You are on page 1of 18

Part Seven

:

The Family of the Father (2)
Defending the Unity of the Father’s Family Matthew 6:5-9; Luke 11:1
Church in the Boro, Rob Wilkerson

Introduction
In the last chapter it was necessary to define the family of God as those who are adopted by God and brothers and sisters of Christ Jesus. It’s essential in order to defend our unity as one family. This naturally leads us to defend our unity as one family. That’s essential because the mission Jesus put us all on depends entirely on that unity, according to His own prayer in John 17:18, 20-23. Jesus puts massive significance and emphasis in those verses on a Trinitarian kind of unity among His people, as well as the built-in results of that kind of unity for the mission of world evangelization. In other words, when Jesus sent the apostles and disciples out into the nations, their mission was to be accomplished by preaching the gospel. But by His own teaching and prayer life in John 17, we also see that the apostles and disciples, as well as all Christians in general, would see more fruit in their missional labors when they were a united people. So while preaching is the message of the mission, unity with one another like the Trinity has is the method of the mission. We sow the mission by preaching, and we reap the mission in unity. In short, when Christians get along with one another and love one another, they will have a living-color example and context by which to interpret our message of the gospel. It’s pretty basic. Yet so overlooked, neglected, and even rejected far too often. This particular part of the series will be the most passionate for me, I must admit. For almost a decade now a radical restructuring of my understanding of the unity of the church has been maturing. So when I come to Jesus’ words, “Our Father,” I see – and I believe Jesus intended – so much behind the word “our.” Such simple little words sometimes contain the deepest meditations, yet they are so often quickly passed over with little thought. But not this word. And not in this series. Every word is important as we’ve established previously, because Jesus is drawing from OT theological concepts embedded into the special relationship He had with Israel, and therefore the New Covenant / True Exodus community today called the church. When I got a hold of Jesus’ theology of the unity of the church in passages like Ephesians 2 and John 17, this passion inside of me began to swell in ways that seemed to overshadow so many other passions. Perhaps this is because there’s this intense, built-in sense of things that are not set right. The older I get the more I see the nasty underbelly of reality, and the deeper I see between the lines that are so strongly and dogmatically drawn by various leaders, denominations, and Christians.

Praying the Mission (1): Knowing the Father

Page 1

Church Power + Church Politics + Church Money = A Nasty Underbelly of Division The nasty underbelly I’ve come to see more clearly is that so much of the church today is run like a business. That means many churches are too often about money, namely making it and spending it. While I agree that certain business principles can be brought into the church to make things run smoother and more efficiently, essentially helping us work smarter and not harder, I also deeply feel the inward tug of desiring worldly gain like any other American breathing the air of the “American Dream.” Too many churches, at least in America, have breathed this air deeply and find themselves drifting into an atmosphere of biblical unreality, totally blinded to the black and white teachings of Jesus regarding money. So I’ve seen several churches split in my lifetime over money. And with the urge to make and spend money, to build a big and “successful” organization, also comes politics. Where there’s power to be had and money to give and spend, there are people wanting a piece of it, many of them vying for the biggest piece so they can have the biggest say. This is another part of the nasty underbelly of church, and Jesus hates it, frankly. Those churches whom I’ve been a part of who have also had a “healthy” or even enormous amount of money in the bank have been those where the most politicking has occurred. Decisions are made based on pragmatics and human reasoning all of which are called “wisdom” by many leaders, but foolishness to God. And so I’ve seen several churches split in my lifetime over power and control in the local church. Reading Between the Denominational and Doctrinal Lines That Cause Division Then we have those who have attempted to draw some pretty bold and dogmatic lines for churches and denominations in the past. Those lines say things like “inerrancy of Scripture” and “sound doctrine.” But no matter how boldly you draw those lines and writes those words, there’s a very deep chasm of inconsistency between those lines into which many fall into who cannot “tow the line” or are not “on the same page.” So I’ve also seen churches split because of “doctrinal disagreements,” which of which, I’m convinced, were not entirely untainted by struggles over money, control or power. It’s hard to imagine it, but according to the World Christian Encylopedia, “Christianity consists of 6 major ecclesiastico-cultural blocs, divided into 300 major ecclesiastical traditions, composed of over 33,000 distinct denominations in 238 countries.” 1 Within Christianity, the author of this article in the Encyclopedia counts 33,820 denominations. And his article was written in the 2001 edition, some nine years ago. At the risk of sounding a little juvenile, I just think that’s the most retarded thing I can possibly imagine. But it’s true.

