Monday, September 01, 2003

Jesus on Prayer 5

In prayer, Jesus instructs us to direct out hearts to the Father and to His kingdom. After that, we can ask about the needs of our bodies and souls: those things about which He already knows.

Sustaining the Heart

What we need as people occupies the next section of Jesus' model prayer:

Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors. (Matthew 6:11-12, The Net Bible)   

The most literal understanding of "daily bread" is a loaf of bread in my hands to last me for the day. Some might say that that is all that He means for us to ask for. I believe that it is better to expand daily bread to include all that we and others need. I would, in fact, extend it beyond the material and into prayers for the needs of our bodies an our hearts:

  • Food and Shelter -- "But if we have food and shelter, we will be satisfied with that. Those who long to be rich, however, stumble into temptation and a trap and many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction." (1 Timothy 6:8-9) 
  • Righteousness -- "“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied." (Matthew 5:6)
  • The Father's presence -- "Whom do I have in heaven but you? I desire no one but you on earth. ... But as for me, God’s presence is all I need. I have made the sovereign Lord my shelter, as I declare all the things you have done." (Psalm 73:25, 28)

Even though there is nothing in Jesus' prayer for asking about anything but basic needs, there are two reasons to imagine that requests can go beyond this. The first is that Paul tells us to pray for everything. "Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, tell your requests to God in your every prayer and petition—with thanksgiving." (Philippians 4:6) The second is the example of the wedding in Cana, where Jesus, in answer to His mother's request, turned water into wine in a way that exceeded the needs of the party. We have a generous God. When Jesus boils prayer down to "daily bread," He is encouraging thanksgiving. Ask for anything, expect the basics, and give thanks for everything.

The welfare of our souls and bodies also depend on two-way forgiveness. Guilt and bitterness eat away at us. Both are associated with personality troubles and physical ailments. We can make both a matter of prayer. "Forgive us our debts" takes care of our true moral guilt for the things that we do wrong. And because we have forgiveness, we can take honest assessments of ourselves, which hastens our sanctification. However, because bitterness is as bad or worse that unresolved guilt, Jesus tells us to link the two. "Father forgive us to the same degree that we forgive others." Jesus has more to say on this, and I will defer more comments until that time as well. Suffice it to say that it is unbalanced to ask to have our guilt removed so that we can stand comfortably in the Father's presence, when there are people that we exclude from our lives because they wronged us. If it is good for us to receive forgiveness, it is even more good that we give it.

If the Father answers what we have prayed so far, we would have healthy bodies and souls fit for service in the Kingdom of God.

Tuesday: Keeping the Heart

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

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