With Prayer in the School of Christ: Higher Education and the Knowledge of God, by Gary David Stratton, PhD

Part 4 in series: The Holy Spirit and the Liberal Arts: The Future of ‘Two Handed’ Higher Education

Through the supernatural intimacy of Abba prayer and the supernatural power of Kingdom prayer the distinctive outcome of the graduates of the school of Christ was their experiential knowledge of God.

by Gary David Stratton, Ph.D. • Senior Editor

“The disciples had been with Christ, and seen Him pray.  They had learnt to understand something of the connection between His wondrous life in public, and His secret life of prayer…  And so they came to Him with the request, ‘Lord, teach us to pray.”

-Andrew Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer, 1895 [1]

Jesus invested over half of his last lecture praying with his disciples and teaching on prayer (‘The Gospel of John,’ 2003)

While Jesus of Nazareth never established a brick and mortar school in the modern sense of the word, the discipleship movement he founded was a collegial learning community indistinguishable from other forms of first-century higher education.[2]  Like Greco-Roman Liberal Arts Education, Jesus sought to lead his disciples into liberating truth. He told his students, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32).  Like Jewish Rabbinic educationRabbi Yeshua’s “curriculum” centered on the discipline of studying his teachings and interpretations of Torah. John, one of his closest friends, records that he taught his students, “If you hold to my teaching, then you are truly my disciples” (John 8:31).

Like both the liberal arts and rabbinic tradition, Jesus reserved his most intimate apprenticeship for leaders in training. Mark tells us that, “He appointed twelve—designating them apostles–that they might be with him, and that he might send them out to preach” (3:14). His pedagogy was highly relational and centered on the creation of a learning community where master and disciples lived in close proximity to one another and forged a friendship. (John 15:13-15).

The Distinctive Practice of Prayer 

What distinguished the School of Christ from other first-century higher education was Jesus’ unique emphasis on the discipline of prayer. Luke records no less that nine specific occasions when Jesus prayed with and/or modeled prayer for his students (3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:18,28; 10:17-21; 11:1; 22:39-46; 23:34,36). At least twenty-percent of Jesus’ parables and a significant portion of the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matt 6:5-15) centered on prayer. Jesus devoted nearly half of his “last lecture” (John 13-17) to teaching his students about prayer (John 14:13-14; 15:7,16; 16:23-26) and praying together with his students (John 17:1-26). While prayer was part of all Jewish education, this overarching commitment to prayer goes far beyond any Rabbi of his day.[3]

For Jesus prayer and education were inseparable, because education and the knowledge of God are inseparable. Jesus taught his students that true spiritual life is found in knowing God (John 17:3). This emphasis was consistent with the Hebraic concept that to know is to experience. Whereas the object of the Greek education was to ‘know thyself’–the desired outcome of Hebrew education was the knowledge of God.[4] Jesus’ learning outcomes demanded that his students encounter God not merely intellectually, but experientially as well. This experiential knowledge of God was to be sought not only through the discipline of study (as important as this might be), but in prayer as well. Through prayer, Jesus’ students experienced God both as Father and as King.

Education and Contemplative Prayer: Abba Intimacy

Jesus modeled a lifestyle of intimate prayer right up to the end (The Garden of Gethsemane, 'The Passion of the Christ,' 2005)
Jesus modeled a life of intimate prayer right up to the end. (‘The Passion of the Christ,’ 2005)

The Lord’s Prayer grew directly out of Jesus’ practice of regularly praying together as a learning community, and illustrates at least two elements of Jesus’ “experiential” approach to knowing God. After years of teaching and modeling prayer, Jesus’ students finally ask their Rabbi, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Jesus’ responds with a teaching we have come to know as “The Lord’s Prayer.” Like Jesus’ other educational practices, the Lord’s Prayer builds upon the the Rabbinic prayer tradition in order to recast it in bold new directions. The core components of the Lord’s Prayer would be very familiar to Jesus’ students. On one level, “The prayer is thoroughly Jewish”[6] and “could easily have appeared without change in Rabbinic literature.”[7] However, another level, the Lord’s Prayer highlights at least two unique aspects of prayer in the school of Christ.[8]

First, in teaching his disciples to address God as Abba, Jesus’ rooted the practice of prayer in his desire for his students to know the extravagant love of God the Father. While the fatherhood of God is absent from the Torah, it is clearly evident in the Psalms and Prophets, and later Rabbinic writings.[9] Jesus drew upon this Rabbinic tradition, deepening it in a manner that would have been nearly unthinkable for most Rabbis of his day. This emphasis runs throughout his teachings, and is particularly evident in his approach to prayer.[10]