David B. Barrett, George T. Kurian, and Todd M. Johnson. The World Christian Encyclopedia: A Comparative Survey of Churches and Religions in the Modern World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 1:16, Table 1-5.

1

Praying the Mission (1): Knowing the Father

Page 2

The reason I think it’s so retarded is because we split up and separate from one another over the most bizarre and stupid and asinine things. The Baptist denominations were founded as a result of separation from other groups around or just after the Reformation. The reason was only their difference regarding the mode of water baptism. The Reformation brought with it the continuation of infant baptism from the Catholic Church, but a group of believers scornfully labeled the “Anabaptists” believed that once a person had been truly converted, they ought to be water baptized by immersion again as an adult. And just to show you how bizarre this issue got, many leaders in the reformation vein actually persecuted and murdered Anabaptists. Over water. The history is shocking and horrifying and serves as just one small example among myriads that Christians have a tendency to hurt one another and separate from one another over doctrinal lines they boldly and dogmatically and arrogantly draw. One would think, for example, that if baptism were that kind of issue, worth killing each other over, Jesus would have been a little more clear about it in His gospels. The Enlightenment and Its Contribution to Division in the Church I can’t help but think that this line of thinking has largely been handed down to us through the embedding of the Enlightenment into our cultures for the last five hundred plus years. That period of history brought about a Renaissance of the intellect whereby scientific discovery by men like Isaac Newton and others forged the way for a new kind of thinking. That thinking largely dismissed mystery and replaced it with rationale. If it couldn’t be tested, observed, examined, analyzed or proven then it had no place in life. And that kind of thinking has been so woven into our cultures, throughout the world, that we have come to largely base our doctrinal systems and beliefs and alignments with what can be intellectually worked out on paper. As a result, we end up with thousands of doctrinal statements which various groups want to get signed by whoever will agree with them. The result is that further and deeper division continues to be forged between Christians who have so much to agree upon, namely the life, earthly ministry, death, resurrection, ascension and heavenly ministry of Jesus Christ for His children right now. I’m not sure I’ve ever met someone who called themselves a Christian who didn’t agree on these things. But when we come to other matters like the end of the world, the judgments in Revelation, the mode of baptism, spiritual gifts, church government, Bible versions, etc. are these really of such massive significance that they warrant, if not somehow demand, a separation from other Christians who don’t agree with us? I mean, do we really have to have all these areas analyzed with our enlightened rationale so that we have hammered them all out with such a deep degree of agreement in detail? Science continues to press into the knowledge of matter, which drives them to understand how things work on the most microscopic, subatomic, nanoscopic, string theorized levels. And I say, “Go for it!” Let’s work on figuring all this out because, I believe, it’s part and parcel of taking dominion over the earth God gave us. However, there will always be points at which our knowledge and ability to observe, analyze, and rationalize will be severely and massively limited. We bump up against this brick wall, and

Praying the Mission (1): Knowing the Father

Page 3

it’s called “mystery.” But enlightened minds aren’t satisfied with this, so we move on, driving deeper and deeper, trying to peer further and farther. This essentially does nothing more than build and develop and refine two idols in our lives. The first is the idolization of our own thirst for knowledge. We want to know. Period. We simply cannot be satisfied until we have analyzed and understood everything we get our hands on. The second is the idolization of knowledge itself. We want to know. We are frustrated and derailed when we don’t have answers. We let the lack of answers so totally throw us off that we spend our entire lives trying to figure it all out. But what about mystery? Is this not the territory where God makes His majesty known to us and presents Himself to us as…God? Is this not what makes Him God and us humans? Isn’t it mystery that makes Him infinite and us infinite? So when we bump up against mystery, which is simply something we cannot answer, then why do our minds race and stomachs churn? Why do our hearts fret? Why do we give in to frustration? Why do we submit to what we call “confusion”, yet what God simply calls “mystery”? This is where we can thank the Enlightenment for derailing the church from its marriage to mystery. The Enlightenment filed divorce papers between the church and mystery, so that now we have been able to sleep with Enlightenment for the last five hundred years. And look at all the children we’ve had out of wedlock! About 33,820…and counting. What About Agreement…Doctrinally and Practically? On this point I have always been countered by the argument, “how can two walk together unless they be agreed?” And to that I counter, “Love one another. That’s how.” That’s why Jesus repeated it and exhibited it as the theme of his life. That’s why Paul repeated it. That’s why Peter repeated it. That’s why John repeated it. Love is the most significant, foundational, elemental piece of this whole thing we call Christianity. And when love for one another abounds, we care more about each other than we do our doctrinal distinctives and denominational lines. Thankfully, the maturing process of postmodernism is eroding the effects of the Enlightenment. It is bringing to the surface the most obvious point of all: any rationale and “enlightened” thinking I bring to the table about anything is tainted by my imperfection and by my cultural background. Therefore, any “objectivity” I attempt to apply to a matter is actually, and necessarily, trapped within a sphere of subjectivity. There is objectivity. But it’s always guided and influenced by my subjectivity. And it’s impossible for it to be otherwise. The result of this line of thinking is that it seems to be producing a greater sense and desire of forbearance and patience with one another so that we can more and more genuinely love one another. John Piper’s attempt several years ago, for example, to change the doctrinal stance of his church to receive those baptized as babies into the membership of the church is so obvious in light of what Jesus actually died for. Jesus Christ didn’t die for doctrine. He died for people. He

