The Lord’s Prayer 1

A recent Sunday devotional served as an introduction to the well-known Lord’s Prayer, this is the first in a series considering the prayer in more detail.

Bible Reading: Matthew 6:1-15

It’s quite possible for us to use words and phrases but forget exactly what they mean or what we’re saying. This is something that can happen so easily with the Lord’s Prayer, the words can just roll off our tongues because we’ve grown up with them and they’re so familiar. We must always be aware of what we’re saying and remember the implications for our lives and the lives of others.

The Lord’s Prayer has something of a universal appeal that can go way beyond the Christian sphere. It can be prayed by those of other faiths and admired by those of none. It was famously prayed by David Bowie at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in 1992, but its fullest meaning (of course) is within a Christian context.

The prayer contains simple, yet profound statements. It’s a prayer that’s regularly recited in worship, yet it would seem to be a model for our own prayers in private. Jesus spent much time in prayer and offers this prayer as an example for us: This, then, is how you should pray.

The prayer is notable for being short, and quality in prayer is always more important than quantity. We don’t need to heap up empty phrases we need to use simple and sincere words when we pray.

The prayer has form, and we need this in our prayers, provided it doesn’t become formality. Our prayers need fervour and form; there’s a balance to keep. The Lord’s Prayer perfectly illustrates the balance.

It contains SIX prayers, THREE needs of God and THREE of our needs:
YOUR, YOUR, YOUR, and OUR, OUR, OUR.

The order is significant:
Not ME, ME, ME, but YOUR, YOUR, YOUR.
YOUR name, YOUR kingdom, YOUR will.

This prayer gives God his rightful place, first:
We don’t come to God with ME ME ME, but YOU, YOU, YOU.
We come as humble servants, YOU YOU YOU.

The first thing in prayer is to acknowledge and give God his rightful place, then allow our hearts and minds to tune in to his will and purposes.

To be continued…

The Lord’s Prayer (Introduction)

Today’s Sunday devotional features the Lord’s Prayer found in Luke 11:1-13, a prayer so familiar for many people that we easily forget how challenging it is.

The prayer puts God first and ourselves last, whilst acknowledging our need of him in all areas of our lives. What a different world we would live in if everyone who recited it lived it.

“Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done,
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.”

To pray ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done’ must begin in us, we must answer the prayer ourselves by allowing his will in our lives, otherwise the words are meaningless.

So, a simple question for us all today, how can we receive God’s forgiveness for ourselves if we have an unforgiving spirit towards others within us?

Interestingly, the prayer has something to say to people of all faiths and (I would contend) none. Why not have a fresh look at this prayer? Imagine you are praying it for the first time, you might be surprised.

See also: The Lord’s Prayer 1

Social Justice and Equality

The second Sunday in July is traditionally Sea Sunday, if you’d like a devotional with this theme you can click here. Otherwise, I’m focussing on today’s Lectionary Bible readings that centre on social justice and equality.

Amos 7:7-17 stresses the importance being upright, straight, and true: Look, I am setting a plumb-line among my people.

Psalm 82 is a challenge to social justice: ‘How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

Colossians 1:1-14 is a wide ranging passage, but urges God’s people to bear fruit in every good work and grow in the knowledge of God.

The final reading is Luke 10:25-37: The Good Samaritan. The truth about this parable of Jesus is that the Samaritans were hated by the Jews at the time.

So in a lovely twist, Jesus makes the Samaritan the hero of the story to show the religious leaders that he just did naturally what they found excuses not to do. Hate is a dangerous thing.

We help people because it’s basic to our humanity, it’s the right thing to do. This we can agree with humanists, agnostics and atheists. Indeed, they often say their motives are purer than ours.

As Christians, we also help people because God demonstrated his love for humanity through Jesus. Jesus cared for people, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually – in other words, Christians need to be like Jesus, simple.

