The Bride of Christ has had no shortage of critics. Shots have been fired all throughout church history – many for good reason. And yet, she is the Bride of Christ. She is God’s method for reaching a lost world. And she must be cared for and fought for.
One of my concerns is that the communities of the gathered Bride throughout North American have, in many ways, lost their way. They have forgot their purpose. They have neglected their mission and traded it for a wacky blend of the superficial religion and the American Dream. Over the last few years, I have slowly developed several convictions about the church, especially as it pertains to North America.
First, we don’t know how to make disciples. Sure, we know how to have Bible studies with a plethora of fantastic curriculum to boot. Some have worked up the courage to evangelize, others have joined a small group, some have accountability partners, while others are financially supporting missionaries. All these can be very good things. But none of them capture the essence of discipleship.
Second, we have succumbed to consumerism and superficiality in so many ways. Churches all across America are filled with pew warmers who simply want to be entertained while they stare at the backs of heads.
Third, we are too enamored with the Sunday morning “show.” Driven by the Church Growth Movement, pastors have felt more and more the need to up their game. As a result, many worship services have turned into elaborate productions that foster an “entertain me” mindset. Francis Chan has written, “We might all benefit from a simpler experience of Church. It would lead to deeper relationships and a stronger dependence on God. We might find that the things we added to improve our churches are the very things that crowd God out.”
Fourth, bigger is not better. Jesus invested in 12 guys. Twelve. When the focus is on building a mega-church, it is nearly impossible to disciple well. As a result, many hearts remain untouched by the gospel. They’ve had religious experiences, but no one has modeled what it means to follow Jesus.
Fifth, all is not lost. I am aware these points are largely negative. Criticism doesn’t help all that much unless is infused with encouragement. Anyone can deconstruct. It’s rebuilding that’s the tricky part. That’s what I hope to do through this paper.
I believe the way to renewal in the American church and at my local church is through Missional Communities.
Here is my hope for Brown Corners Church: to get every member at BCC passionately committed to disciple-making and send them out to fulfill the Great Commission through Missional Communities.
PRIORITY 1: MAKING DISCIPLES
As I have previously stated, I prefer the term shepherding hearts to discipleship. But the terminology is not nearly as important as understanding and putting into practice the biblical concept.
What is a disciple?In its most simple and basic form, the definition of a disciple is a follower of Jesus. To tease this out a little more, we see that “a disciple is a person who is following Christ, is being changed by Christ, and is committed to the mission of Christ.”
How are disciples made?So there’s this thing about disciples: Jesus told us to make them. He started the job and then told his own disciples they were to pick up the torch and keep it going. This is how he worded it:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20, ESV)
But was this mandate simply for the very first disciples? Did Jesus have future Christians in mind when he issued this directive? John Legg states: “It has sometimes been argued that the Great Commission applied only to the apostles and that the missionary mandate ended with them. By any standard this is contrary to the whole ethos of the new covenant, but in any case, ‘all things’ must include the Great Commission itself. The command to evangelize and make disciples of all nations is thus self-perpetuating. It is given not just to the apostles but to the church—the church of every era.”
The mandate is clear. The work of discipleship belongs to the followers of Jesus. But the most difficult question becomes: How?
There are many methodologies we could explore (some helpful, most not) here but such a pursuit is outside the scope of this paper. I maintain that we make it too complicated. When we look at the life of Jesus, the way he made disciples was through everyday life with his disciples. They ate together. They walked together. They served together. He used teachable moments. He took advantage of the moment to teach them and point them to the Father.
Now, I realize we’re not Jesus. Most have jobs and families that take priority that keep us from wandering the countryside with 12 other guys day after day. But these are precisely those whom we should be discipling. Those under our roof. Those with whom we naturally interact on a daily basis (though, as I will argue below, to be truly missional will require us going out of the way of some of our daily routines and creating new ones).
