This episode is a transcript of a devotion on the introduction to the Lord’s Prayer I did for the Board of Directors of the SELC DIstrict of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod on June 28, 2021.
One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Luke 11:1
I’ve been hanging out with the evangelicals again. I did this twenty years ago when I started working on my Doctor of Ministry degree at Ashland Theological Seminary, which is only about a half-hour drive from my home. Since then I’ve done quite a lot of continuing education, mostly in counseling-related areas, but it’s all been in random one-or-two day workshops that come along in the community – none of it has been as structured as the Ashland program. So I was intrigued when I saw a Facebook ad for the CS Lewis Institute of Northeast Ohio. The ad was offering participation in a one-year, structured program of reading, reflection, and monthly events, so I applied and was accepted. I thought, well, I haven’t read much CS Lewis in a while, and there are still some of his writings that I’ve never read, so this would be a good chance to catch up.
Turns out that the CS Lewis Institute is a national organization that was started by some folks living near Washington DC who wanted to equip Christians who live and work in that area to talk about their faith in a deeper way while working in the political, intellectual, and social stratosphere that surrounds DC. So, the Institute is not so much about CS Lewis as it is about apologetics after the manner of CS Lewis who, after all, taught at Oxford University for many years.
In northeast Ohio, this year’s group includes Christians from a variety of evangelical denominations, and some who are non-denominational. There are a couple of pastors, including me; at least one physician; some college students; an automobile mechanic; a couple of “soccer moms”; and others. So I realized that this is not a seminary-level program – it might be a college-level program – but that’s OK, too.
Anyway, I’m back to hanging out with the evangelicals again. And just in time, the third edition of Gene Veith’s book “The Spirituality of the Cross” was released by Concordia Publishing House, so I read that right away to lubricate my Lutheran thought processes. Then I started on some of the Institute reading assignments, and discovered something kind of interesting: There seems to be somewhat of a dualism in current evangelicalism when it comes to thinking and writing about God.
On the one hand, there is a strain of thought that focuses on “the sovereignty of God.” Some of the writers from the mid-20th century, bemoaning the sorry state of the current religious scene in Western countries, take the position that “what we really need to do” is to bring ourselves back into a position of awe in the presence of the sovereign God. For A.W. Tozer, for instance, this means that we should focus our devotion and life on the attributes of God (you know, like His omnipotence, His holiness, and so forth); for another, this time Martin Lloyd-Jones, this means that we should think about the Sermon on the Mount as a blueprint for the way Christians SHOULD live.
On the other hand, there is a different strain of thought that focuses on “the Fatherhood of God.” This strain seems to originate in Henri Nouwen’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son” (which is curious, considering that Nouwen was a Catholic priest), continues in “The Prodigal God” by Timothy Keller, and others. These folks focus on the tender mercy and love of God the Father that He showed when He sent His Son into the world to save us from sin and death, and they can be quite passionate about the joys and blessings that are attached to a relationship to the God whose Son instructed us to call Him “Our Father.”
I’m not sure that these two strains have come to blows yet, but Lutherans have a familiar way to keep these in balance: it’s a phrase Martin Luther wrote into every explanation of every one of the Ten Commandments in His Small Catechism: “we should fear and love God.”
People have often asked me how that’s even possible. How can we fear God AND love God at the same time? After all, there do appear to be some folks who lean more toward the “fear God” side, even Christians who are certain that have been redeemed by the love of God, and there are others who lean more toward the “love God” side.
But for a long time I’ve thought about it this way, in my own life: my dad’s vocation at home was father to three kids, and husband to my mom; but his vocation in the world was secondary school principal. I think that probably sometimes the way he thought and behaved in his “at-home” vocation leaked over into his “at-school” vocation (I suspect that sometimes at school he acted more like a dad than a principal) because I know from experience that there were times when his “at-school” vocation was pretty evident at home (when he acted more like a principal than a father. So growing up, I had a certain amount of fear when it came to my dad (though I have to say, he was never abusive) mixed in with a certain amount of love. Over the years, as I grew up, went to college, got married and raised my own family, my relationship with my father changed. The level of my fear grew less and less over time, and as both my dad and I grew older I eventually realized that I really wasn’t afraid of my father at all any more, so there was only room for love. I hope he realized that.
I’m pretty sure that I’ve been at that point with God for some time. I can’t explain in detail how I came to this understanding, but I have this sense that I have a whole lot more love for God than I do fear. That doesn’t mean to say I don’t respect and honor Him; it does mean that I’m more aware of the love we have for each other than I’ve ever been. This has caused me to think more and more about what Luther also said in the Small Catechism, that when we pray “Our Father,” we should keep in mind that God is “tenderly urging us to believe that He is our true Father, and that we are His true children, so that we may ask Him confidently with all assurance, as dear children ask their dear Father.”
I don’t really want to go any further with this here; I’ll leave you to sort out what this might mean in your own life. Instead I’ll recommend the books I mentioned by Henri Nouwen and Timothy Keller – and I’ve put links in the notes below, just in case you’re curious. For now, I think it’s best just to invite you to pray with me:
Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
- Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (NIV), Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Accessed through www.biblegateway.com
- Find out more about the CS Lewis Institute here: https://www.cslewisinstitute.org/
- Books mentioned in this episode: