Eugene Peterson on the Lord’s Prayer

Most of us would be aware of what is known as ‘the Lord’s prayer’, as found in Matthew 6:9-13.

In his book, Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, Eugene Peterson (author of The Message) has these short but insightful words to share on the Lord’s prayer:

The Prayer has six petitions: the first three pray for the furtherance of God and his work – his holiness, his will, his kingdom; the matching triad is oriented around human needs – food, forgiveness, deliverance. The pair of triads is connected by the phrase, “on earth as it is in heaven,” which is to say that prayer has its source in heaven, the home country, so to speak, of God, but the action takes place on earth – our home country. Prayer that is not firmly grounded “on earth” is not prayer as our Lord taught us to pray. (p147)

Preaching Series on Gifts of the Spirit

Starting this Sunday at Cornerstone, I plan to begin a preaching series on the gifts of the Spirit. As I have shared much recently (here, here and here), God has been re-emphasising his power to me – the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of the kingdom of God and the power of the gospel to change lives (amongst other emphases on His power). And, I have specifically been spending time preaching on the power of the Holy Spirit. You can listen to two of my most recent sermons: Acts 1:1-8 here and Acts 2:1-21 here.

Thus, after spending this time with Cornerstone looking at the reality of the power of the Spirit in both Acts 1 and 2, I believe it is now right in God to move on to specifically addressing the gifts of the Spirit. This will be an exciting time for the church, as they have never had any specific previous teaching on the Holy Spirit and His gifts. The past month has already been very stirring as we held two conferences – VMI and Fast Forward – and have been focusing on the power of God, especially the power of the Spirit. But this will be helpful, meaty and practical in seeing our local church body move forward into the things God has planned for us.

Though the church has never been antagonistic to the Holy Spirit and His gifts, and many come from backgrounds that allow for all gifts of the Spirit to be active, as I mentioned, the church had not had any specific teaching on the Holy Spirit’s gifts and, thus, not actively looking to practise these gifts in their gatherings and lives. But, with the recent connection of the church with Lifelink International, and with my arrival to oversee the church as of the summer of 2008, we have been purposeful to move towards an emphasis on the work of the Spirit and His gifts. It has taken us a while to get there, but now with a little (or BIG) push out of the nest by God, it is time to specifically dive into such an amazing reality.

But, we have had tasters of His gifts, no doubt. There have been times when prophecy has come forth (though some might not have realised it was such). And I have done teaching on the continuance of all five (or four) ministries mentioned in Ephesians 4:11-13: apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers (you can see the 4-part series here). And, just two weeks ago, we had an evening of seeking God together, mainly to hear from Him and speak forth what we believed God was stirring and saying. And, lo and behold, we had some prophecy, as well as others stepping out by praying aloud, sharing Scriptures, etc. It was truly beautiful and stirring!

So, I look forward to jumping into that all-important text in Corinthians on gifts of the Spirit, beginning with 1 Corinthians 12:1-11:

1Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.

4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

There is a lot one could address just in that text, but we will take it week by week. We will also have visitors in to speak on some Sundays, so my specific series might be put on hold here and there. But that is fine by me. They will bring the word of the Lord into our church regardless.

And I also look forward to a time of training in hearing God and prophesying next Saturday morning, 11 September. God continues to blow upon the embers of our heart and I can only expect there will be more blowing in the weeks to come.

So, stay tuned to our podcast if you would like to hear some teachings on the gifts of the Spirit (rather than read, though I might post some articles as well in the weeks to come). I will also post links to the teachings here at The Prodigal Thought.

John Piper on Spiritual Gifts

Yesterday, John Piper posted an article of interest at his blog, Desiring God. He starts about by reminding us of nine different points to remember about spiritual gifts:

1. God wants us to know about spiritual gifts.

“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed” (1 Corinthians 12:1).

2. Objective truths about Jesus govern subjective spiritual experiences.

“No one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3).

3. Different Christians have different spiritual powers given to them by the Holy Spirit.

“There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:4).