In this brief prayer, Jesus initiates his students into an intimate address of God as Father that must have been as breathtaking as it was formative. Renowned Near Eastern Studies scholar Joachim Jeremias discovered that “In the literature of Palestinian Judaism no evidence has yet been found of ‘My father,’ being used by an individual as an address to God… We do not have a single example of God being addressed as Abba in Judaism, but Jesus always addressed God in this way in his prayers.”[11]

It is an astonishing choice of words. Abba implies a close, personal and familial relationship. To “address God in such a colloquial way, with such intimacy, is hardly known in the Judaism of Jesus’ time… What others thought too intimate in praying to God, Jesus used because of its intimacy.”[12] What’s more, he taught his disciples to do the same. As New Testament scholar Joel Green asserts, Jesus’ teaching on prayer “begins and ends with references to God as the Father of his disciples.”[13]

Prayer was a critical educational practice, because in prayer students encountered genuine knowledge of God the Father. After the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, this experiential intimacy with the Father became even more pronounced for Jesus’ students (Romans 8:15; Galations 4:6). As Singaporean theologian Simon Chan affirms, “Intimacy with God is what characterizes a life of prayer.”[24]

Education and Answered Prayer: Kingdom Inbreaking 

Jesus prays in public for the demonstration of kingdom power he has already obtained in private prayer (The Raising of Lazarus, ‘The Gospel of John,’ 2003)

Second, Jesus’ educational emphasis on prayer was intricately connected to his students experiencing the kingdom of God breaking into the world. Jesus’ central public teaching was his pronouncement that the much anticipated kingdom of God—“God’s reign redemptively at work among men”—was at hand, [17] so it is not surprising that the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer carry tremendous eschatological weight.

To ask that the Father’s name be hallowed, that his kingdom come, and that his will be done on earth as it is heaven are three different ways of asking the same thing.[14] “The God whom the disciples are taught to address with the name ‘my own dear Father’ (abba) is besought to reveal himself as Father once and for all at the end of time. The eschatological thrust of the petition is clear.”[15] “By addressing God as Father, and instructing his disciples to do likewise, Jesus renews and reframes the prophetic vision” for his students.[16] They were to repent and trust the Father who had created and sustained Israel as his kingdom was breaking into the this present evil age, in such a way that God’s name would be hallowed, and his will done on the earth as it is in heaven

Jesus taught his students how to enter into the coming of the kingdom, not only through faith, repentance, and prayer for “private” experiential knowledge of God, but also to pray for the “public” manifestation of the compassion and power of the Father God of the kingdom. Jesus’ Spirit-empowered ministry was a sign that the Messianic kingdom of God was breaking in upon the world (cf. Matthew 12:28).[19] He rarely proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom without also demonstrating the kingdom rule of God through miraculous answers to prayer (cf. Matthew 9:35-10:1).[18] Jesus believed that in fulfillment to the prophet Isaiah’ prophecies, the Spirit of the Lord was upon him not only to preach the gospel to the poor, but also “to proclaim release for the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind” (Is 61:1-2; Luke 4:18-19). Through the Spirit who was “upon” Jesus, God was exerting his “authority to rule” in order to bring about the will of God upon the earth that the Father intended in the heavens.[20]

Through answered prayer Jesus’ students experienced God as alive and active in the physical world. He modeled, mentored and coached his students into an increasing participation in supernatural answers to prayer. Jesus used answered prayer both to build the faith of his students (Luke 7:11; John 14:11); and to test their level of faith (Matthew 14:16).  He pressed his students to grow into a confidence that no prayer was too big for God (John 14:13-14; 15:7,16; 16:23-26).  He taught them that certain kinds of spiritual resistance could be overcome only through prayer (Mark 9:29). He assured them that miraculous answers to prayer they experienced in his earthly ministry would continue in the new era of the Spirit (John 14:12).

After their remarkable “graduation” ceremony from the School of Christ at Pentecost, Jesus’ students continued to advance the kingdom of God by praying for power of the Spirit to be released in supernatural answers to prayer (Acts 4:30-31); and built others’ faith in the kingdom of God by answers to prayer that demonstrated that the kingdom (rulership) of God was indeed breaking into the world. (Romans 15:9; 1 Corinthians 2:4).

Through both the intimacy of “Abba Prayer” and the supernatural power of “Kingdom prayer” the distinctive outcome of the graduates of the school of Christ was their experiential knowledge of God. Even in the midst of tremendous pressures of leadership, nothing could distract Jesus’ alumni from devoting themselves to the two key disciplines he had carefully cultivated within them: a very Rabbinic commitment to the ministry of the word, and a profoundly experiential life of prayer (Acts 6:4).  [21] His graduates not only knew about God and his word, they had experienced the Father God of the kingdom.

 The Oxymoron of a Prayerless Christian College

“My house shall be called a house of prayer!” (The cleansing of the temple, ‘The Gospel of John,’ 2003)

What would Jesus make of the experiential prayer practices of twenty-first century colleges and universities, especially those espousing to be “Christian”? I can’t say for sure, but it is difficult to escape the persistent image of a certain carpenter’s willingness to use a whip of cords to overturn (tuition) tables. Is it really that far fetched to imagine Jesus charging contemporary Christian higher education with the indictment, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a robbers’ den.”

