A couple weeks ago we started a series at NLCF on Galatians. For this series, during the last worship set of each service, there’s an opportunity for people to have someone pray for them. The first Sunday of the series, my Engage Group was one of the groups on the so-called HUG (hospitality/ushers/greeters) team, who folds bulletins before the service, greets people as they arrive, and takes up offering. Before the service, the HUG leader asked if anyone on the HUG team would be willing to join some of the staff at the back of the auditorium during the last set, to be available to pray for people.
Maybe it was because over the past two years, I’ve conditioned myself to volunteer to help out at NLCF however I can. Maybe it was because the Holy Spirit decided to override my decision-making at that moment. Probably a combination of both. Either way, I volunteered without even thinking about it. It was actually a few moments later that I even realized what had just happened. As if, for those few moments, something external actually had stepped in and made the decision for me. I’m glad though. Otherwise, I inevitably would have wavered and and maybe chickened out.
I got to pray for two people, neither of whom I’d ever met before. I stumbled through both prayers, grasping for words. But both of them appreciated it. And I was really glad for the opportunity to be able to pray for them.
It reminded me of high school, especially junior and senior year, when prayer was so much more a part of my life than it has been recently. Especially prayer for other people. I had close friends who came to me in their darkest moments, because they knew they could trust me to stand by them and fight for them in prayer, with faith and with power. God gave me that faith and that warrior’s spirit to be that person for those who needed it. (In fact, one of the people I prayed for Sunday reminded me a lot of a good friend in high school who was going through something very similar. They even said a lot of the same things.)
But that part of me was one of the casualties of my own dark night of the soul, during my first year of college. And though, more than two years later, I’ve largely recovered from that time, this is one area that still needs to be resurrected. But since that Sunday, I’ve been getting the sense that this is what God wants to resurrect next. In fact, I’ve been realizing that prayer is central to the growth I’ve been wanting to see in myself in many different areas. Just today I realized just how central, and how it ties all these areas together. But to explain that, let me back up again.
This semester I’ve started discipling two other guys in NLCF, a junior who is also an Engage Group leader, and a sophomore who is also very involved in NLCF. Our first discipleship meeting, maybe four weeks ago, we shared our backgrounds and then each shared about how we sensed God wanted us to grow, and what we could each do to move in that direction. We each shared different things, but over the next couple weeks, as we continued to reflect on what God was doing and what our next steps were, all three of us began to converge on prayer. We all came to the conclusions that the way forward in each of our situations was through praying more.
It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see that we should take some time to focus on prayer—digging more into what it means to pray, how we can be more effective or diligent in it, and so on. So this past Monday, we studied a hexagon.
Allow me to explain. NLCF uses shapes a lot as a tool to help convey and understand Biblical truths in an understandable and memorable way. These shapes are actually developed by a ministry called 3DM, where NLCF gets a lot of ministry concepts and resources, especially for discipleship. There are eight shapes—a circle, semicircle, triangle, square…all the way up to an octagon. The hexagon looks at the Lord’s Prayer, as given in Matthew 6:9-13. (I’m quoting from the NLT, which is why it’s a little more contemporary than what we’re used to reciting in church. Also, notice that the last line, "For yours/thine is the Kingdom…" is not actually in Scripture. That is, it was not in older, more reliable manuscripts, and so it is not included in modern translations. This was added in later manuscripts and incorporated into our church traditions through translations like the KJV. Not that there’s anything wrong with that part, but the hexagon is based on what modern translations agree on.)
Our Father in heaven,
may your name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth,
as it is in heaven.
Give us today the food we need,
and forgive us our sins,
as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
And don’t let us yield to temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one.
This is broken into six parts, represented by the six sides of the hexagon. Jesus gave this to the disciples, and to us, as a model for our prayers. So 3DM boiled it down to these six ideas, and recommend using the six ideas as a starting point for our prayers. There’s no one way to do it, although they give a couple ideas, but the idea is that the six points together make for a well-rounded approach to prayer.
Like I said at the beginning, I’ve been realizing that prayer is central to all the ways I’ve been feeling like I need to grow, especially in light of my decision to go on staff with NLCF. It was yesterday as I was praying that it really clicked, when I realized how the hexagon really ties together all three areas. So here are the six parts and how they relate to where I see myself right now. (The headings are the names given to each side by 3DM.)
Our Father in heaven,
may your name be kept holy. (v. 9)
The first part of is really just starting by remembering who God is and what our relationship is to him. He’s our "Abba", daddy. We can approach him as his sons and daughters. He’s in heaven, on the throne, in charge. And he’s holy—as we are trying to be, as he is transforming us to be.
What really jumps out at me is that, even so he is so much greater than us, and holy, and our King, we have this relationship with him. We can approach him as princes and princesses. As his children. He made a way for us to live in intimate relationship with him. And that’s what prayer is—approaching the throne, talking to him, listening to him. Hanging out with him. But how often does it feel like a chore? Something I try to work into my routine because it’s what a good Christian should do?
