The Lord’s Prayer for Prodigals

The following is from the coda of Wesley Hill’s magnificent book, The Lord’s Prayer: A Guide to Praying to Our Father, pp. 99-101.

It’s taken a couple of years for me to realize how much looking at [Rembrandt’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son”] hanging over my kneeler has affected the way I pray […] In particular, I think, it’s changed the way I pray the Lord’s Prayer. Now, whenever I recite it, as often as not I’m looking at Rembrandt’s image while I do. Each line has taken on new resonance.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. To pray for the reverencing and uplifting of the Father’s name is to pray that this welcoming, forgiving Father — the Father whose hands gently rest on His lost son’s shoulders — be more widely known, seen for the compassionate Father that He is, and worshiped as the Giver of extravagant mercy. To pray for this Father’s name to be hallowed is to pray that more lost sons and daughters find themselves kneeling under that gracious gaze.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. To pray for this Father’s kingdom to come and this Father’s will to be done is to pray for a reign of mercy, kindness, humility, and profligate divine generosity. It is to pray that debts would be remitted, rebellion ended with homecoming, and banquets held for the dissolute and the self-righteous alike. It is to pray not for the iron-fisted rule of a tyrant but for the self-giving reign of a Father who loves.

Give us this day our daily bread. To pray for regular sustenance from this Father is to pray to One who was ready to serve the best meat to a son who had already burned through half the family inheritance. To pray to this Father for daily bread is to receive not only the staples of life but also a filet mignon, not only water but also the best vintage. It is to receive abundance, lavishness, and generosity “immeasurably more than all we can ask or conceive” (Eph 3:20 NEB).

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. To pray for forgiveness from this Father is to pray to One who leaps up and sprints toward us — throwing dignity to the wind — to offer us forgiveness before we have even been able to blubber our request for it. To pray for this Father’s forgiveness is to barely get the words out before realizing we’ve been clothed with the finest garments the house has to offer. To pray for our trespasses to be forgiven is to feel already this Father’s warm tears as they drip down on our scabbed head.

And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. To ask this Father to “deliver us from evil” is to pray to One whose hands and cloak provide shelter for us. [Henri] Nouwen again: “With its warm color and its arch-like shape, [the Father’s cloak] offers a welcome place where it is good to be. … But as I went on gazing at the red cloak, another image, stronger than that of a tent, came to me: the sheltering wings of the mother bird.” To pray to this Father for protection is to pray to One whose character Jesus embodied when He wept, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! … How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matt 23:37).

For thine is the kingdom and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen. To praise the kingship, the dominion, and the splendor of this Father is to praise the kingship of humility, the noncoercive dominion of nurturing love, and the radiant splendor of stooping and touching and embracing. To praise this Father “for ever and ever” is to acknowledge that such self-giving divine love is the fount of creation and redemption in eternity past and will be the theme of the lost son’s songs into eternity future.

To pray the Our Father with Rembrandt and Jesus’ Father in view is to find yourself praying it in a way you hope never to stop

Abide in Me

John 15 was on our CBR agenda yesterday.  It’s a stunning chapter of Jesus illustrating himself as the vine, we as the branches, and the Father being the gardener.  Repeatedly Jesus implores us to “abide or remain in me.”  And he cites a specific reason to abide in Him: it’s the key to fruitfulness or bearing good fruit.

Listen to Alexander Maclaren’s commentary on this passage – “How union with Jesus is sure to issue in fruitfulness.”

It means, on the part of professedly Christian people, a temper and tone of mind very far remote from the noisy, bustling distractions too common in our present Christianity. We want quiet, patient waiting within the veil. We want stillness of heart, brought about by our own distinct effort to put away from ourselves the strife of tongues and the pride of life. We want activity, no doubt, but we want a wise passiveness as its foundation.

Get away into the ‘secret place of the Most High,’ and rise into a higher altitude and atmosphere than the region of work and effort; and sitting still with Christ, let His love and His power pour themselves into your hearts. ‘Come, My people, enter thou into thy chambers and shut thy doors about thee.’ Get away from the jangling of politics, and empty controversies and busy distractions of daily duty. The harder our toil necessarily is, the more let us see to it that we keep a little cell within the central life where in silence we hold communion with the Master. ‘Abide in Me and I in you.’

That is the way to be fruitful, rather than by efforts after individual acts of conformity and obedience, howsoever needful and precious these are. There is a deeper thing wanted than these. The best way to secure Christian conduct is to cultivate communion with Christ. It is better to work at the increase of the central force than at the improvement of the circumferential manifestations of it. Get more of the sap into the branch, and there will be more fruit. Have more of the life of Christ in the soul, and the conduct and the speech will be more Christlike. We may cultivate individual graces at the expense of the harmony and beauty of the whole character. We may grow them artificially and they will be of little worth – by imitation of others, by special efforts after special excellence, rather than by general effort after the central improvement of our nature and therefore of our life. But the true way to influence conduct is to influence the springs of conduct; and to make a man’s life better, the true way is to make the man better. First of all be, and then do; first of all receive, and then give forth; first of all draw near to Christ, and then there will be fruit to His praise. That is the Christian way of mending men, not tinkering at this, that, and the other individual excellence, but grasping the secret of total excellence in communion with Him.