Who are those who are ‘hated’ today? Who are those who are looked down on and despised? Who are the marginalised people? What do we think about immigrants? Who are excluded by the church? What is our attitude to LGBTQ+ people? How do we treat those who are not ‘like’ us?

God’s love is for all, it’s boundless. Human love should reach across our self-imposed discrimination and prejudice. How will this affect the way you respond to others this week?

Reflecting on Trust

Today’s four main Lectionary readings (Sunday 3 July 2022) provide an opportunity to reflect on trust, and I share them as my Sunday devotional.

Habakkuk 2:1-4

I will stand at my watch
and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
and what answer I am to give to this complaint.

The Lord’s answer:
Then the Lord replied:

‘Write down the revelation
and make it plain on tablets
so that a herald may run with it.
For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
it speaks of the end
and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
it will certainly come
and will not delay.

‘See, the enemy is puffed up;
his desires are not upright –
but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness.

Psalm 31:1-6

In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in your righteousness.
Turn your ear to me,
come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,
a strong fortress to save me.
Since you are my rock and my fortress,
for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
Keep me free from the trap that is set for me,
for you are my refuge.
Into your hands I commit my spirit;
deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.

I hate those who cling to worthless idols;
as for me, I trust in the Lord.

Ephesians 2:19-22

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

John 20:24-29

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord! But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’ A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe. Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’

Sunday Night Confessional

The Sunday headline act closing Glastonbury 2022 was the rapper Kenrick Lamar, and it was a hard-hitting, confessional, and introspective performance. My preference for the evening was the Pet Shop Boys on The Other Stage, but I’ll catch up with Lamar later (even though I do struggle to appreciate rap).

He wore a crown of thorns throughout his Glastonbury headline set with blood pouring down his face during the final song, two very powerful Christians symbols of servanthood, sacrifice, and salvation. This was an immensely powerful theatrical performance unlike anything the festival has ever witnessed.

Throughout the show, he addressed themes of guilt, greed, loyalty, power, ambition and prejudice, shouldering the audience’s problems by examining his own, with dancers reflecting his internal and external struggles. He also addressed issues within society along with his own flaws, juxtaposed with his faith in Christ.

Lamar believes that “imperfection is beautiful”, and that in our rush to judgment, we often lose sight of others’ humanity.

In some ways, Lamar’s thorny and introspective songs made him a brave choice to headline Glastonbury’s main stage. But in the event he rose to the challenge, delivering a visceral and compelling set that will be talked about for weeks. Source

Seeing snippets of his performance and reading about it, the following Bible verses came to mind: This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:5-10

There is so much to think about in both his performance and this Bible reading. We are all beautiful in our imperfection, we can all reflect on our lives, and we can all be better human beings. For me, my Christian faith plays a huge part in being the best I can be.

Note: For the first time since my retirement in July 2020 I failed to publish a Sunday devotional on the day itself. So, this is a Sunday devotional on a Monday, but it gave me the opportunity to share something topical. I’m OK with that.

In Our Father’s Presence

Bible Reading: Philippians 4:4-9

Isaiah 30:15 reminds us that, in quietness and confidence shall be your strength. That’s been my experience of faith during both good and bad times, and is my continuing experience now. The quiet times before God are so important for our spiritual health as Christians, and for our confidence and strength in ministry and service. Something we are all called to exercise.

Over the years I’ve a found a variety of resources that have helpfully enriched my prayer life, but the pure simplicity of coming before God in prayer after reading his word has so much to commend it. It’s helpful at the beginning of the day, but it can be flexible. I’ve also found that a written list is invaluable, so I remember all the people and situations I need to pray for.

Sometimes music has helped me, sometimes it’s been the beauty of God’s creation (especially at the top of mountains in South Wales), and at other times it’s been a quiet space during the rush and bustle of life (an example of this being the chapel of a hospital). So next time you’re in a hospital, visiting someone or there for an appointment, find the chapel and spend a few moments of quietness and say some appropriate prayers.

