Sunday, March 21, 2010

Praying on the Edge

I really didn't expect to be going on about the Jesus Prayer for post after post, but here I am again, back on the same theme. In the first post, Praying for the Kingdom of God, I tried to emphasize that the Jesus prayer has little in common with the way we usually pray. We usually pray with our "needs" uppermost, instead of the kingdom of God. And in the second post, The Jesus Prayer is a Missional Prayer, I tried to emphasize the related point that Jesus was teaching disciples how to pray. It is a prayer format for disciples.

There are a few things I want to say before going further. First, my prayer-life is no model of Christian piety. Believe me, I am no expert. I am a stuttering, befuddled, mind-wandering kind of pray-er. I pray often, throughout the day in fact, most often the age-old gem, "Help me, Lord!" But what I have found is that praying for myself and others in the way that Jesus taught us to pray has tended to cleanse my prayer-life of self-focused pleading, and helped me to picture myself as I pray not as the client of some wise and supernaturally gifted therapist and sugar-daddy, but as a front-line representative (one of many) of God's onrushing Kingdom.

I've been reading Darrell Johnson's book about The Revelation to John called Discipleship on the Edge, which emphasizes that The Revelation is primarily intended as an encouragement to disciples. I want to borrow something from Johnson that helps us to understand the position of the disciple in the plan of God to make his will be done "on earth as it is in heaven." This understanding frees us from reading The Revelation as a book of prognostication (as if John were an early Nostradamus). But it is not only a book for disciples, but a book for disciples "on the edge." When we see what Johnson means by that, it will help us to understand the real need for praying the way Jesus taught.
I have entitled this book Discipleship on the Edge because, as I hope to make clear, Revelation is not a crystal ball revealing esoteric secrets that enable us to escape the harsh realities of life on earth, but a down-to-earth manual on how to be a disciple of Jesus facing the harsh realities of life on the earth; in particular, how to do this the way Jesus did and does. Edge because, as I also hope to make clear, that is the "place" where we are called to be Jesus' disciples. I am using the image of an edge to refer to three places. First, to refer to living on the edge of the final inbreaking of the kingdom of God, on the edge between this world and the next. Second, to refer to living on the edge where the inbreaking kingdom of God presently comes up against the kingdoms of this world which are out of sync with it. And third, "edge" refers to living before the "sharp, two-edged sword" that proceeds from the mouth of the risen Jesus.... This "edge" is very sharp--like a surgeon's scalpel--with the same intent of deep healing and freedom. As we will see . . . the whole book is written to bring us to the razor-sharp point of decision: who will be the Lord of my life and of the world? Whose way leads to the establishing of God's just rule amnong the nations?
Now, I've included this lengthy quote about discipleship because I want to emphasize that we who call ourselves Jesus followers live on this edge, and pray on this edge. This edge is a violent place where the enemies of God's kingdom make sorties and ambushes and full-scale assaults on God's kingdom ambassadors and intercessors. Satan is not interest in your "health and wealth," but in disabling you as a disciple of the triumphant Lamb! We long for this edge to be obliterated at last, for the time when we shall at last say "the kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever." [Rev. 11:15]

All this being the case, it changes the way we see, for example, our daily needs. We pray differently because we learn to "want" differently, for ourselves, and for our loved ones. Just as seeing Revelation as a discipleship book changes the way you read and understand its rich content, seeing the Jesus prayer as a discipleship prayer (and ourselves as disciples) changes the way we pray. It changes the way we want. It changes our hopes and dreams and the desires of our hearts. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, who is in the disciple-making business. That just happens to be one of the ways God is working out his kingdom plan.

In the next few posts I'm going to take the four requests laid out in the second half of the prayer of Jesus (provision, forgiveness, protection from temptation, protection from the evil one), and expand on how these things fit in our prayer-life as discipleship.

Final note: you might think that, since I'm quoting Darrell Johnson and all, I might at least quote his book on the Lord's prayer, called Fifty-Seven Words that Change the World: A Journey through the Lord's Prayer. All I can say is, it's in the mail.

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