August, 2017

Prayer – Thy Kingdom Come

The second petition of the Lord’s Prayer is “Thy kingdom come.” Looking at this short petition we can see three quick points. First, God is King. Second, as King he has a kingdom which is differentiated from the way things are now. Third, we are praying for God’s kingdom to be realized in the midst of this present other kingdom.

God is King. It is most proper to say that God is not only a king, as if he were one of a number of kings who each have a right and title to some sphere, but rather to say that God is THE King. All that is and all that ever will be has come into existence because of one reason, and one reason only. God spoke it into existence. There is nothing that exists that finds its existence apart from God’s creative word. As Creator God reigns supreme over all things. “Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all” (1 Chron 29:11).  He is the King. There may be others who claim a right or title to some authority or kingship, but they are always of a lesser magnitude and order. Psalm 95:3 says, “For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods.” Thomas Watson notes, “Other kings have royal and sumptuous apparel to make them appear glorious to beholders, but all their magnificence is borrowed; God is clothed with his own majesty; his own glorious essence is instead of royal robes, and ‘he hath girded himself with strength.’”[1] God is King.

As King, God possesses a magnificent kingdom. There have been a number of different ways that various commentators have understood God’s kingdom in the Lord’s Prayer. Thomas Watson understood a two-fold kingdom, the kingdom of grace and the kingdom of glory. The kingdom of grace is exercised in the hearts of people. The kingdom of glory is when that kingdom is translated into the whole earth. “The kingdom of grace is glory in the seed, and the kingdom of glory is grace in the flower.”[2] Wilhemus À Brakel understood a three-fold kingdom. A kingdom is defined as a “populace united under a leader.”[3] There is a kingdom of power. This encompasses all things in creation because ultimately, all things are under the sovereign control of God as King. There is a kingdom of glory. This encompasses all the heavenly creatures, like angels and the elect who have passed into heaven. Third is a kingdom of grace. This encompasses all of those who are part of the invisible Church on earth. They are true believers and converted persons. John Calvin in his Institutes only addresses one aspect of God’s kingdom. “God reigns where men, both by denial of themselves and by contempt of the world and of earthly life, pledge themselves to his righteousness in order to aspire to a heavenly life.”[4]

Even in the diversity of views on how the Lord’s Prayer presents God’s Kingdom, there are clear commonalities. Primarily, it is to see God as reigning directly and supremely upon all creation and all creation properly and faithfully responding to his reign and rule. This comes out in the third aspect of this petition, thy Kingdom come. It is understood that there is a difference between the current state of affairs in the world and the way in which God’s kingdom will ultimately manifest itself. Our prayer is that God’s kingdom will come and replace the current “domain of darkness” (Col 1:13). We long to see the Church, the kingdom of all the elect, to grow. The Westminster Larger Catechism #191 acknowledges that we are “under the dominion of sin and Satan” and our prayer is to be delivered. We long to see that kingdom destroyed and “the gospel propagated through the world.” We also pray for the fullness of the church to be brought in and “furnished with all the gospel officers and ordinances” with which Christ has gifted her. We pray for people to repent of their sins and to turn to Christ by faith. And we long for the time of Christ’s second coming.

There is coming a day when Christ will consummate the Kingdom of God. He will sit upon his throne. We will see his name written on his robe and thigh, “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev 19:16). Satan will be overthrown and his kingdom will be no more (Rev 20:10). And Christ will “make all things new” (Rev 21:5) as he rules and reigns from his great throne. When we pray the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer, we need to know that we are asking God for some very big things. We dare not pray this prayer lightly. But if we long to see the penalty, power, and presence of sin finally destroyed, and all of creation renewed, then we should faithfully pray this petition.

[1] Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Prayer (London; Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1993), 54.

[2] Ibid., 59.

[3] Wilhelmus Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 4 Vols. (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2015), 3.508.

[4] Jean Calvin, John T McNeill, and Ford Lewis Battles, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 3.20.42.

