Jesus. Real Life.

“It’s the question that drives us.”

While talking with my good friend, Berry, the other day, I think I found a great way to express some of what I’ve been thinking about the importance of which questions, which prayers, we routinely ask.  Point #2 in Scot’s post today reminded me of it.  I hope this will help evangelicals such as myself shift our focus.  I’m of the opinion that the question that has shaped evangelicalism more than any other (on the basis of how often and emphatically it is asked relative to others) is “if you died tonight, do you know where you’d spend eternity?” or something very similar.  I base that on the number of repititions and on the climactic positioning of the question. 

Now imagine a married couple.  Imagine further that one of the two people — the husband or the wife — were routinely asking the question of themselves and maybe of their spouse as well, “How can I keep my spouse from divorcing me or be sure they won’t?”  If this question was constantly or even routinely in this person’s mind so that it became the lens through which that person viewed their interactions with their spouse, what kind of marriage, what kind of relationship will the couple have?  Take a moment think about it.

I personally don’t think the marriage will be very good or healthy or nearly as enjoyable as it should be. Unfortunately, I believe that the constant asking of “If you died tonight, do you know where you’d spend eternity?” or its equivalent has exactly the same effect.  Our most often repeated question concerns our legal status with God, and it has shaped our paradigm for all that we do and all that we think about.

We would hope that spouses would be dominated by the questions of how they can serve their spouse, love their spouse, join with their spouse in their worthy goals.  We would hope the same of children regarding their parents or friends regarding friends.  Not surprisingly, the prayer Jesus teaches us to pray has this kind of focus regarding God, asking above all that God’s noble dreams would become reality and his desires be fulfilled.  Now of course, admitting wrongdoing and asking for forgiveness is necessary for any good relationship, and it is also a component in the Lord’s prayer.  But mere forgiveness, mere justification, cannot remain the central focus over time; it cannot be our driving question, our most common prayer, to ask that we not be thrown out.  At least for me, the perrenial question of my legal status with God created in me a near constant sense of a relationship in crisis.  What’s more, the gospel I was given that focused only on the same issue of justification (whether from a free grace or more exacting perspective) reinforced this focus on my legal status.  Others’ experience with this may be different.  Mine, though, was marked by a backdrop of paranoia, denial, and the idea that God’s will and gospel basically equalled people getting justified before God.

Again, it is no surprise, that Jesus announced and embodied a gospel that concerned God’s larger intentions regarding the world and not just our legal status being repaired.  It appears from the gospels that Jesus didn’t just want to forgive the world, but also include people in the work of healing one another and the larger creation as his apprentices and co-workers.  God’s government was coming through him not just to forgive, but to restore shalom on the earth, to do “all that Jesus began to do and teach.”  This is our husband’s vision.  This is his good news.  This is what we are to seek, to think about, to trust, to announce, and to pray for.  Our driving question should not be about our forgiveness or minimum legal status, necessary as that will be in our life together with him.  Our most often repeated question and prayer–the one that should most mark our individual and corporate lives–should be for his dreams for earth to become reality, for his will (the will revealed by Jesus’ actions and ideas) to be done more through us and others. This is more like the prayer he taught us to pray, the question he taught us to ask, the good news he announced and embodied.  That focus will lead to a more fruitful and more joyful and healthy relationship as well as a better world.  Asking for God’s dream, his will, is to ask for our forgiveness and so much more as well.

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6 responses

  1. John O.

    The prayer that is too often practiced is “Our Father in Heaven, bring us success in are endeavors until we get to heaven where, unlike earth, Your will is done every day.”

    October 4, 2009 at 11:04 pm

  2. T Freeman

    Yes; because our gospel announcements haven’t, for the last several decades at least, really included God’s rule (kingdom) coming to earth via Christ, and thereby changing the shape of all this world’s activities. Our invitational questions reveal the contrast between our gospel’s focus and Christ’s the most vividly.

    October 5, 2009 at 9:01 am

  3. frank william sonnek

    “How can I keep my spouse from divorcing me or be sure they won’t?”