One of the key shifts in thinking is to remember discipleship involves the whole process of bringing someone to Jesus and building them up in Christ. We shouldn’t separate evangelism and discipleship. A great blow has been dealt to the mission of the church by well-meaning pastors who have separated these. Evangelism is viewed as sharing the gospel at work, handing out tracts door-to-door, or inviting an unsaved person to an outreach event your church is hosting. Discipleship is what we do once we’ve “closed the deal” and the individual has professed faith in Jesus. It is often relegated to Sunday School, a Bible study, or some other curriculum-driven program inside the church building.
So the question begs to be asked: where does this sort of discipleship best take place?
PRIORITY 2: MISSIONAL COMMUNITIES
What exactly are Missional Communities and what do they have to do with making disciples?
A community of Christians, on mission with God, in obedience to the Holy Spirit, who demonstrate the gospel tangibly and declare the gospel creatively to a pocket of people. 
What an MC is not
1.A small group
Perceptions of the purpose of small group as well as their role in the local church varies. Some churches place a great deal of dependence on them while others have never implemented them.
Todd Egstrom writes about his experience at Austin Stone Church:
These groups often understand the centrality of the Bible, the need for community, and the purpose of the group beyond itself. I’ve had great experiences in this kind of group. But I’ve often found there is a significant struggle to invite others to join in, and it’s often difficult to mobilize an entire group to do something outside the regular meeting [emphasis mine].
In trying to balance a number of different objectives, small groups often struggle to produce mature disciples of Jesus and multiply into new communities. Why?
I think it is because success is still defined as attendance at an event, rather than events helping relationships become natural in the rhythms of everyday life. Small groups often try to do community and mission outside the normal routines of life by adding an event into the week, rather than redeeming everyday life with gospel intentionality and involving community into normal life.
A missional community understands the value of different kinds of gatherings. A missional community sees itself as a network of relationships with a common mission, rather than being defined by attending an event. Missional communities gather, but the gatherings have different purposes.
I have also found that often times a group will try different kind of gatherings outside of their regular meeting times (for example, Third Place, The Family Meal and LTG’s) a couple times, then abandon them because they “didn’t work.” I work hard to teach them that these practices are not a magic bullet, but healthy rhythms that will produce more faithful communities over time.
Small groups begin to shift as people start to put into practice rhythms that enable them to hang out with their friends far from God in natural ways. When a small group has actual names of people to pray for and ask God to save, and those people start to show up in places with the community, they are headed in the right direction.
For these reasons and more, we need to think beyond the small group.
2.A hangout time
It is all too easy for Christians (especially when they like each other!) to shoot the breeze about what I call “surface stuff.” Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with talking about our kids’ activities, the latest movie we watched, or when the MLB season will start up again, but our gatherings need to be spiritually purposeful. It doesn’t mean every time you gather with someone it has to turn into an revival service. We must always be on the lookout at those things which are in danger of hijacking our conversations and drawing us away from spiritual depth and heart realities.
3.A Bible study
A missional community will study the Bible, but that is not their sole reason for gathering. Bible studies are good but can often turn into an information dump. There is a time and a place for the classroom and for intense teacher-student instruction. Even for a discussion-based Bible study. The problem with so many Bible studies is that the scriptures don’t make it from the head to the heart. Furthermore, it’s only one component of the gathering (see below). The scriptures teach us that the church is sent out on mission and an MC seeks to do more than simply study God’s Word, but certainly not less.
Characteristics of a healthy MC
God’s people cannot accomplish the Great Commission on their own. We must have Jesus right in the middle. We must have the power of God’s Holy Spirit infusing all that happens. We cannot script the work of God in our community. We cannot manufacture the work of God among our people. We cannot schedule revivals, fix broken marriages, heal sexual abuse, break through to hard-hearted rebels, or uproot doubt and fear. Only the power of God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ are such miraculous transformations possible. We dare not think we can accomplish anything eternally worthwhile without prayer.
From the very beginning of the church, God’s people gathered for prayer (Acts 1:24; 2:42; 4:31; 12:12). If we are going to accomplish anything for the kingdom of God, it must begin and end with Spirit-led prayer.