If we’re honest, the thought of re-integrating prayer into our learning communities sounds almost as impossible as it does absurd. There are countless historical factors (the East-West Schism, the Enlightenment, the German university model, etc.) and practical considerations (accreditation, curriculum, measurement, etc.) for how and why prayer is not currently part and parcel with higher education in the tradition of Jesus.  But are they good enough reasons not to try? Like us, Jesus could have settled for contemporary educational models relying solely upon the study of the Scriptures and Liberal Arts. He didn’t. Will we? If we are truly seeking to develop two-handed warriors distinguished by a commitment to both the life of the mind and the life of the Spirit, the issue could be life or death.

The Desperate Need for a More Experiential Faith

It has been forty years since J.I. Packer warned the church, “One can know a great deal about God without much knowledge of him.” [22] Today, we may be danger of producing students who possess neither. If Christian Smith and Kenda Creasy Dean’s sobering research on the sorry spiritual state of today’s youth is to be believed, we are facing a generation of students who know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. (Matthew 22:9) and are therefore bored out of their minds. And who can blame them.

We have managed to take a spiritually intimate and supernaturally powerful approach to education and made it about as compelling as a “whatever.”  [23] Contemporary Christianity offers little of the “personal relationship with Jesus” students were promised in their youth groups and virtually no power whatsoever.  In a generation hungering for intimacy (especially parental intimacy) at an unprecedented level, can Christian higher education offer students pathways to encounter the Father’s transforming love? In a generation flocking to supernatural movies, television shows, and video games, can Christian higher education help students experience the kingdom of God breaking into the world in ways that defy all natural explanation?

Jesus would say that we can, but only if we summon the courage to cultivate educational communities of prayer. A recommitment to biblical literacy alone will never be enough to rescue a generation from “moralistic, therapeutic, deism.” [23] They need the experiential knowledge of God. We need to be able to offer students the power of answered prayer to break through the insipid deism of a materialistic worldview. We need to be able to offer students the intimacy of reflective prayer to encounter the love of the Father and evoke genuine love of God in return.  Half measures won’t cut it.

What on earth does prayer have to do with higher education? Nothing?  Everything?  You decide. As for me, I can only cry out, “Lord, teach us to pray!”

.

Next post in the series: Saint Patrick and the Liberal Arts: The Missional Future of Christian Higher Education

 

See also: 

The Lord’s Prayer as a Paradigm of Christian Prayer, by N.T. Wright


Notes


[1] Murray, Andrew. 2007. With Christ in the School of Prayer. (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007).  Originally published in 1895, Murray’s work is a classic text for those seeking to grasp Jesus’ educational emphasis upon prayer.

[2] I am deeply indebted to Michael J. Wilkins for much of my understanding of the similarity between discipleship in the schools of Jesus, the Rabbis, and the Greeks.  The concept of disciple in Matthew’s Gospel as reflected in the use of the term mathetes. (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1988); Following the master: a biblical theology of discipleship. (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1992); Discipleship in the Ancient World and Matthew’s Gospel(Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker, 1995).

[3] George W. E. Nickelsburg, Ancient Judaism and Christian origins: diversity, continuity and transformation. (Minneapolis, Minn: Fortress, 2003).

[4] Marvin R. Wilson, Our father Abraham: Jewish roots of the Christian faith. (Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans, 1989), p. 288.

[5] The Lord’s Prayer is most likely a shortened version of the Shemoneh Esreh, eighteen benedictions every post-exilic Jew prayed nearly every day (also known as the Amidah.) Shortened forms like the one Jesus offers his disciples were normally used when there wasn’t time to recite all eighteen stanzas. For instance, Rabbi Eliezer, a contemporary of Jesus, taught an abbreviated version of the Shemoneh Esreh very similar to Rabbi Jesus: “May your will be done in heaven above, grant peace of mind to those who fear you [on earth] below, and do what seems best to you. Blessed are you, O LORD, who answers prayer.” David Bivin, “Prayers for Emergencies,” Jerusalem Perspective 37 (Mar./Apr. 1992), 1-17.

[6] Wilson, Our Father Abraham, p. 118.

[7] Samuel Sandmel, Judaism and Christian Beginnings (Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 358.

[8] Bradford H. Young, The Jewish Background of the Lord’s Prayer (Austin, TX: Center for Judaic-Christian Studies, 1984).

[9] Psalms 2:7; 89:26; Isaiah 9:6; Isaiah 63:16; 64:8; Jeremiah 3:4,19; Malachi 3:10. See, N. T. Wright, Jesus and the victory of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 265. See also, Scot McKnight, A new vision for Israel: the teachings of Jesus in national context (Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans, 1999), p. 62-63.

