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English: Lord's Prayer A tablet behind the alt...

English: Lord’s Prayer A tablet behind the altar in St Mary the Virgin showing the Lord’s Prayer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Lord’s prayer is a happy prayer.  When I pray it and meditate on it I am filled with joy because it is filled with good things. God wants us to ask him for good things. Most of the Lord’s prayer is about asking God for stuff.  There was a time in my life where I stopped asking God for stuff.  I stopped praying for people.  I figured that God is sovereign and all powerful and all knowing  and full of love a and that he would handle all situations and circumstances perfectly.  I thought it ridiculous to think that God was up there on his celestial throne waiting for me to send up a prayer before he would act.  “You know, I was planning on healing George of his cancer, but Santiago never prayed for him, so poor old George died.”  I didn’t think God needed my prayer before he did the right thing.

And I was right.  He doesn’t need my prayer.  I need my prayer.  I finally realized that by taking a good look at the Lord’s prayer. Most of the Lord’s prayer is petition.  Not adoration or thanksgiving, but petitions, requests.  I need to ask God for stuff, for things, for help, to remind myself daily that I am totally dependent on God for everything!  For all my physical needs and spiritual needs.  In the Lord’s prayer I am reminded over and over that God is good and loving and wants me to be happy.

The Lord’s prayer starts off with “Our Father” and a bit later “thy kingdom come”.  The first piece of happiness we find is that our Father is the king.  As a youth I went to Bible camp every year in the mountains of Colorado.  One year the guest speaker was from Tennessee.  He had never seen the Rocky mountains.  One day, on a hike he stopped and exclaimed, “My daddy made those mountains!”  Sometimes I want to stop and exclaim with joy, “My daddy is the king!”  The Lord’s prayer is part of the sermon on the mount where Jesus has been mentioning the kingdom.  He began His ministry proclaiming the kingdom of the heavens or the kingdom of God.  In the Lord’s prayer we happily discover that our daddy is the king.

In context of  “thy kingdom come”  Jesus gives us the first thing that we should ask for.  The most important happy thing that we should ask for.  “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  When you think of heaven, do you think of sadness, misery, and pain?  Of course not.  We all think of a joyous existence where we delight in the presence of God and his will being done perfectly.  God’s plan from the garden of Eden in Genesis to New Jerusalem in Revelation, is for people to experience unbelievable happiness because they are are doing his will.  In this petition God not only invites us to enter into his joy, but as individuals and as the body of Christ, to bring this joy to a hurting world and thus grow the kingdom of the heavens.

As Jesus further instructs about things to ask for, he seemingly moves from the most important thing to the most mundane.  “Give us today our daily bread.”  I would 4126611734_993d897939venture to guess that most of us rarely if ever ask God to supply our bread for the day.  One reason we don’t ask for that is because in our innermost being we think we are self sufficient.  We think we can handle that one on our own.  The reality is that we can’t.  I was reading Moses’ speech to the Israelites this morning in Deuteronomy chapter eight.  Moses told the people that it is God who gives you the ability to produce wealth.  Who gave you the ability to earn that paycheck that enabled you to buy your bread  (which is symbolic of our daily needs)?  Where did you get the physical and mental ability to work, make money and buy food?  God gave it you and me and all of us.  So when we pray for daily bread, we are praying for God to maintain and grow our physical and mental abilities.

Here at the home for needy children in Mexico, that petition takes on a different flavor.  We depend on the generous gifts of faithful supporters and friends for our daily bread, or daily tortillas, as the case may be.  While we always give thanks before each meal, we rarely ask God corporately  to supply our food.  It is a different story in the accounting office.  Those who look at our daily financial records,  daily ask God to supply our needs.  God answered those prayers in a special way a couple of weeks ago.  We went to a store where we regularly buy food, and they donated a lot of  juice and crackers to us.  After that we went to the fruit and vegetable market and a complete stranger saw our van saying that we were from Christ For The World, Home For Needy Children.  He came over and gave us four boxes of fruit.  The next day a big truck from a governmental social service agency showed up unexpectedly and unloaded the largest food donation we have ever received.  Huge bags of rice, beans and lentils. Cases and cases of milk and tuna. Our pantry, which had looked like old, Mother Hubbard’s cupboard, was now stocked with enough food to last us six months.  Everyone rejoiced and was glad for God’s incredible provision.  Indeed, everyone who has food to eat and water to drink should happily rejoice in God’s faithful and miraculous provisions.

Now Jesus moves from our most basic physical needs, to our most basic spiritual need.  Forgiveness of sin.  “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those that sin against us.”  The angel told Joseph to name Mary’s baby “Jesus” because he would save his people from their sins.  Peter told Cornelius in Acts 10 that everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins through his name.   Paul told the Romans in chapter four that Jesus was delivered over to death for our sins and raised to  life for our justification.  In Galatians one, Paul told his readers that Jesus gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age.  The author of Hebrews says that Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people.  John proclaims to his  audience that Jesus appeared so that he might take away our sins (1 John 3:5).  The one teaching on the mountain about forgiveness, was the one who died on a cross so that such forgiveness of sin could be possible.

