Sunday, February 27, 2022

Welcoming Heaven's Invasion

The news has been horrifying this week, hasn't it? The world has watched an invasion in all its ugliness. Long before this week began, though, Russia was already at work in Ukraine. While provinces in Ukraine's west have often leaned toward Europe, provinces in Ukraine's south and east have traditionally been closer to Russia, and Russia has cultivated that cultural and political influence. In early 2014, Ukraine's president – a native of that southeast area, and staunchly pro-Russian – was chased from power, and a new regime was installed. But against that uprising, there were counter-protests in the east. Declaring independence from Ukraine, rebels seized partial territories along the border and set up their own alternative states. These rebel movements and their states were swiftly infiltrated by Russian influence, backed up by Russian volunteers, money, and muscle. In some areas, polls allegedly suggested that a quarter or more of the people thought Ukraine should be part of Russia, with claims that one in five told pollsters that if Russia invaded, they'd welcome them as liberators.

Over the last seven or eight years, Russian culture has taken over those rebel-held regions more than ever – Russian flags everywhere, everything written in Russian, you name it. Russia even began handing out Russian passports to hundreds of thousands of people there. And Russia continued to manipulate these rebel states into compliance as millions fled. Earlier this month, the head of one of the rebel states said he wants his state – and beyond – to become part of a “renewed Russian empire.” A week ago, the rebel states formally asked Russia to recognize them as real countries, independent of Ukraine. When Putin said yes, the rebels celebrated with flags and fireworks and flutes of champagne. I heard an interview clip in which a woman living there said of the Russians, “They're helping us, God bless them.” Soon, Russian tanks were crossing over the border, ostensibly to help the rebel states capture by force the rest of the dominion they claimed to represent. But soon it was much bigger than that. And we've seen the devastation and the terror.

At heart, what we've been watching is an attempt to make Putin's kingdom come in Ukraine as it is in Russia. The invasion is dreadfully underway, in all its criminal violence. But before even one tank crossed the border, already were Russian operatives and duped Ukrainians working in those regions to spread Russian influence, to prepare their region to be disposed to welcome this coming kingdom. It was a most devilish secular parody of what Jesus bids us to pray for when he teaches us the words, “Thy kingdom come.”

To help us appreciate what Jesus wants us to want, it helps to climb his family tree. A thousand years earlier, in the land of Israel, the prophet Samuel had told a man named Saul, “The LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor David” (1 Samuel 28:17). And that's what happened: God made David king and exalted that kingdom for the sake of his people Israel (2 Samuel 5:12). God made a covenant with David that his kingdom would go on in greatness, generation after generation (2 Samuel 7:16). And in turn, David prayed passionately for his son Solomon, asking God to establish him as a good king, a righteous king, even a world-changing king. David hoped he'd judge righteously and rescue the poor (Psalm 72:1-4). He prayed also that God would bless Solomon with expansive dominion, that Solomon would receive tribute from far-off lands, that every other king in the world might become Solomon's vassal, his under-king (Psalm 72:8-11).

Later, the Chronicler would look back and hear David telling Solomon to sit on “the throne of the kingdom of the LORD over Israel” (1 Chronicles 28:5). Oh, we dare not miss the significance of that phrase! Israel had a firm conviction that the LORD their God was King – was the rightful ruler of all the earth, the one entitled to decree all the laws, command all the power, direct all the resources, establish peace and security, and ensure that things function well. They were convinced that the LORD was indeed reigning over his whole creation; it's just that earth was this partly-rebellious province that needed to be restored to its appreciation and obedience to the kingdom of the LORD. And the Chronicler is saying that Solomon's rule over Israel was supposed to be the same thing as the kingdom of God – that God's kingship over God's people was being expressed on earth by way of Solomon's royal authority, inherited from David. It was through David and Solomon, as imperfect but visible tools, that God intended to show himself as Israel's king and the world's king.1

But, of course, Solomon came and went, showing his imperfections along the way. His son Rehoboam was so arrogant that he lost ten of the twelve tribes, carving the nation in pieces, and thus severely impeding the witness to God's kingdom they were supposed to be. And yet, in Judah, his descendants – the heirs of David – continued to sit on the throne, generation after generation. Judah remained ruled by a Davidic king, supported by his administration. That administration included a queen-mother, who had considerable influence at court and who likely ruled some aspects in her own right. It included a royal steward, essentially a prime minister. It included an assortment of other officials, some higher and others lower, some closer to the king and others not, but all quite vital for the healthy administration of the government. And in retrospect, the Chronicler referred to this governance as “the kingdom of the LORD in the hands of the sons of David” (2 Chronicles 13:8). In other words, David's heirs – despite everything – were still charged with administering, through those they gathered around themselves, their kingdom in Judah as an expression of God's kingdom on earth. And God's kingdom on earth had been placed in their hands. If they governed Judah well and influenced other nations, that was God's kingdom prospering. If they governed Judah badly and aped other nations, that was God's kingdom suffering.

Alas, the kingdom of the LORD was seldom safe in the hands of the sons of David. Much like Rehoboam, very many of David's heirs would prove faithless. Only a handful escaped the description “He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD (e.g., 1 Kings 21:6). And so they mismanaged and perverted the very kingdom God was seeking to establish in their hands. This faithlessness and disobedience, shared with their subjects, led to Judah withering on the vine, surrounded by mighty empires. Had she been faithful to her God-given mission, Judah might have inspired those empires to be her guardian angels and nurse her back to health. Instead, they lurked as savage beasts whom Judah appeased in fear or seduced in filth. The result was that this earthly kingdom of God diminished, hemorrhaging its true power in the face of beastly oppression. On it went, the same story with Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome. Step by step, Judah ceased to be a real kingdom at all. At last, they'd have no son of David governing them, but would be a captive people with no kingdom of their own, subjected to other kingdoms devoted to false gods.