I think it wise to provide some guidance in prayer but create an atmosphere of freedom for believers to allow the Spirit of God to guide the course of the prayer time.
Growing up in the Baptist circles I did, we came to associate one word with fellowship: potluck dinners. Lots of casseroles, bread, and pie. We always had to consume some variety of vegetable before we dove into 4-5 desserts (really?). There was a great strategy to maximizing space on those all-too-small paper plates, but this is neither the time nor the place. I believe the Baptists had at least one thing right with their hearty carry-in dinners: food (see below)! But there was usually something conspicuously absent: genuine fellowship. Oh, don’t get me wrong. We called the place where we ate these meals the “fellowship hall.” And we would always ask God to bless our time of fellowship before we started feeding our faces. But when I compare my experience to the biblical concept of fellowship, it seems something was missing.
In Acts 2:42, we are told the early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship…” There’s much we could say about being devoted to the apostles’ teaching. Many (though far from all) of our churches have a devotion to the Word of God. The ones I’ve grown up in do very well at this. But being devoted to “the fellowship” is another thing altogether. The word translated devoted means to “remain faithful to a person or a task” or “to be busily engaged in.”
The word fellowship comes from the Greek word meaning commonness and “connotes a variety of close relationships ‘involving mutual interests and sharing.’” More than having a few laughs around a table in a church building, fellowship involves a sharing that goes much deeper than a few moments in a public context can allow. It involves sharing life together. Jeff Vanderstelt states, “This is what we call life-on-life discipleship – life that is lived up close so that we are visible and accessible to one another, so that others can gently peel back the layers and join us in our restoration.”
J.I. Packer writes, “We should not … think of our fellowship with other Christians as a spiritual luxury, an optional addition to the exercises of private devotion. We should recognize rather that such fellowship is a spiritual necessity; for God has made us in such a way that our fellowship with himself is fed by our fellowship with fellow-Christians, and requires to be so fed constantly for its own deepening and enrichment.”
One of the great tragedies of the institutional church is making the church a place for sinners to go hide. The worship service from the top down is designed primarily for the consumer: I go sit in a room designed similar to a movie theater or a concert and people sing for me (I can join them if I want), someone preaches for me (or at me), and then I can leave. In many churches throughout North America (especially the larger ones), I can slip in and out without even being noticed. And better yet, without anyone really getting to my heart.
Now I realize almost every church is doing something to try and combat this tragic tendency. It may be a simple greeting time, potluck dinners in the “fellowship hall” (see above), encouraging you to attend classes or studies, etc. But what we don’t see is that our number one problem is the structure of our Sunday gathering. We put most of our time and effort into producing these gatherings all the while knowing deep down (I think) that these gatherings are not the best way to make disciples. They can be a great celebration. We can be challenged by the pastor’s message. We can be blessed by the corporate worship. But no time is afforded to putting into practice the “one another’s” of scripture. And rarely, if ever, will I be forced to share what’s going on in my heart.
Robert Thune and Will Walker write: “Did you ever notice how patient you are— as long as no one is getting on your nerves? Or how loving you are— as long as you’re surrounded by people who are easy to love? Or how humble you are— as long as you’re respected and admired by others? Every one of us is a saint in isolation! It’s in community that our real weaknesses, flaws, and sins are exposed. That’s why community is essential— not optional— for transformation. We can’t become the people God wants us to become outside of community.”
They go on to say: “Trying to fulfill these ‘one another’ commands helps to reveal our sin, drives us to Jesus in repentance and faith, and causes us to depend on the Holy Spirit for transformation. Community is the laboratory in which we learn to rely on God’s grace and experience the gospel’s transforming power” [emphasis mine]. This is why an MC is so crucial.
4.Studying the scriptures
Once again, in Acts 2:42, one of those things the believers were devoted to when they gathered was “the apostles’ teaching.” The unfolding of the Word of God was an important part of those times together.
