When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray He taught them the words now universally known as The Lord’s Prayer. It begins, “Our Father.” Jesus could have taught us to address God more personally as one would expect Him to pray. One might have expected Jesus to teach us to pray, “My Father.” But he didn’t. He taught us to pray together, addressing God as not only mine, but ours. Praying the Lord’s Prayer is not only about my personal relationship with God but my relationship with every other person who calls upon Him. I offer this as an observation into the political melee of the day.
Anticipating resistance to the idea that the Our Father has something to say into our political moment, I acknowledge that it certainly can and has been used as a wonderful individual prayer; that we are each and all praying personally to the Father, through the Son, by the power of the Spirit whenever we pray. I acknowledge that simply being part of praying people does not make a person a Christian and that each one must confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in his heart that God raised him from the dead in order to be saved. So, granting that we share an understanding of what it means at the most basic level to be a Christ-follower praying the Lord’s Prayer, let us consider for a moment what we might learn today about the fact that He instructs us to address God not as “My” but “Our.” What can we learn from that seemingly simple substitution of one possessive pronoun at the outset of the Lord’s Prayer?
Everyone – and I mean everyone – has written something about the partisans politics of the day. I have read what some have written about the polarized ideologies, the dehumanizing/demonizing rhetoric, the fundamental attribution errors, the confirmation bias, the vitriol, and yes, who is to blame for the events of January 6th at the U.S. Capitol. Like you, I have heard it all, read it all, watched it all, discussed it all, prayed over it all, and I grieve it all. But this one thing has stuck in the craw of my mind: how could this One people, under God, indivisible hate one another so much? And the answer lies in the lie of our self obsessed ethos: we do not see ourselves as one.
Now, before you begin to lecture me on the fact that not everyone in America sees themselves as under God nor self identifies as a Christian who would pray the Lord’s Prayer, just stop and ask: do you? Do you identify as a Christian? Do you see yourself as under the authority of God? Do you pray the Lord’s Prayer? If the answer is yes, then I’m talking with you. I’m not talking with those who have no ears to hear, that is futile. I’m talking with those who have ears to hear. So, please, for just a moment, resist the Whatabout temptation of the Yeah-but defensive deflection and ask yourself in all seriousness: Am I more concerned with the unity of Christ’s Spirit and the bond of peace or with my side prevailing in the political contests of the day?
Me or Thee? And mine or ours?
As I see it, white American evangelical Christians have several hurdles to overcome before we can hope to rightly see ourselves and the times in which we live. One hurdle is a basic contest of the wills: mine or Thine. It’s the Me versus Thee hurdle. It’s basic pride and we know it’s there. Autonomy or authority? Many have written about at length – including me. I have a whole chapter on it in Speak the Truth. (If you want a copy, email me your mailing address and I’ll be happy to send you one. My gift. email@example.com)
The second hurdle is like unto the first but different in effect. The issue is still individualism but the impact is on others, not just me. The “me and Jesus,” “if you had been the only person who ever needed saving God would have sent Jesus to die for you” gospel that satisfies our expressive individualism also robs us of the Gospel writ large. Gazing so closely at personal relationship with Jesus we lose sight of what God is doing cosmically in History. We’re so fixated on what God is doing in me, for me and with me that we fail to see what God is doing in others, in other places to advance His Kingdom. Our field of vision has almost completely collapsed and we are myopic to the point of functional blindness.
Test this: what do you know about the Kingdom unleashed around the world today? How familiar are you with the places and peoples in and through whom God is moving by the power of His Spirit? Would it surprise you to learn that Christianity is currently growing faster than at any other time in human history? I’m betting you didn’t know that. Why? Because we’ve become almost completely myopic about what Jesus intended to be a disciple making movement to the ends of the earth.
As the Gospel spreads, systems of the world are those who benefit from those systems, are threatened. We are able to see how that works in countries where Christians are persecuted but we are somehow unable to see how God might also choose to use persecution where we live to bring a revival and cultural transformation. I’m betting that as you read that, you got a little scared. Good.
I’m not saying that individual faith does not matter. Of course it does. But it is not an end in itself. Living a life worthy of the calling of Christ is always a life seeking the lost that they too may be saved. That’s a terribly uncomfortable truth and it’s just one of many truths we must confront if we want to rightly see ourselves and the days in which we live.
Let’s talk about the days in which we live by looking into January 6th as a mirror.
Watch these three videos and ask:
- What is the theology expressed by the words and actions of this individual?
- What do their words and actions say about what they believe about God, America, other people and the future?
- In one word, my reaction to this video is: _____________
- What does my one word reaction say about me and my view of the people, events and reasons behind them?
- Would my reaction be different if the people in the video looked different? How? Why or why not?
- If I were there, I hope I would have intervened by ______________
If you’re anything like me, those videos make you grieve.
We must talk about how we got here and where we go from here.
We must talk about the dissemination of accurate information and our proclivity to believe the worst about others.
We must talk about the nation we want to be and the tangible things we can each do today to begin building a common hope-filled future.
There are many things to be fixed.
There are many relationships to be reconciled.
There is much trust to be rebuilt.
There are values and principles to be reassessed and mutually agreed upon.
There are laws and systems and curriculums to be revised and reformed.
But that is all work we can and must do, together.
It is NOT going to start with the media or influencer culture, its going to start with common ordinary people like you and me. It is a revolution that has a posture and that posture is on our knees, praying together “Our Father,” as we learn to live again as “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” for the first time.
So, for your part today, pray. And then spend some time looking into the mirror of the video footage you see on the news. And ask yourself:
- Have I made an idol of America? Do I clearly see the difference between appropriate patriotism (as secondary citizenship) and inappropriate so-called Christian nationalism? Do I become defensive whenever someone asks that kind of question?
- Have I made an idol of money or the stuff money buys or the security I imagine money secures?
- Have I made an idol of feeling safe and in so doing built walls against my neighbors’ problems and my neighbors themselves?
I confess that the issues we face are significant but God is greater than them all.
Do you believe that?
Do you believe it is still possible?
Do you anticipate miracles?
Do you trust God is able and willing to do exceeding more than we ordinarily dare to ask or imagine?
I agree with those who conclude that we need a spiritual awakening, a genuine revival, more than we need anything else in America and the world. But I also know from history and testimony what that looks like and I’m not sure many people really want the world turned quite so upside down as revival requires. Revivals result in what others would describe revolutionary reversals in personal piety and practices that change the way people relate to and work with others, dehumanizing systems give way to renewed ways of approaching things, ultimately transforming entire sectors of a social order and often upheavals in government. Is that what you’re praying for when you pray “Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in heaven?” Are you praying for things to be here and now like they are in heaven where God reigns and every person stands on equal footing as brothers and sisters in Christ?
As long as we are more captivated by the trappings of the kingdoms of this world than we are by the Kingdom of God, we’re not actually ready for revival. And as long as we’re more concerned about our own safety and security than we are concerned about the eternal security of every person we know, we are not actually ready for revival. And as long as God knows we’re not really praying for revival, why would He send it?