4. For example, these different spiritual powers include the following:

“Wisdom . . . knowledge . . . faith  . . . healing . . . miracles . . . prophecy . . . ability to distinguish between spirits  . . . tongues . . . interpretation of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:8-10).

5. The Spirit of God is sovereign over when and to whom he gives such powers.

“All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” (1 Corinthians 12:11).

6. The aim of all the gifts is the common good of the church.

“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7).

7. The variety of gifts is like the variety of our body parts, such as eye and ear, hand and foot.

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many” (1 Corinthians 12:14).

8. Therefore, if a spiritual power is not used, it’s like the human body not hearing.

“If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? (1 Corinthians 12:17).

9. Therefore, we should avail ourselves of the spiritual powers God gives us through others.

“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’” (1 Corinthians 12:21).

But then Piper looks to specifically connect these truths with the reality of unanswered prayer. He lists some realities of why our prayers might go unanswered, yet he then shares some thoughts on a reason we may have never considered:

But here is a reason we may not think of very often. God may intend to give us the blessing we long for not directly in answer to prayer, but indirectly in answer to prayer—through the spiritual gifting of another believer. And the reason we don’t receive the blessing is that we don’t avail ourselves of the power God intends to channel through the gifts of his people.

Yes, the gifts of God are given for ‘the common good’ (1 Corinthians 12:7) and for building up the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 14:26). Paul even challenges us to ‘strive to excel in building up the church’ (1 Corinthians 14:12).

So, whatever the gift, let us build one another up, and who knows, as Piper points out, that ministry expression through the spiritual gift might just be the answer to our petitions before God.

More On Prayer

In my most recent article, I shared what I believe is one of the most important aspects in regards to prayer – being led by the Spirit.

For the Christian who is called to walk in the Spirit (i.e. Galatians 5:16, 25; Romans 8:4), we should look to see the Spirit active in all aspects of our lives, even in our praying. I pointed out that it is the Spirit of God who knows the will of God, and He also loves to step in and intercede on our behalf when we know not what to pray (Romans 8:26-27). I suppose that, along with Christ, the Holy Spirit has the most fruitful prayer ministry. Such truth stirs me to see Him more active in my prayer life.

But in this article, I wanted to take some time and clear up possible confusion or feelings that I have somehow set aside other kinds of prayer.

When I, or we, speak of Spirit-directed prayer, I suppose what can come to our minds is spontaneous prayer. And that’s not a wrong idea. Matter of fact, with most of the Spirit’s activity, there is a spontaneity, at least from our human perspective. Along with the Father and Son, the Spirit is well-aware of the bigger plan of what they are looking to accomplish in seeing God’s glory fill the earth (i.e. Habakkuk 2:14). Nothing ever catches these three off-guard.

But from our human standpoint, I think it quite easy to recognise the Spirit’s work as spontaneous, almost as if He is Lord over the ‘all of a suddens’. We are not always ready for nor do we normally plan for His workings – with the activity of His gifts, His power, His regenerating life, His directing of our prayers, etc.

Yet, I also want to note that, from our perspective, not everything the Spirit does has to be seen spontaneous, even in our praying. The greatest example is found in places like the Psalms. Though we consider the Psalms the song-book of the Bible, and it is, it also stands as a book of prayers. Many of the Psalms were to be prayed aloud by the congregation in varying settings. They had first been written by David and many others, but were written for the benefit of the community of God’s people in the coming generations. They were a kind of liturgy for the saints of old.

The word liturgy should not scare us. It simply refers to the order or form of our corporate worship gatherings. And, lest we misunderstand, even the most Pentecostal of churches have order to their corporate gatherings – prayer, song, song, singing in tongues, song, prayer, song, sermon, offering, song (or something similar).

Yes, the Psalms were originally written as directed by the Spirit, probably some of them spontaneously coming from an overflowing heart of praise or pain. So there is still the impromptu-ness of these prayers. But in the generations that followed, there would have been a planned reading aloud of those songs and prayers. And I believe this to be a beautiful thing. Shoot, I benefit from reading aloud these prayers, both individually and corporately.

