FPC Prayer Blog

The Walk to the Cross

A Devotional Study for Holy Week and Easter

This six-day devotional study addresses Biblical perspectives on atonement and its association to Christ’s life and teachings, death on the cross, and resurrection. Now that Palm Sunday has passed, please take a few minutes to learn more about the purpose of Christ’s journey and the astonishing salvation we have received because he was willing to walk to the cross for our sins.

A Prayer Story From Morf Morford

CS Lewis used to describe the Gospel as “a good contagion.” I would describe the continuing emergence or out-working of the Gospel as the equivalent of good weeds.
 
No matter how much solid legalism, suffocating dogma, or toxic confusion and distortion we pour or build on the living spirit of God, it will pop up—pure and alive—somewhere else, and like some particularly hardy weeds, the true Gospel will never be fully eradicated. Even the deadest church holds some smoldering spark or latent, hibernating seed waiting maybe decades or possibly even centuries, for the right mix of nutrients, receptivity, and opportunity.
 
“Can these bones live?,” was the question in Ezekiel. “Only God knows” is the eternal answer. We like to imagine that we know with our bi-polar yes or no, but our hope is too shallow, and we give up too easily. Some trees takes centuries to reach maturity; some movements takes generations just to take root.
 
Many of these “good weeds” are constant irritations that annoy us and take our time. Our private projects are disturbed, and then when we didn’t even notice, our precious projects are over-shadowed by an immense monument of beauty and strength we had done our best to ignore or even stamp out.
 
God’s grace is like that. It emerges without our permission, beyond our will, and most of the time, in defiance of our expectations. Jesus described the Holy Spirit as being like the wind. We never know where it came from, what it will do, where it will go, or where it went. This is how I see the Holy Spirit in my life; it catches me by surprise when I do see it, but mostly I only see its effects or its absence. There’s the lingering sense that something holy was here, and perhaps the spores still remain, but they’ve scattered, and we step on them and capture, isolate, and fossilize the few we do find. Like children, we expect them to be our pets, do our bidding, wear our cute little costumes, and take part in our eager charades. How little we realize that we have taken in a whirlwind—a loving storm that will turn us upside down and inside out.
 
We will be, if we allow it, far more, far deeper, and more real than we were in the past We will be more uniquely ourselves than we could have ever imagined. No matter how old we are, our story is just beginning.


Tuesday, February 28—For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever, Amen.

“[Jesus] must have been either the prince of impostors or what He really was, the lord of lords, the king of kings, the savior of mankind,” claims William Booth.
 
Jesus was born during the reign of Caesar Augustus, the most powerful man in the world. Augustus’ kingdom was enormous, and he was able to enforce a strict peace (the Pax Romana) within its borders. In many ways, Augustus was the best the world could offer as far as power and glory were concerned. Against this imposing king we see the familiar setting of the nativity—a poor couple away from home and a young woman giving birth in a room occupied by animals. It does not seem very impressive at all; yet the nativity is very much about the competition between two rival kingdoms, one represented by Caesar and the other by a little, wailing baby called Jesus. Where did the real power and glory exist?
 
Augustus caused the known world to be counted in his census; the birth of Jesus caused the angels to sing in the heavens. Augustus altered the course of a young couple’s lives, making them journey to Bethlehem for the birth of their son; the birth of that son altered the course of world history forever. Augustus used the threat of his armies to force a temporary peace amongst men; Jesus used obedience, humility, and suffering to bring about an eternal peace between God and humanity. It was under the authority of another Caesar that Jesus was put to death; that death and His subsequent resurrection made salvation possible for all who call Jesus lord. Augustus and Rome reflected all the glory of the world; Jesus reflected all the glory of the God who made the world.
 
The kingdom that Jesus introduced was and is the dangerous, radical alternative to the powers of this world. By praying this last part of the “Lord’s Prayer,” we are declaring that we pledge our allegiance to the kingdom of God. We also are declaring that we will dedicate our lives to seeing this alternative kingdom become a reality here on earth. It is thus a prayer of mission, a subversive prayer, and a commitment to not simply accepting the kingdoms of this world or their values.
 
It is also a prayer of empowerment. Jesus spoke and acted the way He did because He was the rightful king of kings. We are His children and, therefore, are rightful heirs to the kingdom. We have within us the very Spirit of Jesus, and that is a Spirit of true power, authority, and glory.
 
