When Prayers Become Political

Maybe your mother taught you some basic life lessons like:

“Don’t chew with your mouth open.”

“If you can’t say anything nice about a person, don’t say anything.”

“Instead of saying someone is ‘a few bricks short of a load,’ just say ‘Bless their heart.’”

And the big one: “Don’t ever talk about politics or religion at the dinner table or family gatherings.”

Those two topics can set off fireworks worthy of the 4th of July around a dinner table. Your Mom was not the first to say it. The advice to “Never discuss religion or politics with those who hold opinions opposite to yours” has been cited in print since at least 1840.

So why bring them up: religion and politics? You have them both in the Lord’s Prayer. When Jesus’ disciples would pray “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” any earthly nation would get nervous.

Herod certainly did. When he heard that a king had been born in Bethlehem he immediately ordered that all baby boys under two in and around Bethlehem be massacred. When crowds were following Jesus the religious leaders and Roman leaders in Jerusalem got nervous. Jesus had not been killed as an infant. They would crucify him now.

Why the reaction? Their kingdom was threatened. People were pledging their allegiance to the “kingdom of heaven.” They would follow their King rather than any earthly ruler. They were living to bring the politics of heaven to bear on the earth in which we live.

Those who pray this prayer are pledging their loyalties to God’s kingdom over any other kingdom. His kingdom. His power. His glory. These are not the same as the world’s.

Satan attempted to get Jesus to take the path of the world. Using power for self: “Turn these stones to bread” Gaining some glory through your actions: “Throw yourself off the temple. Securing your own kingdom at any cost: “Worship me and all the kingdoms of the world are yours.”

Jesus refused each of these. Jesus’ kingdom is a contrast. It has no geographical boundaries but resides within the human heart. His power is used not for his own good—he did not turn stones to bread—but for others, as when he multiplied the loaves and fish.

And his glory is altogether peculiar. In John’s Gospel Jesus’ glory is his cross. Glory in God’s kingdom has to do with death, burial and resurrection. Glory in God’s kingdom says the power of the cross is stronger than the power of the sword. His kingdom is not forced on anyone. His power is used for the benefit of his people. His glory is found in self-sacrifice for others.

When we pray this prayer we are pledging our allegiance to the kingdom of heaven. It does not matter what country we live in; we are first citizens of heaven. Regardless of the rules our country might set in place to tell us how to live, we get our way of life from Jesus and his teaching about the kingdom. Whenever the two conflict—and they will in many places—we are to follow the kingdom of heaven.

We are also pledging that we will be about kingdom business. Paul reminds us that “our citizenship is in heaven.” The word “citizenship” was a word the Romans gave a special colony they had conquered where their purpose was now to secure their homeland for the conquering country. They would spread that country’s way of doing things, its culture, and its politics.

When you pray this prayer you are entering the realm of religion and politics. The kingdoms and countries of this world are not the same as God’s kingdom. And the personal kingdoms that you and I erect for ourselves need to be given up for God’s kingdom. Praying this prayer will equip us to see these kingdoms in conflict and seek first the kingdom of God.

As Jesus’ followers, we have only one citizenship. We have no difficulty knowing where we pledge our allegiance.

If you agree the proper response is “Amen,” or a simple “yes.”

Question: What personal kingdom are you building that you need to give up for God’s?

 

What to do When Evil Hits Your World

As children we sang “London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down…” It’s a children’s rhyme that might have its origins in earlier times when attacks caused the bridge to be in need of repair.

On the night of June 3, 2017, it seemed as if the Bridge was falling down. Eight people were killed and dozens injured as three men wielded knives in an attack which began on London Bridge and then moved to Borough Market in the heart of London.

Police quickly responded and shot and killed the three men. The attack lasted all of eight minutes.

Eight minutes is not long. But eight minutes is all we need to agree that evil exists in our world. Jesus acknowledged evil when he taught us to pray, “… deliver us from the evil one.” Jesus knew something about the battle with evil and the evil one. Immediately after his baptism Jesus was led to the wilderness for a time of testing by the devil. The “devil” is also called the “tempter” because that is what he does.

He tempted Jesus three times in an attempt to divert him from God’s purposes. Jesus refused each one by quoting scripture: “Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” “Do not test the Lord your God.” “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”

For all we don’t know about the “tempter” here’s what we do know. Whenever Satan and his demons make an appearance in scripture it is always in a story about God’s power over them and of their “defeat and destruction.”

We see this in Jesus’ ministry as he heals the sick and casts demons out of those who are oppressed. We see it most clearly at the cross where Satan unleashed all his ammunition and lost the fight when Jesus rose from the dead on the third day.

