Epilogue: God Is What Life Is All About


Over the past forty-two days, we have studied Jesus’ teaching on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:5–15), focusing specifically on the six petitions of the Lord’s Prayer (verses 9–13). If we want to experience God through prayer, we must:

  • make time and space for God (verses 5–9a),
  • focus on God’s powerful love for us (verse 9b),
  • prioritize God’s agenda for our lives (verse 10),
  • ask God for whatever we need (verse 11),
  • seek God’s forgiveness and send it to others (verse 12),
  • and trust God in trying times (verse 13).

In this epilogue, I want to conclude our study with a brief note about the traditional ending of the Lord’s Prayer: “for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”

Like most modern translations, the New International Version (NIV)—which I have been using throughout this study—relegates the ending to a footnote rather than including it in the main body of the text. Why? Because the earliest and best manuscripts of Matthew’s Gospel do not include the ending. Nor do any copies of Luke’s Gospel. It appears that Jesus did not teach his disciples to pray, “for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” The ending was added sometime later in the early centuries of Christian history.

But should we continue to pray this ending even though it is merely traditional? As far as I am concerned, “Yes” and for three reasons:

First, the sentiment the ending expresses is wholly biblical. Compare it with the various doxologies in Revelation—4:15; 5:12, 13; 7:12; 11:15, 16–18; 12:10; 19:1, 2—for example. It says essentially what they say: God is the kind of God who deserves to rule over the creation he made, he has the power to do so, and he does so with such unfailing love and justice that he deserves all the honor and praise we can give him.

Second, we should continue to pray the traditional ending because it is useful for worship. Many Americans cannot summon up any sympathy for history and tradition. We always look for what is “new and improved” rather than what is “tried and true.” When it comes to ending a prayer, however, I doubt that the traditional ending can be improved upon for its beauty or truthfulness.

And third, we should continue to pray the traditional ending because, in the final analysis, God is what life is all about. When we pray, our first request is that his name—that is, his reputation, fame, and honor—be hallowed. Why not conclude the prayer by exalting his kingdom, power, and glory? Too often, we live life as if our concerns were all that mattered. The Bible teaches us, however, to be ruthless God-centered, God-focused, and God-saturated. As John Stott has written, “in the Lord’s Prayer, Christians are obsessed with God…. True Christian prayer is always a preoccupation with God and his glory.” Only as we give our best attention to God’s concerns will we find our own needs met (Matt. 6:33).

So let us pray to “our Father in heaven,” for his is “the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.”

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Day 42: How to Be a Failure


One of my father’s best sermons is entitled, “How to Be a Failure.” It goes something like this…

These days, we often hear messages about how to be a success. Rarely, however, do we hear a straightforward message about how to be a failure. And yet, the fear of failure drives people more than hope of success, so perhaps we ought to pay attention to what makes for a “successful” failure. The story of the feeding of the 5,000 (Luke 9:10–17) offers us three principles that, if followed, will help us fail every time.

The first principle is this: Look at the size of the task. Often, we face tasks that are, from our vantage point, gargantuan in size. Certainly the twelve apostles faced a seemingly impossible task when Jesus said, “You give them something to eat.” The them in this case meant 5,000 men. Adding in wives and children, the crowd easily numbered between 10,000 and 15,000 people. If you want to be a failure, you must always keep the size of the task first and foremost in mind.

Second, look at how little you have. If you were asked to feed 15,000 people, what would you do? I suppose you would put together a budget and find a caterer who could deliver the maximum amount of food at a minimal cost. What if, however, you had neither money nor caterer? Then, quite frankly, you would be one of the twelve apostles.

How much food do you need to feed 15,000 people? What restaurant can supply that food on short order? How much is it going to cost? What do you do if you do not have enough money? What do you do if there is no restaurant in the first place? These are the kinds of questions the apostles no doubt asked, and they are the questions asked by everyone who wants to be a spiritual failure.

The third principle of failure is this: Leave God out of the picture. From the disciples’ point of view, there simply was not enough food to feed the crowd—only five loaves and two fish. From Jesus’ point of view, this was more than enough. The difference between their two perspectives was a difference of faith. Jesus did—and the disciples did not—trust God to make up the difference between their huge need and their meager resources to meet it.

The world in which we live is filled with many temptations and trials. Indeed, it is a world at war, spiritually speaking, and we must be appropriately armed. Often, we feel overwhelmed by our trying times and too weak to fight the battle at hand. Do you want to be a failure? Look at the size of the task. Look at how little you have. And leave God out of the picture. If you want to succeed, however, start with God. Through prayer, we bring our overwhelmed weakness to God and receive power to live another day.

