In June 2017, the Arkansas legislature installed a huge, beautiful monument of the Ten Commandments, spanning six feet tall.
Not even twenty-four hours later, a man named Michael Tate Reed gets in his car, drives to the state capitol, and rams his car into the Monument, yelling “Freedom” on the live stream video. Not long after, Governor Huckabee tweeted: Back “Some idiot broke all the 10 commandments at the same time.” Come to find out, these was not Reed’s first run in with the Ten Commandments. He did the same thing in 2014 in Oklahoma. Recently, Reed posted a Gofundme page to raise the funds for a new car. I know some of you are compelled to give, but unfortunately, Gofundme took it down. Now, as you might imagine, Reed has a history of mental health. More interesting for the purpose of this post is Reed’s Christian credentials. He’s a self-described “Jesus Freak.” While few Christians would ever wreck our vehicles on Ten Commandment Monuments, some Christian traditions metaphorically tear them down. Some of this is well-intentioned, as we recognize New Testament teaching highlighting some of the differences between our relationship with the law as Christians, and an ancient Israelite’s relationship to the law. The Apostle Paul says: “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” –Romans 6:14. However, to tear down the Ten Commandments doesn’t take Jesus seriously (“I didn’t come to abolish, but fulfill the law”) or many other scripture passages like Psalm 119:97: “Oh, how I LOVE your law! I meditate on it all day long.” One helpful category for me is the Lutheran contribution that there are three uses of (reasons for) the law.
1. To prevent/curb sin, at a general level. “You shall not murder” is pretty important for all societies everywhere.
2. The mirror our sinful condition, to point out our need for a savior. Who of us has perfectly fulfilled the Ten Commandments? None of us, except Jesus
3. To guide Christians in their new life, walking in Holy Spirit-filled love.
It’s this third category I want to focus on, again from our friend Martin Luther (the German Reformer).
Luther Gets His Hair Cut
One day, as Luther was getting a hair cut, his barber, Peter, asked him a simple question: “Brother Martin, how do I pray?” Luther’s responded by writing a book. Classic Luther. He called it “A Simple Way to Pray: For Peter, the Master Barber.” And it’s actually a short book, only thirty pages. I highly recommend it, and here’s a link for a free pdf version online: https://wmpl.org/filed/resources/public/Literature/ASimpleWaytoPray.pdf Near the end of this book, there’s a section in this book about Luther’s relationship to the Ten Commandments, and how they contributed to his faith and prayer life. His four-fold approach involved 1) instruction 2) thanksgiving 3) confession and 4) prayer. He uses the Ten Commandments to structure and scaffold his prayer life. For example: He would come to a command, like the first one:
Commandment One: “You shall have no other gods before me.” -Exodus 20:3
Instruction: Luther begins here. What is this commandment teaching me about God? What does he want from me? He writes: “First I consider what God demands of me and teaches me in this commandment. He wants me to give Him my genuine attention in all things. He greatly desires to be my God. He [wants me] to trust only in him.” Luther is preaching to himself, meditating and chewing on the Word of God.
Thanksgiving: Luther then works on his gratitude. “He says: “Second, I thank Him for His infinite mercy, that he descended here below, without me asking him or seeking him or meriting him, and like a Father offered to be my God, to take on what’s mine. . .” Basically, “God thank you that you even offer to be my God, that you want to be first in my life, and that putting you first is best for me.”
Confession: Luther then makes confession before God in light of this commandment: “Third, I confess and admit my great sin and thanklessness, that I have, throughout most of my life, so terribly despised such a high gift and beautiful teaching, with innumerable idolatries. . .” He confesses his ingratitude and idolatry to God in detail.
Prayer: Finally, Luther turns the command into a request of God: “O my God and Lord. . .Guard my heart so that I no longer forget and become unthankful, so that I do not seek comfort in any gods on earth. . .but rather truly cling to You, alone, and purely, as my only God.”
Let’s try another one: the Sabbath commandment. This was something I prayed through on Friday, which is the day I take a Sabbath rest.
Commandment Four: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God.” -Exodus 20:8
Instruction: So I first meditated on the command: What is God trying to teach me? Well, humans aren’t meant to always be busy. I’m a human being, not a human-do-ing (yes, it’s cheesy, but now you’ll remember it. . .you’re welcome). So there are times to. . .just. . .be. To sit quietly with no to-do list. God desires me to take time, even an entire day per week, to rest, worship, and delight.
Thanksgiving: So I tried to foster gratitude: “God, thank you that you’ve commanded this of us, you want us to have abundant life, and seven-day workweeks don’t bring this about. Thank you that you care about us, that you want us to rest and enjoy things, that you’re not a cruel slave driver.”
Confession: Then I moved into introspection: “God, I confess that I don’t often rest in you. I often find my identity in my accomplishments or check lists. And even on days off, I find ways to distract myself from you. I confessing to the wrong-thinking that people need me, that I need to make everyone happy by always being available to them, but never available to you.”
Prayer: Then finally, I turned it into a request: “Father, help me to rest. Help me to worship. Help me to delight. Help me to get the right rhythm in this area of life. I don’t want to be lazy, and I don’t want to be exhausted.”
Let’s practice one more of these.
Commandment Seven: “You shall not commit adultery.”
Instruction: God is teaching us here that marriage is the best and only place for sex. Sexual promiscuity in general and adultery in particular have devastating effects on individuals, on families, and in churches.
Thanksgiving: God, thank you for my fiancé. Thank you for the boundaries you’ve placed around sex and relationships, for our good. Thank you for the beauty of women, especially in our community, but thank you that I cannot have them. I trust your way of life-long monogamy more than what the culture espouses.
Confession: But, Father, I confess that the world has an unbelievable, imaginative power to promote sexual promiscuity in my mind and in my fantasy life. I confess to letting my mind wander, and to the ingratitude and lust that can grow like weeds so quickly in my heart. Cleanse me and make me more like Jesus in this area.
Prayer: “Help prepare me for the long-term, binding commitment with her, and to be prepared and protected from anything that could jeopardize that.”
What do you think? Could you pray through some or all of the Ten Commandments today, like Luther recommends? If you do, I would love to hear about your experience.