The Lord’s Prayer, Ash Wednesday, Lent

Monday, March 4

Read: Matthew 6:9-13

Consider: As we’ve seen throughout the past few weeks, every request—every line—in The Lord’s Prayer is also a call on our lives. When we offer worship (6:9), we’re called to give ourselves fully to God—which is our authentic act of worship (Romans 12:1). When we pray for God’s kingdom to come and his will to be done here and now (6:10), we’re giving ourselves to him to be agents of his kingdom on earth. When we pray for daily bread (6:11), we commit ourselves to trust and simplicity. When we ask for forgiveness (6:12), we are engaging ourselves in the hard work of forgiving others.

And then Jesus concluded the prayer with one last request — “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (6:13).

Of course, Jesus wasn’t worried that the Father would actually lead us into troublesome temptation (see James 1:13). That was simply a poetic way to say, “Lead us to the right path. Show us the way.”

And so again, Jesus places a call upon our lives. It is a call to faithfulness. It is a call to follow Christ, no matter where he may lead.

Sometimes we want to see the end before we begin. We don’t want to follow unless we know it will lead to our desired outcomes. But it doesn’t work that way. We don’t discover God’s will and then follow. We follow, and then along the journey we discover that God is up to something wonderful in our lives. To say “Lead me” is to say, “I’m following.”

I’ve always said that you can’t kick the tires on God’s will. You don’t get to test drive it. If you’re still deciding whether you’re all his or not, you won’t see his plan for your life. But when you embark on the journey with no thought of turning back, the discoveries are amazing.

One of my favorite passages about obedience is the New Testament reflection on Abraham…

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8)

Pray: “Lord, it’s easy for me to fear the unknown. And, yet, it is not unknown to you, and you never tell me that I must face it alone. I pray that you will help me to know the thrill—the exhilaration—of anticipating the good things ahead of me on this journey. And help me to know the abundance is not in circumstances or acquisitions, but in the growing sense of your presence. Thank you for asking me to follow you.”

 

Tuesday, March 5

Read: Matthew 6:13

Consider: As is often the case, the words that describe Jesus’ life and teaching can have broad meaning, sometimes multiple meanings that cannot be contained in one English word. When we read the word, “temptation,” we tend to think of it solely in terms of being seduced to some sinful practice or being pulled along by a sinful impulse. But in the original language of the New Testament, the word used here can also mean “trial” or “tribulation.” It may help us if we hear that request as saying, “Lead us not into temptation, times of trial, tribulation or great stress.”

Many mornings when I pray The Lord’s Prayer, I hear myself praying, “Lord, may this not be the day of great trouble.” I think that is in keeping with Jesus’ prayer.

Yes, we know that trials are inevitable. We know that we will be tempted. We know that we cannot avoid pain. But we can pray that trouble, pain and temptation will not overtake us. We can take our fears to him. We can and must pray, “deliver us from evil.”*

And when we take our fears to him, we give them to him. We take our hands off them and enter the day with his peace. For we have prayed the way Jesus taught us to pray.

Pray:  Ask the Lord to show you how to give your fears to him. While we are diligent to avoid temptation, we should not live in fear of falling away from Christ. While we know we will experience pain and suffering, we can have confidence that we’ll never walk through that valley alone. It’s not easy to live above our fears. In fact, it’s not even possible without his Spirit guiding us. So, we want to learn how to give our fears to him. Keep before you the request the disciples made to Jesus when they said, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).

__________

*In the oldest manuscripts of Matthew’s gospel, that is where the prayer ends — “…deliver us from evil.” But there was an addition in later manuscripts that found its way into some versions of the Bible, and therefore became a part of our worship. It’s a beautiful phrase…

“For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.”

I think it’s a good way to end the prayer, for in this manner the prayer begins and ends with praise.

 

Wednesday, March 6 — Ash Wednesday

Read: Genesis 2:4-7

Consider: Dust. Did you ever wonder why the scripture teaches us that we were formed “from the dust of the ground” (2:7)?

Dust reminds us of our commonality with all of creation. The same elements—the same “dust”—that make up trees and soil and grass and water, comprise our physical bodies. Of course, they’re arranged differently and appear in different proportions, but we are made of the same stuff as all of creation. But we are different—much different than the plants and the other animals.

Some would say it’s our intellect that sets us apart. Some would say we’re at a later stage of evolution. But the scripture says something very specific about what sets us apart from the rest of creation. We are different because we have been created in God’s image (1:27). What is more, we have been endowed with “the breath of life” (2:7).

In those created in God’s image, the “breath of life” is not oxygen. It’s spirit. (In both Testaments, the words for “spirit,” “wind” and “breath” are interchangeable.) What the author of Genesis is telling us is that, in a special way, God placed his Spirit in that part of creation that he made in his own image.

But for humankind, that wasn’t enough. We who were given everything, wanted more. The Genesis account of Adám—which is the Hebrew word for “man”—is a powerful metaphor of our desire to be our own gods (3:5). (And the great irony of history is that while we wanted to become gods, God became a man. But now we’re getting ahead of ourselves.)

This dust-made-man would experience death. God told Adam that he would “return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (3:19).

