughter] A pug can’t lay it on you like a retriever can. So, now that’s what Jesus is actually talking about here. This is such an instructive passage and it gives you, “Ask and it shall be given, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened.” Well, again, if you try to interpret that mechanically, you are going to be in trouble with it but, what He is saying is, “That’s the way things work; you ask for it. You seek it. You knock. That’s the way you work on this” and because of the way asking works, then He gives the final illustration and says, “that you being ornery, you know how to give good gifts. God knows how to also.” Now, of course, if you ask something that might hurt you, well, probably you won’t get that. He is not going to give you something to hurt you but even there, you have to be careful because this isn’t an area of personal interaction and just as parents will sometimes allow a child to get something that isn’t good for them, usually hopefully not something really harmful, there seems to be God’s willingness to say, on occasion, “OK” so that marvelous Psalm where it says, “He gave them their request for meat and sent leanness into their souls.” [1:00:51]
So now, prayer is something that has a lot of dimensions and some of them are kind of edgy and could lead us into trouble but the principle is “keep asking” and so I won’t spend as much time on this but you will want to cross reference that if you haven’t already—Luke 18. It is interesting that Luke is the one who picks up on this and spells these stories out so much.
This actually is an illustration of the same thing. You have a person asking for something for which they really have no claim and in this case, he picks the weakest member of society and the strongest—a widow and a judge—a widow and a judge. This is Luke 18:1 and following—the point he is trying to get across is explained in the first verse “to show that at all times, they ought to pray and not to lose heart.” Oh, okay. Now, really? That’s what was contained in the other treatment also—a person standing there. He didn’t walk off. This widow asks the judge to do justice for her in relationship to someone and he’s a real Kojack kind of guy, you know. He doesn’t fear God. He doesn’t fear man. He doesn’t fear anybody. Right? And Jesus is purposefully setting that up so you get the point of the pressure and so she keeps coming back to the judge and the judge finally says, I’m not scared of anybody but, verse 5, “because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection lest by continually coming she wear me out.” Now, the Lord says, “Listen to what the unrighteous judge said;”—now, what he is indicating here you know, is this is not an uncommon case. This legal system in so much as you can speak of it was set up around individuals coming before judges and making a request and it was done all the time and judges delayed and they responded to pressure of the sort this powerless woman could bring to bear. Now, He says something very interesting. “Now, shall not God bring about justice for His elect whose cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long?”—He’s really throwing a bunch of questions in your lap—now he claims, “I tell you he will bring about justice for them speedily, However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” Doesn’t that kind of twist your brain? YOU know, what’s going on here? What was he trying to tell us? Well, I think he is trying to tell us that people give up and that is true. [1:04:41]
There is a story in Daniel about Daniel praying and the angel it says came quickly and an old puritan preacher said, “For most of us, the angel would have to come very quickly indeed to catch us still on our knees.” And you think about that. What does persistence mean for us? And what he is pointing out here is that prayer is an intensely personal kind of interaction and so let me with that give you another definition about prayer or description of prayer that I like to use, though I see I didn’t get it in the notebook and that is that prayer is a power-sharing arrangement. Prayer is a power-sharing arrangement for a world of recovering sinners. It’s a power-sharing arrangement for a world of recovering sinners. See, prayer is one of the first places that we began to engage with the Kingdom of God.
Actually, I think prayer and giving are the first two moves. When you start to interact with the Kingdom of God, prayer and giving. Now, in a sense, anyone can start there. You don’t have to be very sophisticated or advanced and of course they are related. Both have to do with giving and in the one case, it is from us to God and the other case, it’s from God to us. It’s a giving relationship and both of them and there are things that we can step into and do if we don’t have much or we don’t know much and so on. Now, when you step into it, then you get these puzzling statements because two plus two don’t seem to equal four anymore and I’ve already mentioned the widow with her two mites and Jesus’ statement that, “she put in more than all the rest.” Well, what kind of arithmetic is that? That’s Kingdom arithmetic. But, you have to work through, see. She was giving to God and without respect to herself and then God joined her in that giving in such a way that Jesus could truly say that her offering was greater than all the others. You don’t have to have much and I hope you can pick up on this idea of prayer as a power-sharing arrangement because frankly the arrangement doesn’t make a lot of sense and at some point, you have to work through this question. What kind of a universe is that where you’ve got an arrangement like prayer? Then you have all the theological issues. Why are you telling God? He already knows and so on. These things really get in people’s minds and shut them down and when you ask the question, why is there so little affective prayer, you have to take in that whole picture and if you have begun to pick up on what the Kingdom and life in the Kingdom, I think you can make a better run with that.
Well, listen we are going to lose the break if we don’t stop now. Come back in 10 to 15 minutes and we’ll work along.