We are told by the apostle Paul in his second letter to Timothy:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16–17, ESV).
Simply put, this means studying the Bible is important for Christians who want to know how to be disciples of Jesus. How can we follow him if we don’t know him? And where do we learn from him? The Word of God.
Studying the scriptures is, according to Puritan Thomas Goodwin, an occasion “to bring down and lay before us the heart of God.” Our souls are laid bare before God and one another. Hearts can be pierced and repentance can take place in community as we become convicted by the Holy Spirit through the Bible.
It seems as though it was quite common for the early church to gather around the sharing of a meal (Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7). Perhaps this was for communion, though many think that celebrating the Lord’s Table turned into the common meal. In this, they were simply following in the footsteps of Jesus. Jesus was constantly sitting down for a meal with his disciples. In fact, two gospel writers describe Jesus as one who “came eating and drinking” (Matt 11:19; Luke 7:34). Why would mealtimes be so important to Jesus? Because that’s where life happens.
Finally, one of the other reasons believers gather is for the purpose of worship (Acts 2:46-47; Col 3:16). We gather to celebrate the greatness of God. He alone is glorious and worthy of our praise. Even the gathering of two of God’s people is an occasion for corporate worship (Acts 16:25). Whether or not there’s musical accompaniment is of no real consequence – we can simply read the Psalms together and offer up spontaneous words of praise.
 Chan, Letters to the Church, 174-175
 Shepherding the Flock paper, 2019
 Putnam & Harrington, Discipleshift, p. 51
 John Legg, The King and His Kingdom: The Gospel of Matthew Simply Explained, Welwyn Commentary Series (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press., 2004), 530.
 I highly recommend The Master’s Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman
 I don’t want to say that using studies or curriculum is wrong. In fact, we should have some sense of where we need to go with a disciple. While it must be Spirit-led, we can utilize some sort of plan or curriculum to stay on track. The problem we run into is when we see the class or the materials as discipleship, rather than doing life together.
 Ceslas Spicq and James D. Ernest, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), 191.
 William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 881.
 BDAG, 552 quoted in G. Walter Hansen, The Letter to the Philippians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 32.
 Saturate, p. 95
 J. I. Packer, God’s Words (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1981), 193.
 Robert H. Thune and Will Walker. The Gospel-Centered Community (Kindle Locations 405-409). New Growth Press.
 Robert H. Thune and Will Walker. The Gospel-Centered Community (Kindle Locations 419-421). New Growth Press.
 Thomas Goodwin, The Works of Thomas Goodwin, vol. 4 (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1862), 207.
On Sunday, we talked about the need to submit to governing authorities (1 Peter 2:13-17). If you missed it, you can find it here (disclaimer: Jeremiah may or may not have gotten worked up a bit). However, a couple of folks asked me after our services if there were any scenarios where it’s ok to disobey our government. It’s a great question. The reason I didn’t address this topic in the sermon was because I see far more problems among professing believers in our nation today who are comfortable slandering and maligning our leaders rather than submitting to them or praying for them*. I wanted to stay on point and challenge us not to ignore passages like this (see also Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Timothy 2:1-4) as we try to think biblically about how to engage politically.
With that said, the answer is yes, there are times to defy the government. The simplest way to summarize these occasions is to ask the question: Am I being forced to disobey God by obeying this leader or law? A clear example of this can be found in Acts 4. Peter and John were preaching the gospel and the leaders had them arrested (4:1-4). The officials then threatened them and “ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (4:17-18). Obeying such an order is a direct violation of God’s Word. Jesus himself commanded us to spread the good news concerning his life, death, and resurrection (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). Peter and John were convinced of that. So, they replied, “Whether it’s right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). This is a clear example of biblical civil disobedience. But even in this situation, the command to show honor to and to pray for the leaders still applies. The command to submit, however, does not.
