As we continue our exploration of the Lord's Prayer we will focus our attentionon the opening four words (Our Father in Heaven). Below are a number of exercises to help you explore the first few words of the Lord’s Prayer. Please spend time prayerfully pondering and working through the exercises, remembering to bring your feelings, questions and concerns to God as they arise. Also continue to pray the entire Lord’s Prayer (The Our Father) each day being open to what God may have for you during that time.
As we continue on our journey through The Lord’s Prayer it is tempting to set up camp in the cozy confines of the images, intimacy and invitations which lovingly flow from addressing God as Father, Papa and/or Daddy. It is easy to gravitate toward the fatherhood of God and become entrapped by the pull of the black hole of privatized faith which ultimately leads away from the true Christian faith and becomes nothing more than religious narcissism, devoid of the spirit and heart of Jesus.
If we are unable to resist the draw of the thoughts and images brought forth by the word father in order to sit and wrestle with the word our, we end up robbing this prayer of some of its greatest challenges and insights regarding what it means to be a follower of Jesus. It is no accident that in this prayer Jesus shares with the disciples, there is not one occurrence of a singular personal pronoun. This prayer is not a God and me affair but rather speaks to a larger reality that encompasses much more than just me.
So as you continue your journey through the Lord’s Prayer, choose to extricate yourself from the intrinsically forceful pull of the word father and instead begin by focusing your attention on the word our.
The following exercises will help you explore your concept of the ‘ourness’ of your faith.
1.The word our can be used as an exclusive term, such as in “our house,” which defines and limits those that the our is speaking of. Or it can be an inclusive term, such as in “our world,” which is boarder and seeks to embrace a far greater number of people. It is hard to tell which way it is really being used in The Lord’s Prayer.
How do you define the word our as used at the beginning of The Lord’s Prayer? Do you see it as more of an inclusive or exclusive use of the word? Why?
Who do you include/exclude in your use of our when
praying this prayer? Why?
How do you think Jesus meant us to use this term? Why?
2. How limited is your concept of our? Does your our exclude certain denominations, ethnic groups, economic strata, family members, blue-collar workers, white collar workers, sexual orientations, women, men, other religions, homeless, criminals, people you don’t like, military, politicians, republicans, democrats, movie stars, elderly, teenagers, drinkers, smokers, overweight people, criminals, non-Christians, murderers, rapists, Asians, Chinese, Hispanic, Indian, Muslim, Buddhists, Mormons…? What about those who have different beliefs than you have about Christ, theology, doctrine, the role the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, politics, divorce, abortion, race, tattoos, economics, sexual orientation, caring for your elderly parents, the family inheritance? What about people who have committed certain types of sin or have habits such as smoking, drinking, dancing…
Define the word our as it pertains to your use of it in the Lord’s Prayer…who does it include and who does it exclude? And how is your answer reflected in how you live your life (use of resources such as time and money)?
3. What is the spirit in your use of the word our when praying the Lord’s Prayer? The word our can be an inclusive term which invites us to look for common ground in Christ, humanity, brokenness and need
the word our can be an exclusive term which looks for differences or reasons to exclude from, such as theology, end times, the role the Holy Spirit, race, economics, sexual orientation, people who have committed certain types of sin, habits such as smoking, drinking, dancing, having had an abortion, being divorced, lying, stealing, drunk driving, committing adultery, etc....
4. In Hebrews 12:1 it states, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses….” How does this idea of witnesses inform your use of the word our in terms of the limits of time and space? Who are those witnesses that are included/excluded in your use of the word our? Why?
5. In 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 2 Paul emphasizes that community, our ‘ourness,’ is an essential and critical aspect of our faith. And in Paul’s continuing use of the phrase “one another” we see that need to be involved in the lives of other people and others need to be involved in our life. Take some time to look at your own life, using the questions below to explore the involvement of others in your life:
In Exodus 17:8-15 two people, Aaron and Hur, come alongside Moses and helped him hold up his arms so victory would be won for Israel. Who is in your life who comes alongside you when you are worn down and physically, spiritually, and emotionally unable to do life? Who is it in your life that stands with you, to strengthen, empower and help sustain you in times of weariness so that you might have victory?
Write out the names of these individuals. If no one comes to mind, ask God to bring you an Aaron and a Hur or to show you how you might be more revealing of your needs to those people already in your life who might be wanting to be an Aaron or Hur to you if you would allow them to be.
In Mark 2-1-12 the story is related about some individuals who carry their friend to Jesus (the story of the paralytic). Who is there in your life who knows you well, cares about you deeply enough, and has the courage and strength to bring you to Jesus when you are in need or far away – or – if you don’t have anyone like that in your life, ask God to give you the strength and courage to begin to show your weaknesses and need to be brought to Jesus to some people in your life who might be willing to take you there.
Write out the names of these individuals or if no one comes to mind, ask God to bring you a stretcher carrier.
If some names have surfaced in either of these two categories, spend some time thanking God for each person in each category. Then choose one or two people and write them a note of thanks and appreciation, sharing with them what they mean to you.
