Saturday, September 29, 2012

Book Review: The Beauty and Glory of the Holy Spirit

Christians believe in one God, who is made known in three Persons; the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Of the Three, we often think of the Father and the Son in our worship and prayer but seem to attend less to the Spirit.  For example, we know of the Father’s work in creation and the Son’s sacrifice in redemption, and we frequently praise and thank God for these and many other things.  We take our requests to God in prayer, often ending our prayers with the refrain, “In Jesus’ name we pray.” 

The Spirit is less often present in our thoughts, prayer and worship.  But the Spirit is no less God.  The Spirit shares fully in all of God’s attributes, the things that make God God, so to speak.  He existed from the beginning, being uncreated and of the same essence as the Father and Son.   The nature and unity of the Trinity was perhaps clarified most strongly in the Athanasian Creed, a 4th century creed which is accepted today by most branches of Christianity.

In The Beauty and Glory of the Holy Spirit, (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books) editors Joel R. Beeke and Joseph A. Pipa Jr. have collected 19 essays on the subject of the Holy Spirit, which were first presented at conferences sponsored by Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, both in 2011. 

The preface opens saying, “We need the Holy Spirit.  It is impossible to overestimate the significance of the Spirit of God for the lives of Christians. “(ix)   The essays that follow then explore at depth a rich understanding of presence and function of the Spirit.  The essays are grouped in the categories of Biblical Studies, Doctrinal Studies and Historical Theological Studies, with a final essay being a Pastoral Study titled The Holy Spirit and the Unique Power of Preaching

I found each essay to be very rich, discussing the Spirit from a particular vantage point and being well-grounded in both the Biblical witness as well as the work of historical theologians.  Their common theological reference point was within the Reformed tradition, from which the authors drew deeply.  Collectively they had a tendency to cite Puritan pastors and theologians, people of whom I have little experience in reading, but whose work I found to speak vibrantly to my time and place. 

Beeke and Pipa have edited a book that digs deeply into the Spirit.  The essays they have collected present the Spirit’s work in an accessible manner, one which can help Christians more clearly and deeply understand what God has done, is doing, and will do through the Spirit. And that will always be both beautiful and glorious. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Work of the Holy Spirit, part 3

I have been reading an excellent book, The Beauty and Glory of the Holy Spirit, a collection of essays edited by Joel R. Beeke and Joseph A. Pipa.  My last two blog posts were inspired by readings from that book and are available here and here.  Today I want to share one other thought in that book that touched me.

In his letter to the Ephesians Paul had this to say about nature of our struggle as we live by faith in Jesus, writing:

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)

In an essay drawn from the work of the Puritan Richard Sibbes about the presence of the Holy Spirit within the Christian, and particularly the connection between the Spirit’s presence and spiritual warfare, Beeke wrote: 

“The transformation that the Holy Spirit effects in the believer is accompanied by external and internal struggle.  Externally we face the powers of darkness, even the prince of darkness himself, because the devil is profoundly envious of the man who walks in the Spirit.  Satan will do all within his power to destroy the comfort of that man.” (233-4)

It is an inevitable consequence of new life in Christ that we will have periods of struggle.  We try to follow God and live in ways that shape us in the image of Christ and this is something that God’s enemy opposes, sometimes in way that are “mild” and insidious and sometimes in ways that are viciously relentless.  In the midst of spiritual warfare Beeke reminds us that “The believer’s greatest encouragement in spiritual warfare is the abiding presence of the Spirit.” (234)

I don’t think that every trouble I experience in the world is an attack by the forces opposed to God.  But I do think that every trouble I experience gives me an opportunity to respond in a God-honoring way, rather than a way that only considers my needs.  So every trouble, every spot of difficulty in my life is an opportunity for me to listen to the Spirit, abiding within me, and discern from God the path to follow.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Work of the Holy Spirit, part 2.

In my last post I wrote briefly about the work of the Holy Spirit.  Today I read another essay on the Holy Spirit and his work, this time by William Shisko, titled The Sealing and Witnessing Work of the Holy Spirit

In writing to the Ephesians, Paul says in verse 1:13:

“In him [Christ] you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.”