But as this degeneration spiraled, the prophets dreamed of a different future. Some day, Israel would be brought together again. Some day, they'd be given back their dignity and their strength. Some day, they'd be ruled again by a son of David, a better one who wouldn't fail. And then, as never before, through the anointed son of David, a renewed kingdom of God would spread through the earth. Not only Israel but all the world would be set right. Isaiah saw it: someone on David's throne, ruling his kingdom in peace “to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore” (Isaiah 9:7), until “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4). Jeremiah saw it: a son of David who'd “reign as king and deal wisely,” and under whom finally “Judah will be saved and Israel will dwell securely” (Jeremiah 23:5-6). Obadiah saw it: exiles reclaiming their land, rescuers ruling the nations, “and the kingdom shall be the LORD's” (Obadiah 21). Ezekiel couldn't wait for the flock to be gathered around one Shepherd (Ezekiel 34:23). Daniel was thrilled by “a kingdom that shall never be destroyed” or handed off to another, but which would roll like a boulder through the world, leaving empires in the dust, and coming to fill the earth (Daniel 2:44-45). And Zechariah saw God arriving in person to make it happen: “Then the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with him” (Zechariah 14:5), “and the LORD will be King over all the earth” (Zechariah 14:9). That was the prophets' dream of the kingdom of God.

Of course, over the years after the prophets, as the sufferings of God's people at the hands of worldly kingdoms grew fiercer, some began to conflate the dream of the prophets with their own bitter pain. They imagined that when the kingdom would be given back to them, it would be time for revenge and carnage, time to mete out wrath against foreigners, to purge the earth of all they don't like, to bless themselves and curse the nations.

Onto this scene, enter Jesus. A son of David, he traveled the promised land David and Solomon had ruled, and he told everyone that the kingdom of God was finally close, that it was invading our world, that the time was now (Mark 1:15). But it didn't look like people expected. Jesus insisted that the other teachers were wrong – that God's kingdom isn't about burning sinners and laying down the law, but about giving sinners and foreigners a chance to change their ways and come to the table. Nor did the kingdom arrive as people expected. Jesus said God's kingdom wasn't coming to feed the pride and self-satisfaction of the aggrieved, but instead to topple it by forcing them to welcome their old oppressors with open arms. The only way to be empowered in the kingdom, he said, is to welcome it as a gift you didn't earn, like a child gleefully unwrapping a present (Mark 10:15; Luke 12:32). Jesus insisted that God's kingdom was wherever he stood or sat, and that as he and his friends feasted together, well, that little dinner club was the force destined to topple the empires of earth. It begins so small, like a single seed you scarcely see, but once he plants it, someday it'll be big enough to shelter everyone (Mark 4:30-32). It grows where we can't see, mysteriously hidden, until it begins to sprout where nobody expected it (Mark 4:26-29). And so wherever Jesus went, whatever Jesus did, that was what it's like when God is truly king – the crippled were healed, the deaf heard, the blind saw, the sick got better, the hungry were fed, storms grew quiet, lepers got clean, dead hearts started beating again – because God is King, and that's good news!

And then, to cap it all off, finally Jesus was coronated and enthroned as the Son of David through whom God's kingdom was being made manifest in the world. He was coronated with thorns. He was robed with rags. He was enthroned on wooden beams and blood-soaked nails. It was no pretty sight, nor a pleasant day. But there, there on his cross, was where Jesus expected us to get a good look at the kingdom of God – right where the kingdoms of the world and their system of injustice were being proven ignorant of the Way, the Truth, the Life. There, at the cross, the kingdom of God was being opened as its King was dying. Then he rose from the dead – that was God's verdict of justice overruling the kingdoms of earth. And in ways we can't begin to understand, God put his kingdom into the Son's hands, and the Son prepared to bring the kingdom in a new way: by pouring down his Spirit. The Holy Spirit's sanctifying work is what the kingdom of God is all about. Where the Spirit is active, God's kingdom is touching the world. And so the Bible explains that “the kingdom of God is a matter of... righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). Where Jesus is served and obeyed as King through the Spirit's promotion of peace, that expresses on earth the kingdom of God. If you surrender to peace in your heart, then the kingdom of God is gaining footholds. The same holds true for justice and joy. As you surrender to them in your heart when the Holy Spirit works within you, the kingdom of God is gaining.

So when we pray to God for his kingdom to come, what are we asking? Part of what we're asking is for the Holy Spirit to come and work in us. We ask for God's Spirit to blossom in our souls, nurture our hearts, knead peace and justice and joy into our lives. We're praying for the Spirit to descend on us and fill us, for the Spirit to clean us out and set up shop, for the Spirit to direct our inner lives to make them calm, reasoned, and blessed. These are all things Jesus wants us to want, and wants us to ask for in these words.

Now, by the time Jesus ascended to inherit heaven's throne, he'd already selected his closest friends and students to be his imperial heralds, his legates, his ambassadors, announcing to the world the good news that God's kingdom was now present, was growing by the day, would one day break through with the final invasion that would perfect the world, and that all of this revolved around the work of King Jesus, who'd been given supreme authority. So his ambassadors or apostles went out, with the promise that once they finished their mission, they would come home as the high officers of his kingdom, and reign from thrones beside his (Luke 22:28-30). One was even appointed his prime minister (Matthew 16:19). In their mission, he authorized them to extend rights and duties of citizenship to others, and to lay down laws for his kingdom, and to assemble a new body politic for this kingdom in which God was coming to rule the world, and to continue working through their successors even after they finished their terms on earth.

And that's exactly what they did. On that foundation, Jesus began more and more – through years, decades, centuries – to bring the kingdom of God to earth... as his Church. As St. Augustine put it: “The Church – even in this world, here and now – is the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of heaven.”2 The onslaughts of death and hell can't drown it out (Matthew 16:18). The Church is “a kingdom that cannot be shaken,” thanks be to God (Hebrews 12:28), no matter how many Rehoboams and Jeroboams tear at it, no matter how many Josiahs die before their time, no matter how many Manassehs tyrannize from within.

So when we pray for God's kingdom to come, we're asking for the strength and health of his Church on earth, for it's God's kingdom in our midst. “Thy kingdom come” is a prayer for the Church to be built up (Ephesians 4:12-13). For when the Church believes tenaciously, hopes defiantly, and loves fiercely, then the Church is strong where it matters most. And when the Church grows by obedience into its calling, gains wisdom and prudence, and matures into its proper measure and structure, then is the Church stronger still. “Thy kingdom come” is a prayer for the Church to be well-administered, for its stewards and officers in every place and time to manage the affairs of God's kingdom well. For the kingdom of God is good governance of the people of God – and the better administered the Church is, the better for that kingdom. “Thy kingdom come” is a prayer for the Church to persevere in representing God's interests in God's ways – because we pray for God's kingdom, not my kingdom or your kingdom. When the Church gets distracted or deformed by alien agendas or misbegotten methods, then just so is the kingdom of God obscured and offered obstacles on earth.