Finally, this is a prayer of confidence. It is only because God is king that we can pray the rest of the “Lord’s Prayer” with conviction. We pray with boldness because we are praying in the name of the king, the victor over evil, the true light of heaven who outshone the glory of this world with the glory of the cross.
 
Jesus showed us that the world’s understanding of power and glory is flawed. Real power and glory is found in obedience, humility, grace, justice, love, forgiveness, and all the things that characterized His life. This is the power and glory that exists in the kingdom of God.
 

Study and Prayer Suggestions

  • Write a list of things that count for power and glory in this world. Then write the things that count for power and glory in the kingdom of God. Pray that your life and the life of your family, friends, and other Christians will find its identity in the kingdom of God.
  • Read Revelations 5:1-14. Jesus is described here as both a lion and a slain lamb. What images do both of these descriptions bring to your mind? In a small group, discuss what these images tell you about the power and glory of Jesus, and how they can help you in your prayer life.
  • Take some time to reflect on what you have learned about the “Lord’s Prayer.” Give all the praise and the glory for the week of study you have had to God, including your prayers that will be answered in the future.


Monday, February 27—Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

“To cry out to the God of life in the midst of darkness, to hold on to joy while walking in a valley of tears, to keep speaking of peace when sounds of war fill the air—that is what prayer is about. It is indeed clinging to the Lord when all is being torn apart by greed, hatred, violence, and war,” says Henri Nouwen.
 
There is a recurring theme in Jewish thought that says salvation will come out of pain and suffering. An image that often was used for this was childbirth; the pains of giving birth are great, but out of those pains comes new life and new hope. Jesus truly lived out this theme, as His life was characterized by temptation, trials, and suffering. Perhaps the moment of Jesus’ life that best symbolizes all of these things is in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus prays that He might be spared from the cross. Jesus shrinks momentarily from His duty but does not yield to temptation. He resolves to give Himself over fully to the will of the father. This is obedience staring evil in the face and defying it. It was out of this trial, this temptation, and pain that eternal salvation was brought to the world.
 
So why, if we are trying to imitate Jesus, are we taught to pray “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’?” When Jesus prayed this prayer, the father refused His request. Jesus was delivered into the hands of the evil one, but that is precisely why we can pray this prayer with confidence; Jesus defeated evil on the cross so that we could be delivered.
 
This does not mean that evil no longer exists or that temptation and times of trial will not occur in our lives. There are generally three wrong ideas we have about evil. The first is to believe that evil does not exist or does not matter. The second is to see only evil in everything and to forget about the good of creation. The third is to become self-righteous and to believe that deliverance will come as a result of our own virtue. The reality is that to pray this prayer is to recognize our own weakness and the danger of sin, but at the same time to know that we have a savior who is strong enough to deliver us. The evil one is powerful and active in this world, and he is opposed to God’s good creation and perfect will, but the victory of Jesus is more powerful and more active. This prayer asks that we would not be tempted more than we could bear and that with the strength of Jesus we would be able to resist evil and pass safely through the testing of our faith.
 
We do have some responsibilities when it comes to this part of the prayer. We need to be disciplined in our attitude toward sin. We should not be seeking out temptation nor should we allow sin to go unchecked in our lives. This is also a prayer for the world. We are asking for the forces of evil to be bound and for the light of God to shine into the darkest places. This is not a request that can be made from a safe distance. Christians need to live and pray right in the place where the world is in deepest pain. In a way, we need to allow the kingdom of God to be birthed in and through us into the sin and brokenness of the world. This requires sacrifice and pain on our parts, but we have the promise that through our trials and because of the victory of Jesus, new hope and new life will be birthed into the world.
 

Study and Prayer Suggestions

  • Read 1 Corinthians 10:12-13 with a partner. Discuss what temptations exist in your life and pray for your partner, family, friends, and others that God would reveal the way out. Discuss some practical ways of avoiding or dealing with temptation and commit to praying for each other and holding each other accountable.
  • Take a walk around your community and look for the strongholds of sin that need prayer. Make a list of them and pray that God’s deliverance would break into them.
  • Reflect on the cross. Praise God for the victory He won over evil through the death of Jesus.


Friday, February 24—And forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

“It is impossible to lift our enemies up in the presence of God and at the same time continue to hate them,” wrote Henri Nouwen.
 