Praying the Mission (1): Knowing the Father

Page 4

“so loved the world” and not our “so-loved” theological interests. His blood unites, while His people have shed blood to divide. Unfortunately, his church was not at a place where they wanted to take that step. But Piper did, and it reflects an attitude or milieu of the times which, with all the baggage it brings with it, offers a more loving approach to dealing with people, by insisting on a reintroduction of mystery back into the equation. Just because I can’t understand it, analyze it, comprehend it, rationalize it, observe it, or whatever, doesn’t mean it isn’t true. One author has stated. “Did we, under a clearer sense of our adoption of God, with a deeper conviction of the debt we owed to Him for this signal bestowment of His grace, walk in closer converse with God, the things which separate us from the family of God, the differences of ecclesiastical polity, of modes of worship, the hard speeches, the slights, the woundings, the misunderstandings which engender so much suspicion, coldness, and alienation among the saints, - would be buried and lost sight of as the rugged rocks appear beneath the flowing tide. Love – love to the one Father – would prompt us to throw the mantle of love over the one brotherhood…”2 But this denominationalism, sectarianism, and religious class-warring is nothing new. It happened in the Old Testament, God’s people killing their own to get what they want. It happened in the New Testament church, according to James (3:1 ff.). It has happened throughout church history. But in all of this is seen a much grander picture than simply the outward unity which I so passionately long for. In the midst of all the divisive chaos so many churches have both caused and experienced, we see the patient, kind, forbearing, gentle, and infinitely loving work of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit all working together to embrace those who have a hard time embracing each other. In other words, when we are faithless, He remains faithful (2 Tim. 2:13). He remains faithful to His covenant made with His Son, Jesus Christ, for the life of His bride, the church. A whole lot may separate our love for one another like He has commanded. But nothing separates us from His love. And that is frankly amazing, outstanding, breathtaking, and almost unbelievable.

The Love of the Father is the Soil in Which the Unity of His Children Takes Root
It is here in the unstoppable and inseparable love of the Father for His own that we find the basis for the type of unity Jesus prayed for in John 17, which is the basis for the type of unity among His children that He intended to teach when He prayed, “Our Father.” Jesus prayed that we would all be “one” just as He and the Father are one (John 17:21, 23). In other words, just as the Father and Son cannot be separated, neither should the children of the Father and the brothers of the Son. It’s unthinkable that two members of the Trinity could possibly be separated from each other in heart, mind, soul, and mission. So also, it ought to be unthinkable to us that any two or more
2

Winslow, pp. 35-36.

Praying the Mission (1): Knowing the Father

Page 5

believers would be separable from each other in heart, mind, soul, and mission. And what is the mission of the Father? Only the mission of the Son! And what was the mission of the Son? Only the mission of His church. And what is the mission of the church? Through their unity to lead the world to believe that the Father sent the Son and loved them (17:23). Being United to the Father Also Means Being United to Each Other The whole mission of the church then is predicated upon this concept of unity, Jesus prays for even now! And that unity is predicated upon rather simple facts like this one: “If I am a child of God, I am a brother to all God’s children.” 3 The existence of one relationship inseparably means the existence of the other relationship. When Jesus reconciled us to God the Father, He also reconciled us to one another. That is essentially the single theological point driven home hard by Paul in Ephesians 2, perhaps one of the most significant chapters in the entire Bible on reconciliation with God and each other. When He teaches us how to pray, Jesus is implicitly clear in “Our Father” that when we turn our voices and hearts to the Father, we do not ever turn our back on our spiritual kin. In perhaps the greatest devotional book I have read on the Lord’s Prayer by Octavius Winslow in 1866, his words capture my passion the most. “I am indeed privileged – and oh, how great and precious that privilege is! – to call God ‘My Father,’ but I must never forget that Jesus taught me to say, in concert with one family, ‘Our Father.’ And that when I enter into my closet it is my privilege, as my duty, to bear before my Father, not my personal sins and sorrows only, but those also of the holy brotherhood to which, by divine affiliation, I belong.”4 He goes on to write an amazing paragraph that exalted my view of Christ like never before. “The unity of His Church was a truth dear to the heart of Christ. As the hour of His mysterious passion darkened, this truth dilated before His mind and occupied a more distinct and prominent place in His discourse. Foreseeing the divisions of sect and the differences of judgment and the alienation of affection which would spring up in His Church after His ascension to glory – defacing its beauty and impairing its strength – standing as beneath the shadow of His cross, He prostrates Himself at the feet of His Father, and binding the whole
3