Once again, we must remember the command to submit is negated only when being forced to disobey God’s Word. This is different than a leader or legislative body passing an unbiblical law. Every government does that. If a leader, for example, is pro-choice. You have a host of biblical reasons to oppose their view and to disagree with them. However, we still called to submit to them and honor them, even if we oppose what they stand for or the laws they create. Now, if that leader (to stick with the pro-choice example), creates a law stating that every person who already has two children is required to have an abortion for every subsequent pregnancy, then Christians have a right (and obligation) to defy such a law. Once again, such a law would not negate our responsibilities to keep praying for that leader and submit to them in other respects that do not violate the Word of God.
Much more can be said about this sticky and controversial topic. The book of 1 Peter is so important to us today. We are called to live faithfully as exiles in a world that opposes our Savior. May we walk with wisdom as we seek to point others to our Savior!
*The overtly hostile attitude by many professing Christians toward political leaders is a subset of a larger problem that is doing a great deal of damage to the church today: Christian Nationalism. Time and space prohibit a deeper dive on this issue but if you’d like to dip your toes in waters of such matters, check out this recent article by Jonathan Leeman.
Revelation Through Old Testament Eyes is a recent edition to Through Old Testament Eyes series published by Kregel.
The strength of this volume lies in the series title: Longman seeks to interpret Revelation through the lens of the Old Testament. This is always crucial when expositing the New Testament but perhaps more than any other Old Testament book, Revelation is steeped in the language, culture, and imagery of the Old Testament.
His commentary is concise and readable. Longman does a great job drawing out the implications and application. The sidebars covering areas of “Going Deeper” and “What the Structure Means” are helpful but often leave the reader wishing they touched on other questions or topics. I’m a big fan of charts (let me be clear though: not prophesy charts!), outlines, tables, and graphics to illustrate structure or themes and bring the text to visual life. This volume definitely fell short in that regard (I expect this is true of the entire series though I only have experience with this volume). In addition, I would have liked to have seen application questions included at the end of each chapter or section. The level of this commentary would be perfect for Bible studies and would have benefited from them.
This book is geared to the lay person or as a quick reference. He does not divert onto unnecessary rabbit trails or become entrenched in the details. He is not exhaustive in covering interpretive issues or perspectives but gets straight to the point. A reader hoping for a technical commentary will wish to look elsewhere. Revelation through Old Testament Eyes serves as a helpful introductory commentary, especially lending help to understand the crucial Old Testament foundations to understanding this often confusing book of the Bible.
Note: I received the book for free in exchange for an unbiased review.
In last Sunday’s sermon on Jonah 1:17-2:10, I completely glossed over two potential head scratching topics because they were not really the focus of the passage and what we wanted to emphasize: namely that God graciously comes to us in our most desperate times and meets us in our suffering, even if that suffering is caused by our own sin.
And so, I promised I would jot down a few thoughts upon those matters which I dodged Sunday. So, here goes.
1.What’s the deal with the whale/fish? Do we seriously believe that Jonah survived in the belly of a monstrous sea beast for three days and lived to tell about it?
First of all, let me just remind you that we said the point of this book was not Jonah getting swallowed by the whale. It’s about God’s scandalous grace toward an unbelievably wicked people and an incredibly stubborn prophet. The fish is included almost as an afterthought. Don’t get hung up on the fish!
So what manner of creature was it? Simply put, we don’t know! (This is really helpful so far, isn’t it). The Hebrew word used here for “fish” is the normal word for fish used in the Old Testament with the modifier “great” in front of it. It could have been a whale shark or some other monstrosity which has since become extinct. Your guess is as good as mine.
Christians have searched for natural ways to explain this – for other stories of castaways surviving similar ordeals (as a quick Google search will reveal). But no one has ever substantiated these stories. Why? Because this sort of thing just doesn’t happen. People don’t naturally get swallowed by gigantic sea creatures and live to tell the story. That’s why skeptics have questioned whether this literally happened and that maybe this great fish is simply some metaphor for having a seriously bad day.
