Have you ever longed to be refreshed, renewed, and refocused as you enter a new year? Then read on.
My birthday has two dubious distinctions. First, if you are Hispanic and on January 6th you eat a cake with a tiny plastic baby Jesus inside it then you have to throw a party on February 2nd. (This is real.) Second, it’s Groundhog Day, which is notable for a bizarre ritual involving a groundhog being accosted with television cameras first thing in the morning and also movie with Bill Murray.
This post will be about how this movie and the Lord’s Prayer matter immensely to resetting our lives and ministry.
Now, to my knowledge I’ve never actually seen the whole Groundhog Day movie with Bill Murray but I’ve gotten the gist in cable TV re-runs: Bill Murray is a jerk and finds himself reliving the same day (Feb 2) over and over again every time he goes to sleep. Besides a scene where he kidnaps a groundhog I think the movie sticks around because it speaks to a longing we all have and a dread that we all have: First, we want a do-over. There are days, weeks, years that we wish we could live over again. Maybe 2015 was like that for you. Second, we each fear being stuck in the same day, or year over and over monotonously doing the same thing again and again.
I feel this heading into 2016.
I want a do-over with some key personal and church decisions last year. And I dread that this year might be just like last year and the year before, that certain personal and ministry hopes will go unfulfilled. I long for a reset. A true reset. I long to wake up in 2016 refreshed, renewed and refocused.
In the last days of 2015 I found something that has been steadily resetting my heart and soul and changing the way I enter this new year. It’s not something new, because fundamentally what I need is not something new but something true. It’s hidden in plain sight:
Pray then like this: “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. (Matthew 6:9-13 ESV)
Jesus says “Pray like this.” This is meant as a model and it seems clear that this structure is not given simply because it pleases God (though it does) but because the progression is helpful for our hearts. Praying this way that will not just change the content our prayers, it will change us too. It will reset us.
When we become discouraged we’re often hit with one of two lies: “God doesn’t care about you,” or, “God can’t help you.” This is often why we take matters into our own hands as pastors, church planters, or leaders with disastrous results. We fail to remember who God truly is. If J.I. Packer is right and the most important thing about us is what we think of when we think of God, then we desperately need these few words.
He is Our Father. He is not a dispassionate taskmaster impatiently waiting for status reports on that floundering small group in our church. He is our Father. He loves us with the familial affection of a dad laughing at his son’s jump into the Fall leaves.
He is the King of Heaven. “Father in Heaven” is not his address, it’s a reminder that this Father is sovereign and above all. There is nothing to beyond his power or capacity. His dominion extends to black holes and galaxies, to microns and particles.
Last year I needed my dad’s help with something. I brought the request ready with several arguments for why I needed the help and how it was important and necessary. But a few sentences in my dad said, “Sure I’d love to help.” Not to be dissuaded I continued making arguments until he said, “Son. I’m your dad. I’m happy to help.”
This is our God: someone happy to help and full of power to do so.
Where parts of our lives currently feel out of control we must remember that he loves us and is sovereign over us. Where we look to the future we will only be filled with true courage knowing that someone is there who is both impossibly loving and impossibly strong.
And do not miss the impossible word right before “Father.” He is our Father. He paid and precious and dear price, the price of his only begotten son to purchase those two words for us. Jesus hung on a cross, forsaken by his Father so that we could be restored to our Father.
This means all that God is (this completely loving Father and completely sovereign King) he is for us.
When we think of failures and regrets from last year we must be reminded that we’re not trying to dig ourselves out of a hole with God this year. Our relationship is all of grace. When we think of our great successes from last year we must be reminded that God rejoices but we come to him as children based only on what he’s done for us.
I need to hear this.
When you’re replanting a church, planting a church, or just lead a small group of believers, the temptation when you need a reset is to start with yourself: a new strategy (“this small group book will fix us!” we think), a new plan (“this outreach will finally connect!” we think), a new sermon (“this one will finally change them!” we think). But Jesus reminds us that we must start at a different place. We start with God and our relationship with him.
And one last thought: starting here in prayer changes the tone and tenor of our requests. We do not come desperate to see our last-ditch ministry effort succeed, we come secure in his love and in his sovereignty. We do not parade in with a puffed out chest as if our church plant is a going to single-handedly turn redemptive history around, we come awed that God our father would love us much less use us.
We’ll pick this up next time. In the meantime there is enough here to reset our souls. There is enough here for pastors longing for a do-over and ministry leaders afraid of nothing changing.
“Our Father, who art in heaven.”