We also know that though defeated, the evil one still has some ammunition. Paul reminded us to “… put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens.”

Does Paul sound frightened? No. Does he sound aware? Yes. The devil has “schemes.” The Greek word is “methodeia” from which we get our word “methods.” The adversary has a plan. So Paul wants us to have a plan too. “Put on the full armor” he says. “Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints.”

To withstand evil arm yourself with prayer. Need to know the methods of the evil One? Pray. Want to stay alert to his schemes? Pray. Know some people who are under attack? Pray. Arm yourself with prayer.

And arm yourself with God’s word. Jesus did. He looked Satan square in the eyes and brandished his greatest weapon: the truth of scripture. And scripture won the battle.

It’s important to understand that the Greek word for “devil” is “diabolos.” It comes from a root verb that means “to split.” That’s who the devil is: a splitter or divider.

Do you see friends divided? They’ve fallen victim to the schemes of the devil.

Do you see a family divided? Then you’ve seen the work of the devil.

Do you see a country divided? Don’t blame Republicans or Democrats. Go deeper than that to the root cause of the division: the devil.

Satan is a splitter and a divider. If you have felt his attacks, don’t give up. Some days can be dark and difficult. Some days it may look like London Bridge is Falling Down. But remember that Jesus is still on his throne. He has defeated Satan.

And arm yourself with this promise of Scripture: “… the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”

Question: Where do you find evil on the attack in your world?

When You Find Yourself in a Test, Learn From It

There is a dangerous foe on the prowl looking for the person they can ensnare with their temptations. The foe? The Office Feeder.

Never heard of this fiend? Maybe not. But you’ve probably run across this person somewhere in your experience. The Office Feeder is that person who, even though they know you are on a diet, brings tempting treats to the office. They lay them out—not in the break room out of view—but in the open working area with a presentation hard to resist. They coerce you to take one croissant, one donut, just one piece of cake.  What kind of evil person does such a thing? They know your weakness and set you up for a fail.

In life there are people or circumstances that come our way that tempt us to fail. What’s worse is that some think God is like the Office Feeder. That idea can come from a wrong understanding of the prayer, “And do not bring us into temptation.”

What a strange line Jesus would give us to pray, especially when you consider this passage from the book of James: “No one undergoing a trial should say, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ since God is not tempted by evil, and he himself doesn’t tempt anyone. But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desire.” James is adamant: God does not tempt. So why pray that he not “bring us into temptation”?

It helps to know that within that same verse the same Greek word is translated in two ways: “trial” and “tempt/“temptation.” God does not “tempt” but he does at times “test.” How the word is used has a lot to do with the motivation behind what is happening.

If the Office Feeder is putting food out in an attempt to get you to fail in your dieting, then that is temptation. However, if the Office Feeder is putting food in front of you in an attempt to help you succeed and do what is best for you, then that is a test.

When God tests you he wants you to succeed. For example, the scriptures tell us God led the Israelites in the Wilderness to “test” them “so that they might learn.” Testing, then, is a way to learn. In that case it was to learn to trust God and to learn that “man does not live by bread alone.” God was preparing his people for kingdom service and usefulness.

He wants us to do the things he would do so that we can share in his life. We often want to know if God can be trusted. But don’t forget that what God wants to know is whether or not we can be trusted.

Tests are important. And God does give them to us to equip us to be his children who are up for the task of being his representatives in this world. A better translation of the prayer might be “lead us not into a time of testing.”

You may be thinking, “I understand why we would not pray that God would not lead us into temptation, since he does not tempt. But if tests are good for us and grow us then why would we pray that God would not bring us into a time of testing?”

That’s a good question. It helps to understand that the Lord’s Prayer is not just about getting God to do things for us but about God getting us prepared to be the means through which he does things. Kingdom things.

It could be that this prayer has to do with us pledging to be the kind of people God can trust, the kind that do not need to be tested anymore. When we have become the kind of people God trusts he will have no need to test us any longer.

Where might he be testing you now?

  • He’s given you 24 hours in a day, seven days a week. How are you using it for his kingdom?
  • He’s given you money. How are you stewarding it? Are you putting any of it to use in his kingdom?
  • He’s given you speech. Are you “honoring his name” through your talk?

When you do find yourself in a test that is from God, he wants to see if you will do the kingdom thing— “your kingdom come your will be done” thing—or whether you will do your own thing.

The more trustworthy you become the less testing you may find yourself in. Let this prayer help you become a trustworthy follower of Jesus.

Then you can handle anything the Office Feeder puts in front of you.

Question: How have tests made you into a person God can use?