Octavius Winslow. The Lord’s Prayer: It’s Spirit and Its Teaching (London: John F. Shaw & Co., 1866), p. Ibid, p. 28.

27.

4

Praying the Mission (1): Knowing the Father

Page 6

brotherhood around His heart, He prays, ‘That they all may be ONE, as Thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they all may be one in us; that the world may believe that Thou has sent me.’ This sublime petition of the Great Intercessor is being partially answered now in every act of brotherly love, in every recognition of fraternal relation, in every lovely, loving effort to manifest and promote the visible unity of the Church.” 5 Winslow’s insights into the connection between what we call “catholicity” and the Lord’s Prayer are undeniable. If the Father is a Father of a family, and if the Father’s love is imparted and installed into His sons and daughters, then that Fatherly love will reach out and connect to others who have been loved by the Father. John taught this in his first epistle. “For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another…We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (3:11; 4:19-21).

Two Reasons Jesus Teaches us to Pray “OUR Father”
Pretty obvious then, isn’t it? So when it comes to praying to the Father, Jesus says “Our Father” basically for two reasons. The first reason Jesus teaches us to pray “Our Father” is because He can’t conceive of His brothers and sisters – the sons and daughters of the Father – not praying together. Prayer in the closet is one thing, and it is a good thing, as Jesus taught in Matthew 6 just previous to His teaching on the Lord’s Prayer. But He moves from teaching about private prayer to understanding the corporate nature of prayer. And in simple, here’s what it looks like: Christians praying together. This is not modeled anywhere better than in the early church. After the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the church is huddled together as a corporate praying people. They were united in grief by their murdered Messiah. And they were united in joy by their resurrected Redeemer. Then they were united in prayer by their hope in the Spirit of the Savior. “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1). After Pentecost, they were united in prayer together in devotion to worship. “And they devoted themselves to…the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Later they were united in prayer by their partnership with their Persecuted Prince. “When *Peter and John+ were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they

5

Ibid, pp. 28-29

Praying the Mission (1): Knowing the Father

Page 7

lifted their voices together to God…And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:23-24). I have often wondered as a pastor if my shepherding attempts throughout my years of ministry efforts have not been impeded and inhibited by a lack of corporate praying. Praying together as a body is the greatest reflection of unity in a local church. Man! That makes me want to radically alter and shift and change the way I do things as a leader. Praying together is the best way to be the unified people Jesus prays that we would be in John 17. The second reason Jesus taught us to pray “Our Father” is because any approach to the Father necessarily and inherently and explicitly acknowledges and embraces that He has other children besides me. Christians must go to the Father in prayer with no other understanding of the Father except that which understands Him as a Father to many other sons and daughters. In other words, when we come to the Father in private prayer we simply cannot pray to Him without a heart-attitude about our unity with one another that is interwoven into the very fabric of our attitudes and words in prayer. Coming right off the heels of private prayer, Jesus begins His teaching on prayer with first-words that group me in together with everyone else in the family of the Father. So if I’m going to engage in private prayer, I simply cannot do it without this mindset dominating my prayer life. In short, there can be no individualism when it comes to praying to the Father. While you are bringing your needs to the Father, and while He cares about them, those needs must be tempered with the same needs other brothers and sisters have. Peter speaks like this, for example, when he teaches the persecuted and scattered believers about spiritual warfare and prayer. “…casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeing someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Pet. 5:7-9). This is a call to all of us now to defy individualism. “I” isn’t part of “our”. Believers cannot think in terms of “I” but “us” and “we” and “our”. We are a family…all of us. And that is so anticultural, isn’t it? We’re trained from birth to worry and fight and secure comfort for ourselves and then for one another. So we bring our world’s culture into our relationship with God so that He is my God. And that’s good and necessary, but to a certain degree. It is good in one respect because many of us have never had anyone to love us and nurture us and take care of us, especially in a generation where fathers have abdicated their roles to their wives and pursued their careers. But this also can be dangerous when not tempered with the fact that Jesus died for a group of people, and not just for me. I cringe when I hear statements or songs that tell me that if I were the only person on earth, Jesus would have died for me. The