[10] See The Parable of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:11-32. Also, Darrell L. Bock, Luke 9:51-24:53. Baker exegetical commentary on the New Testament, 3B (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2007), p. 1062.

[11] Joachim Jeremias, The Prayers of Jesus (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978), p. 57. The assertion is as true today as it was when when Jeremias first made it.

[12] James D.G. Dunn, The Evidence for Jesus (Philadelphia, Penn: Westminster, 1985), p. 21. See also Dunn, The partings of the ways: between Christianity and Judaism and their significance for the character of Christianity. (London: SCM Press, 1991), p. 170ff.

[13] Joel B. Green, The theology of the gospel of Luke. New Testament theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 111.

[14] James D. G. Dunn, The Christ and the spirit: collected essays of James D. G. Dunn. 2, Pneumatology. (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans. 1998), p. 137-8; R. P. Menzies, The development of early Christian pneumatology (Sheffield, U.K.: Sheffield Academic, 1991), p. 184n

[15] John P. Meier, A marginal Jew: rethinking the historical Jesus. Anchor Bible reference library (New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 2009), p. 297. See also, Scot McKnight, A new vision for Israel: the teachings of Jesus in national context (Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans, 1999), p. 62-64.

[16] Marianne Meye Thompson, The promise of the Father: Jesus and God in the New Testament (Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), 73-75.

[17] George Eldon Ladd, A theology of the New Testament. (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1974), p. 108.

[18] Wilkins, Following the Master, p. 114-117.

[19] Colin Brown, Spirit, The Holy Spirit. In C. Brown, (Ed.), The New international dictionary of New Testament theology, 3 (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1978),p. 696; Edward J. Woods, The ‘finger of God’ and pneumatology in Luke-Acts. Journal for the study of the New Testament, 205. (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001), p. 153-4.

[20] Ladd, Theology of NT, p. 18

[21] David Michael Crump, Jesus the intercessor: Prayer and Christology in Luke-Acts (PhD Dissertation: University of Aberdeen, 1988).

[22] Knowing God (London: Evangelical Press, 1970), p. 16.

[23] Christian Smith, and Melinda Lundquist Denton. Soul searching: the religious and spiritual lives of American teenagers. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005). Kenda Creasy Dean, Almost Christian: what the faith of our teenagers is telling the American church (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

[24] Simon Chan, Spiritual theology: a systematic study of the Christian life. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p. 132.

Spirit-empowered Leadership and the ‘Dangerous Unity’ of Prayer

Kingdom Prayer and the Work of the Holy Spirit

When is the last time you heard of a church or college in the United States devoting an entire day to prayer and fasting together?

by Gary David Stratton, PhD • Senior Editor

Why is the power of the Holy Spirit so evident in some communities and so absent in others?  Why are some leaders so directed and effective in their callings, while others faithfully program and preach with so little sign of God’s presence? Why are some campus ministries effective in helping students come to faith, while others are so ineffective?  Why do some churches deeply impact their culture, while others merely grow more conformed to its image?  Why are some cities and campuses so full of God’s presence and others so empty?

Pastors Jack Hayford, Kenneth Ulmer, Lloyd Ogilvie in Prayer gathering at the Rose Bowl
Jack Hayford, Kenneth Ulmer, and Lloyd Ogilvie at Rose Bowl prayer gathering.

The first time I lived in Los Angeles, Presbyterian Lloyd Ogilvie and Pentecostal Jack Hayford teamed up to gather hundreds of leaders from around the city to gather for half a day of prayer every month. It started with a handful of their ministerial friends who were willing to spend long periods of time together in focused prayer (and even fasting.) They then invited other ministers to gather monthly, and gather they did. As a young campus minister, it was a life-altering experience to gather with more than 500 city leaders willing to give up a day of their busy schedule to seek God’s face together. Not only were they  powerful times of prayer, they were times of prayer for God’s power. God seemed to answer the prayers of that era with an increase of the Spirit’s work all across the city. When the gatherings stopped, the vitality and influence of the church across the city seemed to falter.

A coincidence?  Maybe. Anecdotal evidence is often used to support nearly any theology, and certainly there were a number of complex factors involved in that unique era of L.A. history. Still, the entire experience left me wondering: Is it possible God that releases the ministry of his Holy Spirit on earth primarily when and where his help is specifically requested by His people?  Consider the case from the Old Testament.