So what’s the big  deal with  sin?  Nothing much, except that it causes a lot of pain, suffering, separation from a right relationship with God, turmoil in relationships with others, anxiety, guilt, depression and dysfunction, just to name a few things.  We are saved from all that when we do two things.  One ask God to forgive us of our sins, and two, we need to forgive others who  sin  against us – people who have hurt us, physically, mentally or emotionally.  1 John 1:9, and Jesus’ parable of  the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18:21, shed a lot of light on the concept and reality of forgiveness.  With our sins forgiven, our relationship with the Giver of Joy is made whole, and our souls are filled with a whole lot of happiness.

The final two things Jesus tells us to  ask for, is that God, our Father, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.  When I think of God  leading  us into temptation, I  am reminded of the movie DodgeBall, where Dwight Goodman, the muscle bound owner of GloboGym, was waving a chocolate donut in front of his face, saying to himself, “Go ahead.  Eat it.  You know you want it.”  He goes to take a bite of the donut, and about the time the  chocolate delight touches his lips, he presses a button that sends an electric jolt into his body.  God is not in heaven, dangling an enticing temptation before us, waiting for us to succumb, and then gleefully sending a lightning bolt our way as punishment.  It is more accurate for us to pray that God would save us from the time of trial, because in times of trial we are tempted to sin by getting angry, or frustrated or worried or worse.  Dallas Willard writes in The Divine Conspiracy that “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 (Lord’s Prayer) begins with with the glorification of God, it ends with acknowledgement of the feebleness of human beings.”  I will be the first to admit I am feeble and I will be the first to thank God and rejoice and be happy that He regularly saves me from the time of trial.

“Deliver us from the Evil One.”  The Evil One is Satan.  The Bible says Satan is like adevil roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.  Scriptures say that the Devil comes around with one purpose in mind – to kill, steal and destroy.  Basically, he doesn’t like  Christians very much.  To him, the only good Christian is a dead, dying or suffering Christian.  Happy Christians really tick him off.  Jesus knows this, so he tells us to pray for protection from the Evil One;  to recognize the reality of Satan and his hate for us; to recognize our weakness, that we are like dust compared to the Devil; and to recognize that the Devil is dust, compared to God.  When we pray to God to deliver us from the Evil One, we are acknowledging that “greater is He that is in us, then  he that is  in the world (1 John 4:4).  That, for me, is a happy thought!  Amen!

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” ‘Just the way we want it’ is not a bad paraphrase for ‘amen.’  What is needed at the end of this great prayer (Lord’s Prayer) is a ringing affirmation of the goodness of God and God’s world.  If your nerves can take it, you might (occasionally?) try “Whoopee!”  I imagine God himself will not mind.”  Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy.  This book has helped me more with having a happy, healthy prayer life than any other I have ever read.

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Next blog – Joy and Terror in the Kingdom of Og

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Elaine

Elaine and her husband Ian are long time volunteers from Canada, here at the home for needy children in Oaxaca, Mexico.  The other day I  asked Elaine if  she believed God loves her and wants her to be happy.  She said, “Absolutely!”  Then I asked her why she thought God allowed her to lose her hearing.

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Happy Children Playing
Artwork by Elaine

She had had perfect hearing most of her life.  About 28 years ago she gradually began to lose her hearing do to menieres disease, losing her hearing first in one hear, and then in the other until she was  totally deaf.  She thought about my question.  She told me that she never thought a lot about why God allowed her to lose her hearing.  She told me about difficulties she experienced as her hearing became impaired.  With tears in her eyes she recounted a recurring nightmare she had  regarding her hearing  loss and her increasing need to  depend on devices used to help the hearing impaired.  A few more tears appeared as she told me about how much she loved music, and that she can’t go into a music store now.

Thinking more about my question, she mentioned that with her hearing loss she has learned to depend more  on God.  She rests more in God.  Sometimes God takes things away from us, things that we enjoy, to help us focus on Him so that we can enjoy Him more.

God has made Elaine happy and uses her in a tremendous way at the mission, in the community and in three Oaxacan prisons.  She is an artist and has  painted many beautiful pictures and murals that inspire everyone here at the children’s home.  She received a cochlear ear implant almost three years ago and partial hearing has returned to her life.  That helps her to teach art classes at the mission school.  She also has a sewing talent and ministry that reaches out to poor and incarcerated women, both physically, with quilts, and  spiritually, with words that flow from her compassionate and joyous heart.  She glorifies Him and enjoys Him in many different ways everyday.

Thinking about Elaine and her spiritual journey, I was  reminded of  two different scripture passages from the book  of John.  One  is  from chapter nine, the account of the man  born blind.  In those days, most Jews thought that physical maladies  were a result of sin.  The disciples asked Jesus, “Who sinned?”

Jesus told them that the blind mans affliction was not a result of sin.  He was blind  all  his life so that one day the master healer, Jesus himself, would come along and restore his sight, and that God would be glorified through the miracle.  Surely, the man who could now see, glorified God and enjoyed Him forever.

