Jesus teaches his disciples whom to address in prayer: God alone. Not a “generic god,” whether one god among many, or an impersonal force, or even a supreme being who remains ultimately unknown, but the only true God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus definitively reveals God to be his Father and ours. He receives us into his own life with God, inviting—commanding!—us to relate to God as he himself does, as the Beloved Son to the Father. Learning to pray doesn’t mean learning techniques or formulae, learning to enter into trancelike states through mantras, or learning to pull cosmic levers to coax the universe into giving you what you want. Learning to pray is learning to relate personally to God as our Father in Christ. In order to pray as Jesus teaches, you must trust that God is who Jesus says he is.

Jesus begins this way because this is the prior reality that shapes and controls all our prayer. It is the most important thing, the foundational thing, the essential thing to know about prayer. It is the starting place of Christian prayer; before you even thought of praying, God made you his child. Your prayer is a response to your Father. Through faith in Jesus you really may pray this way, out of the fullness of knowing yourself to be the Beloved of God. The one who prays as Jesus taught is no longer lost and desperate to have God as his Father. “The essence of true prayer is found in these two words, ‘Our Father.’ If you can say from your heart, whatever your condition, ‘Our Father,’ in a sense your prayer is already answered” (David Martyn Lloyd-Jones).

You are never alone in prayer. Each person of the Trinity is present and engaged in his distinct way. We pray to the Father, mediated by and joining with Christ the Son, through the Holy Spirit. So, even if you’re in your closet (Matt. 6:6), prayer is a community conversation. Furthermore, the Lord’s Prayer is explicitly the prayer of the church, the community of God’s people. Jesus teaches us to pray, “Our Father…” You are not an only child. Your spiritual relationship is meant to be lived in community, and prayer best reflects God’s intent when it is corporate. This is not to minimize private prayer, but to recognize the emphasis on unity in Jesus’ teaching on prayer. So we pray this way together in Worship as the family of God.

We pray to God who is in Heaven, that Holy Place accessible to us only because of the blood of Jesus (Heb. 10:19). With his life Jesus has purchased our right to enter Heaven—even now, by his Spirit—and approach God with confidence, as only a Son would do. Though prayer may not always feel like a mystical, ecstatic, beatific-vision-level experience of God, you do have audience with the one on the throne of heaven. And he is your Father!

Apart from learning to pray from Jesus, how are you prone to conceive of prayer? What do you instinctively assume you need to improve about your prayer in order to pray “more adequately or effectively”? Can you think of prayer as a personal-relational activity with this God who has graciously initiated your relationship? When you go long periods of time without prayer, do you feel like you have to say or do something before you’ll feel at home in God’s presence, or do you imagine God as a Father who is always delighted to hear his child’s prayer? Is it easier for you to pray alone or with others? How do you think about individual and corporate prayer differently? Are they, in fact, fundamentally different things?

“Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray…'” (Luke 11:1). The disciple probably asked better than he understood, but it was the best request (prayer!) a new disciple could make. They saw that Jesus knew how to pray, and they wanted to learn from him. Disciples see that Jesus has a relationship with God, and they ask to share in it. In response, Jesus teaches the paradigmatic prayer that has come to be known as “the Lord’s Prayer” (Luke 11:2-4; Matthew 6:9-13), welcoming his disciples into his own prayer, into his own relationship and conversation with God.

Prayer is—first, essentially, and eternally—an activity of the Triune God. Prayer is the Son’s communication with the Father in the Spirit. Prayer is a reality because God is who he is, this God who prays. Prayer didn’t become a reality after God created human beings who could talk to him. In fact, the first recorded prayer of the Bible is God’s own dialogue which resulted in the creation of humanity (Genesis 1:26-27). Our life in God’s image is God’s answer to God’s prayer! And we are made for prayer, for relationship with this praying God, in all we do. So, prayer encompasses the whole of God’s intention for human reality.

It is no wonder, then, that Jesus knows how to pray. His prayerfulness as a human reveals and reflects his prayerfulness as God. His eternal life means prayer, and he incarnated as a human to restore humanity to prayer. He prayed as one of us, for us, in our place. He shares his life of prayer with us. And it is no wonder that we must ask him to teach us to pray. Apart from him, we cannot pray. By definition, sinners don’t pray, not really. We must get into God’s own life before we can truly pray, and Jesus is the only way into God’s life. We must be taken along with him in his prayer, and learn to pray as he does. “Prayer does not mean simply to pour out one’s heart. It means rather to find the way to God and to speak with him… No man can do that by himself. For that he needs Jesus Christ” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer).