Spirit-Empowered Leadership and Prayer

Othniel, by J James Tissot
Othniel, by J James Tissot

Throughout the Old Testament, it is the Spirit of God who empowers God’s people to do his will. [7] In the power of the Holy Spirit anointed leaders delivered Israel from their oppressors,[8] performed supernatural feats,[9] prophesied the word of God,[10] judged Israel’s affairs,[11] built the tabernacle,[12] and received God’s plan for the Temple.[13]

The prepositions “among” and “upon” are of particular significance in describing the Spirit’s work in the OT. This work of the Spirit is primarily “external” in the sense that the Spirit does not dwell within OT saints as in NT believers.[14] The work of God is often accomplished by the Spirit “coming upon”,[15] or “lifting up”[16] a leader or prophet.[17] In Judaism the Spirit of God is especially the “Spirit of prophecy,” [18] and the NT affirms that the prophets “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit”.[19]

The Spirit dwells “among” the people of God, through these Spirit-empowered leaders[20] who comprise a mere handful of the people of God: primarily judges,[21] prophets,[22] and kings.[23] This work of the Spirit seems to be closely related to anthropomorphic descriptions of God’s actions—the hand of God,[24] the finger of God,[25] the breath of God,[26] “the word of God.”[27]

Throughout the Old Testament prayer plays a significant role in the release of the ministry of the Holy Spirit on earth. [28]  One of the more remarkable examples is found in the third chapter of the book of Judges, when the cry of the people of God for deliverance from their enemies is answered by God putting His Spirit upon the Othniel to deliver them:

“When they cried out to the LORD, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them.  The Spirit of the LORD came upon him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war. The LORD gave the king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him.” -Judges 3:9-10

This pattern is repeated throughout the Old Testament as God answers the cries of his people by giving them Spirit-empowered leaders. [29]

What is more, the Old Testament prophets foretold of a day when the empowerment of God’s Spirit would be available to all God’s people.[33] Joel 2:27-28 and other passages prophesy a coming Messianic age of the Spirit that will be marked by an outpouring of the Spirit coming “upon” all of God’s people not merely a limited set of leaders.[31] When the kingdom of the Messiah breaks into the world, both the external “empowering” work of the Holy Spirit, [32] and the “internal” purifying work of the indwelling Spirit would distinguish the people of God from all other peoples. “I will put my Spirit in you (all) and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to obey my laws” (Ezekiel 36:27).[34]

So why aren’t believers today experiencing the kind of empowering and purifying work of the Holy Spirit that marked the lives of most Old Testament leaders?  Perhaps it’s because we don’t pray like they did? For instance, King Jehoshaphat and his followers prayed (and fasted!) for an entire day before the Lord answered.

“All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the LORD. Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel …as he stood in the assembly. He said: “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the LORD says to you…” -2 Chronicles 20:13-15

When was the last time you heard of a church in the United States devoting an entire day to prayer and fasting together? Would we even know how to wait together–men, women, and children–until the Spirit of God gave an answer? Maybe not. But certainly we can learn. Our busy modern lifestyles might mitigate against our gathering the entire church to pray, but it might be possible to start with the leaders.

Gathering Campus and City Leaders to Pray

Gary, Greg, Leo, and Gordie at the Campus Transformation gathering 20+ years after their 'dangerous unity' at Michigan State.
Gary, Greg, Leo, and Gordie at the 2012 Campus Transformation Network gathering 20+ years after their ‘dangerous unity’ at MSU.

When my wife and I served as campus ministers at Michigan Student University we were specifically warned against developing ‘dangerous unity’ with the leaders of the two largest competing campus ministries: Leo Lawson and Greg Van Nada. Fortunately, biblical convictions and past experience won out over administrative caution. Leo, Greg, local college pastor Gordie Decker, and our staff teams soon joined in evenings of united prayer for God to work through all the campus ministries at MSU. While we never really saw the kind of campus-wide spiritual awakening we were asking from God, many students did come to faith, and much more importantly, we learned to seek God for his agenda and just to be in his presence. The experience helped birth a vision in each of the hearts of those leaders that burns to this day. Leo, Greg, Gordie, myself and many other MSU leaders of that era continue in campus ministry and continue to pursue the work of God across our campuses and cities.

Later, while serving as a college pastor on the north shore of Boston, I was invited to join the steering committee for the Boston Ministers Prayer Summit. The leaders of the church in the city believed so strongly in prayer that we would carve three days out of our busy schedules just to wait on the Lord together. Some of our gatherings were like days of heaven on earth. And perhaps it is not surprising that while the Prayer Summit remained strong, the church in greater Boston experienced what became known as the “Quiet Revival.” One of the most “unchurched” urban centers in America witnessed the birth and renewal of hundreds of thriving churches, and many campus fellowships began to experience unprecedented growth.

Is it time to once again gather the leaders of our campuses and cities to seek God? All anecdotal evidence aside, I suspect that the writers of the Old Testament would answer, YES!

Next:  With Prayer in the School of Christ: Higher Education and the Knowledge of God

For Jesus prayer and education were inseparable, because education and the knowledge of God are inseparable.

 

 


[1] Grudem, 1994, p. 634.