Authenticity

For the past week, Tami and I have enjoyed listening to a taped lecture series entitled, The Power of Vulnerability, by Dr. Brene Brown.  As a professor in Social Work who employs Grounded Theory Research on the subject of shame, Brown has brilliantly tapped into why people feel shame and how that drives their thinking and behaving.  Her shame research has led her to address the subjects of guilt, compassion, empathy, and vulnerability.  A major component of vulnerability is authenticity.  Here’s what Brown says about authenticity.

Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we’re supposed to be [or who we think people want us to be] and embracing who we actually are.Choosing authenticity involves the following:

  • Cultivating the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable.
  • Expressing compassion that comes from knowing that we’re all made of strength and struggle.
  • Nurturing the connection and sense of belonging that can only happen when we believe that we’re enough.
  • Authenticity demands wholehearted living and loving even when it’s hard… even when we’re wrestling with the shame and fear of not being good enough… and especially when the joy is so intense that we aren’t afraid to let ourselves feel it.
  • Practicing authenticity during our most soul-searching struggles is how we invite grace, joy, and gratitude into our lives.

Authenticity is a popular buzzword today in organizations, businesses, and churches.  As you can see from Brown’s extended definition, it’s one thing to claim authenticity and it’s another (hard) thing to actually live authentically.

Here’s where the Gospel comes in and allows us to live authentically.  We are born with both dignity and depravity.  We are created in God’s image, yet we’re sinful to the core.  Jesus Christ willingly embraced all our depravity on the cross – we are pardoned slaves of sin.  Not only that, but he grants us a more dignified status – we are adopted children of God and heirs with Jesus Christ.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).  We are new creatures… free to be authentic, honest, compassionate, filled with gratitude and joy. The ‘shame-voices’ in our mind lose their grip and power as we live authentically in our new identity as redeemed children of God.

Pastor Steve

Empathy

When your loved one shares a painful experience, do you try to lighten the moment?

When your loved one says they are upset with you, have you found yourself justifying your words or actions, only to have your partner or friend become more upset?

Despite your best intentions, you may be suffering from a lack of empathy. The following cartoon short from University of Houston researcher and Daring Greatly (2012) author Brené Brown’s RSA talk in 2013 explains the difference: Click to watch

Our brains are wired to run from pain—including emotional pain—whether it is ours or someone else’s. Brown points out in this video that empathy rarely starts with the words, “At least…” and that oftentimes, the best response is, “I don’t know what to say, but I am really glad you told me.” Fixing your loved one’s problem is not often what is needed, nor is it necessarily your job or even within your ability to do so. Sharing a listening, caring ear is something most people can do. When we feel heard, cared about, and understood, we also feel loved, accepted, and as if we belong.

In I Thought it Was Just Me (But It Isn’t) (2008), Brown references nursing scholar Theresa Wiseman’s four attributes of empathy:

  • To be able to see the world as others see it—This requires putting your own “stuff” aside to see the situation through your loved one’s eyes.
  • To be nonjudgmental—Judgment of another person’s situation discounts the experience and is an attempt to protect ourselves from the pain of the situation.
  • To understand another person’s feelings—We have to be in touch with our own feelings in order to understand someone else’s. Again, this requires putting your own “stuff” aside to focus on your loved one.
  • To communicate your understanding of that person’s feelings—Rather than saying, “At least you…” or “It could be worse…” try, “I’ve been there, and that really hurts,” or (to quote an example from Brown) “It sounds like you are in a hard place now. Tell me more about it.”

Brown explains that empathy is a skill that strengthens with practice and encourages people to both give and receive it often. By receiving empathy, not only do we understand how good it feels to be heard and accepted, we also come to better understand the strength and courage it takes to be vulnerable and share that need for empathy in the first place.

In short, empathy is different and better than sympathy because “empathy fuels connection; sympathy drives disconnection.”

Empathy… You’re going to have an opportunity to exercise it today.  Give it your best shot!

Art as a means of evangelism, counseling, and loving others in a broken world

Ellis Potter, an influential Christian Missionary in Europe encourages his congregants to ask 10 people who are not followers of Jesus these two questions.

If you converted to Christianity today, do you think your life would be larger, fuller, richer, more attractive and creative, more involved with the people, circumstances, art, & culture around you?

Or do you think your life would be smaller, narrower, more withdrawn, judgmental, and negative, less winsome and creative, less involved with the people, art, circumstances, & culture around you?

Were you to ask your neighbors these questions, your family or your friends, how do you think they would answer? Why would they answer that way? Who taught it to them? Francis Schaeffer once said,

As evangelical Christians we have tended to relegate art to the very fringe of life. The rest of human life we feel is more important. Despite our constant talk about the Lordship of Christ, we have narrowed its scope to a very small area of reality. We have misunderstood the concept of the Lordship of Christ over the whole of man and the whole of the universe and have not taken to us the riches that the Bible gives us for ourselves, for our lives, and for our culture. The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.

It seems that in our culture today many Christians are known for what they hate, rather than for what they love, for talking about what is evil, rather than celebrating what is good and praiseworthy.

The Bible makes clear that Jesus Christ is Lord over all aspects of life, including pop culture and art, and it is my belief that not only can we celebrate our partaking of art as entertainment, but that we can use it as a means of sharing the gospel with our family, friends, and neighbors.