Praying the Mission (1): Knowing the Father

Page 8

Bible always couches Christ’s death and God’s love in terms of a corporate group of people, and not in terms of individualism. Inherent in individualism is thinking of God as a Father only to me. We think of Him in our individual terms and concepts. We view Him through the filter we had of our own father, for example, or perhaps as a Savior of our own personal hell or suffering. But this always run the risk of falling into the pothole of idolatry, or making God after our own image, after our own likeness. God is not my Father, but our Father. R. C. Sproul concurred when he wrote, “When I talk to someone who is having difficulty using the word Father and wants to choke on it when he refers to God, I usually advise him that, as hard as it may be, to focus on the word that comes before it, our, because ‘our Father’ is not his father. ‘Our Father’ is not the father who violated him. It’s our Father in heaven, our Father has no abuse in Him, who will never violate anyone. We all need to learn to use this phrase and transfer to God the positive attributes that we so earnestly desire and so seriously miss in our earthly fathers.” 6

Two Reasons Why There Can Ultimately Be No “Personal Relationship” With Jesus
What I’m trying to say here is that there can really and ultimately be no “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ. Christianity is not a “me and Jesus” thing. This is so for two reasons. First, Jesus Christ is identified and known and interpreted by the world through His body, the church. To have a relationship with Jesus is to have a relationship with His body. Any claim to have fellowship with Jesus but not with other believers is a farce. It’s simply not possible spiritually, theologically, or metaphysically. Paul taught this theology to the Corinthians. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit…Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Cor. 12:12, 13, 27). And to the Ephesians he taught the same thing. Referring to the wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles, Paul writes about the unifying person and work of Jesus Christ. “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one…and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility…For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,

6

Sproul. p. 26.

Praying the Mission (1): Knowing the Father

Page 9

in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (2:14, 16, 18-22). This leads me second to the fact that to focus on Jesus Christ is to also focus on His body, the church. If you want to savor Jesus, you do so by serving the saints and loving one another. You can’t love Jesus and “dis” His Bride. He has chosen to manifest Himself through a corporate people called the church. So any conception you and I have about Jesus and our relationship to Him must be guided by and built in this theology of “one people.” He is inseparable from His people. That’s why, for example, in the Parable of the Sheep and Goats in Matthew 25, the goats were sent to hell. Because they did not do the things Jesus mentions there to “the least of these my brethren” the goats did not in reality do those things to Jesus Himself. There is an inseparable unity and oneness Jesus has with His people so that they are intertwined, and what happens to one affects what happens to the other. Unity to Jesus necessarily and inherently means unity to other people who are united to Jesus. So it is in light of this truth about our oneness together in Christ’s person and work that Paul writes to the Ephesians about how they should be living with each other. “…*W+ith all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the spirit of unity in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all…Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (4:2-5, 32). To the Philippians again, he writes, “…*C+omplete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (2:3, 4).

Praying With This Mindset Will Morph and Guide Our Prayer Life
As we pray with a fuller, more richly theological understanding of the corporate body of Christ and our unity together with Christ in the Father, I see several ways from Scripture in which our prayer lives will be morphed and guided. We will be taught how to pray. We will become intercessors. And we will develop thanksgiving. Let me break these down briefly. 1. Praying With This Mindset Teaches us How to Pray Better