[2] John 6:32,46;13:3;15:26; Acts 2:33; Rom 1:7; 1Cor 8:6; Jam. 1:17.

[3] Rom 5:10; Heb. 1:2; 1John 4:9.

[4] Neh 9:30; Ezek 11:24; Matt 12:28; Mark 11:36; Rom 5:5.

[5] Blomberg, 1996, p. 344.

[6] Kaiser, 1997, p. 1076-7; Simpson, 1988,  p. 600.

[7] Kaiser, 1997, pp. 1075-6.

[8] Judges 3:10

[9] Judges 14:6

[10] 2Chr 15:1; Ezek 11:5; Isa 59:21

[11] Num 11:17f

[12] Exo 31:3; 35:31

[13] 1Chr 28:12

[14] Grudem, 1994, p. 637

[15] 1Sam 11:6; 1Chr 12:18; 2Chr 20:14; 24:20; Ezek. 11:5; Isa 59:21

[16] Ezek 3:14; 8:3; 11:24

[17] Blomberg, 1996, p. 345.

[18] Schweizer, 1986, p. 381

[19] 2Pet 1:21; cf. Isa. 59:21; 2Sam 23:2; Neh 9:30

[20] Isa 63:11   Hag 2:5

[21] Judg 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 14:6,19; 15:14

[22] 2Chr 15:1; Ezek 11:5; Isa 59:21

[23] 1Sam 10:6,10; 11:6. See also, Kaiser, 1997, pp. 1075.

[24] 2Chr 30:12; 2Kgs 3:15; Ezek 33:22

[25] Exod 31:18

[26] Ps 19:1; 102:25

[27] Kamlah, 1978, p. 692; cf. Ps 33:6; 147:15,18.

[28] Kaiser, 1999, pp.3-7

[29] Judg 3:10; 6:34; 9:23; 11:29;13:25;14:6;14:19;15:14;

1Samuel 16:13; 1Kings 18:45; 2Kings 3:14

[30] Psalm 51:11

[31] Isa 32:15; 44:3; Ezek 39:29; Zech 12:10. See also, Pach, 1954, 34-36.

[32] See Fee, XXXX, . Also Kaiser, 1997, p. 1076; Blomberg, 1996, p. 344; Grudem, 1994, p. 637.

[33] Ezek 36:27; cf. 11:19; 37:14

[34] See also, Ezekial 11:19; 37:14.

The Lord’s Prayer as a Paradigm of Christian Prayer, by N.T. Wright

The Lord’s Prayer is not so much a command as an invitation: an invitation to share in the prayer-life of Jesus himself.

by N.T. Wright

“AS OUR SAVIOR CHRIST hath commanded and taught us, we are bold to say: ‘Our Father. . . .’” 

So runs the old liturgical formula, stressing the Pater Noster (Our Father) as a command and its use as a daring, trembling, holy boldness.  At one level, this is entirely appropriate.

At another level, however, it fails to catch the most remarkable thing about the Lord’s Prayer — and so fails to grasp the truly distinctive feature in Christian prayer that this prayer points us to.  For the Lord’s Prayer is not so much a command as an invitation: an invitation to share in the prayer-life of Jesus himself.

Seen with Christian hindsight — more specifically, with trinitarian perspective — the Lord’s Prayer becomes an invitation to share in the divine life itself.  It becomes one of the high roads into the central mystery of Christian salvation and Christian existence: that the baptized and believing Christian is (1) incorporated into the inner life of the triune God and (2) intended not just to believe that this is the case, but actually to experience it… The Lord’s Prayer is an invitation to know this God and to share his innermost life.

All this is so, more particularly, because the Lord’s Prayer is the “true Exodus” prayer of God’s people. Set originally in a thoroughgoing eschatological context, its every clause resonates with Jesus’ announcement that God’s kingdom is breaking into the story of Israel and the world, opening up God’s long-promised new world and summoning people to share it.  If this context is marginalized — or regarded as of historical interest only (because, for instance, as some would suggest, the Parousia did not arrive on schedule) — the prayer loses its peculiar force and falls back into a generalized petition for things to improve, albeit still admittedly to God’s glory.  In order for it to be prayed with anything approaching full authenticity, therefore, it is necessary to be grasped afresh by the eschatological vision and message of Jesus himself, who announced the true Exodus, the real return from exile, and all that is implied by these wide-ranging shorthand expressions.  (On these topics, see my Jesus and the Victory of God [1996].)

I begin this article, therefore, with some reflections on the rootedness of the Lord’s Prayer within the ministry and kingdom announcement of Jesus.  This will lead to a fuller exposition of the way in which the Lord’s Prayer opens up the heart of Jesus’ “New Exodus” project and invites those who so pray to become part of it.  And this will then lead to some reflections on the shape and content of Christian liturgical praying and private praying, and, finally, to some concluding remarks moving on from the “Our Father” of Jesus’ ministry to the Abba cry of which Paul speaks in Galatians 4 and Romans 8.

