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Studies on The Lord’s Prayer

April 8, 2019 4 comments

The Lord’s Prayer is a familiar scripture passage, one of the most memorized passages (along with Psalm 23 and a few other verses such as John 3:16).  From Christian contemporary music (when I listened to it in the late 1980s through mid-1990s) two song versions come to mind, from Tony Melendez and Steve Camp.

The Sunday School class has been studying Al Mohler’s book on The Lord’s Prayer (The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down), and so a blog post about this and related resources is fitting.  Mohler’s book is a good layperson resource, with good introductory material, many quotes from Martin Luther (especially his words addressed to his barber, Peter Beskendorf), J.I. Packer and others, and examination of the theology involved in each clause of this prayer (from Matthew 6 and Luke 11).

Classic Puritan recommended resources (from others in online reading groups) include Thomas Watson’s The Lord’s Prayer (free e-book available from Monergism.com) now on my list to read.  Martyn Lloyd Jones’ series through the Sermon on the Mount ,and other expositions on the Sermon on the Mount / The Lord’s Prayer, are also recommended studies.

From the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, the 2002 PCRT conference has an interesting 4-part series with messages by Richard Phillips and Hywel Jones: “Lord, Teach Us to Pray”. Dr. Jones’ three lectures provide exposition of Luke 11:1-13, of the prayer itself and the related parable.  Among the highlights from this series, Hywel Jones exposited Luke 11:1, the introductory words that we usually do not think about, which provide the setting and the fact that Jesus was praying in a certain place and for a specified time.  The Luke 11 account is shorter than the Matthew 6 parallel, but Luke’s version should not be considered incomplete; it has the same basic content that is expanded on in the Matthew 6 version.  This prayer has some similarity, along with important differences, to other 1st century Jewish prayers in its form.  The Lord’s Prayer (a model prayer for us to follow) fits the common pattern, yet includes a personal touch:  the word “Father” and “my” personal father, and that we are to forgive others “as we have been forgiven.”

I do not see these concepts as really absent from the Old Testament.  Throughout the Psalms, Proverbs, and the Prophets, for example, we have many instances of Israel in a corporate relationship with “Our Father,” yet this God is personally prayed to by the psalmist.  Though the Old Testament does not use the explicit terminology found in the New Testament, certainly texts such as in Proverbs point out the need of forgiveness for ourselves as well as extending mercy and kindness (and forgiveness), instead of holding grudges or doing wrong to our neighbor.  Certainly it is true, though, that the gospel texts of The Lord’s Prayer set out clearly the things that are more implied in the Old Testament, as to our prayers and the right perspective.

These lectures provide a good overview of the Lord’s Prayer, with consideration of the two passages (Luke and Matthew) and the overall historical context.   For a more in-depth, book study, Mohler’s The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down is good for basic theology as related to the clauses of this prayer — easy reading, yet very instructive on so many areas of theology.  A sampling of a few quotes:

All we can learn about God from his revelation is designated his Name in Scripture…. A name is something personal and very different from a number or a member of a species. It always feels more or less unpleasant when others misspell or garble our name; it stands for our honor, our worth, our person, and individuality. … There is an intimate link between God and his name. According to Scripture, this link is not accidental or arbitrary but forged by God himself. We do not name God; he names himself. … Summed up in his name, therefore, is his honor, his fame, his excellencies, his entire revelation, his very being. – Herman Bavinck

Prayer and praise are like a bird’s two wings: with both working, you soar; with one out of action, you are earthbound.  But birds should not be earthbound, nor Christians praiseless. – J.I. Packer

Mohler’s book, the PCRT lectures, and the classic Reformed Puritan resources all contribute to a good study on this model prayer, the Lord’s Prayer — a few verses in scripture, yet packed with so much meaning, truths that we can never exhaust and will always be learning and gaining new insights.

Taking Hold of God: Reformed/Puritan Thoughts on Prayer

December 14, 2017 1 comment

Continuing in the Challies 2017 Reading Challenge with book selections from recent Kindle deals, I recently completed a book about prayer:  Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer, by Joel Beeke and Brian Najapfour.