And “thy kingdom come” is a prayer for the Church to be ready to be enthroned the same way its King first was – that is, on a cross. It's not for nothing that the King bid his subjects carry crosses to their execution in order to follow him (Mark 8:34). As Paul said, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). The Church must know how to abound with great privilege in the world, but also how to be thrown into tribulation (cf. Philippians 4:12-13). Entering the kingdom, inheriting the kingdom, is no leisurely stroll. God has seen fit to give us the credit of learning to rule by learning to suffer. And that becomes clearest when the Church is mocked, harassed, and at last forced to conquer by testimony sealed in blood. When Christians do, then in them has the kingdom of God come (cf. Revelation 12:10-11). It's by means of the world's opposition that God may “bring [you] safely into his heavenly kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:18). There are those indeed who live or die so triumphantly for Christ that, sanctified to heaven, their souls live perfectly to God, stand in his court, and reign with Christ even now until he comes again (Revelation 20:6).

But to his Church below, Jesus entrusted a mission on the earth. And that mission is to disciple the nations, to bring them and their kingdoms under the influence of his kingdom. Now, no earthly kingdom has ever simply become God's kingdom, nor any earthly nation be simply identifiable with God's people – not the Holy Roman Empire, not the Byzantine Empire, not the British Empire, not Russia or Ukraine or America. But, to one measure or another, each of these (and countless more) have been discipled – though how well, God alone can judge – and so, at their best, they are as it were vassal states to the kingdom of God present in their midst.

What does that look like, discipling the nations and their kingdoms? We teach and influence the nations to set aside greedy ambitions. We teach and influence the nations to set aside manipulative lies. We teach and influence the nations to set aside cruel habits and unjust laws. We teach and influence the nations to set aside corruption and foolishness. Infiltrating the communities of our nations and neighborhoods and the structures of this world's kingdoms, we do what we each can to shape them to look more like the kingdom we're called to stand for, the kingdom that's certainly coming: God's kingdom. We aim to be a means through which the Holy Spirit's peace and justice and joy gain outward footholds in community life, civic life, public life wherever we are – and thus God's kingdom spreads its influence.

And so when we pray to God, “Thy kingdom come,” we're asking for God to expand that influence, whether he can go through us or whether he has to go around us. We're asking God to infuse our neighborhoods with heaven's culture. We're asking God to constrain the nations to obedience, and to elevate that peace and that justice and that joy. When that happens, wars are brought to an end, trust is restored, truth is spoken out, selfish grasping loses its grip. That's the growth of God's kingdom, pressing into the world. The more God's kingdom influences the nations and their neighborhoods, the less room there is for lies or injustices or wars. The more God's kingdom shines, the less the world's kingdoms are dominions of darkness. Let God's kingdom take hold, and swords can be beaten into plowshares, and wolves and lambs lie down together.

And yet we know that we will never perfectly eliminate the lies, the injustices, the wars. The Church on earth will never be quite capable of declaring mission accomplished. That's going to take the King in person. See, in all this, we're preparing for the end. God's kingdom is growing all this time, by fits and starts – growing in our hearts, growing in the Church, growing in influence in the world. But if God's kingdom comes at first gradually and subtly, at last God's kingdom comes suddenly and explosively. For the kingdom will not be fully here until the King marches in. What we're waiting for, as we strive to receive the Spirit and build up the Church and influence the world for his kingdom, is an invasion, a takeover, the return of the King with his army. He'll charge in, faithful and true, blazing beauty, heading up the armies of heaven, ready to rule as “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:11-16). When he “comes in glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne” over the earth (Matthew 25:31). Then at last will it be said, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever!” (Revelation 11:15).

And when that happens, the powers that have undergirded all the viciousness of history – fear and shame, death and destruction – will be exiled from creation by the King's order. All the dead will live again – every soldier caught up in conflicts not his own, every person who longed for justice she never saw, and all the rest, will be raised. And the King will judge. He won't judge, as kings of this world do, by ethnicity or nationality, language or aptitude, and certainly not by how much power you've wielded. But he'll judge by faith and hope and love. At last, God will decree all the laws. God will command all the power. God will direct all the resources. God will establish peace and security. God will ensure things function well. And the principle underlying all will be love: “Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might... He will gather the lambs in his arms” (Isaiah 40:10-11).

When that happens, the King will heal our damaged world. Now, we look at our world's scars, our scars, and we see trauma. But then, we'll see the scars transfigured beyond the trauma. We'll see the foolishness of ages come undone. We'll see beauty rise from ashes. We'll see Eden overgrow the battlefields. The water of life will wash away old memories of pain. Every one shall sit under his vine and his fig tree, and none shall make them afraid (Micah 4:4). That's the healed world God wants us to walk in, leap in, dance in: the kingdom of God.

And at last, after the King has invaded, when the King has put down the petty provincial rebellion called 'sin' once and for all, when the King has reestablished his perfect rule himself, then he will fill out his administration and his body politic. Those who didn't seek citizenship, who didn't pledge loyalty, who didn't live by his laws, will be sacked: “The unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9). But King Jesus will enthrone his loyalists, all of them. He'll enthrone those who sought his kingdom and lived by its laws. He'll enthrone those who worked for it with hands and hearts and voices. He'll enthrone those who longed for his kingdom most of all. To some will be entrusted much; to others will be entrusted little. “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). But all will be heirs of the kingdom and its offices: “If we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Timothy 2:12) – that's a promise. As brothers and sisters of the King, we'll prove “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” and “be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17), “heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him” (James 2:5). Made sinlessly holy by his grace, knowing perfectly as we've been known, there will be no risk of us mismanaging anything then, for then “the Lord God will be [our] light, and [we] will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5).

Above all, this is why we pray for God's kingdom to come. This is what we're praying for. We're praying for the heavenly invasion we live to welcome. We're praying for the return of the King in power and glory. We're praying to see the dead raised. We're praying to see the world healed. We're praying in eagerness to inherit our thrones and to reign in God's kingdom. That's what Jesus wants us to want. He wants us to call out to God for it, humbly trusting that his promises are good.