Those are haunting words. But we don’t dodge that statement. In fact, today we choose to embrace those words—to re-live them for a very important purpose.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Around the world pastors and priests will make the sign of the cross in black ashes on the foreheads of the followers of Jesus. As they do, they will repeat those words, “Dust you are and to dust you will return.”

Those words are hard to hear. They may even sound morbid to us. They are difficult because we know they are true.

As we’ll see in the days ahead, Lent is an important season for us. And part of that importance is the reminder of our own mortality. And we cannot fully comprehend or celebrate resurrection until we acknowledge and deal with death.

The ashes on our foreheads are beautiful because death points us to resurrection.

“For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22)

Pray: When we humble ourselves something beautiful happens. As we acknowledge our mortality and our deep need for grace, we are filled with gratitude for what Christ has done for us. As you pray today, verbalize your humanity and your need. Then let your prayer well up into thankfulness for what Christ has done to defeat death — “the last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26).

 

Thursday, March 7

Read: Ephesians 3:14-19

Consider: We see God’s majesty in creation. We see his creativity. We experience his embrace and we know his love. But to see God, we look to the Christ who became one of us.

The Christ came to us in flesh and blood, taking on our humanity. So, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, we can begin to discover and even grasp “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (3:18).

But how can we grasp it? The dimensions are too great. His mercy is beyond our understanding and his grace is greater than what we could ever have imagined. How can we possibly wrap our minds and our lives around this love?

The answer comes in the next part of that sentence. We are told that we can “know this love that surpasses knowledge” (3:19).

Sounds rather mysterious. How can you “know” something that can’t be known—something that “surpasses knowledge”? Well, that’s the point. What cannot be known on a cognitive level, must be known in another way. What I can’t “grasp” with my mind alone, must be embraced at a deeper level.

And that is the purpose of Lent.

There is no way that in the forty days of Lent (or forty years for that matter) we can “figure out” the meaning of the cross, how our sins are forgiven, how Jesus suffered beyond the physical pain of crucifixion, what happened while he was in the tomb, or the many ramifications of the resurrection. They are beyond our mental capacity.

Yet, we can know. We can know because we are not trying to encounter the truth of a set of concepts. We are choosing to encounter the One who said, “I am the truth” (John 14:6).

So, pray for one another during this Lenten season. Pray the way the apostle prayed for the Ephesian believers…

“I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)

Pray: “Lord, in the days ahead—these precious days of Lent—help me raise my awareness of your presence. Teach me how to attune my spirit to yours in the everyday chaos of life. And when truth is too high for my mind, help me to embrace the One who is the truth.”

 

Friday, March 8

Read: John 12:20-24

Consider: The request and the answer don’t seem to go together. The request was simple enough — “we would like to see Jesus” (12:21). But the response was strange. Jesus began talking about his death and what it would mean for the world.

Some Greeks had approached Philip with their request. They probably felt comfortable going to him because “Philip” is a Greek name. Maybe they thought the Jews would not be open to speaking with them and someone with a common heritage would. So, they went to Philip. Then he and Andrew went to Jesus to pass the word that some Gentiles would like to talk to him—to “see” him.

It was almost as if Jesus was saying that to see him would be to see him die. He would be the “seed”—the “kernel of wheat”—that was about to fall to the ground.

This dying was not an option. Jesus pointed out that unless the seed “falls to the ground and dies” its mission comes to naught. “But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (12:24).

We Christians use a symbol of death—the cross—as that thing that unites us. I’m sure that was strange to people of the first century. Why would we honor a symbol of Roman torture and domination? Are we preoccupied with death? Well, no. We’re preoccupied with resurrection. But resurrection is not possible without death. So, we don’t see Christ as merely a teacher of wisdom (though he certainly was that). We “see” him in his death. The One who had all power and wisdom, humbled himself and conquered through what the world perceived as weakness.

Jesus didn’t come to fix us up with minor repairs. He came to bring the dead—you and me and all of creation—back to life. And he did that through his own death and resurrection.

Pray: “Lord, you taught us to be like you in your death and resurrection (Philippians 2:5-8). This day of my life is yours. Show me how the humility of my heart and the servanthood of my actions can point people to you.”

 

Saturday, March 9

Read: John 12:24-25

Consider: Jesus’ death and resurrection are not only the work of Christ two millennia ago. The passing from death to life is the ongoing work of Christ in our lives and in our world.

After describing himself as the fallen seed which brings forth life, Jesus included you and me in the purpose of Christ. He called us to the same mission. His words are echoed throughout the gospels…

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the good news will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)

So, during Lent we not only talk about Jesus’ death and resurrection, but we talk about our own as well. We don’t center in on the physical death we all face. Yes, we have hope for resurrection when we close our eyes in death. But Lent helps us focus on the hope we have for this day. That hope means that we can put to death—we can crucify—those things that bring death to us and to our world. We die to sin, addictions, despair, hopelessness, ego and all else that destroys.

“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin…now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him…count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life…” (Romans 6:4-13)

We are “those who have been brought from death to life.”

Pray: “Thank you, Lord, that resurrection is a reality for me today. Continue to show me what must die, so that I can live.”