This work considers the theology of prayer, looking at several major teachers of the Reformation and Puritan era, in chronological sequence—covering two centuries, from Martin Luther through Thomas Boston and Jonathan Edwards of the 18th century.  The chapters summarize the writings of each figure, with selected quotes concerning their teachings and emphases regarding prayer, along with explanation and paraphrase of the teaching of these men: Luther’s view of all that is included within prayer; prayer as communion with God (John Calvin); teaching on the Lord’s Prayer (William Perkins); the emphasis on the Holy Spirit in prayer (John Bunyan); catechism and other practical helps for praying (the Puritans generally, and Matthew Henry); and prayer in connection with the doctrine of Adoption (Thomas Boston), are among the many topics covered.  I especially appreciated the discussion of views regarding the Anglican prayer book and liturgy; overall, the Puritans disliked such ‘formula’ prayer, yet provided their own educational material, such as the Westminster Shorter Catechism and Matthew Henry’s “A Method for Prayer” and books for family devotions.

The chapter on Thomas Boston was also quite interesting, especially as a follow-up to my recent reading of Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ which provided the historical background and setting briefly mentioned in this book’s chapter:

Boston experienced many sorrows in life. …. His first ten years of ministry at Ettrick were a long season of plowing with little yield.  His advocacy of the free grace of God put him at the center of a grievous controversy in his denomination.

Boston emphasized the doctrine of adoption in reference to prayer.  As well explained in the quotes and Beeke’s commentary:

He (Boston) says, “Our names are enrolled among those of the family; and though a new nature accompanies it, yet adoption itself is a new name, not a new nature, Rev. 2:17, though it is not an empty title, but has vast privileges attending it.”  Simply put, true spiritual adoption operates much like legal adoption in today’s world.  When a child is legally adopted, he or she is declared the child of new parents.  But legal adoption does nothing to change the cellular makeup, genes, or blood of the adopted child.  Nevertheless, adotpion places a child into a household where he may learn from his father’s love, example, instruction, and discipline to become more like his father.  Similarly, when children of Satan are adopted by God, they are no longer children of Satan but are counted as children of God, even though remnants of sin remain in them.  Yet the privileges of adoption change their lives.

The chapter on Jonathan Edwards was also interesting, a good summary (I have read of Edwards, but no actual works from him yet) as it put together Edwards’ theology of prayer from different sources (no one treatise on prayer), and include his post-millennial thoughts (eschatology does affect the content of one’s prayers).  Edwards rightly understood Old Testament passages as speaking of a future golden age, unlike our time; so post-millennials have something in common with premillennialists, recognizing the future aspect of these prophecies (and more common ground than with the amillennialists who reject any literal, future fulfillment of such texts).

Taking Hold of God concludes the Reformation and Puritan era with a look at their prayers for world missions, including mention of the early Puritan missionaries, such as John Eliot in the 17th century, and the beginning of the modern mission era in the 18th century.  The final chapter takes the lessons learned from the Reformers and Puritans, for general application to us in our lives today, with practical suggestions for how to grow in our prayer lives in realistic ways, while recognizing that these men were exceptional even among others in their day.  For how to ‘take hold of yourself for prayer’, consider the following seven principles:

  1. Remember the value of prayer. Seek to realize the value of unanswered as well as answerd prayer.
  2. Maintain the priority of prayer.
  3. Speak with sincerity in prayer.
  4. Cultivate a continual spirit of prayer. Pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17)
  5. Work toward organization in prayer. Divide prayer lists into three categories (daily, weekly, and monthly prayer needs).
  6. Read the Bible for prayer. Read the Bible with the intent of responding to God’s word with prayer.
  7. Keep biblical balance in prayer. Types of prayers include praise of God’s glory, confession of our sins, petition for our needs (spiritual and physical), thanks for God’s mercies, intercession for others

Then, for taking hold of God in prayer, these three principles:

  1. Plead God’s promises in prayer.
  2. Look to the glorious trinity in prayer.
  3. Believe that God answers prayer.

Taking Hold of God is an excellent layperson book, a summary of prayer from a Reformed / Puritan perspective along with exhortation for prayer in our own lives.

Prayer According to God’s Will: 1689 Confession Study (Chapter 22)

September 15, 2016 1 comment

The 1689 Baptist Confession exposition series is currently in chapter 22 – the chapter on worship and its elements.  Two paragraphs here address the specifics of prayer – both corporate and private – and thus the 1689 study includes a mini-series on the elements of prayer.  (Now I am caught up to the latest available message in the series; this will continue with future lessons as they become available on Sermon Audio.)  A few thoughts here, regarding the issue of ‘praying according to God’s will,’ from this lesson (March 13, 2016) — three common errors, or points of misunderstanding, regarding interpretation of 1 John 5:14:

  • The “Room Service” view interprets 1 John 5:14 with over-emphasis on the ‘ask.’ Asking is what matters, and therefore to ask about anything is in itself according to God’s will.

