Monday, February 4
Read: Matthew 6:5-13
Consider: Over the next few weeks we’re going to consider some insights we can take from what has come to be called, “The Lord’s Prayer.” We also call it the model prayer because Jesus preceded it by saying, “This is how you should pray…” (6:9).
Jesus was not giving us a ritual that we should memorize and repeat for good luck. He was showing us the attitudes and desires that should energize our interaction with our Heavenly Father. Prayer is not a position of the body or a series of words. Prayer is a position of the heart. It involves our dependence, submission and commitment to the One who has given us everything and who daily supplies our needs with his presence.
We often pray without words. Desire for God is prayer. Living in awareness of his presence is prayer. Seeing Christ in all of creation—especially in those created in his image—is prayer. So, this wonderful prayer is so much more than words on paper or phrases recited.
Still, it is good to commit this prayer to memory, but not simply for the exercise of repeating it. We memorize it so that it can become a part of us and guide us as our lives become prayers. The fact is, it’s such a brief prayer that if we pray it regularly—if it becomes central to our lives—we can’t help but memorize it.
On October 6, 2009, we watched in horror as news outlets across the country reported that a gunman had entered an Amish school in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and murdered five children, injuring others. As many people around the nation were trying to come to grips with this, the families of that small community did something that shocked the world. They forgave the shooter and supported his family. The man had taken his own life as well, and the Amish community even helped his family with the funeral.
How was that possible? How could they even come close to forgiving such an unspeakable act of evil? One of the things to consider is what took place earlier on the day the tragedy occurred. It was something that happened every morning. The children prayed The Lord’s Prayer.
People were mystified over how they could forgive. Perhaps it is not a mystery. If every day of your entire life you sincerely prayed for the strength to “forgive those who sin against us” (6:12), then it makes sense that the Holy Spirit would empower you to do the very thing for which you had prayed over all those years.
I think this prayer is transformative, if we pray it and if we live it.
Pray: Let’s begin our journey by praying the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray…
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: for yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”
Tuesday, February 5
Read: Matthew 6:9
Consider: The Lord’s Prayer begins with worship. This must have seemed natural to the very first Christ-followers. They had been raised to approach the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—YWHW—in reverence and humility. It would make no sense to go before “our Father in heaven” in any other way.
This has set the tone for Christians for the past two millennia. To this day, Sunday gatherings begin with songs of praise and thanksgiving. Before we teach, take offerings, talk about the life of the church or ask God for anything, we worship. We give honor to the name and the person of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I join Christians around the world to start every morning of my life with words from The Book of Common Prayer…
“Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.”
But the fact that we begin our services and our days with worship, leads us to a very important question: What is worship?
You can find many definitions for worship. I choose not to use one, because something so mysterious and wonderful defies definition. But there are some things we can know about worship. Worship transcends words—whether spoken or sung. Worship is not the act of trying to conjure up some emotional experience for ourselves. Worship involves giving to God. We give him praise, honor, allegiance, commitment. And true worship calls us to give everything to God—not a few moments, not some sentimental words, not some spare change in our pockets—everything.
So, we begin our prayers with worship. We begin our services with worship. We begin our days with worship. That’s because we must begin with the acknowledgement that he deserves our all. And our words of worship to him must be followed with a life of worship—a life that freely gives all to him.
Pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, help us to honor your name’ (Matthew 6:9, CEV). In all I say, in all I do and in all I am, today I want to bring honor to you. Father, in my weakness I depend upon your strength to help me live in harmony with you.”
Wednesday, February 6
Read: Romans 11:33-12:2
Consider: Paul’s words are compelling and fascinating…
“I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” (12:1)
Paul was certainly not confining worship to the repetition of songs and liturgies. He did not consider worship to be an emotional experience that churches should provide for believers. He did not even describe worship as an event. Rather, he called for the offering of our “bodies” as the true act of worship.
In this instance, Paul’s use of the word, “body,” was his way of saying that we present everything to God. He was painting a picture to help us understand. He used the term “living sacrifice” which conjured specific images for his readers. They were used to seeing animals sacrificed to God in the Temple. The bodies of these animals were consumed by fire and there was nothing left after the sacrifice was complete. Those animals were given entirely to God in an act of worship. Now Paul is calling us to be “living sacrifices”—living beings that are given totally to God. This giving of our lives is our “true and proper worship” (12:1).
Jesus taught us to begin our prayers with worship. The verbalization of worship at the outset of the Lord’s Prayer is one short sentence in a very brief prayer. But that phrase is not intended to be the sum-total of our daily worship. It is our recognition to God that this day—this life—is given to him. And that expression of praise — “hallowed be your name” — prompts us to remember to worship with our lives and not simply with our lips.
This kind of worship—the continual giving of ourselves to God—makes prayer all that it was intended to be. It is no longer coming to God with our hands open. It is coming to God’s open hands and placing ourselves there.
