Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Divine Conspiracy | The Grandest Prayer of All is The Lord's Prayer by Dallas Willard

Praying is a form of speaking, and it is best learned by entering in the words that Jesus gave us to say to God when we pray. He is the Master of this subject. Many people make little progress in learning to pray simply because they have not seriously entered into Jesus' answer to the explicit request, "Teach us to pray," in which he gave his disciples, and us today, The Lord's Prayer. + Dallas Willard 

The Lord's Prayer is an abridgement of the entire Gospel. + Tertullian, early 200s A.D.  
There may never have been another prayer written that was not already contained in the Pater ("Our Father" or "Lord's Prayer"). + Simone Weil
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. + Marcel Proust

I learned to use The Lord's Prayer in a new way: taking each phrase of it and slowly and meditatively entering into the depths of its meaning, elaborating within it important details of my current life. Sometimes now I do not begin at the first request but go immediately to the end or the middle and settle in there for a while. At other times I will just use the words of the address, "Our Father filling the heavens," to establish and reestablish address and orientation as I go through the day. For some reason I especially profit from using those words while driving freeways. They put the vast, sprawling urban landscape, with a great population, into its proper perspective before God. And they transform my sense of who and where I am. I have never found any situation in which they failed to be extremely powerful.

Our Father, the One in the Heavens

When we speak to God, Jesus tells us, we are to address him as "Our Father, the one in the heavens." This is the configuration of reality from within which we pray. The overwhelming difficulties many people have with prayer, both understanding it and doing it, derive from nothing more than inability to place themselves within this configuration and receive it by grace.

"Hallowed" Be Thy Name

God's very name is held in the highest possible regard. Until that is so, the human compass will always be pointing in the wrong direction, and individual lives as well as history as a whole will suffer from constant and fluctuating disorientation. But the cosmic significance of this first request must not hide the fact that it is also the natural request of a child who loves its "Abba," its Daddy. How a child's heart is wounded to hear its parents, mother or father, dishonored or to see them attacked. Such an attack shakes the very foundations of the child's existence, for the parents are its world. We want to dwell on this meditatively and perhaps weep for sadness that God is not so understood. We want to enter into the alarm of the little child who stumbles across those who do not think its father or mother is the greatest and best. And we must transfer that alarm to the lack of admiration and confidence that the human world has for our Father in the heavens.

Thy Kingdom Come

The child's confidence in the "Abba" who supervises everything for good naturally wants his rule, his kingdom, to come into realization in any place where it is not fully present. We are thinking here of the places we spend our lives: of homes, playgrounds, city streets, workplaces, schools, and so forth. These are the places we have in mind, and they are where we are asking for the kingdom, God's rule, to come, to be in effect. Also, we are thinking of our activities more than of those of other people. We know our weaknesses, our limitations, our habits, and we know how tiny our power of conscious choice is. We are therefore asking that, by means beyond our knowledge and the scope of our will, we be assisted to act within the flow of God's actions.

But we are also praying over the dark deeds of others in the world around us. We see how they are trapped in what they themselves often disown and despise. And we are especially praying about the structural or institutionalized evils that rule so much of the earth. These prevailing circumstances daily bring multitudes to do deeply wicked things they do not even give a thought to. They do not know what they are doing and do not have the ability to distance themselves from it so they can see it for what it is. That is the power of "culture." Culture is seen in what people do unthinkingly, what is "natural" to them and therefore requires no explanation or justification. Everyone has a culture – or really, multidimensional cultures of various levels. These cultures structure their lives. And of course by far the most of everyone's culture is right and good and essential. But not all. For culture is the place where wickedness takes on group form, just as the flesh, good and right in itself, is the place where individual wickedness dwells. We therefore pray for our Father to break up these higher-level patterns of evil. And, among other things, we ask him to help us see the patterns we are involved in. We ask him to help us not cooperate with them, to cast light on them and act effectively to remove them.

Give Daily Bread Daily

This request embodies that confidence in our Father that relieves us from all anxiety. The emphasis is on provision today. This is because God is always present today, no matter which day it is. His reign is the Eternal Now. So we do not ask him to provide today what we will need for tomorrow. To have it in hand today does not guarantee that we will have it tomorrow when we need it. Today I have God, and he has the provisions. Tomorrow it will be the same. So I simply ask today for what I need for today or ask now for what I need now. It is quite alright to have things now that we intend to use tomorrow and to work or even pray in a sensible way for them. What hinders or shuts down kingdom living is not the having of such provisions, but rather the trusting in them for future security. We have no real security for the future in them, but only in the God who is present with us each day.