Sometimes, when life has been hard, prayer has been difficult for me (I’m only human after all). At these times I’ve found a holding cross especially useful. These can be bought from good Christian bookshops, along with a booklet of advice and prayers. When you can’t pray, you can hold the cross and simply allow your feelings and emotions to become a prayer to God, our heavenly Father.

We also come to God in prayer to listen, to open our hearts to his Holy Spirit and to allow him to make us the people he wants us to be. I find prayers in the Celtic tradition helpful in this respect, and I finish these thoughts with one of them:

Awaken me to your presence,
Alert me to your love,
Affirm me in your peace.
Open to me your way,
Reveal to me your joy,
Enfold me in your light,
For my heart is ready,
Lord, my heart is ready.

David Adam (from The Open Gate)

Love’s Choice (Corpus Christi)

For the Christian festival of Corpus Christi I share a poem by Malcolm Guite. You can visit his original post from 2013 by clicking here.

This bread is light, dissolving, almost air,
A little visitation on my tongue,
A wafer-thin sensation, hardly there.
This taste of wine is brief in flavour, flung
A moment to the palate’s roof and fled,
Even its aftertaste a memory.
Yet this is how He comes. Through wine and bread
Love chooses to be emptied into me.
He does not come in unimagined light
Too bright to be denied, too absolute
For consciousness, too strong for sight,
Leaving the seer blind, the poet mute;
Chooses instead to seep into each sense,
To dye himself into experience.

The Madonna of the Cross (1996)

During the recent school half-term holiday, we visited Mount Grace Priory (owned by the National Trust and run by English Heritage). It’s the most complete surviving Carthusian monastery in Britain.

Founded in the late 14th century, you can visit the ruins of all the priory buildings, along with a small church and its surviving tower, explore the great cloister and enter a reconstructed monk’s cell. The strict Carthusian lifestyle made the layout of Mount Grace Priory unique, as the layout was created so that each monk could live in solitude. You can see all my photos here.

The church contains a sculpture by Malcolm Brocklesby (pictured above). I offer the on-site description of the work as a reflection for this week’s Sunday devotional:

This Madonna is not the meek and subservient figure portrayed in so many paintings, but a determined and intelligent young woman who understands the wonder and the importance of her calling as she dedicates her Child to the purpose of the Creator.

She is also aware of the suffering that this will entail. The figure of the Madonna is integral with that of the Cross, the stark and terrible symbol at the heart of Christianity, which is an inescapable part of her existence.

Her expression, however, is more of serenity than anguish. She is looking beyond Calvary to the Resurrection, and the way in which she holds the Christ Child high suggests the subsequent Ascension rather than the immediate prospect of a sacrificial death.

The statue combines the three facets of Christianity which establish the Atonement of Mankind, the Nativity, the Crucifixion, and the Ascension.

The Miracle of Pentecost

My chosen Bible readings for Pentecost Sunday are Genesis 11:1-9 and Acts 2:1-21.

When Chichester Cathedral was being renovated in 1962, they found that the medieval builders had built a magnificent cathedral on poor land and hadn’t extended the foundations far enough. As a result of this oversight, the 20th Century renovators had far more work than anticipated.

We don’t need reminding of the parable of the house built on the sand and the one built on the rock. It’s so important that we build our lives upon Christ, getting the foundations right and then building in the power of the Holy Spirit.

But let’s go right back to the beginning to the Book of Genesis and the story of the Tower of Babel. Genesis means ‘beginnings’, it’s a book that deals with the beginning of everything, not in a scientific way, but in a far more profound way.

Genesis focuses our attention on certain aspects of life, the first eleven chapters paint a picture of the world as God meant it to be, but they also show the appalling mess we’ve made of it; the message is timeless, because we continue to make a mess of it.

In these opening chapters of the Bible, we have parables of immense significance. From there on, the rest of the Bible show us what God has done to get us out of the mess, culminating in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

We have the story of Noah and the Flood, the message being that the world merits nothing less than total destruction. The Flood symbolises God’s timeless judgement on humankind, as appropriate now as when it was written.