Day 41: Arm Yourselves


In Ephesians 6:14–18, Paul describes “the full armor of God”: “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”

Although drawn from the weapons of a first-century Roman soldier, the armor Paul describes has modern counterparts. We might speak of the web belt of truth, the body armor of righteousness, the combat boots of peace, the Kevlar helmet of salvation, and the M-16 of the Spirit, for example. However “the full armor of God” is described, notice three things about it:

First, it is intellectual, moral, and spiritual in nature. Notice the key words: truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, word of God. If the devil’s battle strategy consists of deception and distortion, our defense must be based on discernment. We must know the truth and be capable of acting upon it, in other words. Our knowledge of the truth comes from the word of God, that is, the Bible. According to Hebrews 4:12: “the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” But not just anyone can use the Bible rightly. It takes a certain kind of character, just as it takes a certain kind of training to fight with a sword or properly shoot an M-16. The beginning point of that character is faith, which leads to salvation and results in “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).

Second, the armor of God is primarily defensive in nature. It protects us from “the flaming arrows of the evil one.” Only the sword—the Bible—is an offensive weapon. When used properly, the Bible is “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus,” and it is “useful for…training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17).

Third, God’s armor is best used in the context of a prayerful life. “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions,” Paul writes, “with all kinds of prayers and requests.” Soldiers can only win battles when they are in constant contact with the general’s staff, which lays out the battle plan, coordinates forces, allocates reserves, and leads the army to victory. The same is true of Christians in their relationship to God.

We cannot even begin to win the spiritual war we are fighting without him.

Day 40: We Are at War


In Ephesians 6:10–13, Paul writes: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

Our temptations and trials are not just that. Rather, they are battles. We are at war.

I write these words in 2010. For the past eight years, the United States’ military has been engaged against combatants in Afghanistan and Iraq. As the nature of its battles has changed, so have the arms used to fight them. In Afghanistan, special operations forces at first waged war against the Taliban on horseback. Now they use Predator drones. In the first part of the war in Iraq, the Army and Marines used tanks and heavy artillery. Later, in response to the enemy’s use of guerilla tactics, American forces engaged in counterinsurgency tactics, including cordoning off entire neighborhoods and conducting house-to-house searches. In both cases, the identity of the enemy and the nature of the battle determined the kind of weapons and tactics to be used.

The same military principle holds true when it comes to spiritual warfare. Who is our enemy? It is not “flesh and blood”—people like us, in other words. No, in a sense, all people (whether they have come to faith or not) are captives of a malevolent power from whose grip the Lord would deliver us (Gal. 3:22). That powerful enemy is the devil.

We live in a scientific age in which belief in the existence of demons is considered as reasonable as belief in the Tooth Fairy. Apropos of that skepticism, C. S. Lewis wrote, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”

Instead of making a case for the identity of the enemy, I want to touch on the nature of the battle. The devil’s tactics consist of deception and distortion. Remember how the snake tempted Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:1–7), and you get a glimpse of how the devil makes war on us all. First, he deceives us about God’s commandment (“You will not surely die…”), then he distorts God’s motivation (“For God knows that when you eat of it…you will be like God”), as if God were jealous in a petty way.

The only way to fight deception and distortion is with discernment. For such discernment, we need to don “the full armor of God.” More on that tomorrow.

—–

Andreas J. Köstenberger and Michael J. Kruger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture’s Fascination with Diversity Has Shaped Our Understanding of Early Christianity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway: 2010). $17.99, 256 pages.

In this book, Andreas J. Kostenberger and Michael J. Kruger refute the “Bauer thesis,” namely, that “there was no ‘orthodoxy’ or ‘heresy’ at the inception of Christianity but only diversity.” Instead, they demonstrate that orthodoxy was original and normative, while heresy was late and counterfeit. To read my complete review, click here. If you’d like to purchase the book, click on either the picture or the link above.

Day 39: How Jesus Persevered through Trial


Luke 22:39–46 depicts the last moments Jesus spent with his disciples before his arrest, trial, and crucifixion. He spent the time in prayer. Several important principles about perseverance emerge:

First, Jesus talked to God regularly. According to Luke, “Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, ‘Pray….’” Matthew and Mark identify “the place” as Gethsemane, a large garden with olive trees (Matt. 26:36, Mark 14:32). Luke may be merely describing what Jesus did that particular week, but it seems more reasonable to interpret him as describing what Jesus did whenever he was in Jerusalem. Jesus went to the place. He used the garden to meet with God. The quiet garden allowed him to center his attention on God and thus prepared him for the trials ahead of him.