A well-known scripture example that refutes this error, is the apostle Paul’s request (three times) for God to remove the thorn in his flesh; the answer was no.  Another incident I recall here, brought up in Tom Chantry’s recent Deuteronomy series: Moses’ pleading with God to be allowed to go into the promised land—that too was not allowed, and was not according to God’s will.

  • The “name it and claim it” view, one we’re familiar with from all the false teaching on Christian television, takes the scriptural reference that “if two or more people agree” and concludes that therefore, if at least two people agree to pray about something, God will do it.

R. C. Sproul has referred to this idea as, God as our “celestial bellhop,” at our beck-and-call for anything we want. As Sproul observed (quote available at this blog link):

We are reminded of statements like “Ask, and it will be given you” (Matthew 7:7); “If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19); and “Whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith” (Matthew 21:22). Shorthand summaries like these have provoked bizarre theories of prayer where people have violently isolated these passages from everything else Jesus and the Bible say about prayer. Distortions also abound when we approach these aphorisms simplistically. Consider the earlier statement about any two people agreeing. It would not be difficult to find two Christians who agree that ridding the world of cancer or wars would be a good idea. Their prayer in this matter would not automatically accomplish their desire. The Word of God indicates that wars, poverty, and disease will be present at the time of Christ’s return. To expect their absolute elimination before the appointed time is to grasp prematurely the future promises of God.

The third idea is not so much error, but partly true combined with a misunderstanding regarding God’s decretive versus perceptive wills.  The “Submissive but unsure” doubtful view, submits to God’s will, but remains uncertain as to whether the request being made is according to God’s will.  Here we consider God’s two wills: 1) His decretive will regarding everything that happens, everything that will occur; and 2) His perceptive will, that which is revealed throughout scripture as God’s precepts, God’s moral law, how we should live as Christians.  When we pray for things regarding our future – things not specifically revealed in God’s word – we submit the request to God and His will, with that uncertainty as to what the answer will be.  But when we pray for things that pertain to God’s perceptive will, we know that He will answer. Prayers for greater patience and endurance, for more peace, and other Christian “fruits of the spirit” ARE according to God’s will, prayers that we can have confidence that God will answer.  Indeed it is so, as Hodgins related, that often we can look back at a particular situation and realize, that yes, in this situation, this time I was more patient, this time my temper didn’t flare up – continuing answers to prayers that are according to God’s will.

Habakkuk the Minor Prophet: How to Solve Our Problems

July 21, 2011 Leave a comment

From S. Lewis Johnson’s four-part series through the minor prophet Habakkuk, I offer the following overview of the book Habakkuk and its major themes.

This three chapter book teaches two great ideas:  individual salvation (the just shall live by faith, Habakkuk 2:4), and the problem of history — God’s dealings with His chosen people and His dealings with the non-elect.

Habakkuk chapters 1 and 2 records a colloquy, a conversation between God and Habakkuk, and chapter 3 gives a theophany.  Or, Habakkuk contains a dialogue in the first two chapters, and a song of God’s intervention in history in the third chapter.

Habakkuk can also be called the great book of faith:

  • Habakkuk 1:  Faith is Tested
  • Habakkuk 2:  Faith is Taught
  • Habakkuk 3:  Faith Becomes Triumphant

Habakkuk’s problem is expressed in simple terms of “how long?” and “why?”  It is the age old question, often asked by Job and the psalmists:  why do the evil prosper, why is the law ignored, and why does wickedness rule?  God’s ways are often mysterious, and His inaction puzzles us.  His instruments are unusual; in Habakkuk’s case He uses the wicked Chaldeans to accomplish His purposes. Yet we observe Habakkuk’s manner, that he gets away from everyone and everything else, and spends time with the Lord.  We take our problems to God (not to others).

From Habakkuk 2:1 we can learn how to solve problems

    1. Put away panic.  Don’t start talking and get upset.
    2. Reflect upon the basic principles, the fundamentals.
    3. You are the eternal God, the Lord Jehovah, the Creator of All, the Holy God, and my God, the covenant keeping God.