But I do believe the simplest explanation for this account is that it was a miraculous event. Feeding 5,000 from five loaves and two fishes isn’t natural. Having a sea part so an entire nation of people can walk across on dry ground isn’t natural. God is the God of the miraculous. As Rosemary Nixon points out, scripture is filled with stories of animals doing the bidding of God: "an ass more accustomed to recognizing God’s word than a prophet (Num. 22:22–30), birds serving as messengers of God (Gen. 8:10–12; 1 Kgs. 17:6), and lions being obedient to the heavenly messenger (Dan. 6)." In the same way, God sovereignly “appointed” this great fish to accomplish his plan of saving Jonah in a most miraculous way.
2.Did Jonah die?
A second question which could legitimately be asked about this text is whether or not Jonah died while he was in the deep.
Two primary reasons people think Jonah died:
First, Jonah refers to being in Sheol, which is the realm of the dead.
I called to the Lord in my distress, and he answered me. I cried out for help from deep inside Sheol; you heard my voice. (Jonah 2:2).
If taken literally, one could see how Jonah may be expressing that he died way down there.
Second, later in the gospels, Jesus draws a parallel between his coming three-day stay in the grave and Jonah’s experience:
For as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights. (Matthew 12:40).
While at the end of the day, it’s not an incredibly important how one feels about this one, I don’t think that Jonah died for a few reasons:
First, it seems to do away with the point of him being swallowed by the fish. The appointing (1:17) of the fish seems to indicate the creature was God’s way to save Jonah from death.
Second, remember that Sheol can be figurative. The Psalmist wrote:
The ropes of death were wrapped around me, and the torments of Sheol overcame me; I encountered trouble and sorrow. (Psalm 116:3). (Also, check out Psalm 18:4-5). In English, we have the crass expression “that was living hell.” Hebrew could express the same concept as a way to express the utter hopelessness of one’s plight.
Finally, in Matthew 12, nowhere does Jesus say that Jonah died. His comparison is simply the three days and three nights Jonah spent in the deep would parallel his three days and three nights in the grave.
 Rosemary A. Nixon, The Message of Jonah: Presence in the Storm, ed. Alec Motyer, Derek Tidball, The Bible Speaks Today (England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2003), 126.
In Outlive Your Life, Max Lucado writes:
Long before the church had pulpits and baptisteries, she had kitchens and dinner tables. Even a casual reading of the New Testament unveils the house as the primary tool of the church. The primary gathering place of the church was the home. Consider the genius of God's plan. The first generation of Christians was a tinderbox of contrasting cultures and backgrounds. At least fifteen different nationalities heard Peter's sermon on the Day of Pentecost. Jews stood next to Gentiles. Men worshiped with women. Slaves and masters alike sought after Christ. Can people of such varied backgrounds and cultures get along with each other?
We wonder the same thing today. Can Hispanics live in peace with Anglos? Can Democrats find common ground with Republicans? Can a Christian family carry on a civil friendship with the Muslim couple down the street? Can divergent people get along?
The early church did—without the aid of sanctuaries, church buildings, clergy, or seminaries. They did so through the clearest of messages (the Cross) and the simplest of tools (the home).
Not everyone can serve in a foreign land, lead a relief effort, or volunteer at the downtown soup kitchen. But who can't be hospitable? Do you have a front door? A table? Chairs? Bread and meat for sandwiches? Congratulations! You just qualified to serve in the most ancient of ministries: hospitality.
Something holy happens around a dinner table that will never happen in a sanctuary. In a church auditorium you see the backs of heads. Around the table you see the expressions on faces. In the auditorium one person speaks; around the table everyone has a voice. Church services are on the clock. Around the table there is time to talk.
Hospitality opens the door to uncommon community. It's no accident that hospitality and hospital come from the same Latin word, for they both lead to the same result: healing. When you open your door to someone, you are sending this message: "You matter to me and to God." You may think you are saying, "Come over for a visit." But what your guest hears is, "I'm worth the effort."