Second, Jesus prayed to God for help during trying times. Specifically, Jesus instructed his disciples to pray so that they would “not fall into temptation.” The Greek word Luke uses is peirasmos, which can mean “temptation” or “trial,” depending on context. Both senses of the term are in operation here. Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion would try the apostles’ souls and tempt them to lose faith and apostatize. Prayer, however, would give them the power to persevere and resist. It will do the same for us.

Third, Jesus surrendered his will to God’s. His prayer was not a bland recitation of religious phrases, however. Luke—a physician—notes that Jesus prayed with such anguish that “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” Medically speaking, due to Jesus’ intense stress, the corpuscles just under the surface of his skin broke, and trace amounts of blood mixed with his sweat. (I wonder if we ever pray with such agony.) The content of Jesus’ prayer is what is most important, however. Jesus’ words were simple and went to the heart of what it means to believe in God: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” That is the constant request we must make when we pray—to surrender our agenda to God’s agenda for us. Such surrender is the essence of faith.

Finally, after prayer, Jesus got back to work. Medieval writers distinguished contemplation and action. Contemplatives devoted their time to prayer and meditation. Activists devoted their time to good works. Obviously, both are necessary; they reinforce one another. Jesus prayed so that he might better accomplish the will of God. And in doing the will of God, he discovered how much he needed God’s strength, which he found through prayer. His contemplation led to action, and his action back to contemplation. The choice between prayer and life is thus a false one. We pray so that we can live better, and in living better, we discover how much we need God’s assistance through prayer.

So, like Jesus, let us pray. And then let us do the work God gives us.

Day 38: How Jesus Resisted Temptation


The devil tempts us. God tries us. When we resist the former and persevere through the latter, God produces character in us. Jesus models how to do both. Over the next two days, I want to look at his example, beginning today with how he resisted the devil. My remarks are based on the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (Luke 4:1–13).

First, Jesus overcame temptation because he was already spiritual prepared. Luke writes: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” Notice two very important phrases: “full of the Holy Spirit” and “led by the Spirit.” We cannot resist temptation on our own power. We must rely on the power of God’s Holy Spirit, as Jesus did.

Second, Jesus overcame temptation because he understood the nature of temptation. Temptation attacks us where our identity and mission as the children of God intersect. Notice how the devil prefaces the first and third temptations: “If you are the Son of God….” The devil knew full well that Jesus was God’s Son. The temptations attempted to distort Jesus’ identity and pull him off mission. The first temptation, turning stones into bread, attempted to do so by getting Jesus to use his power for selfish ends. The second, bowing down to the devil, attempted to do so by getting Jesus to use the wrong means (worship of Satan) to accomplish the right end (the obedience of the kingdoms of the world; on which, see Matt. 28:18–20 and Phil. 2:9–11). The third, leaping off the precipice of the Temple, attempted to do so by forcing God to rescue Jesus from the consequences of a reckless choice. In each case, Jesus clarified the meaning of his divine sonship and stayed faithful to his divine calling. When we are tempted, do we remember that we are the sons and daughters of God and act accordingly?

Third, Jesus overcame temptation because he knew the Word of God and how to apply it to his situation. In each temptation, Jesus responded by quoting Scripture. “Man does not live on bread alone” comes from Deuteronomy 8:3. Deuteronomy 6:13 is the source of “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” And “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” is a quotation of Deuteronomy 6:16. All these passages come from the period when Israel wandered in the wilderness following its exodus from Egypt. During that time, the Israelites were tempted greatly and chose to fail often. Jesus, however, read Scripture and learned the right lesson from Israel’s wrong example. He succeeded where it failed by leaning wholeheartedly on the wisdom of God the Father. The question is: Do we know what God has said, and do we heed his words?

Overcoming temptation is not a matter of being spiritual clever but of being wholeheartedly obedient to God, as Jesus was himself.

Day 37: The Gateway to Character


When God leads us into trials, he does so in order to accomplish something in our lives that he could not accomplish through other, less trying, means. So, rather than cowering when life tries to bean us, we should stand straight and swing away, knowing that God is presenting us with an opportunity to hit a spiritual home run.