    4. Put to use the principles that we learn.
    5. Reference James 1:22 — prove yourselves doers of the word and not merely hearers.

    6. Leave it in the hands of the Lord, and expect an answer.

    The ultimate example from scripture is our Lord’s prayer to His father, in the garden of Gethsemane.  Also, the answer may be yes, no, or even wait.  Sometimes we don’t receive the answer to our prayer in this lifetime.

    Other relevant scripture:  Philippians 4:6-7 expresses this attitude of prayer and dependency on God.

    The Old Testament shows examples of the wrong and right ways of dealing with our problems: Jacob meeting Esau is an example of the wrong way, and Daniel 6 (Daniel in the Lions Den) the right way.

Great words from Spurgeon and J.C. Ryle

June 19, 2010 Leave a comment

From Spurgeon’s sermon #117 (John 21:15-17):

a believer’s strong faith is not a strong faith in his own love to Christ—it is a strong faith in Christ’s love to him. There is no faith which always believes that it loves Christ. Strong faith has its conflicts; and a true believer will often wrestle in the very teeth of his own feelings. Lord, if I never did love thee, nevertheless, if I am not a saint, I am a sinner. Lord, I still believe; help thou mine unbelief.

And some helpful and convicting words from J.C. Ryle, in “Practical Religion,” concerning prayer:

There are wonderful examples in the Scripture of the power of prayer. Nothing seems to be too great, too hard, or too difficult for prayer to do. It has obtained things that seemed impossible and out of reach. It has won victories over fire, air earth, and water. Prayer opened up the Red Sea . Prayer brought water from the rock and bread from heaven. Prayer made the sun stand still. Prayer brought fire from the sky on Elijah’s sacrifice. Prayer turned the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness. Prayer overthrew the army of Sennacherib. Well might Mary Queen of Scots say, “I fear John Knox’s prayers more than an army of ten thousand men.” Prayer has healed the sick. Prayer has raised the dead. Prayer has procured the conversion of souls. “The child of many prayers,” said and old Christian to Augustine’s mother, “shall never perish.” Prayer, pains, and faith can do anything. Nothing seems impossible when a person has the spirit of adoption. … Think of this. Is this not an encouragement?

and

Without controversy there is a vast difference among true Christians. There is an immense interval between the foremost and the hindermost in the army of God.

They are all fighting the same good fight but how much more valiantly some fight than others. They are all doing the Lord’s work but how much more some do than others. They are all light in the Lord; but how much more brightly some shine than others. They are all running the same race; but how much faster some get on than others. They all love the same Lord and Savior; but how much more some love him than others. I ask any true Christian whether this is not the case. Are these things not so?

There are some of the Lord’s people who seem never able to get on from the time of their conversion. They are born again, but they remain babies all their lives. You hear from them the same old experience. You remark in them the same lack of spiritual appetite, the same lack of interest in anything beyond their own little circle, which you remarked ten years ago. They are pilgrims indeed, but pilgrims like the Gibeonites of old; their bread is always dry and moldy, their shoes always old, and their garments always rent and torn. I say this with sorrow and grief; but I ask any real Christian, Is it not true?

There are others of the Lord’s people who seem to be always advancing. They grow like grass after rain; they increase like Israel in Egypt; they press on like Gideon, though sometimes faint, yet always pursuing. They are ever adding grace to grace, and faith to faith, and strength to strength. Every time you meet them their hearts seems larger, and their spiritual stature taller and stronger. Every year they appear and feel more in their religion. They not only have good works to prove the reality of their faith, but the are zealous of them. They not only do well, but they are unwearied in well doing. They attempt great things, and they do great things. When they fail they try again, and when they fall they are soon up again. And all this time they think themselves poor, unprofitable servants, and fancy that they do nothing at all. These are those who make religion lovely and beautiful in the eyes of all. They wrest praise even from the unconverted and win golden opinions even from the selfish people of the world. It does one good to see. to be with them, and to hear them. When you meet them, you could believe that like Moses, they had just come out from the presence of God. When you part with them you feel warmed by their company, as if your soul had been near a fire. I know such people are rare. I only ask, Are there not many such?

Now how can you account for the difference which I have just described? What is the reason that some believers are so much brighter and holier than others? I believe the difference, in nineteen cases out of twenty, arises from different habits about private prayer. I believe that those who are not eminently holy pray little, and those who are eminently holy, pray much.