Don't Punish Us for Things We Do Wrong

It is only pity or mercy that makes life possible. We do not like to hear it, but human beings at their best are pitiable creatures that "walk in a vain show" (Psalm 39:6). Only God's mercies keep us from being consumed because of our sins (Lamentations 3:22). But as a father pities his children, so the Lord pities us. He knows what we are made of and remembers that we are dust. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor does he reward us in proportion to our wrongdoings (Psalm 103:10-14). That is the wonderful, healing nature of The Kingdom Among Us.

Today we sometimes speak of people who cannot forgive themselves. Usually, however, the problem is much deeper. More often than not, these are people who refuse to live on the basis of pity. Their problem is not that they are hard on themselves, but that they are proud. And if they are hard on themselves, it is because they are proud. They do not want to accept that they can only live on the basis of pity from others, that the good that comes to them is rarely "deserved." If they would only do that, it would transform their lives. They would easily stop punishing themselves for what they have done.

This is why it is not psychologically possible for us really to know God's pity for us and at the same time be hardhearted toward others (or ourselves). So we are "forgiving of others in the same manner as God forgives us." And if you've been squirming as you read this, there's a good reason. I have used the word pity through much of this discussion of "forgive us our sins," rather than the word mercy or the even more dignified compassion. This is because only pity reaches to the heart of our condition. The word pity makes us wince, as mercy does not. Our current language has robbed mercy of its deep, traditional meaning, which is practically the same as pity. To pity someone now is to feel sorry for them, and that is regarded as demeaning, whereas to have mercy now is thought to be slightly noble  just "give 'em a break." Today even many Christians read and say "forgive us our trespasses" as "give me a break." In the typically late-twentieth-century manner, this saves the ego and its egotism. "I am not a sinner, I just need a break!" But no, I need more than a break. I need pity because of who I am. If my pride is untouched when I pray for forgiveness, I have not prayed for forgiveness. I don't even understand it.

Don't Put Us to the Test

This request is not just for evasion of pain and of things we don't like, though it frankly is that. It expresses the understanding that we can't stand up under very much pressure, and that it is not a good thing for us to suffer. It is a vote of "no confidence" in our own abilities. As the series of requests begins with the glorification of God, it ends with acknowledgment of the feebleness of human beings. God expects us to pray that we will escape trials, and we should do it. The bad things that happen to us are always challenges to our faith, and we may not be able to stand up under them. They are dangerous. To know this, one has only to watch how quickly people begin to attack God when bad things start to happen to them. The excessive confidence people have in the strength of their own faith  usually it is when they are not suffering, of course  simply makes the danger worse.

Once again, we are asking for pity, this time in the form of protection from circumstances. We are asking a Father who is both able and willing to extend such pity to not led bad things happen to us. The last request in the Lord's Prayer is the revelation of a God who loves spare his children and who will always do it upon request unless he has something better in mind. People who do not ask God to spare them from trials and evils usually do not recognize his hand when they are spared. They then live under the illusion that their lives are governed by chance, luck, accident, the whims of others, and their own cleverness. And because they do not ask, do not constantly invite God in, that may well be, to some significant extent, no illusion. If one is content with such an outlook, God will probably leave one with it. But we will never know our life to be one in The Kingdom Among Us. To that kingdom Jesus' words about prayer are an ever open door.

The Lord's Prayer: The Enduring Framework of the Praying Life

You only move beyond The Lord's Prayer provided you stay within it. It is the necessary bass in the great symphony of prayer. It is a powerful lens through which one constantly sees the world as God himself sees it.

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 today, 
and forgive us our sins and impositions on you 
as we are forgiving all who in any way offend us. 
Please don't put us through trials, 
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!*

*"Just the way we want it" is not a bad paraphrase for "amen." What is needed at the end of this great prayer is a ringing affirmation of the goodness of God and God's world.

+ Excerpts from The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God by Dallas Willard, pgs. 253-269

Previous post on the Lord's Prayer:

Simply Good News | Praying Good News by N.T. Wright

Next post: Our Father | Reflections on the Lord's Prayer by Pope Francis

Soli Jesu gloria.

Rev. Mike "Sully" Sullivan

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