Of this idea of the believer being sealed in the Holy Spirit, Shisko writes:

“The act of believing that brings union with Jesus Christ brings every benefit of Christ with it, including the sealing work of the Holy Spirit, though subjectively believers often only realize this gradually over time.”

This comment of Sisko’s is something that resonates in my own experience as a believer in Jesus, and two particular ways come to mind to illustrate the gradual work of the presence of the Holy Spirit within me. 

The first is through a greater awareness of my own sin and the separation that it brings between myself and God.  Now it may seem as if there is something in the idea of being sealed in the Holy Spirit and also separated from God that doesn’t quite add up.  How can I be separated from the very One that I am sealed in?

The simple, and biblically true, answer is that I can’t.  It is more like when one of my children was young and they wanted to do something that I knew they shouldn’t, something that I was determined to prevent them from doing.  So I would hold them as they threw their tantrum.  Yelling, screaming, swinging arms and legs violently to get away and do as they sought fit, but my grasp was steady.  My sin is somewhat like that. 

I struggle against God thinking that my way is best.  God even lets me follow my ill-chosen path for a time, but He never releases His firm grasp on me.  Never.  And as the Spirit works in me I long for the time when I’ll stop fighting to have my own way and gladly trust in His ways, all of the time.

The other way I see the gradual effect of the presence of the Holy Spirit in me is through an increasing understanding of God’s nature.  As I learn more about God’s character and attributes I am filled with an increasing sense of wonder, of awe, and of love, for God.  I can more clearly see His presence in the natural world, in the people and situations of my daily life, in my family, and in his actions within my heart.

What about you?  How has the presence of God, by the Holy Spirit, been at work in your life?  What changes has He brought?   

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

William Shisko’s essay is contained in The Beauty and Glory of the Holy Spirit, Beeke, Joel R. and Joseph A. Pipa, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012) 176.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

One work of the Holy Spirit

 Today I read an essay by Malcolm H. Watts titled The Ministry of the Spirit in Glorifying Christ.  It contained this excellent illustration to describe how the Holy Spirit is at work in magnifying Christ’s glory to those who believe:

“It is important to observe that the Spirit’s work is not, in any way, to enhance the Lord’s glory, but simply to throw light upon it, bringing it wonderfully into view.  In this respect, it is akin to what happens in the natural world.  The scenery in some given place may be very beautiful, and the sun, when it comes out, does not intrinsically change or improve it; yet its light does make a difference, transfiguring it by bringing out more fully its delightful loveliness.”

On my way home from work the sun was shining and with this quote in mind even our weathered barn showed its beauty in a different way.  Watts’ words give me food for thought as I ponder the glory of Christ.

Watts essay, and others on the topic of the Holy Spirit, may be found here.

Monday, September 17, 2012


Yesterday I finished reading a book that I’ve been working on for two months, The Epistle to the Romans, by Karl Barth.  I wrote a review, which can be read here.  One thought that I took from the book and I am going to continue to mull over has to do with the way God shapes our conscience as we grasp the grace He gives us in Christ.  Here is what I wrote:

“ In a section on the theme of grace he[Barth] writes, “Grace means also the possibility, not of a ‘good’(!) conscience, but of a consoled conscience.” (428, italics mine)  We who know God through our faith in the finished work of Christ know that we will continue to sin against God, a God who continues to hold us and forgives us nonetheless.  God forgives our sins.  He removes them from our presence.  But the sure grasp of this knowledge in our minds, the removal of our sin from God, does not remove the memories that we have of our sin.  In Christ we are not changed existentially from ‘bad’ to ‘good.’  In the knowledge of who we are before God we are not so much ‘bad’ as ‘broken.’  And Barth reminds us that in our brokenness, through the work of Christ, we are consoled and comforted as we receive God’s mercy.  This is a bit of the Good News that we need to be reminded of each day, sometimes many times each day.”