Prayer – Hallowed Be Thy Name

“Hallowed” is not a word we use much. Outside of the Lord’s Prayer, it is likely that you never use it. There is only one instance I can think of where I might routinely use this word. The alma mater of the University of Tennessee (my alma mater) is sung at the end of every halftime performance of the marching band. It begins: On a Hallowed hill in Tennessee / Like Beacon shining bright / The stately walls of old U.T. / Rise glorious to the sight. The central building of UT’s campus sits atop “The Hill,” as it is known in Knoxville. As the heart of the campus, it is considered by the song, and faithful alumni, as “hallowed.” But other than that, “hallowed” is a largely unused word in my vocabulary.

So what does it mean to “hallow” the name of the Lord? To hallow, strictly speaking, is to set apart from the common use for a sacred use. It’s probably a little too strong of a word for a campus building. Thomas Watson defines it this way, “we pray that God’s name may shine forth gloriously, and that it may be honored and sanctified by us, in the whole course and tenor of our lives.”[1] It is to give God the highest honor and veneration. It is to acknowledge the sacredness of his name and to render unto him all the glory that his name deserves.

The object of our hallowing is the Lord’s name. By his name it is meant God’s essence. David calls upon the “name of the God of Jacob” to protect his people (Ps 20:1). By “name” David means the essence and being of God. Also by name it is meant that term by which God may be known. One of the first questions we ask someone when we meet them is, “What is your name?” Why do we ask this first? It is because that term is how we will know them, how we refer to them, and how we remember them. God is known for his attributes; his wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, truth, and whatsoever he is pleased to make himself known by. But when we speak of those attributes, in order to not simply speak in the abstract, we attribute them to God by labeling them with his name. God is wise. The Lord is powerful. Jesus is holy. So we pray for the name, that is, the essence of God and how God is known, to be hallowed. And that by hallowing his name, he would “prevent and remove atheism, ignorance, idolatry, profaneness, and whatsoever is dishonorable to him” (WLC 190).

This is the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer. It is first not only in order but also in importance. All the other petitions in the Lord’s Prayer have an end date. There will come a day when we cease to pray for the Lord’s kingdom to come, because one day it will come. There will come a day when we cease to pray for our daily bread, because one day there will be no more want. There will come a day when we cease to pray for forgiveness of sins, because one day we will be freed from the very presence of sin. There will come a day when we cease to pray for temptations to end, because one day there will be no more temptation. Every petition of the Lord’s Prayer will one day be fully realized and no longer necessary, except for the first. There will never come a day, even after thousands of thousand years, when we have exhausted the need to hallow the name of the Lord. An eternity of making God’s name shine gloriously will never satisfy the honor due to our great God.

So we pray “hallowed be thy name.” It is an acknowledgement that we have an “utter inability and indisposition” in ourselves to honor God aright (WLC 190). We pray this asking God that by his grace, we might be enabled and moved to hallow his name. And then we pray that our lives will live out this prayer. We pray that we would esteem him highly and honor the Lord. We do this by professing his name in the assembly of the saints. We should think highly and well of God. We are to fully trust in his name (Ps 33:21). We should hold God’s name in highest reverence and only speak his name in appropriate ways (Neh 9:5, Ex 20:7). We hallow the name of the Lord when we observe and keep the Sabbath. It is the worship he has prescribed, “Among those who are near me I will be sanctified” (Lev 10:3). We are to obey God. It seems simple, but it is crucial. When we, as Christians, disobey God’s Law, we dishonor his name. But “to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam 15:22). We are to praise him. And we hallow the name of the Lord when we stand for his truth. Thomas Watson notes, “much of God’s glory lies in his truths…we have not a richer jewel to entrust him with than our souls, nor has he a greater jewel to entrust us with than his truths.”[2] We are to contend and strive for the truth because “contending for the truth brings great revenues to heaven’s exchequer; and hallows God’s name.”[3]

So let us remember, as we pray, that what we do to hallow the name of the Lord will be credited to the Lord’s ledger and will last for eternity. All else we may do, however great the world’s applause, will fade away. May our prayers lead us to ask, “will this bring honor to God’s name?” And if we cannot answer this affirmatively, would God’s grace enable us to cast it aside.