The scariest words in this prayer are “as we.” We understand that God wants to forgive us our sins; He showed that by sending His son to die for us. We also can come to grips with the idea that we are supposed to forgive others—as hard as that may be. Things get serious, though, when we add the words “as we.” In this prayer, we are asking, for God to forgive us in exactly the same way as we forgive those who wrong us. The gospel of Matthew puts this in stronger terms; “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:14-15
 
Jesus wasn’t setting up a merit system here; there is no way our forgiveness of others could ever earn the forgiveness of God for our sins. It is only by the grace of God that we can ever be forgiven. What Jesus was doing was setting up a culture or paradigm of forgiveness. His followers would forgive others because it was the righteous thing to do and because they had seen this modeled by God Himself. Forgiving sins is an essential part of what it means to be a child in the kingdom of God. If you refuse to forgive others, how can you claim to be a follower of the forgiver-God? It is the equivalent of saying, “I don’t believe in the kingdom of God.” When the world sees that men, who are sinful, can forgive each other, then people can know that God, who is infinitely merciful and graceful, can certainly forgive them, too.
 
Unfortunately, we live in a world that has rejected the idea of sin and, therefore, perceives no need for forgiveness. Our world has raised up the concept of tolerance in place of forgiveness and is satisfied if we merely put up with each other; however, tolerance is at best a weak parody of forgiveness. The father in the story of the prodigal son didn’t tolerate his son; he ran to forgive him. Sin does exist, and we need the forgiveness of God. We don’t want to be simply tolerated, settling for second best.
 
Forgiveness is shocking, it is dangerous, and it makes people angry. This was a major part of Jesus’ kingdom announcement. He claimed to be able to forgive sins—something only the temple was supposed to do. Then He called His followers to live out that same model of radical forgiveness and to implement the victory of the cross in a sinful world. We are expected to confess our sins and receive God’s forgiveness, to offer our forgiveness freely and repeatedly to others, and to stand in the pain and sin of the world and plead for its forgiveness from God as well. It is our birthright as children of God to breathe in His divine forgiveness, and it is our responsibility to breathe it out onto a broken world.

 

Study and Prayer Suggestions

  • Make a list of people you need to forgive or from who you need to ask forgiveness. Pray for all the people on the list, seeking the Holy Spirit to fill you and others with forgiveness. Keep the list until you have asked for forgiveness and felt God’s power of reconciliation in your life.
  • Find some newspaper or website articles that describe incidents in the world that require forgiveness. Pray that forgiveness would be brought into the pain, sin, and brokenness of these situations.


Thursday, February 23—Give us this day our daily bread

“If we were not so familiar with the ‘Lord’s Prayer,’ we would be astonished at the petition for daily bread. If it had come from the lips of any other than Jesus Himself, we would consider it an intrusion of materialism upon the refined realm of prayer. But here it is smack in the middle of the greatest of prayers…,” wrote Richard Foster.

There are generally two ways of understanding this part of the prayer. One way is to spiritualize the words daily bread and say they are an anticipation of the feast we will all share in heaven. In heaven, we will be in the daily presence of Jesus, the bread of life. So this prayer could be asking for the kingdom of God to come in all its completeness now.

The other way is to say that daily bread actually refers to our need for food to survive. This shows that we are to pray for our daily needs—food, shelter, finances, relationships, etc. Nothing is too small for us to bring before the father. He wants us to be in complete, daily dependence on Him. He will satisfy our needs.

Both ways of reading the prayer can be helpful. The mention of bread in the prayer clearly does look forward to a time when there will be no more hunger, when the kingdom of God is brought to earth completely through the work of Jesus. During Jesus’ life there were definite hints in this direction. Jesus miraculously fed the 5000 with bread and fish, which pointed to the fact that He was the Messiah. Jesus held banquets where all were invited—especially the wrong sort of people—just as the kingdom will be open to all who will come. During the last supper, Jesus said that His very body was the bread that would feed His disciples. So our prayer for daily bread is in fact a prayer for God to bring about that time when all will be sustained by the presence of Jesus.

The prayer is also about our day-to-day needs in this world. Jesus obviously was interested in these things during His life. He provided wine at a wedding feast, food when people were hungry, and rest when people were weary. He took care of the poor, the widows, and the sick. His actions prove that it is not unspiritual to pray for the material things of life. After all, it was Jesus who pointed out that our “heavenly Father knows that you need…” food and clothes and shelter, and that if you “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness…all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:32-33

Besides, it would be impossible not to pray for the “little things of life.” Richard Foster illustrates this well; “Try to imagine what our prayer experience would be like if He had forbidden us to ask for little things. What if the only matters we were allowed to talk about were the weighty matters, the important things, the profound issues? We would be orphaned in the cosmos, cold, and terribly alone. But the opposite is true; He welcomes us with our 1,001 trifles for they are each important to Him.”