1. The Lord’s Prayer and Jesus’ Own Prayer Life

References to Jesus’ own practice of private prayer are scattered throughout the Gospels and clearly reflect an awareness on the part of his first followers that this kind of private prayer — not simply formulaic petitions, but wrestling with God over real issues and questions — formed the undercurrent of his life and public work.  The prayer that Jesus gave his followers embodies his own prayer life and his wider kingdom ministry in every clause.

Father/Our Father

Jesus’ own address to God, it appears, regularly included “Father.”  Though the Aramaic word Abba is only found in the Gospels in the Gethsemane narrative at Mark 14:36, there is a broad consensus (1) that Jesus indeed used this word in prayer, and (2) that the notion of God’s fatherhood — though, of course, known also in Judaism — took central place in his own attitude to God in a distinctive way.  So when the prayer given to his followers begins with “Father” (Luke 11:2) or “Our Father” (Matt. 6:9; cf. Didache8:2-3, which also begins “Our Father”), we must understand that Jesus wants them to see themselves as sharing his own characteristic spirituality — that is, his own intimate, familial approach to the Creator.  The idea of God’s fatherhood, and of building this concept into the life of prayer, was not, as must again be stressed, a novelty within Judaism.  But the centrality and particular emphasis that Jesus gave it represents a new departure.

Hallowed Be Your Name

The sanctifying of God’s name, as in the clause “hallowed be your name” (Luke 11:2//Matt. 6:9), is not a major theme in the Gospels.  Where it does occur — as, for example, in Mary’s exclamation, “Holy is his name!” (Luke 1:49); or Jesus’ prayer, “Father, glorify your name,” and the Father’s response, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again” (John 12:28) — it appears as a natural, and typically Jewish, affirmation of God’s holiness and majesty.  But the hallowing or sanctifying of God’s name is thoroughly consistent with the sort of work that Jesus conceived himself to be undertaking.

Your Kingdom Come

Jesus Teaches his Disciples to Pray (Stained Glass)

The coming of God’s kingdom, however, as expressed by the petition “your kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10//Luke 11:2), is a major theme throughout the entire Gospel tradition.  And though its interpretation has sometimes been controversial, there is no doubt (1) that Jesus made this the central theme of his proclamation and (2) that he meant by it that the long-awaited kingdom or rule of God, which involved the salvation of Israel, the defeat of evil, and the return of YHWH himself to Zion, was now at last happening (see my Jesus and the Victory of God, chs. 6-10).

Inaugurated eschatology, or the presence and the future of God’s kingdom, was a hallmark of Jesus’ public career — as it was, probably, of the Teacher of Righteousness a century or more earlier (see M. O. Wise, The First Messiah, which is a stimulating and suggestive book, even if the argument is possibly pressed too far) and of Simeon ben-Kosiba a hundred years later.  Where the leader, God’s chosen one, was present, the kingdom was already present.  But there was, of course, still work to be done, redemption to be won.  The present and the future did not cancel one another out, as in some unthinking scholarly constructions.  Nor did “present” mean “a private religious experience” and “future” mean “a Star Wars-type apocalyptic scenario.”

The presence of the kingdom meant that God’s anointed Messiah was here and was at work — that he was, in fact, accomplishing, as events soon to take place would show, the sovereign and saving rule of God.  The future of the kingdom was the time when justice and peace would embrace one another and the whole world — the time from which perspective one could look back and see that the work had, indeed, begun with the presence and work of the anointed leader (see Jesus and the Victory of God, ch. 10).

To pray “your kingdom come” at Jesus’ bidding, therefore, meant to align oneself with his kingdom movement and to seek God’s power in furthering its ultimate fulfillment.  It meant adding one’s own prayer to the total performance of Jesus’ agenda.  It meant celebrating in the presence of God the fact that the kingdom was already breaking in, and looking eagerly for its consummation.  From the centrality of the kingdom in his public proclamation and the centrality of prayer in his private practice, we must conclude that this kingdom prayer grew directly out of and echoed Jesus’ own regular praying.

 Your Will Be Done

The performance of God’s will, as voiced in the entreaty “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10) — whether one sees that clause as subordinate to the clause “your kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10//Luke 11:2) or as distinct — chimes in with the emphasis of Jesus at several points in his recorded work.  This is particularly noticeable in John’s Gospel.  But it finds many echoes in the Synoptic Gospels, not least in Luke’s repetition of how God’s will must be fulfilled.

