What’s in a name? – session three

In less than five minutes of reading, I want to show you that losing yourself in God’s reputation is something Jesus has made profoundly possible, and that the fame of God’s name is something He himself is pursuing, which is to our benefit (you will 'find yourself' in His hallowed name). In prayer we can participate in this supreme grace of God that his name be hallowed on earth as it is in heaven.

One of God’s chief gracious purposes achieved in salvation is the hallowing of his name. It is an extreme kindness to us that he would do this.

After naming God as “Our Father in heaven,” the first actual petition of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-5) after this address is that he would “hallow his name.” It may seem odd that we would request God to achieve something for himself, making his own name great, but this is what children want for their Father, it is what saved people desire for their Saviour. As saved children – those who have lost their own reputation for and in his – we will want nothing less than this, so of course we ask!

Jose Aljovin on unsplash

But isn’t God already perfectly holy? So, why do we ask him to hallow (make holy / special) his name?  My own thought is that the later phrase “on earth as it is in heaven” actually brackets all of the first three requests (name, kingdom, will). We request God to keep making his name special because on earth it is sullied, it is not honoured and esteemed like it is perfectly in heaven.

The original revelation of God's name

So by gifting us this model of prayer, Jesus is continuing his new exodus program which he came to achieve, just as we saw last time in microPrime session two. The hallowing of God’s name is a significant outcome of the original Exodus, when God commissioned Moses in the wilderness to be his agent of deliverance, the revelation of his name in the non-burning bush incident is significant. 

“God also said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites, the LORD, the God of our fathers … has sent me to you. This is my name forever, the name you shall call me.”  (Exodus 3:15) Salvation will mean knowing The Name!

God’s name was also revealed not only in the salvation of the Exodus for the saved, but in the judgement of the Exodus as well (for salvation only comes through judgement). “Pharaoh said to Moses ‘Who is the LORD that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not recognise the LORD and will not let Israel go.’” (Exodus 5:2)

Robert Thiemann on unsplash

So began the battle of the gods – Israel’s vs. Egypt’s - the contest for the greater name.  But Pharaoh was on a defeated path from the outset of course, no match. God later told him “I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” (Exodus 9:16).

And so it was … then and for several generations after, God was known and respected by all the earth (though not necessarily esteemed and worshipped). And Israel was to keep proclaiming that same and only name in their national life throughout history. The LORD wasn’t just Israel’s God after all – he is actually the God of everyone!

The name of God profraned

However, Israel profaned God’s name amongst the nations, mostly by their sin and rebellion against him they threw mud on his name. Subsequently by God’s own exile of them, it meant other nations started calling into question God’s name: his power and love and holiness.  So God was going to make it famous again for his own sake! Here is how the prophet Ezekiel had put it six centuries before Jesus, writing from exile in Babylon where God’s people had been deported.

I (God) will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.“ (Ezekiel 36:23)

God making his name holy again will mean salvation for his people.

the BIGGER exodus hallows god's name

In Jesus that moment of promised name-hallowing arrived! Jesus is actually a cosmic ‘God-event’ of extraordinary lengths. In his life, his teachings, but especially in his atoning (judging & saving) work:

(Jesus said)  27 “Now my soul is troubled. What should I say—Father, save me from this hour? But that is why I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.”

Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

2The crowd standing there heard it and said it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”

30 Jesus responded, “This voice came, not for me, but for you. 31 Now is the judgment of this world. Now the ruler of this world will be cast out. 32 As for me, if I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate what kind of death he was about to die.  (John 12:27-33)

In an incredible way, Jesus achieved a new and better exodus to glorify The Name, one which has drawn and continues to draw people from all nations.

Can you see why Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer, the premier request of which is to ask God to keep making his name holy? It is at the heart of God’s gracious salvation purposes that we would know and glorify The Name, and that others would also come to address him likewise. In other words, it is simply the best thing for us - how grace!

What's in a name? When it's the name of God, everything - grace, salvation! Thank you Jesus for glorifying The Name!

RESOURCES

John Pipers book Let the Nations Be Glad explains Christian mission in terms of the revelation of God’s name. It is a hard but good read that I recommend. Here is a sample of the sort of thing he unfolds over many pages.

“He has an inexhaustible enthusiasm for the supremacy of His name among the nations. Therefore, let us bring our affections into line with His, and, for the sake of His name, let us renounce the quest for worldly comforts and join His global purpose.”  (John Piper)

Credo Mission Moments:  Can I also recommend the Credo training community (all of you Prime people) to join, participate and contribute to the Credo Mission Moments group. That would be excellent!

Seven Words (from Ten) – session 2

Aim: In five minutes of reading, I want to press you hard (we are Credo's training community afterall) to engage your minds and inflame your hearts with an amazing wonder. That we get to pray to “our Father” is nothing short of a grace revolution - so why not particapte!

The Function of the Seven Words

What is commonly called 'The Lord’s Prayer', recorded in Luke 11 and Matthew 6 consisting of seven phrases (or maybe 8), has by some scholars and historians said to replicate for Christians the role that the Ten Words (aka ten commandments, Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5) played for ancient Israel.

