Surely God is in this place

From Skyline last week:

Jonathan Middlebrooks led the conversation based in significant part on a concept found in Genesis 28:10-16 (especially v. 16). To put the verse in context, Jacob has recently negotiated for Esau’s birthright in exchange for a hot meal, and Esau has vowed to kill his brother in revenge. Jacob is on the run, trying desperately to avoid the vengeance of his brother. One night after setting camp near Bethel, Jacob has an intense dream of heaven and when he awakes he says, “Surely God is in this place and I wasn’t even aware of it!” (NLT) Listen to the Podcast here.

The point that Middlebrooks made, which is both obvious and sobering, is that God can be found in the most surprising places; we need to be constantly aware that God is ready to move in meaningful ways if we will be alert to the opportunity.

Turning to a brief study of the “Lord’s Prayer”, particularly as recounted in Luke 11, Middlebrooks mentioned that we as modern Christians often measure the effectiveness of prayer by its results – that is, whether the prayer was “answered,” at least in a discernible way. By contrast, Middlebrooks argued that prayer is a matter of “divine union” – a means of tuning in to what God is doing around us and in the world. (Taken fromThe Naked Now, by Fr. Richard Rohr.)

Interestingly the Lord’s Prayer recounted in Luke (vv 1-13) is significantly shorter than versions recounted in other gospel accounts. In fact, its brevity is one of the great points about the prayer itself as it has been preserved in history (even in other longer accounts). Jesus just kind of hit the big ideas:

  • Acknowledging the superiority of God and man’s relationship in submission;
  • Seeking unity with God on Earth;
  • Acknowledging man’s complete dependence & helplessness, asking for provision even of daily necessities (and no more);
  • Reminding us of our “indebtedness” or imperfection, especially since we have no problem acknowledging that others treat us imperfectly;
  • Expressing a need for mercy and understanding, and acknowledging that we must have mercy and understanding for others

Interestingly, the religious tradition I have often known is a tradition rich with very l-o-n-g prayers. “Guide, guard, and direct”-type prayers seeking miraculous intervention at times, seeking divine leadership on capital improvement campaigns, asking for Heaven-enforced protection, etc. While I believe that all of those prayers were offered with humility and sincerity, compared to the prayer modeled by Jesus as the rabbi they seem to miss the mark.

That Sunday conversation reminded me of the kind of prayer my dad modeled to me, and the prayer I try to model to my kids: That we as Jesus followers should focus on the notion that the God we serve is far greater than we, that each of us has far more than we could ever NEED (and that we have an obligation to provide for others from our abundance), that we should show mercy and grace in the same amount as we would like to receive, and that we should seek opportunities to make the world a better place by our love for others. Pretty much everything else is filler. Our prayer should seek to open our eyes to the work of God around us in the banal, mundane life, and to join God’s work there – whether we’re on the road outside Bethel or running our everyday errands, and distracted as we seek to preserve our birthrights.

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