Listen to James 1:2–8:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

Or consider the similar statement Paul expresses in Romans 5:3–5: “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

In both passages, the most immediate effect of trials is perseverance. In Greek, the word is hupomone, which literally means, “to remain under,” and is also translated into English as “patience.” Difficult circumstances may try our patience. Only by remaining under them for a period of time can we become better people. They are the gateway to character. For, as someone has said, “Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries.”

Think of Job. He endured two brutal trials—the loss of his children and the loss of his wealth (Job 1:6–2:10). And yet, “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said,” that is, in how he responded to God. He remained faithful, saying to God at the end, “I know that you can do all things” (42:2). Because of Job’s revitalized faith, God rewarded him with “twice as much as he had before”—twice as many children and twice as much wealth (42:10–16).

Trials are not easy to bear, but they can be borne. And in the process of bearing them, we realize something about God and something about ourselves. We realize that God has given us all the resources we need both to survive through and thrive in trying times (1 Cor. 10:13). And we realize that we are becoming better people in the process. So, when we experience trials, let us pray to God, thanking him for them, knowing that through them, he is doing something great in us. He is producing patience, maturity, completeness, wisdom, faith, and hope—in a word, character.

Day 36: God and Greek Vocabulary


The final petition of the Lord’s Prayer says, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matt. 6:13). The first half of this petition raises two interesting questions: (1) Does God ever lead us into temptation? (2) If not, why do we ask him not to?

The answer to the first question is a resounding “No!” James 1:13 identifies evil desire as the source of temptation, not God: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

But if God does not tempt us, why do we ask him not to lead us into temptation? (Isn’t that a bit like asking a prohibitionist not to drink beer?) The answer to the second question lies in understanding Greek vocabulary. In Matthew 6:13, the Greek word we translate as “temptation” is the noun, peirasmos. James uses this same noun and its corresponding verb peirazo several times (1:2, 12–14). The noun ranges in meaning from “period or process of testing, trial, test” to “temptation, enticement,” depending on the context. (For language mavens, the English word pirate derives from these Greek words.)

Now, while God never leads us into temptation, he sometimes leads us into trials. The difference between the two lies in their ultimate source and intended outcome. The ultimate source of temptation is the devil—“the father of lies” (John 8:44). Its intended outcomes are a loss of faith in God, together with the loss of all the blessings which unbelief entails.

By contrast, the ultimate source of trials is God. Their intended outcomes are an increased trust of him through trying times, a growth in character, and the reception of all blessings which such faith entails. That is why James is able to counsel believers with these counterintuitive words: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” Such trials, successfully endured, make the sufferer “mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2, 4).

Unfortunately, such trials are hard for us to bear. So much is at stake, and we are such weak creatures! When trials happen, therefore, we need to remember Paul’s promise of divine help: “No temptation [or trial—the word is peirasmos] has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted [or tried] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted [or tried], he will also provide you a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Cor. 10:13).

When trouble comes, the devil wants us to fail but God wants us to succeed. So, we pray to God: “Lead us not into trials, but [if you do] deliver us from the evil one.”

Day 35: The Ministry of Reconciliation


It is relatively easy to confess our sins to God and ask for his forgiveness. It is much harder to forgive others when they sin against us. But Jesus teaches us to do both: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). This is the pattern of our praying and the design for our doing.

Paul describes this praying and doing as “the ministry of reconciliation in 2 Corinthians 5:16–21.

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Notice several things about this passage.

First, Paul highlights the importance of perspective. He draws an implicit contrast between godly and worldly points of view: A godly perspective sees the world through the lens of reconciliation. A worldly point of view sees it only through the lens of judgment. Prior to his conversion, Paul saw Jesus from a worldly perspective because he refused to believe that God was saving humanity through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

Second, Paul identifies the power underlying the perspective. It is God’s power, through Jesus Christ, to forgive our sins and enable us to live a new and better life. When we put our faith in Jesus, God makes a “new creation” out of us. We become “the righteousness of God.”

Third and finally, based on this godly perspective and “new creation” power, Paul tells us that our lives have a new and better purpose: to share God’s forgiveness with others. “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” Life has many good purposes: marriage, children, happiness, significance, and success, to name just a few. But there is no greater purpose to life—none more worthy of our attention—than having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and inviting others to do the same. When we recite the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, we move from contemplation to action. Asking (“Forgive us our debts”) becomes doing (“as we also have forgiven our debtors”).

So I conclude with three questions: Are you reconciled to God? Are you reconciling with others? Are you reconciling others to God? God’s will for your life is saying “Yes!” to each question.

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