Study and Prayer Suggestions

  • Write down the things in your life that you consider to be luxuries. Then add the things in your life that you would consider to be unrighteous or not pleasing to God. On another sheet, write down the essentials in your life and the things in your life that you think please God. Pray that God would deal with the stuff on the first list; then crumple it up and throw it away. Then pray for the stuff on the good list—that God would take care of the essentials and would increase righteousness in you; keep that list as a reminder that God provides for our true needs.
  • Share some food with a group to represent the feasts we will share in the kingdom. Invite people beyond your close circle of friends and family to share in this feast and reach out to all that share in the meal, building a larger fellowship group of believers.
  • Intercede on behalf of those you know who have material needs. Lift them in prayer, asking God to provide for them. Also, do what you can and enlist the help of other Christians to reach out to them with aid.


Wednesday, February 22—Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Luke 22:42
 
Many scholars are of the opinion that this third portion of the” Lord’s Prayer” is the central phrase of the prayer. Tom Wright holds that the kingdom announcement is the focal point of Jesus’ entire ministry. This prayer then, can be understood only in the light of how Jesus “lived” while He was here on earth. Bringing the kingdom of God to earth was Jesus’ great task, and being radically obedient to the will of the father is what He demonstrated in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross. As Henri Nouwen has said, “Christ became king by obedience and humility. His crown is a crown of thorns; His throne are a cross…Jesus allowed the will of His father to be done through Pilate, Herod, mocking soldiers, and a gaping crowd that did not understand.”
 
This means that when we pray this prayer we must again recognize that we are saying we want to model our lives on the life of Jesus—His humility, His servanthood, His love, His suffering, and His uncompromising obedience to the will of the father. Because Christ is king, the criterion for our actions must be His will—not ours—especially when that makes us uncomfortable. C.S. Lewis explains our responsibility this way, “Thy will be done. But a great deal of it is to be done by God’s creatures; including me. The petition, then, is not merely that I may patiently suffer God’s will but also that I may vigorously do it.”
 
So how do we vigorously do the will of the father? A good starting point is to look at how Jesus lived His life, to get involved in the things that He thought were important, and to understand what Jesus meant by the term kingdom of God. We will be looking at how all the rest of the phrases in the “Lord’s Prayer” illustrate the kingdom of God in the next couple of days, but it might be good today just to relate what Jesus believed was His own personal mission statement:
 
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year for the Lord’s favour.” Luke 4:18-19
 
Preaching the gospel, reaching out to the poor and the captive, bringing healing and freedom, proclaiming the truth about God: these were the things that the father wanted Jesus to do, and if we want to be obedient and see the kingdom of God brought to earth, these are the things we must devote our lives to do as well.
 

Study and Prayer Suggestions

  • Begin living the kingdom. Christ demonstrated His role as a servant of God by washing the disciples’ feet. Demonstrate that you are accepting the role of a servant by washing the hands or feet of others in your family or group.
  • List the things that Jesus thought were important in this world and the things He spent His time doing. An example is feeding the hungry. These activities were ways that Jesus was bringing the kingdom to earth. Determine which of these activities you can do to imitate the ways Christ brought the kingdom to earth.
  • Pray for the extension of God’s church on earth and for the return of those who have left the kingdom. Pray also that the church would be more perfectly obedient to the will of God. Although the kingdom of God won’t be here on earth completely until the end of time, it is in one sense realized here and now on earth. Christians who live for God and who accept His will in their lives are living the Kingdom of God here on earth.


Tuesday, February 21—Hallowed be thy name

“Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11
 
This second section of the “Lord’s Prayer” is concerned with hallowing, which means revering or glorifying the name of God. Names are very important today, but they were even more so in ancient times. In Jesus’ time, a person’s name represented his/her entire character—everything that was known about that person. When we are talking about the name of God, we are referring to everything that God has revealed about Himself; therefore, when we pray “hallowed be thy name,” we are saying that we want all of creation to worship the name and the entire revealed character of God.
 
This is a name that should be praised because of its majesty; after all, God is in heaven. As M.A.H. Melinsky once said, “God shall be God…man shall not whittle God down to a manageable size and shape.”
 