Book Review: The Epistle to the Romans, by Karl Barth

Karl Barth is considered by many people to be one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century.  He was a pastor, professor and a prolific writer, his commentary on Romans being the work that introduced him to the world.  My introduction to Barth came through some excerpts of his Church Dogmatics while I was in seminary and then from reading a collection of his later sermons.  I recently read Eugene Peterson’s memoir and he noted that Barth’s Romans commentary exerted a powerful influence on his own early ministry.  I have always enjoyed Peterson I took his recommendation and dove into Barth’s Romans for myself.  Having finished, I can perhaps best describe Romans as a sort of cross-country trip, one which exposed me to a vast landscape and nearly overwhelmed me with visual images, pictures that will have to be studied again and again to fully appreciate all that they contain.
Barth’s work here is significantly different from a traditional commentary of either an exegetical or expositional nature.  The former often address significant issues of culture, the historical setting and language as they bear on our understanding of the text, while the latter provide the manuscript of sermons preached from the text.  An example of a work of exegesis of Romans is the recent volume by Leon Morris, while an excellent exposition is James Montgomery Boice’s Romans, which runs four volumes.  Barth’s method is more akin to opening his Bible, reading a chapter and then going back, paragraph-by-paragraph, phrase-by-phrase, writing as the Spirit leads him in understanding the words of Paul.
Barth’s comments on Romans are extensive, expounding on Pauls’ 16 chapters of Biblical text over the course of 500 pages.  Part of this length is due to Barth’s style.  When I write I may introduce a new thought with a question, while Barth frequently uses 3 or 4, or more questions, a technique that does aid in understanding the relevance of Paul’s words for Barth’s time, and ours as well.  These questions are then answered in depth.   Barth ultimately published six editions of his commentary, the second being a significant reworking of the original, while the remaining editions being what Barth considered to be minor updates.  He was well aware that his writing had a lot to offer to the pastors and theologians of his day and he had the freedom to follow each new thought for as long as he felt was necessary.
While I have a graduate degree in divinity I often felt a bit underpowered, intellectually, to follow and apprehend Barth’s line of reasoning.  One thread that did emerge early in the commentary is Barth’s deep love for Jesus as the second person of the Trinity and the understanding of God’s work in Jesus in the act of his death-and-resurrection as the defining moment in all of human history.  Writing on Romans 5:6, “For while we were yet weak, in due season Christ died for the ungodly,” Barth says, “Everything shines in the light of His death, and is illuminated by it.  No single passage in the Synoptic Gospels is intelligible part from the death.” (159) 
Writing a bit further, of the new creation in Christ that believers become when they grasp Christ by faith, (Romans 5:9-11) Barth says, “To the question, Whence are we? – which is the question of all questions – we receive the answer which is beyond all answers: We are they who have been justified by God,” adding later on the same page, “As the beloved of God we have no alternative but to love Him in return.  In the dawning splendor of His glory, we have no alternative but hope.” (163)
 I have read that Barth was considered by some to be soft on the theme of universal salvation, i.e. that while his theological grounding was in the Reformed tradition, he personally held to the belief that ultimately God’s salvation would be known by all people, rather than a particular group chosen by God, as affirmed by the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dort.  When he writes of the church, from Romans 9-11, Barth seemed to lean towards universal salvation, although without explicitly saying so. 
Barth discusses Christian ethics from Romans 12 and in that discussion something jumped out at me that has profound pastoral implications.  In a section on the theme of grace he writes, “Grace means also the possibility, not of a ‘good’(!) conscience, but of a consoled conscience.” (428)  We who know God through our faith in the finished work of Christ know that we will continue to sin against God, a God who continues to hold us and forgives us nonetheless.  God forgives our sins.  He removes them from our presence.  But the sure grasp of this knowledge in our minds, the removal of our sin from God, does not remove the memories that we have of our sin.  In Christ we are not changed existentially from ‘bad’ to ‘good.’  In the knowledge of who we are before God we are not so much ‘bad’ as ‘broken.’  And Barth reminds us that in our brokenness, through the work of Christ, we are consoled and comforted as we receive God’s mercy.  This is a bit of the Good News that we need to be reminded of each day, sometimes many times each day.
Barth has written a commentary of profound depth and in my first reading of it I just managed to get my feet wet in it.  Should I at some time teach or preach from Romans this would be a good reference to consult in addition to other commentaries, rather than using it as a primary resource.   Paul’s letter to the Romans is a very rich text and I think Barth has given me a good resource from which to approach the letter in smaller parts, as I continue to study it for my own spiritual growth. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Waiting on God

Last December I started on a schedule that was designed to have me read through the entire Bible in one year.  If you look online you can find a number of different ways to do this.  The one that I am using divides the Bible into seven sections, roughly according to major type of writing within each book.  On Mondays I read from the Law (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), Tuesdays is History, Wednesday is Psalms, Thursday is Poetry, Friday is Prophecy, Saturday is Gospels and Acts, and Sunday is Epistles. 