Do you believe that God prays? Does that matter to you? How would you describe your need for Jesus to teach you to pray? Have you prayed that Jesus would teach you to pray? What has that meant for your relationship with God? Do you think people can instinctively pray apart from faith in Jesus, apart from learning to pray from Jesus? Why or why not? Have you ever considered teaching others to pray the Lord’s Prayer as evangelism? If the Lord’s Prayer is paradigmatic for us, what place does it take among the prayers recorded in the Bible? What are some other prayers recorded in the Bible that help you to pray? What relationship do these prayers have to the Lord’s Prayer? What does it mean to pray “in Jesus’ name” (John 16:24)? To pray “in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 20)?

“Amen”

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“Amen” is more than just a nice word to signal to others that a confession or a prayer is over. It is a word frequently found in the Scriptures, often in the context of covenants, to pledge one’s personal agreement to the truth of what is said (or prayed). Jesus says this word a lot, but it’s usually translated this way: “Truly, truly (Amen, amen), I say to you…” From him, it has the emphatic force equivalent to the declaration, found throughout the Old Testament, “Thus says the Lord…” With this word, attention is called to the truth as God’s truth, which should hold the highest significance for all people. This word is the final word in the Scriptures (Revelation 22:21); God’s revelation is given so that we might respond with faith. This whole world, and especially humanity, is meant to be one big “amen” to the glorious truth of who God is. But sinners disbelieve God’s truth, which is at the heart of what’s wrong with us all. When sinners start believing God’s truth, the world is being set back right.

Jesus is the only human who is in complete personal agreement with God’s truth, who fully says, “Yes” to God’s revelation and covenant. And he does so on our behalf, vicariously. “All the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Corinthians 1:20). Jesus Christ is the True Believer; his faith is our life with God. Believers resonate on his frequency, so to speak. Because he believes God’s truth, we may believe it also. In Christ, and only in Christ, do we pledge our personal agreement to God’s truth. With Christ, we profess and proclaim the Gospel, commending it for the faith of others. The Apostles’ Creed opens with the words, “I believe,” and closes with, “amen,” framing our confession in terms greater than mere intellectual assent—in terms of personal trust and allegiance. The whole world must resound with the “Amen” of redeemed humanity in Jesus Christ. It will mean the renewal of all things in right relationship to God. “Amen!

How is creation meant to be an “amen” to God? Why would God bother to give us his Word—to give us his very own Son—in order to evoke an “amen” from us? Do you resonate with God’s truth? Do you profess your faith (and pray) publicly? Do you seal your profession (and prayers) with an “amen”? If so, why do you do this? What significance does this word have to you, if any? Does it have the same significance for you that it does when Jesus says it? What are the similarities/differences? Will there ever be a time when you are in complete personal agreement with God’s truth? When? Why? And what will that be like?

“Love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13:8). The Lord’s people sing, “His steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 100:5; 106:1; 107:1; 117:2; 118:1-4, 29; 136; 138:8). “The Life Everlasting” isn’t just the unceasing continuation of mere existence. It is divine communion, which is why it endures forever. The duration of eternal life derives from its character, its nature, its essence, which is love: specifically, Triune Love. The Triune Life of God is eternity; the mutual indwelling of the Father and Son in the communion of the Spirit is eternity. Eternity would be nothing at all if not for the Holy Love of God.

This very Life of God is exactly what the Lord has shared with us. Through his power, according to the Gospel, his people have been made “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:3-4). That is, the Triune Love “has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). That is, we know God with God’s own knowledge, with the intimate knowledge that he has sent in the knowledge of his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus prayed to his Father and ours, “This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). And this life will never end, because the Triune God lives and loves forever.

So, at the Resurrection, the eternal state in the New Heaven and New Earth (Revelation 21:1) will be consummated in the most wonderful of all celebrations: the Wedding Feast of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7) who was slain to make us his bride. The Risen King who has been “anointed with the oil of gladness” (Psalm 45:7) has made ready to receive “the all glorious princess” (v. 13), having sanctified her by his gracious word (Ephesians 5:25-27; Psalm 45:2). With joy and gladness we will enter together with our Beloved into his palace (Psalm 45:15), into his chambers (Song of Solomon 1:4), into the very bosom of eternity. In the fullness of his presence and in true union with him we will have the Life of God wholly in us, which will be the final death of all our sin, and the death of death itself. In the New Creation, eternity will be for us, together, what it is for God himself: love. Deep, strong, jubilant, utter love—as the Lord lives!