Noah wasn’t perfect, but he represents those in every age who walk with God. God always offers a way back to himself, if only we live our lives with reference to him.

Then we have the story of the Tower of Babel, a story that echoes the Fall: human defiance of God. But instead of the story being set in a garden with two people, the setting is bricks and mortar with a developing civilisation.

The age-old problem is that individuals and humankind as a whole build for their own glory rather than for the glory of God.

William Neil writes:
Man wants to run the world in his own way. He wants to put himself at the centre of his civilisation on a pedestal inscribed with the name: “Glory to MAN in the highest”.
Note how verse 4 says: “Come let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for OURSELVES”.

This is the mistake we make repeatedly. There is only one God and Creator, we are created in his likeness, and our destiny is to know him, to live in fellowship with him, humbly seeking and obeying his will for our lives.

The builders’ desire for autonomy recalls the rebellion in the Garden of Eden, and establishes the need for Abraham’s redemptive faith in the midst of international disorder. Far from the original garden, the first cities in Genesis represent arrogance, tyranny, and wickedness. The city on the Babylonian plain was a magnet for human pride and idolatry, a tower that reaches into the sky. NLT Study Bible

When we put ourselves first, God comes and confounds our plans, and there is chaos and disorder. The confusion of tongues in the Tower of Babel story is but a symptom of a much deeper disharmony that prevents unity and mutual understanding.

We talk about people ‘not speaking the same language’, meaning that their positions are so far apart that they might as well be speaking a different language.

We see this between individuals, groups, and nations. Pride, injustice, and selfishness: all preventing meaningful communication and reconciliation.

But had you ever considered that the story of Pentecost balances the story of the Tower of Babel?

The divided language of Babel becomes the common language of Pentecost, the story is turned upside down, or more correctly the right way up.

The miracle of Pentecost was that a new language came with power, the language of love, the language of the Spirit, the language of unity, a language that all could understand; the love that God showed in sending his Son as Saviour and Lord, a suffering servant for all humankind.

God’s love in sending Jesus is something that speaks to the human heart far more eloquently than words could ever do. As we open our hearts and lives to God’s Holy Spirit he fills and empowers us to live this language of love in the world.

God can work in and through us when we’re open to God’s Holy Spirit, who takes our weaknesses and makes us strong, who takes our brokenness and makes us whole. Then the Holy Spirit can do the work of building the kingdom.

We can always move forward in his power and strength, building on the past, building in the present, and building for the future – especially in these new circumstances of coronavirus. Building, not for our own glory, but for God’s glory.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what thou dost love
And do what thou wouldst do.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Until my heart is pure,
Until with thee I will one will
To do and to endure.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Till I am wholly thine,
Until this earthly part of me
Glows with thy fire divine.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
So shall I never die,
But live with thee the perfect life
Of thine eternity.

Grace (Jeff Buckley)

A Sunday devotional with a difference today, as it coincides with the anniversary of the death of singer Jeff Buckley in 1997 (25 years ago in 2022).

On this day (29 May 1997) Jeff Buckley died in a tragic swimming accident in the Mississippi River. He’s remembered for his classic 1994 album Grace that includes the definitive cover version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

It’s not a Christian album, although it does have Christian elements and references, including a song entitled Grace and a carol. Having said that, many would describe it as spiritual in a general sense, and I want to focus on the song Hallelujah.

As a Christian, it saddens me when I see expressions of Christianity that are unloving, uncaring, judgemental, and strident. Having said that, I don’t claim to be perfect, and I identify with the brokenness in Hallelujah. To me it represents the imperfect human world in which my faith must be effective if it’s to be authentic.

Hallelujah is full of biblical references and has a depth of meaning. It’s about death and life, sorrow and triumph, earthliness and transcendence, as well a brokenness that still has the strength to cry hallelujah, even though sometimes a broken hallelujah.

All human life is here and it can speak to us in times of doubt and struggle.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. 2 Corinthians 13:14