Perhaps it's surprising that with just three short words – “Thy kingdom come” – Jesus is inviting us to ask God for all this, and training us to want all these things from God. But if your heart needs calm, pray: “Thy kingdom come!” If your life needs changed, pray: “Thy kingdom come!” If the church needs strength, pray: “Thy kingdom come!” If the lies and wars and injustices keep dragging on, pray: “Thy kingdom come!” If the laws are foolish, pray: “Thy kingdom come!” If the world is broken, pray: “Thy kingdom come!” And if you want to see Jesus and reign with him in glory, pray: “Thy kingdom come!” May his kingdom come indeed! Amen.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

A Name Like No Other

A few years ago, David Rose was working his job at the garbage dump. He had a habit of glancing through the new deliveries to see if there was anything that might be better off salvaged. And one day, he spotted a big box that was filled with curious items. In it was a top hat. And with the top hat came a cigar case. And there were about two hundred letters tossed in there, written from one Mrs. Mary Dorgan to her son Joe, an enlisted man, in and after the final year of World War II. Somebody had taken all these things and thrown them away as useless junk. But David, bored and curious on the job, started to read a few of the letters. And bit by bit, he realized what he'd found. You see, the woman was a cook; her husband was a butler. And the pair had been working for a British politician. Maybe you've heard of him: Winston Churchill. They'd given their son a few gifts she'd gotten from him. Like Churchill's top hat. And one of Churchill's famous cigars. Not only that, but with her behind-the-scenes view to Churchill's life and dealings, her letters offered intimate domestic insights. Whoever had thrown all this away either knowingly treated them with contempt, or else (more likely) was simply ignorant that what they had was so special. But it was special – no ordinary items, these – and so David resolved to treat them as special. He rescued them from the garbage dump and had them appraised – everything together was worth over £10,000.1

And perhaps – though I certainly don't know – it might have reminded David of a story from a couple decades before, when a town councilwoman named Maxine Smith was touring an industrial estate in Scotland, hunting down some misplaced robes and memorabilia. And she'd been directed toward a shed out in the garden, and given a key. But when she got there, she found the door propped open by a curious doorstop: an old bust, a shoulders-up statue of a man. It had been repurposed to keep the door open. Checking some records, Maxine realized it had been accidentally abandoned in the shed decades earlier when the town council was reorganized. But what had come to be used for such low and mundane purposes as keeping the shed door open, what people had just been ignoring as common, was in fact a work by the greatest French sculptor of the 1720s. It's worth about two million dollars today. Now it's in a museum, surrounded by other busts. Because it's special, and it deserves to be treated as special and noteworthy. It wasn't worth less when it was being used as a doorstop, but it wasn't being treated in accordance with its proper worth. Now it is.2

And all this isn't even to mention the Michigan farmer who spent thirty years using a 22-pound meteorite as a doorstop, until he finally got it appraised at $100,000.3 Or the English farmer who dug up a pointy metal thing and used it as a doorstop for years, until he finally showed it to someone and learned it was a 3,500-year-old ceremonial dagger.4 (Have you checked out your doorstops lately?)

But the point is this: It would have been fair for lovers of Winston Churchill to hope and pray that his top hat and cigar case would be discovered and treated as special by everyone, rather than discarded as junk. It would have been fair for lovers of French sculpture to hope and pray that lost busts be discovered and treated as art and not as doorstops. It would have been fair for students of astronomy or archaeology to hope and pray that any stray meteorites or ancient daggers be discovered and treated for what they intrinsically are, and not scorned as common items. And in much the same way, when Jesus gathers his disciples and teaches them how to hope and pray to the heavenly Father he's introducing them to, the first thing he invites us to want and to pray for – before any other request we make, before any other desire we cultivate – is that our Father's name – that is, our Father's identity, our Father's authority, our Father's reputation – would be cherished as special and shown off as special and adorned as special, rather than be treated as something common or contemptuous.

Jesus knew, and his first disciples knew, that the One they were calling 'Father' was the God who had guided Israel under the terms of the old covenants. In the exodus, we're told, God “saved [Israel]” – why? “For his name's sake” (Psalm 106:8). And one of the first things he told them, when he gathered them as his people, was to be very respectful and conscious of his name (Exodus 20:7). He ordered that the priests who ministered to him, in particular, “shall be holy to their God and not profane the name of their God” (Leviticus 21:6). In turn, the Israelites were told to hallow their priests, that is, to treat their priests as holy figures: “You shall hallow him, for he offers the bread of your God. He shall be holy to you, for I the LORD, who sanctify you, am holy” (Leviticus 21:8). To Israel, he said: “You shall not profane my holy name, that I may be hallowed among the people of Israel: I am the LORD who sanctifies you” (Leviticus 22:32).

Building on those commands and that vision, Jesus – the Holy High Priest of all creation – urged us, as children adopted into his Father's family, to yearn for the hallowing, or displaying as holy and recognizing as holy, of God's name. “Hallowed be thy name” – but what are we asking? It's like saying, “May your name and identity and reputation be treated as transcendently pure, separated from everything profane and everything creaturely.” It's like saying, “May your name and identity and reputation be glorified, regarded as absolutely significant, and so separated from everything commonplace and everything unimportant.” And it's important that this is the first thing Jesus wants his new brothers and sisters to pray for, the first thing Jesus wants us to want, second only to simply abiding and basking in our Father's presence. It makes sense that this should come first! After all, it would have been obvious to anyone in Jesus' day that a person is always deeply concerned for his father's reputation, because the father's reputation shaped the family's reputation, and vice versa. We are, in the end, going to be seen and known in light of our Heavenly Father's reputation.

So what does this all mean? If we're asking for God to act in ways that hallow his name, what are we asking God to do? What is it we're prioritizing? What ought we be hoping for, desiring with this focus and intensity?

First, when we ask God to hallow his name, we're asking God to inspire and move us, his creatures, to praise him, to worship him, to celebrate his name. “Let the name of the LORD be praised, both now and forevermore! From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the LORD is to be praised” (Psalm 113:2-3). If we have even the first clue who God is, who our Father is, then we'll see that his name is worth celebrating and praising. “It is fitting,” an early Christian said, “that God should be blessed in every place and time, with a view to the fitting remembrance of his gifts from every person.”5 Later Christians recognized that this prayer is a prayer that God “grant us that we may bless his name with our mouth.”6 We're asking him to open our eyes to all he's given us, to open our ears to testimonies of his greatness, to open our hearts to his grace, to open our mouths to praise his name as above all names, as the most beautiful sound and most majestic thought.

