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Jesus’ instructions on prayer are followed by some of His instructions on fasting. This is interesting since fasting is about not eating, and part of the Lord’s Prayer is about the need to eat. How do they connect?
Sheep are so nervous and timid they will hardly lie down unless the shepherd is visible and on guard. And they will not drink from live water. Evidently flowing rivers and rapid brooks are terrifying to them. Sheep will only drink from standing water such as a pool or a pond. Some have claimed that this is because of their thick wool. If they fell in, it would be like trying to swim in a heavy overcoat. Be that as it may, sheep need a shepherd sympathetic to their fears and insecurities, one who will guide them to still water.
“We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15 nkjv).
I don’t know why, but I have always struggled more with receiving than giving. A friend of mine said it is a form of pride. With friends like that who needs enemies? Be that as it may, I just find it awkward to receive gifts from others. I love to give them. Generosity is actually a blessing to me. It’s in getting where I freeze up. Sometimes, especially if the gift is exceptionally generous, I have a hard time coming up with the right words. I have even had to go back later and try to give a better thank you and an apology.
Many years ago when times were very hard in Ghana, I preached at a poor village far in the north. It was summer and the heat of the Sahara was making itself felt in a terrible way. Still the people stood without a murmur for a lengthy service. Their response to the sermon was moving to say the least, and afterward several village elders made speeches thanking me for coming. The last man to the platform said the village wanted to bless me. At that, a woman came
How very like David the king this statement is. David knew all about enemies. His whole life he was surrounded by enemies. The ravenous beasts who wanted his sheep were the enemies of his childhood. And what a childhood it was! After the lions and bears came Goliath, then Saul, the Philistines, the Ammonites, the Hittites, the Jebusites, palace plotters, one of his own sons, and finally, old age. When David wrote of enemies he knew whereof he spoke. He lived his life in the presence of enemies.
It is no wonder then that he speaks of God’s loving providence in the midst—not in the absence—of enemies. David never said God would give me a life without enemies. He did say that God has not forsaken me when gossipers and detractors and envious plotters are circling me like hungry wolves.
As a university president and as a businessman, I frequently needed cash flow projections from my chief financial officer. In order to understand those projections I had to know the assumptions they were based on. Likewise, the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 are based on a certain set of assumptions.
Here are the seven assumptions of the Lord’s Prayer.
I am no fan of the "non-competitive culture" nonsense being cultivated in many schools today (especially elementary schools). In real life, competition is part of the human experience. In business, politics, sports or whatever, competition exists. In a silly effort to keep from damaging some child's self image, such efforts to shield him/her from the momentary pain of losing, actually fail to instill character. Setbacks, losses, the pain of not being the best or the first, is real life. How can a child learn to deal with that, to manage the emotions those moments engender, if they never feel the pain? I am opposed to giving winners and losers the same trophy. "Participation" trophies, so called, are anathema to me. The kid or team who wins gets the biggest trophy. Period. That's the way it is in real life and the sooner they learn it the better.
Having said that, the kid who gets the biggest trophy may not learn the biggest lesson. If they win too much, too often, too easily they may never learn it. I know the parents who take the losing child home have a difficult job to do. They have to manage that painful moment, encourage their child to try again harder, and reassure them they are loved irrespective of performance. However, their teaching task is not nearly so daunting as the parents of the constant winner.
Winning easily and consistently can translate inside a child's psyche to many really dangerous life views, such as:
David knew plenty about those seasons of life in which a soul needs to be restored. Following his terrible failure with Bathesheba, which by the way included not just adultery but a cover-up conspiracy and murder for hire, David's soul needed to be restored. After the Bathsheba episode, David's soul was wounded by his own sin, public embarrassment, deep personal shame, and a guilt-ridden conscience.
Ziklag was a very different kind of wound, but my suspicion is that when it was over his soul needed restoration. As we discussed in chapter 3, before he became king of Israel, David was the leader of a band of very dangerous
Here is a statement that should give no one a flicker of pause: Jesus was not a Christian. Jesus never knew a Christian or knew anyone that became a Christian until after His crucifixion. He was Jewish and all of His companions were Jewish. All of those He taught were Jewish except a very few scattered Gentile tourists, some in Syrophoenicia and here and there a Roman soldier. The prayer that we call The Lord’s Prayer is thoroughly Jewish, taught by a Jewish rabbi to a Jewish audience in Israel. Therefore, it is no surprise that the prayer is quite consistent with the main stream of Jewish prayer.
More surprising by far is that Psalm 23, written by King David a thousand years before Jesus was born, is more similar to Christian prayers, at least in one important way. Most Jewish prayers are corporate in nature; that is, they are usually plural in their language. The Lord’s Prayer is a perfect example. “Our Father . . .” “Give us . . .” “Forgive us . . .” This is characteristic of most Jewish prayers, especially liturgical prayers, which are commonly about the Jewish people, the land, the nation, or the family.
When I was in undergraduate school, my Western Literature professor was a young firebrand atheist who made no secret of his disdain for religion. One day in class someone asked him what he thought was the greatest single poem ever written. He shocked us all when he answered Psalm 23.
“We thought you were an atheist,” someone called out.
“I am,” he answered. “Two years ago our baby died. My wife is a Catholic and insisted on having a priest do the funeral. I did not want any such thing, and I was very angry at her and that old priest. At the grave he prayed Psalm 23 and I, who believe not one word of it, felt deeply moved. Some unexplainable wave of comfort swept over me. I don’t believe in God but I believe in poetry. Any poem that can move you like that, against your will, is great poetry.”