    What if your spouse seems to be obsessive about assuring you in word and deed that they will never leave you or forsake you? What if their every sweet word and tender action seems very intentionally designed with that aim? They gave you power of attorney over everything they owned. They signed a prenup saying if you left them, you would get everything. U get the idea. The metaphor breaks down somewhere here… the point is that they do everything to say “hey if someone walks out it won´t be me!” is what I am painting here…

    What would it say about you, that being the case, that you continued with ….

    “How can I keep my spouse from divorcing me or be sure they won’t?”

    I would suggest that this is what we are dealing with with Jesus. If we are unhappy somehow in our christian walk, maybe we are trying too hard and for the wrong reasons?

    October 21, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    • T Freeman

      Frank,

      Certainly God’s faithfulness and assurance are great. Indeed, my point in the post is that it’s not healthy for us to make our legal status with God our driving, most repeated question. Again, Jesus’ gospel (the theme of his ministry) and the prayer he taught us to pray were focused on the more ambitious prayer for God’s reign to come, to fully pervade and shape the earth’s activities, like it already does in heaven. Certainly our forgiveness is part of that, and a necessary part, but it’s not the whole dream anymore than love stops with forgiveness. Love forgives–and rebuilds and shares and does everything for the other’s good. Similarly, the restoration God has in mind (and the “news” about it) goes beyond mere forgiveness to transformation, cohabitation, and incorporation into his people and his work, his dreams for the world. I think we’d do well to let all those thoughts occupy more of our imagination, invitations, and prayers, and call them all what they all are–good news–rather than just our forgiveness. Don’t get me wrong; forgiveness is amazing and awesome. It’s just that Jesus’ gospel is bigger than that; his love and plans for the world are bigger than just forgiveness (not divorcing us). That’s why the whole Law/Gospel thing to me is a little silly and beside the point. Everything God has in mind for the world is good news, as are all the things Jesus does toward those dreams, including his teachings and example.

      October 21, 2009 at 11:23 pm

  4. frank william sonnek

    Martin Luther in his “Small Catechism” says:

    “The Third Petition.
    Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

    What does this mean?

    The good and gracious will of God is done indeed without our prayer [!!!]; but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also.

    How is this done?.

    When God breaks and hinders every evil counsel and will which would not let us hallow the name of God nor let His kingdom come, such as the will of the devil, the world, and our flesh; but strengthens and keeps us steadfast in His Word and in faith unto our end. This is His gracious and good will.

    The Fourth Petition.
    Give us this day our daily bread.

    What does this mean?

    God gives daily bread, even without our prayer, to all wicked men; but we pray in this petition that He would lead us to know it, and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.

    What is meant by daily bread?

    Everything that belongs to the support and wants of the body, such as meat, drink, clothing, shoes, house, homestead, field, cattle, money, goods, a pious spouse, pious children, pious employees, pious and faithful magistrates, good government, good weather, peace, health, discipline, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.

    “Even without our prayers!…”even to all the wicked” “God lets his rain fall on the just and unjust ALIKE!”

    The parables tell of a God who is unfair in favor of being unreasonably good. Those who labor all day get the same pay as those who show up at the last. The son who was the good son and followed all the rules is asked to join the party to celebrate his good for nothing prodigal brother getting power of attorney over all his dad has.

    October 21, 2009 at 6:33 pm

  5. T Freeman

    Frank,

    Thanks for coming by! I’m glad to see much of what you’re showing me from Luther. And, again, I hope I’m being clear that I’m all for Luther, and Lutherans. It’s only when, as I-Monk experienced, I start getting messages that “we’re not apprentices of Jesus, we’re disciples of the gospel” and other such silliness that I realize that the theological grid isn’t very helpful. While you’re here, you should check out the conversations that took place under my “Don’t call it grace” posts. It was some of that discussion that really surprised me.

    Also, check my “A story” post for our common context.

    October 21, 2009 at 7:48 pm

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