We humans need to have a proper humility and reverence when confronted by the awesome power and beauty of our God, but the name of God also should be hallowed because of the fact that we are encouraged to call Him our father. When understood in the context of God’s majesty, this should reveal to us what an unbelievable and undeserved gift it is to be called children of the living God.
 
The exciting, and somewhat frightening, facet of this is that God has chosen to reveal aspects of His character through His children. He did this through Israel, He did it through Jesus, and now He is doing it through the Holy Spirit working in His church. When we pray the “Lord’s Prayer,” we are saying that we want the world to see who God really is by seeing what we, His children, are doing in this world. This highlights both the glory and the failure of the church.
 
It is our responsibility to bring all of creation before the father so that it can be healed and released from sin, pain, and death. This requires standing in the pain of the world and kneeling in the presence of God. By doing this, we show to the world why the name of God—the name above all names—should be hallowed.
 
It is because many Christians don’t do this, however, that Mother Teresa was prompted to say, “Often we Christians constitute the worst obstacle for those who try to become closer to Christ; we often preach a gospel we do not live. This is the principle reason why people of the world don’t believe.”
 

Study and Prayer Suggestions

  • Have everyone in your small group write down some prayer requests. Write each request on a separate sheet of paper and tape them to the wall. Then have everyone write down on colored sheets of paper some of the characteristics of God (i.e., healer, provider, savior—once again listing one characteristic per sheet). Group members should read the prayer requests, and align them with God’s associated characteristics.
  • Find some newspaper or website articles that describe incidents in the world that require prayer. These should include a mix of local and international situations. Pray that God’s name would be glorified in those situations.


Monday, February 20—Our Father

Mother Teresa commented, “I think that every time we say the ‘Our Father,’ God looks at His hands, where we are etched. ‘See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands…’ Isaiah 49:16 What a beautiful description which also expresses the personal love God feels for each one of us!”
 
These two words that form this opening phrase are essential in order to understand the “Lord’s Prayer.” The word “our” determines the nature of the whole prayer. It can be prayed in private, by individuals, but in essence it is a corporate prayer. All of the pronouns in the prayer, starting with this first one, are plural. It is a prayer that is designed to be experienced by the whole Christian community, not just by one isolated member of that community.
 
The word “father” obviously tells us to whom the prayer is addressed. Many people do not have a positive image of their fathers, so this term may cause some difficulty. After all, if the word father brings up memories of abuse, shame, or absence, it would be hard to carry on with this prayer. So what kind of father is God? To whom are we praying?
 
There are many instances in the Old and New Testaments where God is revealed as a father to His people, but the most striking example may be in the story of the prodigal son. Luke 15:11-32 The son rejects his father, demands his inheritance (saying in effect that he wished his father were dead), and squanders that wealth. When the son finally returns home, his father—in total contradiction to what would have been expected or even respectable in those times—runs out to meet his son and pours out his love for him. Some have suggested that this story should really be called the prodigal father because the father is so free and wasteful with his love, expecting nothing in return. This is the father that we address when we begin the “Lord’s Prayer.”
 
Although it costs us nothing to be the recipients of the father’s great love, the opening words of the “Lord’s Prayer” should not be uttered lightly. For these words represent our desire to be imitators of Jesus in our relationship with his father. In Israel at the time of Jesus, children would watch their fathers carry out their work and would learn their trades. Jesus became a carpenter by watching Joseph and helping him in his work. So when Jesus addresses God as father, He is not just using a term of intimacy; He is claiming to be working alongside the father in His great work of building the kingdom. Jesus’ great task in this work was His suffering and death on the cross; therefore, when we imitate Jesus in calling God our father, we are stating very boldly where we want to be in relation to God. We are saying that we want not only to share the intimacy that Jesus had with the father, but also that we want to be considered apprentices in the work of His kingdom. To be apprentices in that work, we need to take the road that Jesus took—that of ultimate humility and servanthood.
 
Although we already have been made children of the father, we are not yet the people God wants us to be. So in calling God our father, we also are asking that He would prepare us to be more and more like our older brother, Jesus.
 

Study and Prayer Suggestions

  • Spend time in communal prayer. Represent this by holding hands or linking arms as a group. Pray in particular for the return of those who have left your fellowship (friends, family) and who have rejected their father’s love.
  • Write down the characteristics of God that make Him a father. Then, write down what it means for you to be God’s child.
  • Write a modern Psalm. Work either by yourself or in a group, praising God for His prodigal love for you.



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