Saturday, September 3, 2011

Eugene Peterson on the Lord's Prayer

Over the past year, I've really enjoyed Eugene Peterson's books-- most recently, Tell It Slant

Peterson introduced me to a framework on the (synoptic) Gospels that I had not heard previously: Matthew is about teaching; Mark is about preaching; and Luke is about talking with Samaritans. Matthew and Mark spend two chapters on Jesus' trip to Samaria, but Luke spends ten chapters. And notably, this huge chunk includes the vast bulk of Jesus' parables. 

Peterson notes that Jesus goes from Galilee (an analogy to Sunday) to Jerusalem (another Sunday)-- with Samaria (Monday - Saturday) in between. In other words, the Christian life is largely lived in Samaria. How shall we communicate with them? Peterson borrows from an Emily Dickinson poem that uses the phrase "tell it slant" to indicate that we can't handle the truth many times-- and that truth is best communicated, often, when delivered at an angle.  Thus, Jesus' use of parables in talking with the Samaritans-- and a lesson for us, as we deal with the Samaritans in our lives.

In addition to the framework, Peterson delivers a ton of nuggets on the parables-- before turning to Jesus on prayer (another key theme in Luke, more than any other gospel). Again, Peterson delivers a lot, including what turned out to be my recent Sunday School lesson the Lord's prayer (with some help from Dallas Willard in his excellent book, The Divine Conspiracy). What follows is my lesson outline. (If you get bored with the [cryptic] details, skip to the bottom for the punchline on rote vs. spontaneous prayers.)

Intro/Prelude (Mt 6:5-8, Lk 11:1)
-the only time (recorded) that the disciples ask to be taught (Lk 11:1)
-in response, Peterson (48): “The model prayer that Jesus gives them is surprisingly, maybe even insultingly, brief…He has barely started before he is finished…38 words. Prayed meditatively, it takes a mere 22 seconds. And then it’s over. Class dismissed.”
-a matter of the heart: at almost the center of the Sermon; prayer at core/heart
-preceded in Mt 6:5-8 by two warnings: 5-6’s “seen”—trying to impress others (as 6:1-4’s giving) and 7-8’s “many words” (alludes to simple, heart, style, purpose)
-internal; Peterson (168a): “Prayer is the heart of this kingdom life. But…nobody ever sees a heart when it is working…”
-but manifests as action; Peterson (171a): “Six, brief, single-sentence, petitions compose this prayer. Each verb is an imperative, a call for action. Prayer is not passive…As we pray with Him, we volunteer ourselves into the action.”
--> learn and do His will, wisdom and courage, knowledge and power

Intro/Address: “Our Father who art in Heaven…”
--> Willard (255): “The ‘address’ part of prayer is of vital significance…[it] distinguishes prayer from worrying out loud or silently, which many, unfortunately, have confused with prayer…”
 -our: you and me; we’re in this together
-Peterson (168b): “With the ‘our’, Jesus puts himself in our company. With the ‘our’, we place ourselves in the company of Jesus and of all who pray.”
-Father (15x in Sermon): prayer as personal (relationship) vs. device or technique
-“Heaven”: sovereignty, worthy of praise
--> the combo in tension/balance; Willard (257b): “calls attention to our standing in relation to the one addressed…unfortunately…[this phrase] has come to mean ‘our father who is far away and much later’…”

I. “…hallowed be Thy name.”
-hallowed: holy (defined)
-vs. intimacy of “Father”; tension/balance revisited
-Peterson on contrast with 1st sin in Eden (bring God down to our level) and Babel (bringing us up to His level)
-name: person vs. principle; not a “to whom it may concern”
-the combo: it is (!) and that we would treat it well

II. Thy Kingdom come.
-in tone, centered on God and others; encourages an eternal perspective
-kingdom(s)—and His kingdom come, interpreted as…
-heaven vs. earth, now vs. end of time
-vs. come into existence
-come into recognition vs. ignorance of God’s sovereign kingdom
-or conflicting kingdoms—of Satan (Eph 2:2) and those in the world; brought more fully by Jesus and to be increased by us in partnership with God
-Willard (259b): “naturally wants his rule, his Kingdom, to come into realization in any place where it is not fully present.”
-working to subvert others—but not through coercion
-Peterson: Jn 18:36’s not of this world, but everything to do with this world; not standard idea of sovereignty; not into tools of force (Rom 14:17; Zech 4:6); “Christ is king, but from a cross”

III. Thy will be done…
-will: implies volition and purpose (vs. meandering); energy (vs. listless)
-Peterson (179): “There is an enormous amount of dishonesty and just plain silliness written and spoken about the cause of Christ. Much of it concerns matters lumped under the heading ‘the will of God’…[this is] odd, because the Bible could hardly be more clear on the matter.”
-specific vs. general (Ps 40:8, Mt 6:33, Eph 5:17-21, Col 1:9, 4:12, I Thess 5:16-18, 5:23-24, I Tim 2:4, I Pet 3:17, 4:2, 4:19, II Pet 3:9, I Jn 5:14-15, Rev 2:26)

