Any word can become tired and eroded of meaning with overuse, but I think “Lord” in evangelical culture is one of the more lamentable cases. “Praise the Lord.” “Oh, Lord.” “Lord, please….” We throw his title around very casually, don’t we? It’s become a virtual nickname for Jesus Christ, but I suspect we’ve forgotten what we proclaim when we use it.
I was wrestling in prayer through some stubborn circumstances recently, trying for the umpteenth time to persuade “the Lord” to change them already. Mid-plea, his words in Luke 6:46 came sharply to mind: “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say?”
In other words, “You’ve asked me about this over and over and I have yet to change my previous instructions, so when will you accept my word and get on with it?” Oh, that.
We call him Lord but through our actions say, “I’ll take it from here, thank you.” We cry Lord but really mean, “This can’t be your will because it’s not mine.” We make our many plans and spend vast amounts of energy trying to execute them. When those plans fail and come to grief, we again cry out, “Lord!” but don’t mean it.
What are we really saying when we call Christ Lord? Merriam-Webster defines the term this way: One having power and authority over others; a ruler by hereditary right or preeminence to whom service and obedience are due. Now we’re talking. Would onlookers say that the Son of God is clearly the power and authority in my life, in all detail? How would my prayers take a different shape if I began with: “Oh Ruler by Hereditary Right and Preeminence, I ask you to….” Or “God Who Has Complete Power and Authority In My Life, what shall we do about….?”
Of course, we American Christians are particularly handicapped in our understanding of the servant/master relationship. We’ve no natural reference point. Challenging authority is in our national DNA; we have RIGHTS, prized individuality, freedom. We take orders from no one. Believers in Christ may get away with such independence; followers of him do not. We must be taught, slowly and patiently by our benevolent monarch, that his kingdom is not a democracy. He’s good, but not safe and not necessarily fair in the way we measure fairness. When I’ve compared his dealings with me with his dealings with my brothers and sisters and cried for explanation, the persistent reply has been the same he gave to a whining Peter: “What is it to you? YOU follow ME!” (John 21:22).
Are some of God’s directives arbitrary and for the sole purpose of teaching us obedience and servant hood, just because he said so? I wonder. Christ’s is not a limited government; on the contrary, the increasing reach of his rule has no end (Isaiah 9:7). But if I’m honest I have to confess that much of my walk with “the Lord” has been spent resisting his total lordship. I trust him for the things I know have no ability to manage – my sin, sanctification, eternity – but I act as if I know pretty well how this life should go. In a thousand ways, I try to arrange things for myself. Do you?
How many of us can say that we consistently behave as if God knows better than us? Do we act as if he has complete power and authority in our lives, in all things big and small? How well do we take orders we don’t like (loving one’s enemies comes to mind)? Where are we resisting the Lord’s right to rule?
Beloved, we’ve been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20); our lives are not our own. Let’s be doers of the word and not simply hearers (James 1:22). Let’s call him Lord and endeavor to mean it!