As I am reading through the Bible some things I read are very familiar, while others are not.  Like most Christians, I presume, I am much more fond of and familiar with the writing of the New Testament than the Old.  And while there are many parts of the Old Testament that are familiar, such as most of Genesis and many Psalms, there are other parts of it that I have likely read, at most, only once or twice before, such as Numbers and 1 and 2 Chronicles. 

One of the strengths of a one-year reading plan is that I become better acquainted with the entire Bible, rather than just reading the parts I enjoy the most.  Some of this is challenging, because when I read it I have little understanding of the context a specific part arose from and what God’s intent was in both the initial writing and preserving it for us today.  I have had those challenging moments repeatedly in some portions of the Old Testament, particularly lately, as I have read Leviticus and started Numbers.    

Yesterday I read Numbers 9, 10, 11 and 12.  It had a mixture of things that seemed clear and others that would need closer study and prayer for me to understand more fully.  And I was pleasantly surprised to read something that spoke directly to the circumstances of me and my family at this time and place in our life.  That was Numbers 9:15-23.

The setting is relatively early in the Exodus.  The Hebrew people have left Egypt and Moses is leading them through the desert.  According to the instructions given in Leviticus they have constructed the Tabernacle, which is to be their place of worship as they journey, the place where God has told them he will be present among them.

Since the first moment when they have fled from Egypt, after the Passover, God has physically shown his presence among the Hebrews through a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night.  Day or night, the Hebrews can look to the sky and see the symbol of God’s presence with them.

The passage from Numbers 9:15-23 tells how the Hebrews are to know when to break their camp and where they are to go next.  If God’s cloud is over the Tabernacle they are to stay put, and if the cloud lifts and moves they are to pack up and follow it.  Verse 21 notes that a stay could be for as brief a time as one night and verse 22 notes they could be in camp for a month or longer.  Verse 23 sums up their following of God’s cloud like this:

“At the command of the Lord they camped and at the command of the Lord they set out.  They kept the charge of the Lord, at the command of the Lord by Moses.”

This passage speaks to me because our family feels as if we are under the cloud of the Lord, watching and waiting to see when it lifts and where it will lead us. 

Looking back over the past few years we can see that God has been at work preparing and leading us by steps.  We have made some choices in the belief that God is leading us to a place which at present is known only to Him.

At times we get a bit antsy and wish that God used clearer signals with us, perhaps like the cloud leading the Hebrews through the desert.  But that doesn’t seem to be the case.  We have to remind ourselves that, to paraphrase Isaiah, “God’s ways are not our ways.” And that is a very good thing. 

And we know that waiting for God to move the cloud isn’t a passive activity.  We aren’t sitting like bumps on a log.  We continue to do all of the things as people and a family that we did before we embarked on this part of our journey through life with God.  But we do so with our eyes open, scanning the horizon to see if the cloud is moving and where we may be headed to next.

How does God show his presence in your life, and where is He leading you to? 

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Book Review: Invitation to Biblical Interpretation

“Wow!  An awesome book!  What a lot of useful things to begin working into my own interpretive practices!”  Those were my first thoughts as finished reading Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, by Andreas Kostenberger and Richard D. Patterson.  Their book is sub-titled Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature and Theology and they have put together a comprehensive guide to help navigate the path of Biblical interpretation, so that the person preparing to preach can do so thoroughly and for one overarching purpose: the faithful proclamation of God’s word. 

The authors’ thesis is that proper study of a Biblical text in preparation for preaching involves studying the text from three different perspectives.  They are the historical setting of the text, its individual literary characteristics, and the theology it expresses.  In the first chapter they provide an overview of their thesis and an introduction to their method.  This includes a comparative discussion of other models of exegesis, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of those models, as well as the historical settings that they arose in.  Then they embark on a systematic discussion of their proposed method.

Part 1 explores the importance of the “context of scripture”, i.e. history.  In order to properly probe a Biblical text we need to understand and consider the historical-cultural setting in which it was written, so that we can accurately discern how an ancient text can speak vibrantly into our time and culture.

