Posts Tagged ‘practical theology’
The stories of our lives as Christians fall into one of two main plot templates: The Sinner’s Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer.
Lord Jesus, I know that I’m a sinner and I can’t save myself. I see now that you died to pay for my sins. Please forgive me and come into my heart. I want you to be in control from this moment forward.
Before things get a little rough here, let me just say that I know a lot of believers who began their journey with this prayer. I’ve used it over the years in times when God has allowed me a front row seat to a person’s decision to follow Christ. I have no doubt in my mind that, when prayed with sincerity, God uses this prayer for His glory. That said, when I say that this is one of the two plot templates for the story of a Christian’s life, I’m referring to it less as a temporal communique, announcing one’s intentions at the moment of surrender, and more as a theological framework for understanding God, His Word, His Gospel, humanity and the relationship between all of these.
As a normative form for basic theology, the Sinner’s Prayer isn’t wrong, it’s just incomplete. It’s a thin plot. And so goes the stories of so many Christians. A few years ago, we conducted an informal study through relationships we had with some fellow pastors. We asked them to casually ask a handful of committed people in their churches to just verbalize the Gospel. Every pastor inevitably came back to us with great distress, admitting that even those they thought would surely respond with ease faltered and sputtered, sometimes merely stitching together fragments of Sunday School answers. Why has this become our reality in the church, that far too many fail to firmly grasp the core of their professed belief?
Lack. Of. Depth. In our ever-increasing busyness we choose to forego the slow, laborious path to depth and wisdom, and instead hitch ourselves to the rocket ship of knowledge and ideas. We’re no longer sleuths–detectives meticulously examining God’s Word. Rather, we’ve become browsers, satisfied when we find one or two sound bites from a gifted preacher. We might have enough to impress in a conversation over coffee but that’s it. If ‘I’m a sinner and I want you to save me, Lord’ is all we ever narrate with our lives, then how can we expect to participate in the complex, mysterious and deep story that is the Gospel?
If you want to truly live out the Gospel, then the Gospel has to live in you. I know these people. Their lives are following a different plot line. The Lord’s Prayer.
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
Jesus teaches us profoundly deep truths in this startlingly simple prayer. I encourage you to do a thorough study on it. For our purposes here, though, I just want to highlight the context, order and completeness of the Lord’s Prayer as a plot for our stories.
First, the context. Jesus explodes our present tendencies towards hyper individualism. Notice the pronouns are all plural–our and us, not my and me. God is community, the Father, Son and Spirit. The Body is also community; we are family under our Heavenly Father. In our family, we are only as strong as our weakest member. Jesus reminds us of our dependency on God and each other. It’s not enough to be mindful of your own well-being. (Note the pronouns in the Sinner’s Prayer–I, my).
Second, the order. We find six requests in the Lord’s Prayer. The first three are focused on God and the last three are focused on our need for God. People whose lives tell this story never misplace God as first and highest. But those who live out the Sinner’s Prayer struggle to see God bigger than a solution to a problem.
Third, the completeness. The Gospel as narrative is often summarized by four words: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration. We use this as the framework within which we discover its deeper truth and beauty. In the Sinner’s Prayer, we can identify only Fall and Redemption–an incomplete Gospel. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus tells the whole story:
- Creation: “Our Father…”
- Fall: “…forgive us our debts…”
- Redemption: “…deliver us from evil.”
- Restoration: “Your kingdom come…”
It’s all there. As it should be in our lives. My question for you is this: Are you living out the Sinner’s Prayer or the Lord’s Prayer? Each one shapes the way we see God and hence ourselves. The path to meaning and purpose in this life follow’s Jesus’ words. He wasn’t just giving us a prayer to say, He was revealing the thick plot of a life worth living.