Does “the Life Everlasting” sound good to you? Are you willing to go public with your profession of it as Gospel? What’s the most interesting part to you? When would it be helpful to meditate on it? What prevents you from believing it? How might this central proclamation of the church be mistaken for escapism, and what’s wrong with that idea? (Is there anything right with the “escape” idea?) Can you imagine the love that is the essence of eternal life? How can you participate even now in the abundance (John 10:10) of God’s Life? What do you do with the tension between the realities of the “already” of communion with God and the “not yet” of the coming consummation?

Long before God came into the world in the person of Jesus, the Scriptures indicated that there would be a Day of Resurrection (Ezekiel 37; Daniel 12:2; Hosea 6:2). The resurrection of God’s people would be of a kind with the resurrection of God’s Messiah (Isaiah 53:10-12). Jesus taught that this resurrection would coincide with the final judgment of all people, that believers would be raised to everlasting life while unbelievers would be raised to everlasting condemnation (Matthew 25:31-46; John 5:28-29).

Jesus himself was “raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures… the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:4, 20). Jesus had said, “I am the resurrection… whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25), and, “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19). When Jesus returns, “the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them… [to] always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). On the Day of Resurrection, those who are in Christ by faith will be, bodily, “raised imperishable… raised in glory… raised in power… [having] a spiritual body… [in] the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:42-49). This is meant to be encouraging (1 Thessalonians 4:18)!

The Gospel is that what is true of Jesus Christ is true of those who are united to him through the Spirit by faith and baptism. So, if Jesus is risen from the dead bodily, then we too will be resurrected bodily, and made like him. This is because he has united himself to us, and made us such a part of his own identity that he would not be himself if he did not bring us to resurrection glory with himself. This resurrection reality is, therefore, a greater certainty than death itself, for not all will die, but all will be raised (1 Corinthians 15:51) and “super-clothed” with immortality (2 Corinthians 5:4). And the most significant, most wonderful thing about our resurrection is that it is a facet of the life of Jesus Christ himself. Based on some fascinating aspects of Jesus’ resurrection body, we could speculate about the physical ramifications and benefits of our future resurrection, but the prospect is really only interesting at all because of the sure hope of being with Jesus. “What we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

What do you imagine the Day of Resurrection will be like, and why? What do you imagine your resurrection body will be like, and why? What are you looking forward to most of all about it? Do you have any reservations about the idea of a universal resurrection as Jesus describes it? How does knowing that a resurrection is coming affect the way you view the world today? How does it affect the way you see your own present life and circumstances? Can you think of people who need to hear the encouragement and embrace the hope of the resurrection?

This phrase is the creed’s succinct statement of the essence of our vicarious salvation in Jesus Christ. What is Christian salvation? It is the forgiveness of sins, the reconciliation of humanity to God in Christ. Forgiveness is what needs to happen in order for a relationship to be restored and to continue when one party has offended the other. We have personally offended God; that is the definition of sin. In his divine righteousness the offense of our sin has eternal and infinite significance. It would be just for him to end our relationship, to require that we suffer in a way commensurate with the nature of our transgression. But, in Jesus Christ, God has absorbed the pain of the broken relationship, he has suffered for our transgression (Isaiah 53:4-6), in order to forgive us and to restore the relationship.

“In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7). In the words of Karl Barth: “God himself, by taking man’s place in Jesus Christ, has taken over the unconditional responsibility for his way” (Dogmatics in Outline). Because Jesus is our substitute, our vicar, our representative in relationship to God, our godlessness was imputed to him as he suffered in our place (especially at the cross), and his godliness has been imputed to us so that we are forgiven, justified, and welcome in God’s presence with the same reception given to Christ himself. “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them… For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:19, 21).

We don’t deserve forgiveness. By its very nature, forgiveness is undeserved favor given in spite of offense. Asking forgiveness is a great imposition. In the case of our salvation, before we asked for it—and regardless of the fact that we never perfectly confess, apologize, repent, and ask forgiveness for our sin—God sent his Son into the world to forgive us. Jesus is the only one who has the right to condemn another human being, but he does not; he forgives, at the cost of his own life. Forgiveness was his idea in the first place, his initiative in our relationship, an imposition upon himself that he has invited and promised to grant. He forgives us because that’s what kind of God he is. He gives himself to those who reject him (who even killed him!), which is the highest, purest, freest expression of love. Because of Jesus, you can be assured that you could never feel, think, say, or do anything that would make God turn his Fatherly love away from you. And if you truly know God’s forgiveness in Christ, you can extend God’s forgiveness in Christ to others who have offended you (Ephesians 4:32).