The Lords Prayer certainly orients us Christians towards relating to God in a certain way

I don’t know what to make of the 'similar function' claim for at least one good reason: even though I grew up in a devout Christian family, I only came to be really familiar with the Lord’s Prayer as an actual usable prayer later in life. However, I can see three main similarities in content.  A) Just as the ‘preamble’ of the ten words reminds Israel of the Rescuing God, The Lords Prayer certainly orients us Christians towards relating to God in a certain way – as children of the God now known as Father. B) The values of God are clearly articulated in both set of words, particularly the supreme priority that God himself is to have in our lives.  C) Both the Ten Words (commandments) and the Seven Words (Lord’s Prayer) are public and communal in character (as opposed to mystical or private); they shape a corporate identity.

That God spoke to Israel the ten words after he redeemed them from slavery is a wonderful grace. They call for responsive behaviour to salvation already granted, not meritorious behaviour to win his favour. That Jesus gave seven words for us to speak back to God as his saved children is even more wonderful: a grace upon grace!  They ‘enact’ salvation in that they escort us into the very presence of God at his invitation, not to maintain salvation, but to participate in it.  There is a flowering of grace to full bloom experienced in the move from ten words to seven words.

Understanding the 'address'

It’s really hard to grasp the magnitude of this grace if unlike me you have grown up saying the Lord’s Prayer frequently. For some of you, it’s unfortunately become almost passé (or worse). In an attempt to refresh and rejuvenate this prayer for us, here are five important bullet points on the first ‘word’ of the seven, the opening phrase of address:  Our Father in heaven.

  • The concept of God as Father was first introduced in the Bible in the exodus of Israel from Egyptian slavery, when Moses was charged to command Pharaoh “The LORD says to let my firstborn son go, that he might worship me.” (Exodus 4:22) In the end, the freedom of God’s “firstborn” (Israel) tragically came at the cost of Egypt’s firstborns due to Pharaoh’s hardened heart against God. But that also speaks to the immense value of the relationship Israel had with God: it came with a price.
  • Yet God is only occasionally referred to as Father in the Old Testament, and in fact Israel’s later exile from the promised land away from God’s presence is partially explained in terms of their consistent unwillingness to relate to God as obedient children to a father.  “I thought that you would call me ‘Father’, and not turn away from following me.” (Jeremiah 3:19c)
  • Enter Jesus – his unique relationship with God as perfect son of God his Father defines him completely. Within just the four gospels alone, God is referred to as Father more than 5 times as much as the entire Old Testament!  In Jesus, at last the perfect Son who can reflect the Father truly in the way they relate, is revealed to the world!  Israel was not up to this task, they couldn’t do it.
  • What Jesus has with God as Father by nature, we only get by extension through him: “No one knows the Father except the Son; and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Matt 11:27). That is why Jesus invites – “come to me” - because in him we get adopted as children of God, our Father in heaven.  And every recorded prayer of Jesus in the gospels he addressed to “Father”  (except for his cry of dereliction on the cross where it was “My God my God …”)

the familial ‘brother and sister’ language of the New Testament was a scandal in its time

  • Fifthly, notice therefore the corporate shaping of this grace-upon-grace. Christians address “our Father” because we are a big family, and always open to addition.  And the familial ‘brother and sister’ language of the New Testament was a scandal in its time, particularly when the elite who were Christian addressed slaves who were Christian in such a manner, and vice verse. These brothers and sisters all equally knew together their Father God.  This scandal has impacted our culture significantly - now we can call anyone ‘bro’ if we want to be friendly, even a lecturer (give it a go, with a cheeky smile of course!). In the New Testament however, almost 100% of such sibling language is reserved for addressing those in the family of the Father;  God remains yet the loving creator, lord and judge of ‘non-family’ people. But for those siblings in Christ he is called “Abba”, Father.

In conclusion: To pray to God as our Father is nothing short of a grace revolution. It is to respond to Jesus invitation to benefit from his new exodus, where through him and his work a better liberation has been won; from ten ‘words’ to seven ‘words’ of freely participating in his relationship to the Father! The cost of achieving this new exodus also shows the value of the relationship to God. 

Enjoy him, your creator, lord and judge, as your Father!  That’s the privilege of prayer in a nutshell, because of Christ Jesus.

The 100% best chapter from JI Packers magisterial book Knowing God is highly relevant to this post (40-60 minute read, but well worth it!)

A related but average music clip (imo) is below. If you know of better ones, link them in the comments. Feedback and discussion also welcome. Thanks

Five I’s – welcome to session 1



Aim: in just six minutes of reading time, my goal is for you to compare your present actions in isolation, against what I will argue is the current essential, and so to stir you to wonder about alternative convictions and behaviour, arriving at a point of clarification and maybe even decision.

Making the decision will of course be in your hands.

1. ISO

In these days of pandemic isolation, fierce focus on the essentials is required to flourish. Besides sustaining rigorous routines, personal relationships and health (good eating, sleeping, hygiene etc), for an athlete that would mean maintaining daily exercise (somehow), for an artist - staying constantly creative (within the limitations), and for a student it would be regular (remote) learning.