Interlude: on earth, as it is in Heaven.
--> Peterson (235): “the first three incisive, God-orienting, reality-defining imperatives in the Lord’s prayer that lay a strong foundation for a life of believing obedience…Each successive imperative gathers energy and increases in intensity, the way a spring is coiled tighter and tighter, until it is released by a trigger. The triggering words are ‘on earth as it is in Heaven’.”
-Peterson (180b): “Heaven is where it all begins. Heaven is where it all ends. Heaven is our metaphor for what is beyond us, beyond our understanding…Earth is where we play our part…The polarities of reality, heaven and earth, fuse: ‘on earth as it is in Heaven’.”
--> now, transition from “your” to “us/me”—a big change in pronouns (1st 3 vs. 2nd 3)
-Peterson (181, 182a): “Prayer involves us deeply and responsibly in all the operations of God. Prayer also involves God deeply and transformatively in all the details of our lives…Prayer gets us in on what God is doing…[And] prayer gets God in on what we need to live to his glory.”
-see: us in Christ; Christ in us (Gal 2:20, Col 1:27; Rom 8:1, Eph 1:3)
--> and from general/social to specific/individual…

IV. Give us this day our daily bread.
-give us: grace/gift
-daily: continual
-start with body; the first but not the last thing we need is bread (Jn 6)
-Peterson: acknowledge need/limits and thankful embrace of a good creation; “Every limit is access to gift”
-prominent role in subsequent parable in Luke, who tightens and removes the 3rd petition (in most manuscripts), leaving bread at the center of his version of the prayer: bread as 3rd petition in Luke’s version and 3 loaves of bread in the parable (Lk 11:5-12)
-Peterson (55): “We are all beggars. Father, give us bread. Friend, lend us three loaves.” (God and others!)

V. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. (Mt 6:14-15’s postlude)
-Peterson (185a): “Giving (#4) and receiving is God’s creation norm…But it is not normative in the human community…And so we need forgiveness.”
-need to acknowledge sin, but Peterson (185b-186a): “But exposing and naming sin is not at the center of life lived to the glory of God…Forgiving sin is gospel work.”
-even in the midst of difficulty—as Jesus on the cross
-personal: Peterson (186b-187): “God is personal, emphatically personal…So if something is going to be done about sin, it is not going to be along the lines of laws and rules…We don’t sin against a commandment; we sin against a person [and God]. Since is not an offense against justice; sin is an offense against a living soul. Sin is not sexual impropriety; sin is the debasement of a man, a woman, a child. Sin is not a violation of the law of the land or the rules of a house; sin is a violation of a personal relationship.”

VI. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
-double imperative: “lead us not…deliver us”
-seems odd; God wouldn’t do this—so what does it mean?
-Peterson (189b, 190a, 190b): “He has prayed with us into a life of grace (#4)…He has prayed with us into a life of forgiveness (#5)…So, what’s left? The fact is that we don’t know…The [first] five petitions are prayed out of present activity…The sixth petition prepares us for this ‘more’…unanticipated temptations and deceptive evil [Gen 4:7, Heb 4:15]…As glorious as the world is, it is also perilous. Dangers that don’t have the appearance of dangers…Evil that masquerades as an angel of light…We need help. And we need help even when we don’t know we need help. Especially when we don’t know we need help.”
-discernment with what we do/can sense; protection from that and what we do not sense
-Willard (265, 266-267a): “This request is not just for evasion of pain and of things we don’t like, though it frankly is that. It expresses the understanding that we can’t stand up under very much pressure, and that it is not a good thing for us to suffer. It is a vote of ‘no confidence’ in our own abilities. As the series of requests begins with the glorification of God, it ends with acknowledgement of the feebleness of human beings.”
-Peterson on Eve and Jesus (191-193): “Eve in the Garden…was tempted to receive as a gift something that she is convinced is altogether good…Jesus in the Desert…tempted to do three things that…are all about doing good…The stories of Eve in the Garden and Jesus in the Desert are strategically placed to supply a powerful antidote to our naivete…A person in a completely spoiled, attractive, and beautifully idyllic place…can be deceived into making good into evil…[And] A perfectly prepared person…is still seriously at risk.”
-subtle; Peterson (194): “Fifth-petition sins, for which we ask forgiveness, are far easier to notice and take responsibility for than sixth-petition temptations—the temptation that seduced Eve, the temptations that Jesus rejected…And so, because of the heightened peril involved in these temptations, Jesus gives us this petition of prevention.”
à at Gethsemane, the third of each set of three; in Gethsemane, the temptation to do evil by avoiding a call to obedience, suffering, and sacrifice

Conclusion (traditional—and from some manuscripts in Matthew): For thine is the Kingdom, and the power and the glory for ever. Amen.
-Peterson (195-196): “That’s it. Prayer succinct and bold…We step back and trust God to do with our prayers whatever, however, and whenever he chooses…[It] puts us outside the prayer itself in a kind of holy detachment…All now is in our Father’s hands.”

--> what to do with the prayer? I Thess 5:17 and use of rote and spontaneous prayers
-Peterson: “There is a prevailing bias among many American Christians against rote prayers, repeated prayers, ‘book’ prayers—even when they are lifted directly from the ‘Jesus book’. This is a mistake. Spontaneity offers one kind of pleasure and taste of sanctity, repetitions another, equally pleasurable and holy. We don’t have to choose between them. We must not choose between them. They are the polarities of prayer.”
-Lord’s prayer as organized but conversational, basic but universal, broad but detailed (helps with 5:7-8)
-see also: Eph 3:14-21, Neh 1, Psalms, etc.


At September 9, 2011 at 4:00 PM , Blogger Shawn Loy said...

good stuff.

Ever read Andrew Murray's "With Christ in the School of Prayer"

Also good.


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