Praying the Mission (1): Knowing the Father

Page 10

It is crucial for sons and daughters of the Father then, to come to their Abba in prayer with a corporate sense of identity, instead of our own individual needs and wants as our culture and selfish nature trains us to do. I realize that the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 8:26 that, “we do not know what to pray for as we ought.” But I also know that Paul is not saying, “Don’t learn how to pray better.” If that were true, then the Spirit would not have guided him to write down so many of his prayers for the churches so that we could read and learn what prayer does in fact look like. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches how to pray and “what to pray for,” as Paul says in Romans 8:26. The fact that He is teaching us means that prayer is not something that comes naturally to us. That, I believe, is the essence of what Paul is after in his statement about prayer in Romans 8, by the way. Jesus’ teaching on prayer is part of the renewing of our minds so that we can be transformed people (Rom. 12:2). While we are born again, and while the old has gone and the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17), our new nature inherently inclines us pray with the right attitude and heart. However, we still must be taught to do it and to think about prayer within the context of our corporate identity as one body, and our unity together in Jesus Christ. So this is hard work we’re talking about here, both praying and learning how to pray at the same time. Realizing that I am only a part of a huge family of the Father will effectively temper, shape, form, and morph the way I pray to the Father. In fact, the mere word “Father” makes me immediately think of His other children so that I am thrust into their needs and their sufferings. 2. Praying With This Mindset Develops a Biblical Intercessory Prayer Life Commands and teachings like these are seen more clearly in light of how Jesus teaches us to pray. Take this one for instance: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). Or this one: “…in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4). Bearing one another’s burdens and counting others’ needs as more important than mine should happen first and foremost when we address “our Father” in prayer. This is called intercession and the Apostle Paul defines it this way. “Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints…” (Eph. 6:18, 19). When I have a deep sense of my oneness with my other brothers and sisters, praying for them will just flow rather naturally from my heart. 3. Praying With This Mindset Develops a Heart of Thanksgiving in our Prayer Life Then there’s thanksgiving which Paul modeled so well for us. You’ll notice how many of the letters he writes begin with his personal prayer life and how the people he writes to actually shape his prayers. In other words, he actually engages with the content and substance of their life and allows that to guide how he prays. He doesn’t pray cheesy-traditional prayers for people that we’ve heard so many times.

Praying the Mission (1): Knowing the Father

Page 11

You remember what I’m talking about here: “God we just wanna thank you for your servants John and Joanna who so faithfully serve in ways we just have don’t time to list. And we also just wanna lift up all our missionaries who are so faithfully serving you in foreign countries. Time just doesn’t permit us to remember each one of them here and now, but we just wanna lift ‘em up and ask you to bless ‘em, Lord.” Remember prayers like these? In churches where I grew up they were usually prayed by older people during Wednesday night prayer meetings, or just before the offering on Sunday mornings. But if you compare this mindset and prayer life with what we actually see in the life and letters of Paul, we get an altogether different picture of how a corporate identity and unity and oneness and togetherness in the body of Christ actually shape and morph our prayer life. Allow me to take a brief survey of Paul’s personal prayer life to make this point. I’ll then follow it up with two simple observations. Prayers Motivated and Guided by a Group of Believers  To the Philippian Church: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil. 1:3-5). Listen to Paul’s usage of superlatives like all, always, every, and all. It doesn’t appear that he left people out! Likewise, since he was writing to them from prison, their prayers for him were shaped by a “one-another” mindset. “Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance” (1:18, 19).  To the Colossian Church: “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints…” (Col. 1:3, 4). Notice again the superlative, always. In other words, every single time he remembers one of the Colossians, he is always led to pray for them and thank God for them. Also notice that Paul’s personal prayer life is guided and morphed by something remarkable he notices about the Colossian church. There was something specific about them that sparked him to thank God for them and pray for them. Conversely, his imprisoned situation should guide the Colossians as they pray for him. “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison – that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak” (4:2-4). Then, we get another snapshot of one of Paul’s apostolic team members, Epaphras, “who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus…always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God” (4:12).

Praying the Mission (1): Knowing the Father

Page 12

To the Thessalonian Church: “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 1:2, 3). Notice again the superlatives: all and constantly. It’s a habit here. Then notice the frequent uses of “our” which clearly show that even Paul himself is not praying by himself for them. Rather “We” and “our” indicate a more corporate involvement he has in praying for them, probably with the apostolic team he traveled with. He begins his second letter to them with no less a sense of unity in prayer. “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing” (2 Thess. 1:3).

Prayers Motivated and Guided by an Individual Believer  To Timothy: “I thank my God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day” (2 Tim. 1:3). Paul is writing to a young man he personally disciple for many years, before leaving him in Ephesus to take over the pastoral work there. After leaving, Paul thought about Timothy constantly, which led him to pray. And what precisely does he pray about regarding Timothy? His tears of love for Paul (v. 4) and his sincere faith which he learned from his grandmother and mother (v. 5). To Philemon: “I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you” (vv. 4-7). Philemon was the owner of a house in which the Colossian believers met as a church family. So when Paul remembered Philemon and his service to the church family in this way, something this simple sparked and motivated and guided some significant praying for Philemon and his family.