One of the things about being a college student is that any routine you get into gets reset every four months. Which for the most part I’m fine with. I’m usually not a fan of routine anyways. But sometimes there’s something to be said for routine. This is one area where the routine is really helpful to keep me in the habit. But every semester I have a different schedule and I’m back at Square One in trying to set aside time. And as it starts getting busy, between homework, tests, group projects, my job, and my responsibilities for NLCF, I have less and less control over my time, and I’m reading the Bible less and praying less.
What I need is more than routine. I need to desire to spend time with God. If I really want to do it, I’ll make it happen. And if it really sunk in that I have the opportunity to talk to the holy God who created the universe and who died for me—anytime I want—why wouldn’t I want to make time for it?
May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth,
as it is in heaven. (v. 10)
So God is in heaven, and he is King. In heaven his reign is absolute, and his will is always carried out. But here on earth is a different story. While he is the rightful King, "the world around us is under the control of the evil one" (1 John 5:19). And while, ultimately, God is sovereign and is in control, he has allowed evil to take control of the world. But not completely. When Jesus came to earth he announced the coming of the Kingdom of God. Not in the distant future, as foreseen by the prophets of old, but right then. It was near. It was breaking in—into the world that Satan controlled. It is still breaking in. And we are agents of this Kingdom. We are tasked with advancing it. But we aren’t alone. God’s will is for his Kingdom to be fully realized on earth, and Jesus made it clear that when we pray within God’s will, God will move. For whatever reason, he has given us this power. He wants to partner with us in bringing about the Kingdom. Although he is fully capable of bringing about his will all on his own, he has chosen to act within our prayers.
So prayer is talking to God as our dad, and it is also asking him as his agents to move in our actions and advance his Kingdom on earth.
This is a major part of what God is calling me back to—to pray for coming of the Kingdom. All aspects of it. To pray for the Gospel to be preached and for it to transform the lives of those around me, and across the world. And to pray for the renewal of all things—the healing of the brokenness in the lives around me, and the brokenness of the world. And not just to pray for these things, but to do my part to bring them about.
Give us today the food we need, (v. 11)
Or, as many translations have it, "Give us today our daily bread."
God is our Father and our King, and also our Provider. In this same chapter, Jesus goes on to give his famous passage about God’s provision for the birds and the flowers. He concludes:
“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
We need to remember that God has our backs. We need to depend on him and trust him to provide.
For me, my problem isn’t worry so much as getting into the mindset that I can handle life on my own. I don’t worry enough, in that sense. Because it’s when I do start to get stressed about things that I remember that I can’t do it, but God can. This is something God’s been prodding me about recently. Especially in my leadership roles at NLCF. Too easily I start going through the motions. I forget to be leading from God’s power. There have been times this semester where I’ve been pushed out of my comfort zone a bit. Which is good, because it reminds me to rely on God, and to remember that he’s the one leading. My job is just to let him use me. This is true in my classes too. It’s when my homework and projects start piling up and push me to the point where I don’t see how I’m gonna pull it all off that I remember it’s not me who needs to pull it off.
So when I pray, I need to reaffirm my dependence on God. I need to give him each of the things I’m doing, and remember that my ability to do it comes from him. And when everything seems to be ready to come crashing down, I need to ask him for the strength to keep going.
and forgive us our sins,
as we have forgiven those who sin against us. (v. 12)
There was a time, early in my walk with God, that I thought I had it all together, more or less. I don’t think I would have admitted this. I don’t think I even thought that I thought this. (Does that sentence even make sense?) I knew I wasn’t perfect. I knew I made mistakes, and I knew there were one or two areas that especially needed some work. But other than that, I figured I was more or less OK. But over the years, I’ve come to see more and more that I really do have a ways to go. God continues to show me just how many aspects of my life really need a lot of work. Sometimes it gets really frustrating that I still need so much work. And that, instead of improving, I just keep realizing that I’m even more messed up than I thought I was.
So when I read this verse, I realize that I think I have an easier time forgiving others than forgiving myself. Just as I need to live in God’s strength, I need to live in God’s grace. I need to remember that he’s my Savior, too. He paid the price 2000 years ago, knowing full well how broken and sinful I would be. This is another one of those things that I intellectually know, but it doesn’t always sink in, and I don’t always live like it. I need to keep coming back to this, and keep reminding myself of the magnitude of the grace that was shown to me.
And don’t let us yield to temptation, (v. 13a)
Or, "Lead us not into temptation." This follows close on the heels of the last part—not just in the order Jesus prayed them in, but the idea itself. It balances it. Jesus didn’t stop at dying to offer us forgiveness. He rose again to offer us new life. He promises to transform us. And while the transformation won’t be complete until we die or he comes back, it started the moment we said "Yes" to him. There is a spiritual shift in our hearts, and we die to sin. (We read Romans 6 in Engage Group on Thursday. Paul lays out this whole idea in that chapter.) The Holy Spirit moves in and starts his work in us. We may not always see the transformation, but we can trust that it’s happening.