I also thought about John 15, where Jesus speaks of God the Father as a gardener of a vineyard.  Jesus says the  gardener cuts off every branch that bears no fruit.  It is a basic principle of horticulture that to get more, you cut more.  I do  most of the gardening and landscape maintenance here at the mission.  While we don’t have any grape vines to  prune, I am constantly pruning roses and other flowers in order to get bigger and better flowers.  Lately I have been pruning some overgrown citrus trees in order to get more, high  quality fruit.  In  the same way, God prunes things from our lives, in order that we may produce more fruit – fruit of the Spirit.  In the case of  John 15, the spiritual fruit in question is JOY.  In verse 11, Jesus says, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”  God loves us and wants us to be happy, and many times He  prunes away one aspect of our live to ultimately produce more joy fruit in  our  lives.

Elaine  misses her ability to hear perfectly.  Daily her thoughts turn toward heaven and the time that  her hearing  will  be restored.  In the meantime, she  thanks God for the gifts he has given her and the compassion she is able to show others who have suffered loss.

Art

When I first met Art, he was dying of a brain tumor.  He was a middle aged man, gray hair, balding.  He had once been an active Episcopal priest.  I met him at a Lutheran church that I had just begun attending in Northern California.  As I recall, he told me a joke.  He loved to tell  jokes.  It was hard for  me  to understand him, because the brain tumor had caused his speech to be a bit slurred at times.  He also had trouble with his sight, and needed a cane to get around.  All of this didn’t stop him from enjoying God and  telling jokes.

He told me about the time he told God a joke.  Immediately afterward he said he was plagued with guilt.  Who was he to be joking around with the Almighty, Holy God.  He was in turmoil, he told me.  He prayed.  He cried.  He begged forgiveness.  He repented.  After some time in this anguished state of mind, he heard a voice.  The voice said, “Art, tell me another one.”

I think that because of this experience with a God who likes to laugh at jokes, Art began bringing much joy and mirth into peoples lives by telling  jokes and funny stories.  It didn’t matter so much that you couldn’t always understand him or get the punch line.  What mattered was, here was a man who believed that God loved him and wanted him to be happy, despite his painful circumstances.  As a result of the joy he experienced, he naturally wanted to spread the joy, and the best way he knew was telling jokes and hysterical stories.  After I gave Art my email address, not a week went by that I didn’t receive at least one new joke or funny story.  I always laughed and thanked God for Art.  I miss him.

Anita

Anita was born into poverty.  She was born at home because her parents couldn’t afford a hospital.  She had a brother that was stillborn.  One of her sisters died at six weeks, and another who died  before her tenth birthday.  Her youngest brother has Downs Syndrome.

Anita is a lady who suffered much as a young girl growing up poor in Mitla, Mexico.  Her parents couldn’t afford a house, so they lived with an oppressive grandmother who treated them like servants or slaves.  When that environment became too much for them, they decided to  move to a small piece of land they owned on the edge of town.  They constructed a “house” of bamboo sticks and a tin roof.  Some days all they had to eat was tortillas with a bit of salt or pumpkin seeds  for flavor.

Their only hope, so it seemed, lay in the syncretistic, Catholic religion that combined Christian orthodoxy with ancient, pagan, Zapoteco traditions.  They prayed to saints, built a shrine to dead loved ones, and put out offerings they couldn’t afford , to celebrate the “Day of the Dead.”  All of this brought nothing to their souls by way of peace, joy and  happiness.

Fortunately, protestant missionaries lived nearby, and helped Anita and her family financially by giving them jobs.  More importantly, they helped spiritually by giving them the gospel, the good news, that God loved them  and wanted them  to be happy.  One by one, Anita and her family gave their lives to Jesus.  One of the happiest days of Anita’s life was when she surrendered to God and embraced His love.  The  burdens  and oppression she had suffered all her life,  lifted away.  She felt light as a balloon.  She felt she was floating on air.  And oh the joy that flooded her soul.

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Anita, The Happy Cocinera

Anita is my wife.  I met her my first day at the mission.  She is an  incredible cook and was working in the kitchen at the time.  The first thing I noticed about  her was her smile and sense of humor.  My Spanish wasn’t so  great  then, and I didn’t understand half of what she said, but I did understand that she was glorifying God by enjoying Him!

We married two  years later, and she continues to  light up my life, our daughter’s lives, and all those at  the mission, with her cheery attitude, generous giving of herself, and her contagious sense of humor.

I thank God everyday for this ray of  heavenly sunshine that He  has shined  in my life.  I also thank God for the inspiration of Elaine and Art, people who  show  me how to  enjoy God in the midst of unpleasant life situations.  People who know that God loves them and wants them to  be happy.

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“One day our Sovereign Father and Friend will allow us to grasp His reasoning.  Until then, we must trust Him.  He is filled with love for you and me, and He uses the things we don’t understand to bring us closer to  Him.”  Letter from Bob Vander Plaats to his severely disabled son – from his book Light From Lucus.

Why Am I Here?

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