Repeat the process above, this time asking yourself who the individuals are to whom you provide the above roles? Spend some time praying for them and see if God would lead you to write them a note of encouragement.
If you don’t play this role in the life of others you may want to ask God if there are people in your life God would want you to journey with in these ways.
6. Paint a picture, create a collage, or make a sculpture that communicates the ‘ourness’ of your faith.
7. How does your concept of our cause you to see the
plight and misery of others personally or through the
media? Does it lead to a greater or lesser compassion
toward those you see suffering? Why?
8. Spend some time asking God about your concept of
‘our’. Is God asking you to expand the scope of your
‘our’? Why/Why not? If yes, what might this mean in
terms of how you view others, pray for others, interact
with others who were not previously in your our?
“Father in Heaven”
This phrase, Father in heaven, concisely communicates the seeming paradoxical realities of the immanence/transcendence of God. This word, Father, engenders thoughts of God as personal, caring and involved, while in heaven reminds us that God is other, unknowable, infinite and is mystery.
Both of these attributes of God are essential for God being God. And unless you are able to maintain a balance between the transcendence and immanence of God, the God you worship, you serve and you love will not be God at all but rather a self-created caricature of God crafted for your comforts and personal satisfaction.
This month the focus will be on the immanence of God (God as Father) and next month the focus on the transcendence and otherness of God (God in Heaven).
As you take time to explore this phrase, Father in heaven, begin by asking yourself to which aspect of God (transcendence or immanence) you are most drawn, comfortable with, encouraged and strengthened by? Why?
Conversely, ask yourself which aspect of God, transcendence or immanence, causes you internal discomfort or resistance? Why?
Part 1 The Immanence of God (God as Father)
1. What does the word father communicate to you? Is the image of God as father something that brings you a sense of comfort and well being or does it stir up
feelings of discomfort and resistance? Why?
Share with God the feelings that the image of God as your father stirs up within you (positive or negative).
If you have trouble with God being imaged as male, please feel free to image God as female. Instead of seeing God as your father, try seeing God as your mother. Though this may sound a little strange, it is quite alright, for since God is spirit God is neither male nor female. To image God as exclusively one or the other is to limit who God truly is. Now if having read this you are feeling a little internal resistance to the idea of imaging God (who is spirit, John 4:24), you might what to seek to explore the whys and wherefores of this resistance.
2. Spend some time sitting with the image of God being your father (and/or mother). Imagine what that might look like, feel like. What emotions arise within you? Are you able to feel the truth that God is your father/mother and embrace the implications of that truth deep within your heart and soul (not just in your mind)? Why/Why not?
Take some time to just sit in the truth of God’s fatherly/motherly love for you. If this is difficult for you because at some level you just don’t feel it to be true, that is okay; continue to sit in God’s special love for you and when those doubts arise simply pray, “I believe, help me in my unbelief.”
3. Think back to a time when you experienced the reality of God being your father/mother. Remember where you were, what was going on. Allow yourself to sink into that experience, lingering in it. Then gently reflect on the following questions:
What was it like?
How did make you feel?
What did it teach you about who God is?
What expectations did the experience create within you in terms of your relationship with God?
How does the experience of God impact and shape your life today, your relationship with God today?
4. The word translated father is the Aramaic word abba,
which has a number of different nuances of meaning.
The word could be translated not only as father but
also daddy, dad, papa, pop…it can convey strength
and respect or tenderness and endearment. Take
some time to imagine God as your Father, Dad,
Daddy and Papa (Mother, Mom, Mommy, Mama). As
you spend time with each of these titles, what feelings
arise within you? Which one are you most drawn to?
Spend some time soaking in the title (Father, Dad, Daddy, Papa, Mother, Mom, Mommy, Mama) and all that it means to you. Using the title to which you were most drawn, conclude your time by thanking God for who God is to you. You might want to grab a blanket and lay in the grass as you reflect on God in these ways.
5. Do your reflections on the fatherhood/motherhood of
God in any way change your definition of the word our
as used in this passage? Why/Why not?
6. What difference would it make if Jesus said, ‘Our
Mother in Heaven” (if that would have been culturally
acceptable)? What additional characteristics
might be associated with viewing God as your mother
rather than your father? Do you believe that God is
more accurately displayed as mother or father? Why?
7. If God is truly your father/mother in heaven, what expectations does this elicit within you? Are your expectations of God in line with Scripture and the life which Jesus lived (beaten, abused, forsaken, tortured, killed)? Do you have any negative feelings (anger, bitterness, frustration, disappointment) toward your father/mother in heaven? If so, take the time to write to God about this or talk to God about it; somehow express feelings to God honestly, unafraid to truly express the rawness, hurt and pain you are feeling.
8. Create a collage that captures the positive aspects of
one or both images (God as your father/mother). When
you are finished, spend some time meditating on the
image(s) on which you have based your creation. Use
your artwork to aid you in your time of meditation.
9. No matter what, we still remain a child of God.
Meditate on God’s unfailing, unconditional, relentless
and wooing love of you. Take some time to just rest
in the awareness of God’s love for you.
Next month the focus will be on the transcendence of God (Father in Heaven).
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