Max Lucado, Outlive Your Life (Nelson, 2010), p. 55
and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Matthew 6:12, ESV)
Jesus calls for his followers to pray daily for forgiveness. But some may wonder why. Doesn't scripture make it clear that we have already been forgiven through Christ (Eph 1:7-8; Col 2:13-15; 1 John 2:1-2)? So why should we daily pray for forgiveness?
The words of J.I. Packer are helpful:
A problem arises here. If Christ’s death atoned for all sins, past, present, and future (as it did), and if God’s verdict justifying the believer (“I accept you as righteous for Jesus’ sake”) is eternally valid (as it is), why need the Christian mention his daily sins to God at all? The answer lies in distinguishing between God as Judge and as Father, and between being a justified sinner and an adopted son. The Lord’s Prayer is the family prayer, in which God’s adopted children address their Father, and though their daily failures do not overthrow their justification, things will not be right between them and their Father till they have said “sorry” and asked him to overlook the ways they have let him down. Unless Christians come to God each time as returning prodigals, their prayer will be as unreal as was that of the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable. (Growing in Christ. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994.)
When we daily come to God broken and humble repent of our sins, we have the confidence of His forgiveness (1 John 1:9) and the joy of renewed fellowship with him.
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6, ESV)
Faith is essential to the Christian life. The above verse reminds us we cannot please God without it.
And yet, our faith falters sometimes. It's definitely very mustard seed-ish. Maybe even smaller. It seems so simple to say, "Just believe the promises of God." And it is simple. But it's not. Because life is difficult and the trials we face can be daunting.
There was once a dad who had a demon-possessed son (no, this is not a joke about hormonal teenagers). The situation was so dire that the demon had nearly killed the boy. The father and son encounter Jesus and in a moment of desparation the father cries out, "If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “ ‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:22–24).
Can anyone else resonate with that dad?
Help my unbelief.
It may be matters big or matters small, but if we're honest we, too, struggle to believe. Like this broken, honest dad, we need God to infuse our floundering faith with hope and courage. We need him to come along-side to encourage us and remind us of his promises and history of faithfulness.
Last Sunday, I found myself struggling to believe. The power went out just a few moments before our worship service was to begin. Our music team did a great job improvising on the fly and lead a beautiful time of quiet acoustic praise. As I stood there singing, I sensed the Spirit leading me to hold my message on the fifth petition of the Lord's Prayer for next week. Rather than preach a sermon, I sensed him saying, "You've been preaching on prayer. I've gone ahead and made things nice and quiet for you. Let my people pray together."
I began to make excuses in my mind as to why that wouldn't work.
It's too quiet. People won't be able to hear. No one's going to want to pray in front of all these people. They didn't have any notice or warning. We didn't put any planning into this. I will look silly if I open it up and get nothing but crickets. The heat's off and people are going to be cold. I should just let them go home. What if no one prays? How will this reflect on me as a leader (see how self-centered I can be?)?
But yet I knew it's what God wanted us to do.
Help my unbelief.
And you know what happened? People prayed. And they prayed. And it was beautiful.
What are you struggling to trust him for today?
And ask him to help your unbelief.
Give us this day our daily bread, (Matthew 6:11, ESV)
Think about it for just a moment: God cares about your needs.
In a prayer that is centered on worship and requests regarding spiritual needs, Jesus wants us to be sure to come to God for the daily requirements of life. Martin Luther said this petition applies to "everything necessary for the preservation of this life." That includes a lot of stuff!
This means that our needs are important to God. Do you believe that? That your needs matter to him? Not just that super-spiritual guy you sit next to at church or that saint who prays for 7 1/2 hours a day. But your needs. Because you matter to God.
Not convinced? Check out these passages:
The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. (Psalm 34:10)
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. … (Mt. 6:25-34)
And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:19)
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. (Mt. 7:7-8)
For he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. (Psalm 107:9)
God longs to meet your needs -- won't you take time to cry out to him today?