Second, when we ask God to hallow his name, we're asking God to teach us that 'most majestic thought': loftier conceptions of him, correct conceptions of him – in other words, to give us good theology. 'Theology' just means the things we say about God, the ways we understand God and the things connected to God. And it's important that our theology be healthy – sound, not unsound. It's important that it be orthodox – filled with untwisted appraisals of God, not distorted by mistakes and misunderstandings. Christians in the Middle Ages were especially good at seeing that this was part of what we're asking in this prayer. One commented that we're asking for God to “give us the grace that we may understand that nothing is as holy as his name.”7 Another paraphrased this prayer with the phrase, “May knowledge of you become clearer in us.”8 But even the earliest Christians saw this as part of it: they prayed, “We thank you, holy Father, for your holy name... and for the knowledge and faith... which you made known to us through... Jesus.”9 There's more to knowing God than theology, but not less. It's vital that we learn, that we be taught, because God is worth approaching straight-on and cherishing for who he is. We should yearn to understand him better. We should hunger for deeper and more accurate knowledge of God.

Third, when we ask God to hallow his name, we're asking him to spread this praise and this orthodoxy not just to us who already believe but to the world – and that happens when he empowers missionaries, evangelists, and everyday witnesses to spread the good news. In our day of religious tolerance (a good thing!) and individualism (maybe less good), it's sometimes difficult for us to remember that, when our neighbors near or far and even our friends don't believe in God through Jesus Christ – when they don't know him, when they decline to give him the proper praise and glory that's his right and his due – then that should actually grieve us. When anyone out there neglects to recognize and treat God's name as holy, we should find a cause for sorrow there, both because they're cheating God and because they're starving themselves.

So “the name of the LORD will be,” must be, “declared” (Psalm 102:21). Even in the Old Testament, there was hope that “a foreigner” would “come from a far country for the sake of [God's] great name” (2 Chronicles 6:32; cf. 1 Kings 8:41). Israel's purpose would prove successful insofar as those around them also would learn to “love the name of the LORD (Isaiah 56:6) and to “trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Psalm 20:7), such that “all nations will... honor the name of the LORD (Jeremiah 3:17). And now that the light of the gospel has arrived – now that Christ has won the victory over death – there is all the more reason to want this.

So this is a prayer where “we desire and pray that all may... enter into the light and joy of the gospel.”10 It's one that takes seriously the realization that “the more you believe, then better is the name of God sanctified in you,” so it means, “May your name be sanctified in the hearts of... unbelievers...”11 It's a prayer that those who don't yet believe will come to believe – even if they're enemies and persecutors of the Church, even if they now can't stand to hear of God, this is a prayer that they'd come to trust, honor, and love his name, and approach him in faith for his great name's sake. But “how are they to believe in him of whom they've never heard” the fuller riches of his grace? “And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14). So we pray here for evangelists, for missionaries, and for our own witness, that God would grant success in announcing this good news and that our neighbors would come to appreciate the value of God's name. As was once said, “We wish not only for his name to be made holy on our own behalf, but also for those who have not yet had the fortune to achieve the grace of baptism”12 – and for those who've lost sight of it.

Fourth, then, when we ask God to hallow his name, we ask him to give fruit to the spread of the gospel by what he does when someone is baptized and so born again into God's family. Because, make no mistake: when you see someone being baptized, you're witnessing a miracle – that's the God guarantee. And it happens because of the invocation of God's name – which turns out to be not just the name of the Father, but also of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It's a joint identity, a joint authority, a joint reputation shared by the Trinity. The apostles were sent out “baptizing into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Being baptized, we were changed: “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11), and so “your sins are forgiven for his name's sake” (1 John 2:12). Here's where we meet the cleansing power of God's name, the justifying power of God's name, the forgiving power of God's name. God's name is the power that enters you, and that you enter into. From here on out, you're marked by God's name. From here on out, your life is all tied and tangled up in God's name. And that's because in baptism, God chooses for his name to live on us and in us. As early Christians prayed: “We thank you, holy Father, for your holy name which you caused to dwell in our hearts...”13 And in this way, as it was in the Old Testament, so also under the New, a Temple is being “built for the Name of the LORD (1 Kings 3:2) – only now the temple is built in and from our hearts, each brick engraved beautifully with the holy name, and each heart hopefully being hospitable toward God's name. So we pray that this temple for God's name would be built bigger, brighter, better. We pray that God's name would be shown as holy through more and more new births, more and more baptisms, more and more times his name creates life out of death and salvation out of destruction. And we pray that we, the baptized, would be receptive to that ongoing miracle.

Fifth, when we ask God to hallow his name, we ask him to act to help our deeds highlight his good name to others and to stop our deeds from sullying his good name to others. When we're baptized, when we're marked publicly with God's name, suddenly our reputations become tangled up in God's reputation. What we say and what we do can affect how people in the world view the God whose name is written all over us. It was the same in the Old Testament, when the nation of Israel carried God's name. That's why first Isaiah and then Paul had to charge that “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Romans 2:24; cf. Isaiah 52:5 LXX). When Israel was hypocritical, when Israel fell publicly short of her profession, then the nations around them perceived less reason to exalt her God's name; instead, they scoffed at God on account of God's people.

And now the same is equally true of Christians. One of Peter's disciples wrote to the Corinthians, when they were acting up again, and complained: “Blasphemies are brought upon the name of the Lord through your folly!”14 And doesn't the same happen today? How many church scandals fill the news waves? How many pretexts have we given our unbelieving neighbors to dismiss everything we say? Not that our scandals excuse unbelief – even then, people remain “without excuse” (Romans 1:20) – but certainly our unholy conduct has the potential to scandalize. So when we pray this prayer, we're asking that God not allow our unholy practice to get in the way of his name being recognized as still holy by others. Hopefully, he'll do that by stopping us in our tracks, and getting us to prevent before we can do anything scandalous! But if not, we at least beg him to not allow scandal to result – we ask that he'd give our neighbors the ability to look past us to still see him.

The other side of the coin, though, is that our actions and attitudes can sometimes be helpful for our neighbors to see him. Some ancient Jews actually used the phrase 'hallow God's name' to describe doing good deeds for unbelievers in such a way that they'd reinforce God's reputation. Some rabbis passed along an imagined story where, in the days of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac's birth caused the nations to mock Sarah, and as punishment, God afflicted the Gentile noblewomen so they couldn't nurse their babies. In desperation, they came crawling to Sarah, begging her to nurse their children. And Abraham convinced her to do it by saying to her, “Hallow the Holy One's name!”15 Just like in that rabbinic story, there are plenty of things Christians have done, down through the ages, that have hallowed God's name by manifesting his mercy and care toward others. And so when we pray this prayer, we're asking that he'd help us do them and also to give our neighbors the ability to not just see us doing charitable deeds, but see God's goodness and God's holiness in those charitable deeds.