So, I definitely wanted to clarify that, with regards to the direction of the Spirit in our prayings, this does not always refer to the ‘all of a sudden’ and the unplanned.

Another example centres around walking in the fruit of the Spirit. This is not always unplanned for me. I awake in the morning [most of the time] wanting to live as Christ lived, which includes living out those nine fruits mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23 – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Yet, at the same time, I can find myself not necessarily  contemplating the fruit of the Spirit, but an opportunity presents itself for me to show the patience and kindness of God. Both are Spirit-directed, but one was planned and one was impromptu. Neither one is better and both are Spirit-directed.

Therefore, by no means do I want to negate nor set aside our prepared and planned prayers, or any aspect of God’s planned activity in our lives. Such would over-simplify things and over-spiritualise our life in God. It can’t be done. Both have their beauty.

But, however we know the leading, direction and guidance of the Spirit of God Himself – planned or unplanned – we are called to know this leading, direction and guidance. We are called to keep our hearts, ears and eyes attune to the One who indwells and empowers God’s people. It’s not easy nor is it safe, but it’s good and right.

Spirit-Directed Prayer

One of the most common means of communication with God is through prayer. As God’s people, we are even called to pray continually, or without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

I suppose most are aware that this kind of call to prayer does not intrinsically include the necessity of closing our eyes, nor folding our hands or bowing our knees. These actions aren’t wrong, but they are not the way of prayer. Life doesn’t allow for such postures at all time, but because God Himself resides within believers, the door has been opened for constant and consistent prayer.

Still, at times, prayer simply becomes something like a rote response or simply a cognitive exercise (whether we are praying aloud or not).

What I mean is this: When we go to pray about a situation, many times we just launch straight in. ‘God, thank you for today. Thank you for life and new life. Right now I ask that you reach out and touch Brian’s mother as she is going through this time of pain and suffering.’

That’s one scenario, but the ‘prayer response’ can be very similar across the board.

And I do believe there is a problem if our prayer life simply consists of a cognitive response.

Please don’t mishear me nor misunderstand me. I’m not asking us not to use our brains or our minds in prayer. As one friend reminded me once, ‘If we turn off our brains, then we would be dead.’

But what I sense in a lot of our prayers, or at least my prayers, is that we launch into praying without ever looking to be directed by the Spirit. Our prayers are simply our words and our words alone. I’m not sure that is a very healthy way to approach prayer.

A possible sign of this is when we start our prayers off with some statement like this: ‘God, thank you for this day.’ There is nothing wrong with such a statement. Matter of fact, we should be thankful for this day. That’s a good place to start. There is plenty of Scripture to back up a statement.

But, usually when we make such a statement, I find that we might not really be engaging with God in the activity of prayer. There’s nothing much there, if you will. And if that is the case, we need to be challenged.

Yet for a people looking to pray without ceasing, we need to consider how we can be better directed by the Spirit in our prayer. Didn’t Paul say it like this:

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)

If anything, the Holy Spirit knows how to pray, since He knows the will of God, the heart of God. It might be good that we be specifically directed, led, guided and stirred by Him in our prayers.

Matter of fact, I think we are called to being directed by the Spirit in all matters of life. That might just be what walking in the Spirit is. And a good place might be to start with our praying.

But, to try and clarify even more, I will give a personal example in my life that happened in recent weeks.

Some will know that I live in the Brussels, Belgium, area. Here, my family and I live in an apartment. But, whereas in America there is lots of space, there isn’t so much here. So everything is crammed together and everything is smaller. While in America they build their buildings outward, in Europe they build their buildings upward, so as to conserve space.

In our apartment, on the other side of my wife and I’s bedroom, we have our neighbours. Actually, it is the bathroom of the neighbours (which is mainly the bath-shower, sink area).

For some unknown reason, our neighbours love to congregate in their bathroom. It seems they have their deepest discussions there. I’m not saying you can’t do that, I’m just saying it seems like all the time, especially since we are right on the other side. And they both don’t have the quietest of voices. So, at times, my wife and I have joked about joining in their conversation, answering a question through the wall to see what might happen.

