When Grace Comes Alive: Living Through the Lord’s Prayer
Terry L. Johnson
Christian Focus Publications, reprint 2005
The adage that you can’t judge a book by its cover is certainly true in this case. It was one of the freebies at the Shepherds’ Conference. As soon as I saw the cover I knew it was from a Christian publisher somewhere in Europe. Don’t ask me how. I just knew it. They all seem to have the same style: weird font, odd colors, unrelated pictures, poor graphics. That’s my humble, un-artistic opinion. But the book was free, and I did what I always do with free books. I grabbed it up.
I didn’t notice the subtitle until I was shelving my books (it’s not well identified on the cover). But words like “living through the Lord’s Prayer” reverberate in my hungry soul. My desire for communion with God overruled my prejudice so of all the books in my library and on my must-read list for the week, I chose to read this one first. It wasn’t on my list, but it should have been. My Monday and Tuesday this week were fragranced by meditation on the Lord’s Prayer.
As I pastor people and seek to save both my soul and theirs (1 Tim. 4:16), I find that most of our spiritual battles can be boiled down to two basic issues: 1/What to do with desires that are not God-focused and 2/how to have real, actual, not-delude-myself communion with the Father.
The book is structured well. It’s easy to follow. Obviously, Johnson has the distinct advantage of a well-known passage of Scripture serving not only as the topic of his discussion, but as a very effective outline.
Johnson seems very human to me. He confesses that he was in his forties when he began to realize how little he knew of prayer. My suspicion is that he knew more than many know. It seems that one of the mysteries of prayer is that the more you know the less you feel like you know. Nonetheless, Johnson says, “My own outlook was evolving. I had begun my adult prayer pilgrimage with what I might call a ‘prayer list’ approach, repeating lists of objectives to God in the hope of good results. On the other end of this pilgrimage I began to see that prayer is primarily a drawing near to God (p.18).
Before plunging into the study of the Lord’s Prayer, Johnson shares some very helpful insights concerning our needs (ch.1) and what it means to please God in prayer (ch.2). His thoughts on secret prayer I found to be especially helpful. It is refreshing to hear a minister of the Word of God confess that his prayer life was routine saying, “I found myself in an experiential desert. My soul was barren” (p.40). I do not mean that I am encouraged that his prayer life was barren. Rather I am very happy to see a man yearn for something “experiential.” Note that this is not a charismatic yearning for a spiritual zing. Johnson is a Presbyterian! I find it encouraging to read an exegetically sound author exhort us to seek God for soul-satisfying fellowship.
“Plead with God that you want fellowship with Him, that you want Living Water and the Bread of Life to satisfy your soul. Jesus intentionally uses this language of satisfaction and fulfillment to describe how we experience Him. ‘If any man thirsts’, Jesus says, ‘let him come to me and drink’ (John 7:37; cf. John 4:7-15; 6:35). He is able to quench the hunger and thirst of the soul. You can enjoy fellowship with the Triune God, Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit” (1 John 1:3) (p.42) [emphases mine].
It is in the section on petitions where the sub-title really starts to make sense. Here Johnson really makes clear that “our theology of prayer is our theology of Christian life” (p.92). We are strongly exhorted to be God-focused in all of our prayers, even those which pertain to our immediate physical needs. Our physical needs should never override our spiritual concern which is that the Lordship of King Jesus would be advanced, His will accomplished, and the Father glorified. When we pray for our spiritual needs and request forgiveness (which Johnson reminds us should be a daily activity), we become acutely aware of our desperate need for the keeping work of God to preserve us from the evil we are so inclined to pursue. In the words of Douglas Kelly from the forward, “Every concern for true holiness has a way of throwing us back on the sheer grace of God, so that we look afresh to Jesus who is our holiness” (p. 11).
Terry Johnson gives some very practical help to the average Christian on questions concerning the will of God. He explains in terms easy to grasp the difference between the preceptive will of God and the decretive will of God. There is a sense when the secret will of God is sometimes spoken about among Christians. According to Johnson, this is not “what God has commanded (which isn’t a secret) or what God decreed (which is a secret, but He’s not telling – Deut. 29:29), but what He really wants us to do or what He really wants to happen in a given circumstance” (p.122). Don’t look for it, says Johnson. “Let me gently say that the will of God in this sense doesn’t exist. There is no third third will of God. This area outside of what He has commanded is known as the realm of Christian liberty. What God ‘wants’ is for us to obey His revealed will, make wise decisions and do what we want” (p.122).
(I’m not sure that I fully agree with Johnson on this point. I can’t say that I disagree either. Perhaps I would nuance this same point a little differently. I strongly recommend Mark Minnick’s message on this topic as a helpful critique of Friesen’s Decision Making and the Will of God. Search “decision making and the will of God.”)
In the chapter, “Forgive us our debts,” I found convicting and strong appeals to be daily mortifying sin. “It is a bold fact that we are not Christians in the New Testament sense of the word,” says Blaiklock, “unless we have frankly faced our spiritual bankruptcy, our helplessness, and our complete unworthiness” (Johnson, p. 152). There have been some who say that to ask for forgiveness daily is to not believe in the finished work of the Cross. Johnson deftly debunks that notion. “Forgiveness, like grace, must be continually received” (p.146). Confess daily. It is “the means whereby we appropriate both the actual and psychological benefits of forgiveness. . . Through confession the healing balm of grace is applied to the wounds of sin healed” (p.149).
The appendix includes Matthew Henry’s paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer. There is a short, but helpful bibliography listing three categories of books: those on Matthew and/or the Sermon on the Mount, others on the Lord’s Prayer specifically, and still more on Prayer generally.
This book fed my soul. I recommend it.
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