[1] Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Prayer (London; Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1993), 38.

[2] Ibid., 44.

[3] Ibid.

Prayer – Who Art in Heaven

One of the earliest Children’s Catechism questions that my kids learned is “Q: Where is God? A: God is everywhere.” This helpful bit of theology has become very helpful for me when answering some of their questions or assuring them when they are afraid. When thunder rumbles and they are fearful, I can remind them, “Where is God?” “God is everywhere.” “So is God here with you right now?” “Yes.” “So, you don’t have to be afraid, do you?” “No, because God is with me.” Sometimes it really is that simple. But does this contradict what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer?

Jesus instructed his disciples, “Pray then like this: Our Father, who art in heaven” (Matt 6:9, emphasis mine). Jesus seems to locate the Father in heaven. We know this must be right because Jesus said it…but is it right? Is Jesus saying that God is “up there” and not, necessarily, “down here.” Does this mean God is not everywhere? John Calvin in his Institutes helpfully clarifies, “From this we are not immediately to reason that [the Father] is bound, shut up, and surrounded, by the circumference of heaven, as by a barred enclosure. For Solomon confesses that the heaven of heavens cannot contain him [1 Kings 8:27].”[1] The passage in 1 Kings reads in part, “Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you.” Clearly, Jesus instructing us to pray “Our Father who art in heaven” does not mean that God ceases to be everywhere. God is not limited by being “in heaven.” But we are saying something very important about God the Father by testifying that he is, in fact, “in heaven.” What are we saying about God by saying he is “in heaven”?

Thomas Watson notes that this phrase means that we are to “raise our minds in prayer above the earth.”[2] Our understanding of the world, our needs, our desires, and the generosity of God are to ascend beyond those things which merely appear before our eyes. By praying that God is “in heaven” we are acknowledging that reality is bigger than our earthly experience of it. Calvin adds, “wherever our senses comprehend anything they commonly attach it to that place, God is set beyond all place, so that when we would seek him we must rise above all perception of body and soul.”[3] The Dutch theologian Wilhelmus À Brakel concurs, “It causes us to view God as the infinite One; as most majestic, glorious, omnipotent, and invisible; and as the One who dwells in inapproachable light. Both the nature and disposition of the saints teach them to view God as such in prayer, with a lifting up of the heart and eye on high (without thinking of a locality) unto God as being invisible and all-seeing.”[4]

This phrase also signifies to us that God the Father is sovereign. The Psalmist declares, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Ps 115:3). He sits above all things and his reign extends down below over all things. God holds the universe together and controls all things by his might. Calvin continues, “Therefore it is as if he had been said to be of infinite greatness or loftiness, of incomprehensible essence, of boundless might, and of everlasting immortality.”[5]

The greatness of God is revealed to us and declared by us when we pray “Our Father, who art in heaven.” The wonder of this becomes pronounced when we see this greatness, majesty, and loftiness connected with the intimacy and love of God as our Father. In this opening to prayer, Jesus instructs us to hold in perfect tension a God who is our compassionate and loving Father, all the while he is also the awesome and fearful King of the universe. À Brakel summarizes:

The word “Father” gives liberty to lay before and to unveil to God, as Father, in an intimate manner our needs and desires – and to pray for their fulfillment. And, lest we lose our reverence and awe due to such intimacy, we must add to this the awe-inspiring expression, “which art in heaven.” However, lest we be fearful to approach due to our awe for his lofty majesty, we add the word “Father” to it. Filial freedom and reverence must go hand in hand.[6]

We have the privilege to go in prayer to a God who is both our Father and who stands as the majestic King and Ruler of all space and time. When you lay your requests at the feet of God, you lay them at the feet of the One who is able and willing to give you your heart’s greatest desire.

[1] Jean Calvin, John T McNeill, and Ford Lewis Battles, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 3.20.40.