Observations on Paul’s Prayer Life Now, within this survey there are two simple things I observed regarding Paul’s prayer life. And these examples of his prayer life are there, by the way, to give us a living-color example of what our prayer should look like when we are genuinely praying, “our Father.” 1. Beginning my prayer with “our Father” immediately forces my mind into the lives of my other brothers and sisters whose needs, circumstances, and situations I feel to be more significant and important than mine. Praying like Jesus taught me will lead me to pray these people as a group (like Paul did entire churches), or for individuals (like Paul did Timothy and Philemon, and others).

Praying the Mission (1): Knowing the Father

Page 13

2. Beginning my prayer with “our Father” fills my prayers for “our” brothers and sisters with substantive content about God’s work in their lives. This always produces joy and thanksgiving in my heart for them. In other words, assuming I’m connected to the lives of others as I ought to be, when I think about them I will be led to thank God for them and joyfully pray for them. I think those two observations sum up the basics when it comes to not only Paul’s prayer life, but also our own as we pursue a Father who belongs to us all. This is just so natural for a prayer life that is dominated and guided by this corporate sense of identity, oneness, unity and togetherness we all have as sons and daughters of Jesus Christ. No doubt it was built in to Jesus’ teaching on prayer, as well as Paul’s example in prayer, including the reflection of the early church in their prayer life. In all three examples it seems common sense that whatever problems, situations, circumstances, struggles, tribulations, trials, or conflicts a church experiences, praying together, and praying with a unity-dominated mindset enables a church to pass through these fires with gold and silver instead of wood, hay and stubble. Winslow has written, “There is not an engagement so uniting, so healing, so hallowing as prayer. In this holy atmosphere nothing can live but the pure, the holy, the loving. Sectarianism vanishes, bigotry expires, coldness dissolves, wounds are healed; and the saints, clustering together around the feet of the one God and Father of all, realize their spiritual unity, exhibit their indivisible oneness, and present a spectacle of holy love such as earth, with all its boasted alliances never saw, and such as heaven, from amidst its perfect harmony, looks down to see. Oh, were there a deeper and more universal spirit of united prayer pervading Christ’s Church, it would tide over those sectarian differences and party jealousies which so much deface its comeliness, impair its power, and shade its luster; and flowing with the effulgence which encircles the throne of grace, she would go forth, luminous and invincible, to subdue and bless the world…” 7

The Significance for the Mission
Jesus prayed to the Father because He loved the Father, and because the Father loved Him. Paul prayed for these churches and individuals because he loved them, and he knew they loved him. The early church prayed together because they loved the Father, and they knew He loved them. In all of these examples and reflections of prayer, they seem to be rooted in the soil of God’s love. And that’s approximately where we started out in this particular chapter. Love is what makes the wheels turn and the motor run when it comes to the church on its mission. When we love someone we think about them when we are not around them. And when we love someone we want to get to know them better when we are with them. Love for one another is what motivates mission. That’s because it’s what motivated God’s mission.
7

Winslow, pp. 33-34.

Praying the Mission (1): Knowing the Father

Page 14

“God so loved the world that He sent His only Son…” (John 3:16). God loved the world so much. He loved the world so much. He loved the world so much, that He gave. He gave by sending His only Son. The Father loved you and I and the world so much that He send His Son on a mission to get us back to Himself. The Father has handed that mission to Jesus, who has handed that mission to the disciples, who have handed that mission down to us. And in each generation, the mission is still guided by the same thing: so much love for one another that we are sent into the world to give of ourselves so that others may believe in Christ and have eternal life. It is this love for one another that we call unity. And when it pervades and dominates our lives, all the way down to the private areas no one sees or rewards (except for God, of course), then we are one people whom the world cannot dismiss. We are a force to be reckoned with. “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world…I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, just as you Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I In them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:18, 20-23). Listen to Winslow’s words in closing on this issue of love. “Why should we not love, even though we differ? Why should we not unite, even though we are separated? Why should we not bear each other’s burdens, and sympathise with each other’s trials, and aid each other’s efforts, and bow together at the footstool of the same Father, even though we are labouring for Him in sundered departments of the one house? If our love to the Father is genuine, our love to the offspring of that Father will be true. Love to the one will be the measure, as the evidence, of our love to the other. Oh, for more love! Were I asked what the first great need of the Church was, I should unhesitatingly reply – love. And what the second – love. And what the third – love. “I marvel not that our Lord added a ‘new commandment,’ as it were, to the Decalogue – ‘That ye love one another, even as I have loved you.’ Love would veil infirmities; love would seal the law of kindness upon the lip; love would rebuke slander, reprove falsehood, and suppress every thought, feeling, and word that would dishonor the Father through the child, wound the Savior through the disciple, grieve the Master through the servant. “Realising our personal interest in God’s love, and remembering that He loves alike all the children of His family, with what holy guardedness should we respect the feelings, and shield the reputation, and promote the happiness of all the