Do you know your need of forgiveness? Why do you think/feel you need God’s forgiveness? Is it easy for you to ask forgiveness of God? Of others? Why or why not? Do you know why David asks forgiveness of God when he has so terribly hurt Bathsheba and Uriah (Psalm 51:1-4)? How is asking forgiveness different from apologizing or saying, “I’m sorry”? How is forgiving different from saying, “That’s okay”? Can you forgive the people who have hurt you most deeply, who have committed the gravest injustices, whom it is instinctive to demonize? How do you think about forgiving others in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Please feel free to use this in your personal or public Worship.

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God, you are majestic in your freedom to love. You made us to share this glory, but we doubted you and became enslaved to sin. Left to ourselves, we are spiritually blind, deaf, and lame; we cannot change or help ourselves; we are dead to you in our rebellion. We certainly do not deserve your kindness. Yet you remain free to love the unlovely, which is your glory. Take pity on us, forgive us, and make us alive to you. Restore us to true freedom in communion with you. Your declaration of mercy in Christ Jesus the Lord is our only hope and prayer. Amen.

Please feel free to use this in your personal or public Worship.

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Holy Trinity, God of love, our Creator and Redeemer; we are living paradoxes. Even though you made us in your image, we distort the reflection of your glory in our self-love. Even though you grant us every good gift—including the gift of our very selves—we refuse to accept your generosity in our demand to be self-made. In our sin we have violated your reality, and yet we have convinced ourselves that we have done no such thing. In reaching out to seize life apart from you, we have lost everything. But our betrayal could not stop your love. You came into the world in the person of your Son to seek and to save the lost. Save us from ourselves, and help us to find ourselves in the Beloved, forgiven and accepted. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Please feel free to use this in your personal or public Worship.

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God of grace and truth, show yourself to be our Savior. Our sin is folly and insanity; it is a gloom of deep darkness, and we have lingered there. In our self-centeredness we have spurned your love. We have manipulated and hurt those closest to us. We allow ourselves to believe that our sin is no serious offense, but we have forsaken you and your glorious purpose for our lives. Can it be true that you have not forsaken us? Have you really atoned for our sin by the life and death of your own Son? Grant us confidence in our relationship with you, in spite of all our sin. Make us to know that we belong to you, and that you belong to us, through the sure word of your Gospel and the power of your Holy Spirit. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Reality is communion. The real God who is the source of all reality exists as Persons in Communion: Father and Son in the communion of the Holy Spirit. Eternity is the perichoretic Dance where One delightedly centers on the Other in Self-Giving Love. Everything that the Triune God has created exists because of this Divine Communion. The pinnacle of creation—humanity, made in God’s image—reflects God’s own being as it exists in the same kind of way. We were made for deep communion with God and each other. But, by our rejection of God, we have rejected the way of communion. In our self-love (which is unholy and no true love) we have chosen divorce, relational disintegration, estrangement, isolation. We have self-excommunicated. Our self-centeredness is an implosion of our created nature where we lose everything, including our very selves, because the self is only meant to be in relationship with others. Seeking to establish our own identity for ourselves, instead of receiving it in communion, we have entered a cosmic impossibility, an anti-reality. Even though we often maintain the appearance of love, sinners do not participate in holy communion with God and others. Not really.

However, we believe in the communion of saints. We proclaim a Holy Love reestablished in a New Humanity in Christ, and only in Christ. The saints are those who have been sanctified, made holy, by the grace of God. That is, the saints are those who now commune in love with God and others because of who God is and what he has done, as revealed in the Gospel. The saints are those who have been reintroduced to and reunited with Reality. The saints relate to God in Christ and through the Holy Spirit, and they relate to one another on the same basis. A saint does not have true communion with anyone apart from Christ, but only in Christ, who has renewed our humanity in his image through his Self-Giving Love. Because of our Baptism, and especially at the Table, we saints have real Communion. My life is open to you, and your life is open to me, because God has opened his Divine Life to us in Christ through the Holy Spirit. I love you with the very love of Christ, and you love me with no other love than Christ’s, because God has loved us and given himself to us in Christ. The implosion of self-centeredness has been reversed, and the other-centered dance restored among the saints, by the sanctifying grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the loving will of the Father, and the powerful communion of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

Why can we say, “Reality is communion,” and what are competing views to the fundamental nature of reality? Can you see indications of God’s Divine Communion in the things he has made? How important is the communion of saints to God’s purpose in creation? to the Christian life? How does one participate in the communion of saints? How does ongoing sin affect our participation in the communion of saints? How does the communion of saints relate to your identity as an individual? What are some of the daily implications of confessing the communion of saints? Who are “the saints” with whom you have communion? How does church discipline arise from the love of Christ in the communion of the saints? How does church discipline seek to maintain the communion of the saints? What is ex-“communi”-cation?