Part 2 deals with the “focus of scripture”, i.e. scripture as literature.  This part comprises the bulk of the book, being subdivided into units of canon, genre and language.  They dig deeply into each of these literary units, exploring the differences between both parts of the canon, the importance of understanding the text as a type of literature (i.e. narrative, poetry, prophecy,,  and then addressing matters of language (i.e. determining specific  textual units, word studies, common fallacies, 

Part 3 considers the “goal of scripture”, i.e. the theology it teaches.  While this part of the book is only one chapter it is the first of two chapters that bring everything together.  The authors have a strong belief that theology should be derived from the Bible, rather than imposed on it.  They believe that pastors, preachers and professors need to dig into scripture and be willing to be taught by it, rather than boxing scripture into a pre-conceived framework.  This does not mean that only theology which is explicitly taught is what the church should hold to, but that all of the doctrine and teaching of the church should be built on a Biblical foundation.  

The book’s final chapter addresses application and proclamation of what has been learned through conscientious study.  The intent of our study is to bring God’s word to life in the world and the authors discuss various ways in which this may be done.

This book has a number of strengths.   The first is the logical and coherent way the authors have laid out what they intend to teach within the pages.  As I read I felt that each chapter and each section fit within a whole.  Second is that each chapter contains a summary, review questions and suggested assignments.  While the book may have been written primarily as a classroom textbook those features make it easy to learn from in a situation as my own, where I am pursuing additional study independently.

The third strength is that each chapter in the Literature section includes a sample exegesis of what has been taught within the chapter.  This did a lot for me to illuminate the chapter’s teaching.   Fourth is the extensive footnoting that the authors have included.  While they have compiled a comprehensive way to approach the practice of hermeneutics, their footnotes make it easy to explore any particular subordinate aspect in greater depth.

And lastly, the appendix contains extensive suggestions for the biblical student in building their own library.  This includes multiple suggestions for each category of general resource and reference work, as well as several suggestions of commentary for each book of the Bible.

My own seminary training in hermeneutics was a bit fragmented, coming through classes in language, theology and preaching.  I liked the way in which the authors have chosen to teach hermeneutics as its own integrated discipline, and particularly their intent to make it not merely an academic subject but one that serves a greater purpose. 

The last chapter closes saying “God’s Word has real authority and power, but only to the extent that it is faithfully and properly interpreted and proclaimed.  To this end, may this book make a small contribution, for the good of God’s people and for God’s greater glory” (800).  To which I say “Amen!”

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Four years ago…

With the Republican convention last week and the Democrats gathered this week there can be no denying that the election season is fully upon us.  And frankly I am a bit out-of-touch with whatever the “urgent news of the moment” may be at any particular point in time.  A year and a half ago or so my wife and I cancelled our satellite TV, (and given that we have no antenna that means all TV, for all practical purposes), as the amount of money we were spending on it was not justified by the time spent watching and/or listening to it. 

In all honesty, there are times we miss it, such as for Packer football and Cubs baseball.  But mostly we don’t notice its absence.  And right now we feel a particular blessing in not hearing the incessant refrain of “I’m so-and-so and I approved this message.”  And also in not hearing news reporters/commentators making much ado over what is most often nothing.   Rarely is the issue so urgent, the situation so dire, as the hyperbole makes them out to be. 

So I gather most of my news through the local newspaper and a variety of online sources, some of which I frequent and others that I stumble upon.  And so it was that I became aware of the “dialogue” between the major political parties around the question, “Are you better off today than four years ago?”  Given our 4-year election cycle this really isn’t a new question as much as something posed with regularity, with only variation being in which party is asking and which is answering.

Anyway, with that question on my radar I attempted a somewhat irreverent response on Facebook, posting this statement:

“I finished a master’s degree, became retirement-eligible at work, let my AARP membership expire and started a blog. My wife finished her master’s degree, quit her job, started a very small business, and writes two blogs. We adopted a daughter who has a stay-at-home mom. We cancelled our TV, sold our house and moved into a rental. These are all part of our answer to the question “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” I’m not sure. I do know that I ran the best marathon of the past 5 years last fall, which was nice!”