Praying the Mission (1): Knowing the Father

Page 15

sons and daughters of God! Oh, how can I look coldly upon him whom God smiles? How dare I disown one whom Christ accepts? Where is the evidence of my own sonship if I unite not in heart and voice with my brother in saying, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven?’ – and while I breathe the filial words, feel not a brother’s love glowing in my heart?” 8 “Why should we not, though of different communions, break through the fence and leap over the wall of separation, and pour out our sorrowing hearts together in mutual fellowship at the feet of OUR Father in heaven? Could these happy spirits [in heaven], who have fled from the religious divisions and strifes of the Church on earth, bend from their thrones and speak, with what holy earnestness, with what glowing love, with what celestial and touch eloquence would they exclaim – ‘Your different forms of church polity and worship are human, your essential faith and heavenly hopes are divine! Oh, love as brethren! We now see the folly of our divisions, the sin of our contentions, the iniquity of our jealousies, strifes, and alienations. Here there are no different communions, no separating walls, no exclusive altars, - nothing to impair the power, or shade the lustre, or disturb the music of that love which now knits every heart in the closest fellowship, and blends every voice in the sweetest song. “We are now with Christ! In the effulgence of His glory all is absorbed and annihilated that once created a cloud, or inspired a jarring note. His love so overflows our souls that we are transformed into love, we are all love, and nothing but love toward one another. All our thoughts and feelings, worship and service, so centre in Christ, that, forgetting earth’s divisions and strifes, or, remembering them but to deepen our humility and heighten our song, we now feel, as we have never felt before, how human, how light, how insignificant were the things which once separated, - and how divine, how real, how lasting are those which now unite us in a fellowship as holy, as close, and as eternal as the unity of the God we adore.’ “Let us endeavor to approximate, in some measure, to the sentiments and feelings of the glorified saints. Let us realise in some degree what that love in heaven is that constrains the most fierce polemics and the widest sectarians, who once wrote and spake and strove with each other so fiercely and so bitterly, each for his own communion, now to meet in the embrace of a love that buries all the past of earth’s infirmities in its infinite depths of its eternal flow. Oh, in the light of the one close view of eternity, in the experience of one moment’s realisation of heaven, how unimportant and puerile the contentions
8

Winslow, pp. 37-38.

Praying the Mission (1): Knowing the Father

Page 16

as to whose orders are the most valid, or whose church polity is the most apostolic! OUR Father, who art in heaven! Look down upon Thy one family! And so fill it with Thy love, that, casting out all selfishness, coldness, and alienation, all may meet at Thy feet, and love as brethren, and worship Thee as the one God and Father of all.”9 “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law” (James 4:11). “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Pet. 3:8, 9). “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 4:31-5:2). “Were these divine and holy precepts more conscientiously and strictly observed, were they entwined more closely with the intercourse of saint with saint, and of the saints with the world in daily life, how much evil would be prevented, how much alienation of affection would be averted, how Christian brethren, now sundered in the intercourse and fellowship by misrepresentations, evil-speaking, and mischief-making, would be united in the sweetest communion and in the holiest service for Christ! Oh, to remember that every shaft hurled at a brother’s fair fame pierces him through the heart of Jesus!”10 “*A+s we approach eternity, and realise more the heavenly glory, do we not feel a closer drawing towards all who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity? Standing once by the dying bed of a child of God, he stretched forth his emaciated hand, cold and clammy with the moisture of death, and, grasping mine, exclaimed, ‘The nearer I get to heaven, the dearer to my heart are the Lord’s people of every branch of His one family.’ “Such, too, was the testimony of, a few days before his death, of an eminent professor of an American university – ‘The longer I live the more clearly do I prize being a Christian, and the more signally unimportant seem to me the differences
9 10

Ibid, pp. 44-46. Ibid, pp. 48-49.

Praying the Mission (1): Knowing the Father

Page 17

by which true Christians are separated from each other.’ How sweetly these dying testimonies to the unity of the Church of Christ chine with the dying prayer of Christ Himself for His universal Church, ‘That they all may be ONE.’”11

11

Ibid, pp. 51-52.

Praying the Mission (1): Knowing the Father

Page 18