We're asking that the credit for anything good we do goes to God, even if that means that we on earth should get little or none. Because it's his reputation we want magnified. It's his glory and his praise we should be chasing. We know we'll be “glorified with him” one day (Romans 8:17). But in the meantime, praying this prayer is adopting with joy the words of John the Baptist as our own: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 2:30). God must be glorified, Christ must be credited, and the cost is not taking credit ourselves, not seeking glory ourselves. We ask God to hallow his name, even if our name suffers for it. That's what we must want.

Finally, when we ask God to hallow his name, we ask him to manifest his holiness by his redemptive discipline. We invite him to correct us and prune us, but to have mercy on us at the same time. The Old Testament was quite clear that “the Holy One shows himself holy in righteousness,” that is, in judgment (Isaiah 5:16). It was in judgment that God could “show himself holy” by asserting his rights and punishing sin.16 In particular, Ezekiel tells us, God judges his own people to correct them and prune them so that they “shall no more defile my holy name” (Ezekiel 43:7), because God says he is “jealous for my holy name” (Ezekiel 39:25). How respectable would be a father whose warnings are all idle threats, who never insists on his children giving him appropriate respect, nor disciplines them to help them grow? God is a Father who does insist on respect, and who enforces it from time to time by judging his people. And we ask him to do that, because it's for our good.

On the other hand, the prophets pointed out that, since Israel bore God's name, a severe punishment for Israel could actually have the opposite effect. When the Israelites were scattered in exile, “wherever they came, they profaned my holy name, in that people said of them, 'These are the people of the LORD, and yet they had to go out of his land!' But I had concern for my holy name...” (Ezekiel 36:20-21). In other words, God saw that this punishment, if carried too far, would be counterproductive. And so other prophets prayed on exactly this basis: “Do not spurn us, for your name's sake (Jeremiah 14:21). They made their bid for mercy precisely by urging God not to let his struggle with Israel become a lose-lose situation. And so God determined to show mercy “for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations” (Ezekiel 20:14). God resolved to “vindicate the holiness of my great name” by setting limits to his punishment and redeeming Israel from exile (Ezekiel 36:23). And just as then, so also now, we ask God to vindicate his holiness – that is, show himself as awesome beyond compare, and so hallow his name by public acts of deliverance beyond what we deserve.

When we say to God, “Hallowed be thy name,” we're asking for all this. We're asking him to move us to praise and to teach us his truth. We're asking him to spread the gospel and move others to give it a receptive hearing. We're asking him to give new life in baptism and build up a temple of hearts for his name. We're asking him to point our good acts toward his reputation and prevent our scandals from tarnishing it. We're asking him to give us needed discipline, but to show us mercy by delivering us in awesome ways that everyone can see.

And this petition is pressing toward a vision of the end. See, up until now, God has been holding back. Fire from heaven? God was holding back. Plagues in Egypt? God was holding back. Parting the sea? God was holding back. Healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead? Even in all that, God was holding back. But in pleading with God to hallow his name, we're asking him to stop holding back. And the day is coming when he won't hold back – when he'll finally wrap up history in such a way that the Name he shares with his Son and Spirit will compel every knee to bow and every tongue to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).

God will manifest his holiness in ways no one can deny. He will vindicate his holiness once and for all, in judgment and in mercy. All will see God for who he is (1 John 3:2). No one will have subpar theology. Then, and only then, comes the new creation where God's name will be exalted perfectly above all and by all. Every believer will be fully a saint, and will worthily bear God's name on their lives and celebrate that saving name forever, with full appreciation, knowing as we are fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).

That is ultimately what we're asking for whenever we say to God, “Hallowed be thy name.” And what Jesus is teaching us is that, if our priorities are right, there is absolutely nothing we desire, absolutely nothing we crave, absolutely nothing that would amaze us and delight us, more than this. So when we prayer, we rush right there – right to pleading for this, for all this, for this more than anything, now and forever. Hallowed be his name!

Sunday, February 13, 2022

All Eyes on Heaven

The year is 260. You're an Egyptian villager, and the past few years have been nothing but trouble. A plague has been sweeping through the land for over a decade now. You yourself were brought to death's door by it, but mercifully spared. And when you were sick, so many of your friends and family left you for dead – except for your neighbor who was in that weird religious cult. At immense risk to herself, she nursed you through the worst of it. Her religion was illegal – she was shunned for avoiding the required sacrifices – but still she did it. So when you pulled through, you resolved that whatever it is she has, it's worth having. So you went under cover of darkness, and you learned about the Light of the World. After months of preparation, you were ready for the initiation, something called baptism. Until that night, whenever you gathered with Christians for worship, they'd sent you and your fellow catechumens away halfway through – they said only initiates were permitted to be present for the final mystery. But last night, you were baptized. Your old self was dead and drowned. And now, just after the Christians regained the house they'd remodeled into a church, you don't leave.

When the cry goes forth for catechumens to leave, you stand still, packed shoulder-to-shoulder with your fellow Christians. Your white robe is still the most marvelous sight. The bishop of the town stands at the altar on a small platform. Boldly he blesses those gathered for the mystery of the sacrifice: “The Lord be with you!” You don't know what to expect. But all around you, in these early morning hours, the gathered crowd calls back: “And with your spirit!” A look passes over the bishop's face, a look like a centurion's look. His eyes scan the assembly. His eyes lock with yours. And somehow, chanting in almost a military air, he barks the order: “Our hearts – upward!” You wonder what that could mean. Present hearts? Lift up your hearts high? Set your heart on heaven? You've no clue how to react. But those pressed against you to the left and the right do. They sing out beautifully: “We have to the Lord!” The bishop's face lights up with joy as he chants, “Let us give thanks!” And his joy is contagious. Each one it infects sings, “It is fitting and right!” Then the bishop begins to pray.1

That's what you would've experienced, standing in the church as a new Christian in the early centuries when faith was fiery and fresh. In fact, the majority of Christians on earth today still pray the very same call and response as part of their worship, before they join together in the Lord's Prayer a little while later. Still now as then, most of our brothers and sisters in the Lord hear each Sunday the call to lift up their hearts; and still now as then, they reply with the sacred pledge that they've lifted them up to the Lord. The Church got that language from the prophet Jeremiah, who urged his downcast people, “Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven” (Lamentations 3:41). The Church found it resonated with the psalmists who said, “To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul” (Psalm 25:1), and with the apostle who wrote, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:2-3).