[2] Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Prayer (London; Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1993), 31.

[3] Calvin, McNeill, and Battles, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.20.40.

[4] Wilhelmus Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 4 Vols. (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2015), 3.490.

[5] Calvin, McNeill, and Battles, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.20.40.

[6] Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 4 Vols., 3.491.

Prayer – Our Father

Jesus taught his disciples how to pray. He gave them a prayer that can be recited or used as a pattern for prayer. CS Lewis remarked that whether we use the specific words or allow those words to be a pattern for prayer is irrelevant, for the words are but “anchors” or the “movement of the conductor’s baton, not the music.”[1] This understanding of the use of the Lord’s Prayer is also seen in the Westminster Larger Catechism #187.

The Lord’s Prayer consists of three parts; a preface, petitions, and a conclusion (WLC #188). The opening words of the preface is of great importance. Jesus instructs his disciples to address the almighty and sovereign King of the Universe as “Our Father.” There is an intimacy and closeness in this address that was heretofore unknown. But through Christ, the blessings of God as our Father have been opened to believers. The opening of the preface teaches us that our prayer is to be addressed directly to God alone, our prayer is to be made with great reverence, and our prayer is to be made with great intimacy.

Prayer requires that we address someone for something which we wish to obtain. Jesus instructs us that God alone is the only appropriate recipient of our prayers. Only God can provide what we wish to receive. He is the only one worthy of our worship and our adoration. He is the only fountain from which our blessings flow. It is from His gracious hand that we receive anything and everything. Thomas Watson makes an important point regarding the persons of the Trinity.

“Though the Father only be named in the Lord’s prayer, the other two persons are not excluded. The Father is mentioned because he is first in order; but the Son and the Holy Ghost are included because they are the same in essence. As all the three persons subsist in one Godhead, so, in our prayer, though we name but one Person, we must pray to all.”[2]

But prayer to anyone or anything else, be they angels, saints, or the virgin Mary, is simply idolatry.

Jesus’ instruction to pray to “Our Father” leads us to come to prayer in great reverence. Our Father is the “Ancient of Days” (Dan 7:9). He is perfect. He is wise. He is loving. He is rich beyond measure. He is eternal. We are to honor our Father with a reverential fear. Seeing God as our Father should lead us to proclaim what is great about God and to refrain from doing what displeases him. We should display his excellencies. And we should reject what defames him. We should know that what we do reflects and resembles our Father to others. We must rightly bear his image. With this in mind, our prayers are transformed with great reverence.

But our prayers are not only made to “Our Father” with great reverence. They are also made with great intimacy. It would have been appropriate if Jesus had instructed his disciples to pray to “Our Great and High King” or “Our Glorious Judge” or “The Omnipotent Creator and Ruler of All.” These are appropriate titles for God. But Jesus gives us a different title to use, “Our Father.” This is, as the Puritan Thomas Watson puts it, “an expression of love and condescension…the name Father carries mercy in it.”[3] As we come to the Almighty in prayer, we do so as his children, adopted by grace. We come to a gracious and generous Father who desires to give his children good things. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will our Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt 7:11).

We not only address God as “Father” but as “Our Father.” The personal possessive pronoun is of tremendous significance. By creation, God has made all things. All people are created by God (Acts 17:28, Mal 2:10). By this pronoun, Jesus teaches that only those who know God as adopted, regenerated, and believing children of God can call upon him in prayer. An unconverted person is not a child of God in this way, and thus cannot address God as “Our Father.” Even if he were to use this term, it offers no comfort or liberty because he is ultimately a “child of wrath” (Eph 2:3). But the believer in Christ can with confidence pray “Our Father” and “express his faith that God is his portion, that he is permitted to address Him as Father, is a member of the family of God, and has communion with all the saints.”[4]

[1] C. S Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer: Reflections on the Intimate Dialogue between Man and God (San Diego: Harcourt, Inc., 1992), 11.

[2] Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Prayer (London; Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1993), 2.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Wilhelmus Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 4 Vols. (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2015), 3.488.