And now for the even deeper identity category: how about for a Christian, what would be the essential behaviour for us at this time?  I suggest that rigorous application to personal prayer is close, if not the answer.  Why? The famous saying of John Calvin is part of the answer, that prayer is the chief exercise of our faith in God!  Prayer is so fundamental in our relationship with God through Christ in the power of the Spirit, that the famous reformer would go on: “those who do not invoke God under urgent necessity are no better than idolaters.” (Institutes Book 3, chapter 20, section 14)

2. IDEAS

It takes me 22 seconds the say the Lord’s Prayer, just longer than the recommended soapy handwash. While frequent cleansing is still advisable (yes, even during stay-at-home mode), I have discovered Jesus’ warning against “heaping up empty phrases”(Matthew 6:5) coming true, so I now alternate praying it with singing My God is So Big, reciting Psalm 23, along with a few other prayer patterns I have devised.  Strange times leads to ‘crazy behaviour’, but less crazy than singing Happy Birthday twice, multiple times a day, I can assure you!  I have implemented some other ‘essential’ prayer practises as well.

Do you have a handwashing routine that lifts your heart towards God at the same time as sanitising?  There are many other ideas for ways of essential prayer at this time: I’m sure you could think of many – why not have a brief brainstorm.

3. INTENTION

Could it be that one of the things God is doing to us during this time of pandemic is kindly drawing us to connect with him in prayer, perhaps in ways we have only heard or dreamt of before? Or even just coaxing us to take a next step in the praying life. If you are not sure, what would open you up to God’s conviction about this?  Having a few good ideas (or reading this short article) does not equal an intention just yet. Until you can see the possibilities and imagine the consequences and be captured personally by the idea, prayer is likely to largely remain a neglected opportunity during iso.

I mentioned God’s kindness, and that is what has captivated me. So I would also add to John Calvin by flipping the coin and looking at prayer from the other side; that prayer is essential because it is a chief means of being refreshed and challenged in God’s grace. Prayer is such a fundamental gift, that we cannot be sustained in faith without availing ourselves of it. “Draw near the throne of grace, that you might find help in your time of need.” (Hebrew 4:16) Prayer is his radical kindness to us.

4. IMPLEMENATION

Photo by Pavigym Prama on Unsplash

But a stark warning – focussed praying is not like a nicely cooked pie of which you should simply just ‘try’. No, prayer is a contending against the status quo (Read Luke 18:1-8 to get the picture!)  It can be serious work. Expect setbacks. So, as well as the help of the Holy Spirit, implementing a sustained prayer life takes planning and forethought, not just good intentions. If you are keen to implement with prayer, then this is crucial: work into it, think about how you will establish prayer habits amongst all the other things you need to do in a day or week.  Studiously finding fifteen, or maybe even five minutes a day for several weeks sets you on a ‘training’ mentality with prayer. Such an attitude is much more realistic for a contending type activity, than for example by ‘trying’ to get into it by launching a three day prayer and fasting retreat. Remember, prayer is a God given means of his grace to us, not a challenge or dare. So maybe attach focussed prayer to one of God’s other daily graces to deepen the experience – eg. the gift of food to eat (a different prayer issue each different meal), the gift of shelter each night (as God is our refuge), or the gift of education (before each new class starts).

If intention is high, and who of us doesn’t find God’s grace darn attractive, then please don’t just “try it”. Best implementation requires that you first pause, think, and arrive at a simple 6 point training plan:

  • When will I pray?
  • Where will I pray?
  • How long will I pray for? (Humbly consider what length of time during the first training cycle of a few weeks is really feasible for your current 'prayer fitness' and all your other commitments. Remember we are all extra tired at this time too! Be humbly realistic.)
  • What will I be praying about?
  • Will I use a system? (a journal, an app, a list, pray the Psalms, ….)
  • What length is my first ‘training cycle’? ( ie. when will I pause, reflect, assess and perhaps modify this simple prayer plan?)

Beyond these, a few other key implementation questions arise, especially after the first ‘training cycle’ of a few weeks: Where can I tap back into motivations for prayer when I experience the setbacks? Who can I get ‘training’ assistance and collaboration from?

5. INTERACTION

Of course, I’d love it most if you joined me in focused prayer in these weeks of microPrime, but here are some questions if you would also like some interaction. (You may have other issues to raise as well). Hit the comments!

  • A. Is prayer really the personal essential for Christians as I’ve described?  What other behaviour(s) could sub in as the most basic alternative in this time of isolation?  Genuine question!  (Just remember you’ll be arguing the toss with me, not John Calvin, so it’s all good. He’s a genius, and dead, whereas I’ve still got things to learn.)
  • B. If prayer is a fundamental grace of God to us, why is it so hard?  Does the nature of prayer as frequent wrestling and arduous contending mean that it is somehow not a kindness, but rather a challenge from God, even a taunt or mockery?

I’ll be praying by name for every individual in microPrime each week for the duration of isolation (God being my helper). If there are personal matters you’d like me to pray for, email me at paul[dot]winch[at]credo[]org[]au