So just as I pray for God’s will to be done on earth, I pray for it to be done in me. For him to continue to chip away at my sin. As I draw closer to him and let him work in me, temptation will begin to lose its power. And while I can do things to facilitate God’s work in me, it is only his power that can bring about this transformation.
but rescue us from the evil one. (v. 13b)
I’ve touched on this already here and there, but it’s time to address it directly. We have an enemy. He seeks to disrupt our relationship with God as our Father. He sabotaged it at the very beginning, when Adam and Eve walked with God in the Garden. He convinced them to rebel against a holy God, severing that relationship. And in that moment, God’s will was was no longer perfectly realized on earth. Instead, the enemy established himself as the prince of this world, in defiance of the King. And as for us—the children of God created in God’s image—Satan will stop at nothing to claim us for his own. Just as he did with Eve, he convinces us that God’s holding out on us. That we need to take matters into our own hands. Make our own bread. He leads us astray, convincing us that we can find our fulfillment in everything but God. And then he turns around and points out our guilt, accusing us to the point of despair. And sometimes, he just flat-out attacks us.
We need to take him seriously. I need to take him seriously. I talked about my time in high school, praying for friends in their darkest moments. This might sound weird or creepy, but more often than not, those prayers were desperate battles against the forces of hell (told you.) Admittedly, I might have been too obsessed with the whole spiritual warfare thing at times. And these days, I seem to have swung too far in the other direction, not giving it much thought at all. But there has to be a balance. Because when I think of those times, there’s no doubt in my mind that the enemy is real and he is powerful. There’s no other explanation for the things my friends and I experienced. Jesus dealt the decisive blow when he died and rose again, but the enemy isn’t vanquished yet.
I think a key difference between my high school days and now is location. His strategy in this part of the world, where people pride themselves on rationality and skepticism, seems to be one of subtlety. (This is entirely based on my own experience and observation. I have no theological or Biblical argument to back this up.) When most people don’t give much credit to the supernatural, he can be more effective by allowing them to believe he doesn’t exist. Even believers, who would agree that the supernatural is real, are influenced by the culture around them and fall into a tendency of living from day to day as if it isn’t. Since I’ve been here, I have too. I think what it really comes down to is that we believe in God and his angels, but we think of them as being up in heaven. And we believe in Satan and his demons, but assume they’re in hell. We aren’t as comfortable with the idea that angels and demons are among us, here on earth, mostly unseen, but active and powerful.
In other parts of the world, that’s not the case. Where I grew up, religion, culture, and everyday life are completely intertwined. The supernatural is taken for granted the way the absence of it is here. The way they think of it might be different, seeing it through the lenses of their own beliefs, but they believe it’s there and has an impact on their day-to-day lives. The veil between the spiritual and physical worlds is much thinner. The enemy’s tactics are far more overt in those parts of the world. And here we were, a Christian school in the middle of this. So believe me when I say I have felt the presence of angels and demons, and experienced clashes between them firsthand—including direct attacks on my friends and on me. And it was in this situation that God called me to be a warrior. Like I said at the beginning, my friends came to me in the midst of the onslaught because they knew that God had given me the faith to stand by them and face the enemy, trusting in God’s power, even when their attackers turned their attacks on me.
I know this probably sounds weird/creepy/crazy to many of you. I’ve never shared what I just shared so publicly before. I don’t think I’ve talked about it at all since coming back to the US. But I risk sounding out of my mind because I think it needs to be said. And I’ve said far more about this section than any of the others not because I think it’s more important than them. There was a time when my prayers were maybe too heavily weighted in this area. And like I said, I think I’ve swung too far in the other direction since coming back to the US. But remembering those times, I’m realizing that it needs to become a part of my lens again. It needs to become a part of my prayers again. With balance. I think either extreme is a bad place to be. There’s a danger of acting like he doesn’t exist, or is insignificant and powerless. But if that doesn’t work, he’s content getting us to focus way too much on him—and not on Jesus. In the model Jesus gave us, we acknowledge the evil one and pray against his attacks, with a healthy balance alongside the rest of the prayer. I’ve written far more about this side of the hexagon not because it’s more important, but because I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch for most of my readers to buy into the first five sides. This side will probably take some convincing.
So there it is. This ended up being a pretty good sized essay. What’s really cool is that I’d been thinking about each of these things independently of each other. They were all things that I’d been thinking about and felt like I needed to focus on. And I was starting to get the sense that they were all interconnected, and that the starting point for change in all of them was prayer—developing that connection with God and allowing my relationship with him to flourish. To let growth in all of these areas come out of that relationship. As Jesus said, “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
And then we went and studied the hexagon, and suddenly, everything clicked.