The acts of violence we are witnessing, and the political acrimony we are experiencing have much in common…
Blood on the ground produces panic and confusion and rage, but is also an opportunity for moral clarity. We are watching it all right now. The blood at a traffic stop, the blood of assassinated police officers, the blood of men, women, and children run over by a terrorist driving a truck.
Moral clarity begins with the question of what preceded the blood.
Clip, clip Snip, snip. Clumps of thick Saxon hair fell around the man’s shoulders and dropped to the floor. The barber, one Peter Beskendorf, engaged his customer in one more conversation about spiritual matters. “Pastor,” he said, “how should I pray? How long should I go on? What exactly should I say?”
We don’t know what the man in the chair, Dr. Martin Luther of Wittenberg, said, but we do know that Peter Beskendorf’s questions prompted Luther to write a small book called A Simple Way to Pray.
[In the light of recent tragic events, there is a “Prayer for the Nation” (video) below.]
[This is part 2 of Lessons in Prayer. Part 1 is here.]
When we speak to God a certain awareness of our relationship with God is pressed upon our minds and hearts. It begins to happen the moment prayer begins. It is rooted in the profound fact that we are actually speaking to and listening to Almighty God. Slowly, incrementally, with each passing day, with each sincere prayer, we are rehearsing certain truths about our relationship with God, not just because the truths are verbalized, but because they are enacted. Through the progressive soul-shaping dialogue with God we gain a spiritual consciousness that we are under God, we are with God, we are in God, and we are for God.
Peter Marshall, the Scottish-American pastor who was also Chaplain to the United States Senate, offered this prayer about prayer in the 1940’s:
Lord, teach us to pray. Some of us are not skilled in the art of prayer. As we draw near to thee in thought, our spirits long for thy Spirit, and reach out for thee, longing to feel thee near. We know not how to express the deepest emotions that lie hidden in our hearts.
Follow up: you are invited to a 4-week email series with many more teachings about prayer, and resources to help. More info HERE.
1. Prayer and Our Relationship with God
- Prayer as position: “we are under God”
- Prayer as presence: “we are with God”
- Prayer as power: “we are in God”
- Prayer as purpose: “we are for God”
2. Prayer in All Circumstances of Life: James’ Final Words
- Praying when we are in trouble (5:13)
- Praying when we are happy (vs. 13)
- Praying when we are not well (vss. 14-15)
- Praying when we are guilty (vs. 16)
[Earlier posts in this series about responding to atheism:
Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive . . .
“Forgive us our trespasses” (v. 12). Now you can be an atheist and believe in repentance and forgiveness, but they can never amount to anything more than a reconciliation between human beings. That would be a good accomplishment and better than nothing. But there are a couple of major problems. First, how high is the motivation for reconciliation between us and other people? If there is no God, if there is no moral absolute above us and apart from us, why should I go through the work of seeking forgiveness or granting it for that matter? An atheist may argue that reconciliation and peace is a better state of affairs because reducing injury between people or groups is a more desirable way to live. But
Your kingdom come, your will be done . . .
The second part of the Lord’s Prayer, this manifesto of theism, says, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (v. 10). If you pray that, then you are saying, “I believe God is a ruling king. He is leader over what he has created, he has a plan, and he knows how it all is supposed to work, so that means that he knows how my life is supposed to work. When I am confused or feel strung out or discouraged or feel like giving up, he is the Protector and the ruling Sovereign.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name . . .
The Lord’s Prayer begins simply: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (v. 9). Now you could say nothing more than that and have a belief system that fills in the deep cracks and fissures of atheism or materialism. Four truths: There is a God, He is personal and benevolent, He is above and apart from this finite world, and He is great and worthy of adoration.
Perhaps the most pervasive kind of atheism is what some have called practical atheism, the life stance of many who may say they believe in God, but for all intents and purposes, the reality of God never enters their minds, never influences a decision, never shapes a value, never prompts them to worship. Not atheists formally, they might as well be—there is no conscious thought of God or interaction with God. And one might even wonder if practical atheism is more dangerous than dogmatic atheism. Which is more dangerous: to admit you don’t believe in God, or to say you do and then absolutely ignore Him? Remember that Jesus reserved his strongest words for those who claimed righteousness but who defined it in their own terms.
Another face of atheism in the modern world is the worldview known as secular humanism. Two words here: “humanism” and “secular.” Humanism, broadly viewed, can either be hostile toward God or accepting of God.
The starkest religious alternative to Christian faith is atheism. While it may seem strange to even describe atheism as a religious alternative, doing so is accurate because atheism is the dogma that there is no God, a position that usually requires a great deal of talk and debate about God.
At the twenty-fifth annual meeting of the organization called American Atheists, its 44-year-old president strode to the lectern and opened with the words: “Happy Vernal Equinox and good morning. My name is Ellen Johnson and I am the President of American Atheists.” A very different picture from the previous president, Madalyn Murray O’Hair (who disappeared in 1995 and was recently confirmed murdered for money), Ellen Johnson is a newer picture of atheism. Slender, blonde, a self-described soccer mom, she nonetheless carries on the message of being freed from the restraints of religion and of wanting tolerance in a free society.