Pray: “Lord, I begin my day by affirming that all I am and all I have is yours. But I need your strength and the awareness of your presence to make this worship more than words. May this whole day be a prayer. May it be a prayer of being and a prayer of doing as you guide me throughout the day in giving myself completely to you.”
Thursday, February 7
Read: Exodus 20:1-3
Consider: As we have seen this week, the first phrase of The Lord’s Prayer affirms that God is to be worshipped. We are to give ourselves entirely to him, opening the way for intimacy in prayer and in life. We see the same thing when we look at the giving of the Law in the Old Testament. When God, through Moses, gave the people his Ten Commandments, he began with…
“You shall have no other gods before me (sometimes translated, ‘besides me’).” (20:3)
Unless we follow that first mandate given to Israel, the beginning of The Lord’s Prayer is meaningless to us. Oh yes, we could mouth the words, “hallowed be your name,” but if God is competing with other gods in our lives, that’s all they are—words. So, the first phrase of the model prayer that Jesus gave us is a heart check. Am I approaching the Heavenly Father as God, or simply approaching him as one of my gods?
Security, self-esteem, pleasure, possessions, honors, our nation, cultural values, pride, and a host of other things can seduce us. I like the way the late Rich Mullins put it — “The stuff of earth competes for the allegiance I owe only to the giver of all good things.”
What are the competitors in your life today? What or who is calling for your allegiance? It is important to recognize them. The very nature of seduction is that it draws us in before we realize where we are headed. To name the potential idols is the first step in decreasing their power over us.
Pray: “Lord, show me your way. If my heart is leaning toward other gods, help me to name those gods and cast down those idols.”
Friday, February 8
Read: Exodus 20:1-6
Consider: Idolatry is a big deal to God. As you read through the Old Testament, you see what is spelled out in the first two commandments. God hates idolatry. He does not want his creation to worship any kind of false god. Why?
People often misunderstand the explanation God gave to Moses — “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (20:5). When we think of jealousy, we usually think of pettiness and unchecked emotions. That, of course, is not what God is saying. God is communicating his deep love and concern for us. For God knows that idols won’t deliver.
I define idolatry as looking to something or someone besides God for what God alone can and wants to give us. We want security, so we seek it in our jobs, our incomes and our possessions. We want joy, so we look for it in pleasure and self-aggrandizement. We want peace, so we consume ourselves by trying to supply our own needs and desires. Sometimes the idols get monstrous in the form of alcohol, drugs, promiscuous sex and other addictions. And God knows that these idols won’t deliver. They won’t bring us peace, security, joy and contentment. They are false gods. He loves us so much that he wants to spare us from creating them.
In speaking about the gods of our own making, the prophet Jeremiah said…
“Everyone is senseless and without knowledge; every goldsmith is shamed by his idols. The images he makes are a fraud; they have no breath in them. They are worthless, the objects of mockery…” (Jeremiah 10:14-15)
And so, day by day, in praying The Lord’s Prayer, we remind ourselves who is God and what is not. And we cast down false gods every time we say with our lives…
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”
Pray: Take some time today to give honor to God’s name. Ask him to do a cleansing work in your life, empowering you to honor him with your actions today as well as your verbalized prayer. Don’t be under bondage. You’re not perfect. But ask him to help you see the idols and potential idols in your life. Take some time to laugh at the stupid idols, recognizing that they can never deliver on their false promises.
Saturday, February 9
Read: Matthew 6:1-9
Consider: This week we’ve considered worship—worship that goes beyond the songs we sing or the words we repeat. We’ve discovered worship to be the continual giving of our moments, our days and our lives to God. And we’ve seen that true worship empowers us to cast down our idols. So, it’s interesting that Jesus’ model prayer is preceded by some sound advice on destroying a particularly seductive idol in our lives—the false god of human approval.
Jesus said, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them” (6:1).
If we prayerfully listen to the Holy Spirit on this issue, we might be amazed at the degree to which we are tempted to worship the approval of others. This, of course, can lead to another idol, a monstrous one—spiritual pride.
When we crave for others to esteem us, we can become consumed with how we are perceived. And, of course, when we’re preoccupied with perception, we neglect reality. Perhaps that’s why so many high-profile religious leaders fall. They worry about how they’re perceived rather than worrying about who they really are.
But Jesus wants to free us from all of that.
“When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (6:6)
The opinions of others are not our laurels. They are our chains. Freedom from idolatry is freedom to experience intimacy with God.
This is simply one example of why we worship our “jealous” God (Exodus 20:5). True worship liberates us. In worshipping him, we are set free from the many seductive gods that ultimately steal our joy, our peace, and our capacity to love with abandon.
Pray:“Our Father in heaven, help us to honor your name. Come and set up your kingdom, so that everyone on earth will obey you, as you are obeyed in heaven. Give us our food for today. Forgive us for doing wrong, as we forgive others. Keep us from being tempted and protect us from evil.”