 Give Us Today Our Daily Bread

The prayer for bread, as in “give us today [or, ‘day by day’] our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11//Luke 11:3), awakens echoes that resound throughout Jesus’ public ministry.  The two evangelists who give us the Lord’s Prayer also give us the temptation stories, where Jesus’ hunger and his refusal to create bread for himself feature prominently (cf. Matt. 4:2-4; Luke 4:2-3).  The wilderness feeding stories suggest both a literal feeding and a symbolic act that demonstrated God’s power, operative through Jesus, to provide for the needs of the people (cf. Mark 6:32-44 par.; 8:1-10 par.).  Jesus’ own prayers of thanks on these occasions (cf. Mark 6:41 par.; 8:6 par.; see also Luke 24:30) are translated by the Lord’s Prayer into a trustful prayer for God’s regular provision.

One of the most securely established features of Jesus’ public ministry… is his frequent participation in the festive meals of his day, where he celebrated the kingdom with all comers.  One does not have to go all the way with the members of the Jesus Seminar, who have described Jesus as “the proverbial party animal,” in order to appreciate that the sharing of food, both actually and symbolically, was a central feature of his life.

The sequence of meals in the story of Jesus reaches its climax, of course, in the Last Supper.  The bread there was — again in the context of prayer — given a special meaning, which echoes back throughout Jesus’ lifetime and on to the cross and his resurrection.  To pray for bread (whether for “today,” as in Matthew, or for “day by day.” as in Luke), therefore, is once again to align oneself with one of the most central and practical symbols of Jesus’ kingdom work.  Bread follows from and symbolizes the kingdom, both in the Lord’s Prayer and in Jesus’ own career.

Forgive Us Our Debts/Sins

The prayer for forgiveness — “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt. 6:12); “forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us” (Luke 11:4) — is the one instance of a prayer Jesus taught his followers to pray that they did not suppose he needed to pray himself.  The well-known scene of John the Baptist’s initial objection to baptizing Jesus (Matt. 3:14-15) and the very early tradition of Jesus’ personal sinlessness (cf. John 7:18; 8:46; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22) bear witness to the great divide at this point between Jesus and his followers.  They needed to repent and seek God’s forgiveness, but he did not.

This exception, however, clearly proves the rule that the Lord’s Prayer was intended by Jesus to bind his followers closely to the agenda of his whole ministry.  Forgiveness, which is offered freely and without recourse to the temple system, was another hallmark of Jesus’ work — indeed, so much so that it was the cause of scandal (as, e.g., in Mark 2:5-12).  Furthermore, there is good reason to think that Jesus regarded this free offer of forgiveness as a central part of his inauguration of the new covenant, and that he saw the corresponding obligation to mutual forgiveness as a necessary badge of membership (see my Jesus and the Victory of God, 268-74).  This prayer for forgiveness, therefore, though not aligning itself with anything in Jesus’ own spirituality, belongs very closely with the total picture of Jesus’ public ministry, as his ministry is set out in the Gospel narratives.

Lead Us Not into Temptation, but Deliver Us from the Evil One

With the prayer about deliverance from temptation (peirasmos) and the evil one (ho poneros) of Matt. 6:13, we are back again with Jesus.  Again, the temptation narratives of Matt. 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13 are close at hand as part of the context; and again, the Gethsemane scene and the complex of “trials” before Caiaphas and Pilate offer themselves as the wider setting.

Jesus’ whole public career was marked by “trials” of one sort or another — by what he, and the evangelists, saw as a running battle with the powers of evil, whether in the form of possessed souls shrieking in the synagogues or angry souls challenging in the marketplace.  The fact that Jesus was not spared these trials, but had to face them at their fiercest, suggests a clue as to the meaning of this controversial clause, which we will pursue later.

Here in the prayer of deliverance is, once again, one of the clearest overtones in the Lord’s Prayer: “Let me be as my Master.”  “You are those,” says Jesus in Luke 22:28, “who have continued with me in my trials (en tois peirasmois mou).”  So in giving this prayer, Jesus is inviting his followers to share his own struggles and to experience the same spirituality that sustained him.

Its shape and content remind us of the public career of Jesus at every point.  And since Jesus’ public career was solidly rooted and reflected in his own life of prayer, we must conclude that the Lord’s Prayer is an invitation to share Jesus’ own prayer life — and with it his agenda, his work, his pattern of life, and his spirituality. The Lord’s Prayer marks out Jesus’ followers as a distinct group not simply because Jesus gave it to them, but because it encapsulates his own mission and vocation.  And it does this in a form appropriate for his followers, which turns them into his co-workers and fellow-laborers in prayer for the kingdom.

If we accept the early Christian assessment of Jesus — with its dramatically high, though still Jewish, Christology — what has been said so far strongly implies that here within the Lord’s Prayer we are meeting the beginnings of trinitarian soteriology: the Son is inviting his followers to share the intimacy of his own life with the Father…

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Originally published in Into God’s Presence: Prayer in the New Testament, ed. R.L. Longenecker. 2001, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 132-54.  Reproduced by permission of the author.