And when the early Christians talked about why the priest said “Our hearts upward,” “Lift up your hearts,” they said it was a call into the heavenly Jerusalem – that before we could most fully encounter God in prayer, we needed to elevate the core of who we are to God's realm and God's outlook. Listen to what they said: “The priest commanded 'Up with your hearts!' when prayer was to be made, that silence should be made.”2 “Every fleshly and worldly thought should depart, nor should any mind dwell on anything other than the prayer that it's offering. … The heart is closed against the Enemy and lies open to God alone....”3 “Truly, in that awe-filled hour, it is necessary to have our hearts up toward the Lord, and not below with regard to the earth and earthly activities. For this reason, the priest exhorts you with authority in that hour to leave behind all everyday cares and household worries, and to have your hearts in heaven with the God who is the lover of humanity.”4 As they thought that way, maybe it shouldn't surprise us that, when early Christians reflected on why Matthew heard Jesus calling for us to pray to God as “our Father who art in heaven,” they thought along the same lines as they did when they reflected on the Church's call to lift up your hearts before the prayer and sacrifice at the heart of Christian worship. For four reasons was it deemed vital to say aloud that our Father is in heaven.

First, to pray to a “Father in heavenis a call to be heavenly-minded, to realize the glory and greatness of our Father. To call God 'our Father' was never meant to drag him down to our level. No – God is a heavenly Father, a perfect Father, a glorious Father worthy of our most exalted ideas and understandings. When we cling to our heritage or upbringing, our citizenship or education, those are but the earthly fatherhoods that in Adam's shadow shaped us. But our Father in heaven is more unlike them than like them. We take special note that this is our Father 'in heaven' to remind ourselves that he's beyond our earthly experience, beyond all the flaws and the traumas, even beyond all the praises and the virtues that apply to the earthly fatherhoods we've known.

When we pray this prayer, then, and call out to “our Father in heaven,” we lift up our hearts to greatness and to glory. We offer our hearts to our Father by the hands of the exalted Jesus – a gift, not because they're worth so much, but because God deserves a gift that exhausts all we have. We lift up our hearts in humility because it's simply right and just to throw ourselves before God. All our duty, all our salvation, is in faith's surrender to our Father in heaven. The opening line of the Lord's Prayer does it and declares it, and teaches us how to do it.

Second, to pray to a “Father in heaven is a call to leave earthly cares behind when we enter prayer. So often, we come to church, or we come to pray, with a lot of things weighing on us. We've got plenty of troubles, we've got plenty of worries, we've got plenty of distractions. We're afraid or uncomfortable. We're nervous about the weather. We're thinking about the upcoming sporting event. We're besieged by intrusive thoughts that come and go. We're anxious and agitated, or maybe we're bored and just feel cold and distant. Whatever the case, to remember that our Father is 'in heaven' is an invitation to separate from all that – an invitation to contemplation. As one early Christian explained of his experience with the Lord's Prayer: “First my mind must become detached from anything subject to flux and change, and tranquilly rest in motionless spiritual repose.”5

When we pray this prayer, then, and call out to “our Father in heaven,” we lift up our hearts away from earthly cares, stilling our souls from our instability and chaos, centering them in God despite our distractions and our doldrums. We set down all the concerns that crowd our hearts – and then, once our hearts have been moved to heaven, once our hearts' eyes are fixed firmly on the Father, then are we in the best position to reach down, pick up those cares and concerns, dust them off, and put them in our Father's hands in the right order and right way.

Third, to pray to a “Father in heaven is a commitment to leave earthy actions and attitudes behind when we enter prayer. So often, when we come to church or come to pray, we treat it like any other activity – one we can interrupt with our chitchat and our contempt. We come as earth-people, in the first Adam's image. “As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust.” But that isn't meant to be us. “As is the man of heaven” – Jesus Christ – “so also those who are of heaven (1 Corinthians 15:48). So early Christians would say that “we who have begun to be spiritual and heavenly should think and perform spiritual and heavenly things,”6 “so that your conduct on earth may not defile what the heavenly nature has now bestowed and conferred.”7

When we pray this prayer, then, and call out to “our Father in heaven,” we lift up our hearts away from the lowness of our lives and routines. We scrub the mud from them, we gain distance and perspective on our way of living, of the attitudes we harbor and the activities we practice. We lift our hearts as a commitment to live no more in earthbound ways, to commit no more earthbound deeds, but instead to walk on earth according to God's Spirit and to allow that heavenly Spirit to sanctify our hearts into a new heaven wherein God himself might suitably dwell. And we refuse also to pray out of low and unworthy motives. “You ask wrongly” in prayer, says James, if you “ask... to spend it on your passions” (James 4:3). Why do we want our daily bread? Why do we want our debts remitted? Why do we seek shelter from evil? Why do we desire a kingdom? Is it so that we can please ourselves, so we can spend it on our passions? Then we ask with clay tongues and muddy hearts. But to lift up our hearts to a Father 'in heaven' is to fix our eyes beyond those passions and pleasures. It's to hope to pray for the right things for the right reasons – for heavenly reasons, reasons that fit our Father.

And fourth, to pray to a “Father in heaven is to remember that life is a journey home, and that heaven is the Christian's proper homeland. The life of this world is not a homeland, to claim your permanent residence or your lasting loyalty. America isn't your homeland either. But heaven is, insofar as “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). For we're all “strangers and exiles on the earth..., seeking a homeland..., a better country – that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:13-16). So as was said long ago, “if the Lord is teaching us to call upon the 'Father in heaven,' he means to remind you of our beautiful fatherland; and by thus putting into your mind a stronger desire for these good things, he sets you on the way that will lead you back to your original country.”8 So “let us rush toward that domain which we proclaim to be the abode of our Father!”9

When we pray this prayer, then, and call out to “our Father in heaven,” we lift up our hearts towards home, like a compass stretched out in front of us with longing, pointing the way to our Father's house. To pray this prayer is to reignite the cooled embers and dormant ashes of the guiding torch, the combustion that fires our pistons and so motors us along. To pray this prayer is to admit we're strangers now, exiles now – that we will never find our true home in this world, that we can never afford to completely settle in short of seeing our Father's face. In praying this prayer, we run forward in search of our heavenly homeland. Lifting up our hearts toward heaven, we wish only we could throw them all the way home. But until we get there, this prayer is the prayer we pray.

