The real Lord’s prayer revisited
For the sake of clarification, the prayer we know so well that is regularly prayed in churches, which begins “Our Father which art on heaven …” (Matthew 6:9-13, Luke 11:2-4), I will refer to as the disciple’s prayer, since this is what Jesus taught his disciples to pray when they asked Him “teach us to pray”. The prayer Jesus prayed for His disciples, including those who follow Him today, just prior to Him being taken, tried and crucified, and which takes up the whole of John 17, is what I will refer to as the real Lord’s prayer.
From the time I become a Christian in my teens, until the present day, I have been intrigued by these two texts, mindful I must not take them out of context. While I have seen many good examples of Christians loving each other and being spiritually one, I have lived long enough to have noted countless examples of this not being the case, and here I am talking about real Christians and not those in name only. It has long bemused me why this is so for, if love and unity were the case, people would be able to identify who the real Christians are and become true believers, and get a lot more done.
My own introduction to the faith, and with which I was associated for a good part of my life, was with the Plymouth Brethren. I learned early there were three main groupings of Christians: Evangelical, Liberal and Catholic – and arguably a fourth one – the sects, who reject historical Christianity. The PBs were firmly in the Evangelical group, although many were suspicious of other Evangelicals, let known these other groupings who they would often not regard as being truly Christian. But even in this tight circle, love and unity was often missing. Many PBs believed in the “Rapture”, when Jesus comes in secret to whisk away true Christians, before coming again in glory to, among other things, sit down at the marriage supper of the Lamb (described in Revelation 19) with His expectant and prepared Bride, the true Church (comprising His followers): “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints” (19:7,8).
I make this point because when Jesus prayed His prayer, we would expect it would be answered and His Bride would be indeed ready – yet it seems things have gotten worse! and today’s church resembles that of the church at Laodicea, Jesus addressed his letter to in Revelation, in its lukewarmness, and needs to take to heart His words: “I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see” Revelation 3:18.
We can easily think of reasons for this lack of unity and arguably, in the case of our (all of us) inability to agree on what we consider what truly matters and put aside differences, it is difficult to see how significant, meaningful, progress can be achieved, given the division sometimes masqueraded by respectability. As far as many of my early PB mentors were concerned, how can we be united with those who teach a false gospel? I feel I have gone full circle. By this, I mean, I began by going along with my early PB mentors and steered clear of those deemed to be unsound. But later I found myself associating with non PB types and trying to distinguish between beliefs that were essential (and trying to be flexible) and those that were not. I later went out of my way to engage with those clearly not in my theological camp. While my current pessimism is partly borne out of hopes dashed, disillusionment with institutional church and personal falling out, I see many signs of life, sometimes among Christians who are not in my theological camp and, dare I say it often in third world countries. Nowadays, I resonate more with those who see themselves among the remnant, which respectable Christians often wrongly dismiss as being among the deplorables.
Now I see the whole shebang as rather more complex and do not claim spiritual superiority. Sometimes it comes down to people having different spiritual journeys and perspectives and differences in gifting and personality not allowed for. It is not just that we can agree to disagree on if and when we preach on sin, righteousness and judgment (the three things the Holy Spirit was sent in the world to convict humankind of) – although some argue it is essential to do this. And there are all sorts of issues Christians see differently that are not strictly speaking essential as far as salvation and real fellowship is concerned. Neither is it regarding a whole raft of issues that come under the social justice umbrella – LBGTQ rights, racial justice, climate change – to name but three and getting involved in our wider communities. Nor is it the three biggies that have got Christians worked up and have fallen out over in recent years: Brexit, Trump and things to do with Covid-19. Sadly, some who I once regarded as friends and who I respected have cut ties with me, and in the process showing their true colors. Before people think I am into self-justification, some of it was down to me not responding well enough to the challenge of doing what Jesus would do in my place. Standing for truth etc. is needed but so is being gracious etc. and getting a right balance. Yet the lack of oneness is a tragedy.
The upshot is Jesus prayed one thing and that is not what we are seeing now. This should not detract from some of the remarkable content of the real Lord’s prayer. After all, He prayed it hours before he was taken, fully knowing what laid ahead yet thinking of those he prayed for – His disciples at the time and you and me brother / sister! Then there was the sense he had done all he was meant to do barring being that ultimate sacrifice, which all too soon would happen, followed by rising from the dead in triumph – evidence His prayer had been heard. Then there were the things He prayed for – what He really wanted to see especially was “that the world may believe that thou hast sent me”. This is sometimes referred to as Jesus High Priestly prayer, and we are reminded He continues to intercede for us. One of the main jobs of the High Priest was to minister to Yahweh in the Holy of holies, and in a sense that was what Jesus was doing when He prayed this prayer. Much else can be said about the prayer (given below, KJV), but that for another time.
But the question as far as this blog is concerned is what does one do about it (mindful we need the Lord’s help). It is a mistake to ignore or fail to respond biblically to what is going on in the world. It is a mistake to lose our nerve in order to appease a loud group of God haters and fail to recognise our commission is to make true disciples of Jesus, and that involves gospel proclamation. It is a mistake to think the only part of “church” that matters is the bit we belong to (assuming we do) for our concern should be for our brothers and sisters and Christ and to help them be part of that radiant Bride for when He returns to planet earth. It is a mistake to elevate many areas of minor disagreement as matters to irrevocably fall out over. Christians who give the matter thought are divided in which way the world is heading and if there is to be a Great Reset, will it be the good or the bad version, and the elephant in the room, what to do about Covid-19? All of this is in the Lord’s hand and if the Book of Revelation meant anything at the time, it was to prepare the church for tribulation, in the sure knowledge that in perseverance and endurance there will great reward, for God wins. Whichever way the world is heading in the short term, we are called to put our trust in the Lord and heed the call for love and unity with our brethren.
Finally, it is a mistake to let egos get in the way; in the final analysis we are, after all, the Lord’s unprofitable servants, and that involves serving His Church rather than take umbrage over people or things upsetting us. While some pragmatism is necessary given present realities, including focusing on what I can / should do / change and leaving the rest with the Lord, there is much in the words of the following scripture we would do well to dwell upon and practice. Maybe, we might wish to sing one of the songs often associated with the Jesus Movement of the 1960’s and 70’s, with all its hopes and optimism: “They’ll know we are Christians by our love”.
1 If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, 2 Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. 3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. 4 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. 5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. 9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
1 These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: 2 As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. 3 And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. 4 I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. 5 And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. 6 I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. 7 Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee. 8 For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me. 9 I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. 10 And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them. 11 And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. 12 While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. 18 As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. 20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; 21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. 22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: 23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. 24 Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me. 26 And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.