And, not only do they have deep conversations in their bathroom, but they also have their loudest and most intense arguments there. Well, even if it weren’t in the bathroom, we can normally here it wherever it takes place, due to their extremely loud voices.

So things had reached a pinnacle of frustration. I had tried visiting them one day to graciously let them know we have a small baby and that we are just on the other side of their bathroom. All I was able to obtain was speaking to them through the intercom system (a typical instrument in apartments over here). And, even more recently, we had knocked and I mean knocked hard on the wall to let them know we are just on the other side. One night, with an argument just beginning about 2.00am, I knocked as hard as I could and ended up injuring my knuckles. I had had enough!!

Now, here is the thing. We had been praying. But, as you can probably guess, our prayers were more along the lines of, ‘Lord, please help them shut up be quiet tonight so we can sleep.’ We were struggling because we hadn’t had too many good nights sleep in the past months with a newborn and we were simply at our wits end.

One night I was sitting in bed. I could have been reading, I could have heard our neighbours at it again, I could have been praying. I can’t remember the exact details of the situation. But I remember the exact details of what happened following that initial moment.

Clear as clear can be, I heard God say, ‘You’re praying wrong, Scott. I want you to pray for them, their blessing, their lives, their hearts.’

Again, it was so clear. I could not mistake the voice of God, His communication to me.

I was so sure it was Him that I changed my prayer right then and there, praying as He had shown me how. I also shared with my wife and we began praying according to what God had spoken from that moment forward. I didn’t just one to pray once and that be it. I was looking to pray regularly for them with my wife.

The most fascinating thing unfolded over the next couple of weeks. No, unfortunately, I cannot report that they both came to Christ, at least not yet. But the story is nonetheless encouraging, at least for me if no one else.

That next Friday, while I was at the office, there was a ring at the door of our apartment. My wife wondered who it could be. She answered the door and the person, a female, said, ‘Hi, I am your neighbour. Can we talk?’

My wife is thinking, ‘Is this THE neighbour?’

Well, it was. She apologised for all that had been taking place over the past months and how her partner had treated me when I tried to come over. She said she had not realised that this guy was as much of a problem as he was. She was from Poland (he was Belgian) and she would be heading back to Poland the next day. Her partner thought she would be going for a week’s holiday, but she was going for good, not to return. She had come over to get the readings on the metre for the electricity and gas, since it was actually in our part of the building. She was going to have things cut off since it was all in her name.

My wife invited her in for some tea, hoping to interact more with her. But, unfortunately, she declined the invitation saying that her partner did not know she was at our place and that she had to get back before he became suspicious.

Well, we prayed into the situation, again remembering how God had asked us to pray, and the next day she went back to Poland. We didn’t see here again and we’ve never met the guy. But, ever since then, there has been solid peace for the past 3 or 4 weeks (from whenever she left). Complete peace and quiet, even so much that the guy has only come home about 2 days in this whole time. I don’t know if he has moved out or what, but there have been no arguments, no yelling at 2.00am, none of the sort.

Interesting what happens when you pray in accordance with what God is saying. Our prayers were being specifically directed by God. I wasn’t just praying how I thought I should or how I wanted it to go. I was praying as He was leading and speaking.

Listen, this is not about boasting in me and my great prayer spirituality. Remember, I wasn’t really even looking for God to speak to me in this. It was simply in a moment when God spoke, communicated and directed me towards change. If anything, this was about His rich grace and mercy. He was fathering me.

I am still challenged to be praying into the lives of these two people, even now – for God’s blessing, for their lives, for any kind of hope to rebound off another person, for wisdom for them both if there is a desire to get back together, etc. But, I’m challenged even now to be praying as God leads.

Will we always hear God lead us? Probably not, though I wouldn’t put it pass God. But our prayers need to be directed by His Spirit, since the Spirit knows the will of God. I don’t want to just launch in with a nice and eloquent prayer that seems spiritual enough but lacks anything of God’s Spirit at all. What a waste of time.

So, even before we pray one word, maybe we should just listen, listen to Him. I can think of know better way to help us in our praying.