All that is why Jesus taught us to pray to “Our Father which art in heaven.” But the journey home isn't a solo journey. You don't venture out alone on the road. Neither do I. The road wasn't built for that. There's only a carpool lane. We're called to help each other along the way, aiming that no man and no woman be left behind. So if the road wasn't built for solo travel, then neither is this prayer for the road. There are some words you'll note are conspicuously missing from the Lord's Prayer. One such word is 'I.' Another is 'me.' And then there's 'my.' None of those are in the Lord's Prayer. And that's on purpose. We pray to our Father,” not “my Father,” when we pray this prayer. As has been well said, in this prayer, “we pray not for one but for all.”10

So when you pray the Lord's Prayer, who are you praying with? Who are you praying for? Let's start here. The prayer you pray, you pray not for yourself alone, but for those who surround you in the pews. It's been said that “all who come together in the church enclose themselves with the same wall, since, although they are many limbs, yet they are brought together in the one body of Christ; and therefore those who are joined together in church should not be separated even in prayer.”11 Belonging together to this church, we're inseparable. That's most seen when we gather. And there's no higher prayer than the one we pray together – which is why, in a few months, we'll be adding the Lord's Prayer as a regular act of our gathered worship. In praying the best prayer in the best way – together – we pray best. But even when we pray in our respective homes, or in the waiting room at the doctor's office, or wherever you are, you're praying to the same Father who's our Father – Barry's and Barty's, Joyce's and Savannah's. So even when you're elsewhere, in praying this prayer, you pray for them.

But not us alone. The Church is more than a congregation, more than a denomination, more than a nation. The God who's our Father here in this local church is the Father also of the church up the road. He's Father also of the churches in South Korea, in Kenya, in Italy, in any land you name. He's Father of peasants and presidents, of farmers and philosophers, of abbots and astronauts. So when we stand here or at home and we pray the Lord's Prayer to our Father which art in heaven,” we're including people well beyond our walls, beyond our pews, beyond our membership rolls. We're implicitly praying for all across the earth who can honestly call God 'Father.' Maybe you don't think about it, but when you pray the Lord's Prayer, familiarity is no limit: you're praying for people you've never yet met. And similarity is no limit: you're praying for people who've got little in common with you but Christ – people who don't think like you, vote like you, look like you. You're praying even for people you know and can't stand, but who share the one baptism wherewith you were also baptized. When you pray the Lord's Prayer, then (like it or not!) you're praying for them on equal terms with yourself. And maybe some of those you're praying for no longer practice their faith, or have even lost faith – but if they're indelibly marked with Christ's seal in baptism, then they may be a prodigal child, but while life endures, there's always hope of a homecoming, so praying to our Father is always praying for them – no matter how lost and listless. And that's true whether they live next door or whether our planet's molten core is between you and them. When we call out to our Father, the scope of that word 'our' isn't bounded by space.

And if not bounded by space, then perhaps not by time. Praying to an eternal Father, what limit is there from the pages of a calendar? When you pray the Lord's Prayer, you're praying for people who don't yet exist. God hears you, and when at last they come to be and come to be in Christ, then your prayers will cry out before his face on their behalf. And when you pray the Lord's Prayer, I dare suggest you're praying also for people who've gone already to face their eternal destiny. God, in their days, heard your prayer in advance, long before you were born. And seeing that 'our' transcending the limits of time, he lifted up Christians of ages past in part through your then-future prayer. Because when you and I pray the Lord's Prayer, it isn't just me praying, it isn't just you praying. The voice coming out of your mouth is the voice of the Body of Christ himself. And the prayer of the Body of Christ is for the whole Body of Christ – no exception made for condition of health, for space, not even for time. So implicitly, even if you never think it, even if you aren't consciously taking them alongside you, yet there they are. When you pray the Lord's Prayer, you pray for every member of our Father's family – ever. So how much better to know that, to realize that, to intend that when you pray this prayer!

Best of all, it's a reciprocal relation. If the Lord's Prayer out of your mouth is implicitly a prayer for every child of our Father (past, present, or future), then the Lord's Prayer out of the mouth of every child of our Father (past, present, or future) is implicitly a prayer for you. When they take these words of Christ on their lips, when they call out to our Father which art in heaven,” they pray for you. When believers in underground churches in China pray the Lord's Prayer, they're praying for you. When Christians around the world pray the Lord's Prayer, they pray for you. In centuries past, when Charlemagne and William the Conqueror, Joan of Arc and Francis of Assisi, when any of them prayed the Lord's Prayer, they prayed for you. So did Mother Teresa, so did Billy Graham, so did all the apostles. You've been prayed for by emperors, explorers, warriors, and saints!

And perhaps when generations yet unborn come to be, then if you have great-great-great-grandchildren who, long after you leave the world, should become children of our heavenly Father, then when those great-great-great-grandchildren of yours pray the Lord's Prayer in their day, your Father and theirs is already listening from eternity to those future prayers and counting them as prayers for you here and now, as fully as if they listed you by name. And perhaps – though this is just my speculation – the 'great cloud of witnesses' who from heaven now watch us run our race here below might still be praying for us with the substance of this very same prayer.

So take confidence, children of one Father in heaven! For when you pray the Lord's Prayer, you enter into a life sustained by literally trillions of prayers for you, trillions of prayers by Christ's Body from our Risen Head to the humblest toe. Throughout ages past and ages yet to come, across the world and perhaps across the gulf between earth and heaven, whenever and wherever this prayer is raised, you have been prayed for. And while its fruitfulness depends on what you make of the grace you've been given, our Father in heaven will never ignore those trillions of prayers in the voice of his own Son's Body. And to give back, you learn this prayer, you pray this prayer, and so Christ's prayer through your prayers joins the chorus, doing your part to cry out to our Father in one relentless siege of heaven, never ceasing 'til at last our Father will be all and in all. So lift up your hearts, lift up your hands, lift up your voices! All eyes on heaven! Glory to the Father in Jesus Christ! Amen.