O THOU GIVING GOD,
My heart is drawn out in thankfulness
for thy amazing grace and condescension
in influences and assistances of thy Spirit,
for special help in prayer,
for the sweetness of Christian service,
for the thoughts of arriving in heaven,
for always sending me needful supplies,
for raising me to new life when I am
like one dead.
I want not the favour of man to lean upon
for thy favour is infinitely better.
Thou art eternal wisdom in dispensations
and it matters not when, nor where, nor how
I serve thee,
nor what trials I am exercised with,
if I might but be prepared for thy work and will.
No poor creature stands in need of divine grace
more than I do,
And yet none abuses it more than I have done,
and still do.
How heartless and dull I am!
Humble me in the dust for not loving thee more.
Every time I exercise any grace renewedly
I am renewedly indebted to thee,
the God of all grace, for special assistance.
I cannot boast when I think how dependent
I am upon thee for the being and every act
I never do anything else but depart from thee,
and if ever I get to heaven it will be because
thou willest it, and for no reason beside.
I love, as a feeble, afflicted, despised creature,
to cast myself on thy infinite grace and goodness,
hoping for no happiness but from thee;
Give me special grace to fit me for special services,
and keep me calm and resigned at all times,
humble, solemn, mortified,
and conformed to thy will.
-The Valley of Vision
Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name...Matthew 6:9
As I prepared Sunday's message on this, the first petition of the Lord's prayer, I came across an old, dead guy with whom I was unfamiliar: a dutch theologian by the name of Hermann Witsius (1636-1708). You know when you listen to someone or read their words and it hits you like a wave of fresh air, and you know this man or woman has been in the presence of God. As I read Witsius' words about hallowing God's name in his Sacred Dissertations on the Lord’s Prayer, I kept thinking, "Old Hermann knows his God." He was not only writing about a subject with which was familar, but he was also writing about a Person with whom he was very familiar.
First of all, it floored him that we're able even to talk to God at all:
It is a very extraordinary and almost incredible familiarity of [conversation] which a man is permitted to maintain with God in holy prayer. That a base wretch,—a sinner under sentence of condemnation, a worm that deserves to be trampled under foot,—should be admitted to [converse] with the Divine Being, whose majesty the brightest inhabitants of heaven approach with lively praise, and yet with the lowliest adoration, is certainly a high privilege.
But as it pertains to the hallowing the name of God, he recognized first that we must understand, The name of God, however, does not strictly denote God, as he exists in himself, but as he reveals and makes himself known to rational creatures. That is the name of God represents the sum total of who he is as he has chosen to reveal himself to us.
And therefore God's name is hallowed when he is declared to be holy. Now, the holiness of God is the purest love of his attributes and perfections. Or, if the expression be preferred, it is that purity of the divine nature which renders every act of his understanding and will consistent with his perfections, and fitted to promote their manifestation.
He goes on to say that when we pray for his name to be hallowed, we declare three things:
(2.) By moving our hearts, so that we may be at liberty to say with David, “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed; I will sing and give praise.”
(3.) By exciting our tongue to praise him. “O Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth thy praise.”
(4.) By regulating our whole life, through the influences of his Spirit, so as to promote the glory of his name, that in all he may appear “wonderful and glorious.”
He summarizes by saying,
Our highest happiness is to be entirely devoted to the Divine glory. Our highest rejoicing is to rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:2)...Above all, we must frequently meditate on those works of God which are only taught in the school of Grace, and by which he has manifested his glory in obtaining eternal redemption for us. The highest powers of the understanding cannot be directed to a nobler object, or employed in a nobler manner, than in the contemplation of the truth itself, and of all the sublime and saving truths concerning himself which that truth has been pleased to reveal. In this manner, the name of God is hallowed by our understanding.
But we must not stop here. The knowledge of the Divine perfections must produce in us love, reverence, wonder, and adoration. Let us frequently, out of the full treasure of our heart, exclaim: “O Lord, how manifold are thy wonders! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.” (Psalm 104:24)
This was a man who truly knew what it meant to pray, "hallowed be your name." May we learn from the heart of one who has communed with the Almighty.