That comment generated a bit of interest among my Facebook friends but it also sparked me to think a bit more deeply about the question and my answer.

The question is often posed in a material sense, intending to seek to know if you think that your place in life, in socio-economic terms, is improving or regressing.  But as I started to think more deeply I was drawn in a different direction.  What I started to think more deeply about is my place spiritually, and how it compares now to four years ago.

And the answer is both simple and complex.  In one sense my spiritual place is unchanged.  In another sense it is much deeper and richer.

I remain a sinner saved from condemnation solely by the free grace of God through the finished work of Christ.  That is the simple part, the unchanged part.

The part that is complex, that is deeper, is in my beginning to understand more and more something that can only, at best, be partially known in this world, and that is the character of God. 

I have a greater understanding of God’s majesty, His power, His righteousness, His love, His just anger at sin, His holiness, His glory.  My list could go on and I could tell more of each of these traits of God.  In sum, what I know of them gives me great peace and security.

In my Facebook post I mentioned a number of the changes that have occurred for my wife and I, and our daughter, over the past four years.   There have been others, and they haven’t always been easy.  Some have happened as we have sought to know and follow God’s will, while others have been while we have tried to sort things out on our own, without Him.  In all that has happened in our lives over the past four years one thing I have learned and relied on more and more is the sure knowledge that nothing good or bad changes who God is or His relationship with me.  I find great comfort and complete trust in the Biblical wisdom that underlies the words of the first Question-and-Answer of the Heidelberg Catechism:

Q: What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A: That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.  He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.  He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.  Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

I am still a “work in progress” and will remain so until God calls me home.  The last four years have been an amazing journey with God.  Certainly not all of it has been easy but through all of it He has been faithful.  I am looking forward to seeing what comes next, what more I will learn of Him, and how I may serve Him.

Where has God led you in the last four years?  What is He teaching you of who He is?  And where is He calling you to?  

Monday, September 3, 2012

A thought about prayer


That sentence, from time to time, is our youngest daughter’s default prayer.  She uses it at mealtime and she uses it at bedtime.  She uses it when prayer is something that stands in the way of something else.  She uses it at mealtime when there is something particularly appealing to her appetite.  She uses is at bedtime when we have finished reading the Bible and invite her to pray first and she isn’t particularly inclined to. 

We have prayed with her at bedtime since the day she came to live with us, when she was two years old.  Our habit has been to read from the Bible and then for Robin and I to pray aloud.  At some point, fairly early on, maybe when she was three, she decided that she could pray too. 

So we let her.  We didn’t give her much guidance.  She just seemed to follow along the lines of how we prayed with her, thanking God for various things in her life, or the activities of her day, and/or praying for people who were important to her.  That could be a set of cousins one night and her grandparents the next.   

In the last year we’ve taught her the Lord’s Prayer, which she sometimes uses as a transition in prayer from her turn to one of her parents.  And sometimes we, and God, hear the run-on sentence prayer above.

Our children, all of them, are not really ours but God’s, given to us to raise for a time.  We can shape them in some ways while they are home and young and less so as they grow and strike out on their own.  We feel this most acutely with our youngest, who came to us through God’s unsolicited invitation to adopt, but it is true of them all.  That was the perspective that allowed a sense of peace while the oldest was in Iraq with a Marine unit in 2007.  Worry could have dominated our emotions then but we were in a better place praying for his well-being and trusting that whatever happened God was always in control.

In Luke 11:1 the disciples have observed Jesus in prayer and then ask,

“Lord, teach is to pray, as John taught his disciples.”

Jesus then proceeds to teach his disciples the Lord’s Prayer.   And in a similar vein we are teaching our youngest to pray.  We pray with her at meals and at bedtime.  We pray with her at times during the day when it seems to be the right thing to do, such as when we realize we have been mean to someone and need to seek forgiveness, or when we hear the hospital helicopter fly over our house.  She knows that her mother and I pray together each day and that we also have our own quiet time with God.

While we are not fond of her run-on sentence prayer and are gently trying to teach her that it shows that her heart is not in her prayer, it is not a prayer that is completely without merit.  She is learning that God is holy and that God is to be thanked.  So we will continue to teach her to pray, knowing that in the process God is still teaching us to pray as well.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.