Archives For Erik Cooper

Let’s be honest, it’s hard to pray. At least consistently. Daily. Effectively.

We can spout all the super-spiritual mantras about prayer that we want. We know it’s vital to Christian living, the health of our daily relationships, our family, the impact of our work, our ability to lead. We know we should pray. We believe we should want to pray.

But when it comes to the practical reality of actually praying, most of us find prayer frustrating, mysterious, and difficult. So we carry the shame of underachieving in this lifeblood of the Christian faith. So what do we do?

I hate doing things that make me feel dumb (this is why I stay far away from hardware stores), so how do we get smarter at praying? I stumbled upon an ancient tool that has helped me immeasurably over the last few years. Martin Luther and other church fathers used this as a simple gateway to prayer, and I think you will find it powerful in your life, too.

The Lord’s Model Prayer

Before “freeform” praying for his own needs or the pressing issues of the day, Luther would pray through the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6 putting each phrase into his own words. I’ve found this process incredibly liberating! It gives me a biblical roadmap to express my own thoughts, hopes, and fears and doesn’t leave me stranded in the wilderness of my own wandering ideas and emotions.

So let’s take a moment and look at each of the six phrases in The Lord’s Model Prayer and see how they might provide a simple pathway into the powerful discipline of prayer.

1. “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.’”
–Matthew 6:9

The first phrase of The Lord’s Prayer is positional, placing us in our rightful place and God in His.

First, it’s relationally positional. We are part of a family. We have a Father. Perhaps that word conjures up bad images in your mind from your own upbringing, but I assure you that God is the true and beautiful standard of Fatherhood. He’s what you always imagined a loving Father to be. A covering. A trustworthy patriarch. He’s our eternal identity source. We are image bearers of our heavenly Father, carriers of His DNA.

It’s also morally positional. Our Father is holy. His is the Standard. This idea of God is not popular in today’s post-modern culture, but it’s vital for our flourishing as image bearers of the Creator. Yes, God is love. But He is also holy! He is truth and love. We are under God’s leadership both relationally and morally.

Forming this phrase into your own words might look something like this:

“Our Father in heaven, holy is your name.” Lord, we thank you today that you are our Father. We are made in Your image. We trust ourselves to your loving care and nurture today, but You are the One in charge. You are the standard bearer, and we look to You and not our own desires, not the influence of our culture, but to You today as our holy and loving Father. As our Father today, resurrect your DNA in our lives. May we honor your name and your position in and over us today.

2. “Your kingdom come, you will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
–Matthew 6:10

Here we are submitting to the sovereignty of God in our lives, our families, our work, our communities, our nation, and in the world. The word Kingdom refers to God’s dominion, His reign and rulership. Jesus resurrection ushered in God’s Kingdom, but His dominion over all creation is not yet complete. We live in the “already but not yet,” the middle act of God’s Great Story, and so we experience both the first-fruit blessings of Christ’s Kingdom alongside the broken realities of this sinful world. We live in this tension, and so we pray for more of God’s Kingdom to reign in us and through us and through His people.

We also pray for God’s will, His desires, plans, and purposes. I often find myself praying that God’s will would “swallow up” my own, that down to a cellular level God would resurrect my impulses so that they mirror His, that He would “re-order” the things I love. That I would want to want what He wants! This act of daily submission to the dominion and will of God is a vital and powerful part of daily prayer.

Putting this portion into your own words might look something like this:

“Your Kingdom come your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Lord, today I ask that your Kingdom would take more dominion in my heart, in my family, in my work, and in the world around us. God, I don’t trust my own heart. I’m not sure which desires to trust and which ones to be suspicious of, so I give you all of them. I need you to come and reorder the things that are important to me. Lord, I want to want what You want today! Rewire me. May your purposes come to bear in my life and in all my circumstances today.

3. “Give us this day our daily bread,”
–Matthew 6:11

This portion of The Lord’s Prayer is about daily returning to our Source. Our power is not in our stored up knowledge, our job, our source of income, our bank account, or our political system, it’s in our ongoing dependence on Jesus Christ. Left to our own devices, we begin to trust in things other than Him.

Pastor Jack Miller phrased it this way: “We organize our lives and plan our futures, and what lurks deep in our hearts is a desire for security to replace our need for Jesus.”

What happened to the manna in the wilderness when the Israelites tried to store it up? It went bad! God said, “I will feed you every day, just trust me,” yet His people tried to take His miraculous provision and store it up so they didn’t have to depend on Him anymore. We do the exact same thing! We want to trust what we can see, feel, touch, and control, but God knows we’re only living as we were created when He is the ongoing object of our dependence and trust.

This part of The Lord’s Prayer in your own words might look something like this:

“Give us this day our daily bread.” Lord, I know my heart wants to find it’s rest in things I can control. I make idols, I store up treasure, I desperately try to create my own security. But today I return to You, the only true Source! I place my dependence in you, not my family, my job, my retirement account, my preferred political party. In You. Be my wisdom, be my strength, be my provider, be my daily bread. For this day. Tomorrow I’ll be back again, because it’s in You that I place my trust.

4. “…and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
–Matthew 6:12

God’s grace is the lifeblood of our daily existence. Our only righteousness is Jesus’s righteousness that is given freely to us. Even when we do right, outside of Jesus, we do it for the wrong reasons! We must bring our brokenness to Him for healing and wholeness each new day. We must live in this grace!

But it’s not just our need for forgiveness that this prayer illuminates. Jesus harshly warns us just a few verses later, “if you don’t forgive others the Father won’t forgive you.” There’s an image of us reaching up to God for mercy with one hand while strangling our brother with our other hand, and this can’t be.

I don’t know what you’ve experienced. You may have extreme pain and brokenness in your past, things so dark and painful you don’t know how to let go of them. If you can’t find grace for others inside yourself, let God’s grace to you overflow from your life into theirs, even those that have hurt you deeply.

Putting this part of the prayer into your own words could look like this:

“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Jesus, I come to you again as a humble sinner in need of grace. Sin is like a disease that is rooted in my flesh, and You are the only remedy. May I live and breathe your grace today! May I live from your forgiveness in my own life and may that grace empower me to holiness today. And for those I struggle to forgive God, may your grace to me overflow as grace through me. May I be a forgivEN forgivER today.

5. “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
–Matthew 6:13

There is sin in me and there is sin all around me. I need to pray for protection from both. Left to my own devices, I will migrate toward fulfilling the identity hole in my life through my own means. I will look to my idols, and in seeking to satisfy my own internal longings, I will be tempted to do some awful things.

We need to pray for protection from the sin within, but we also need to pray for protection from the sin all around us! Pray protection over families, spouses, children, businesses, communities, our countries, and the entire world. Pray for supernatural preservation, that the “locusts” wouldn’t devour our “crops,” that evil would have no foothold, and that what the enemy intends for evil God would turn to good!

Phrasing this portion of the prayer in your own words might look like this:

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Left to my own devices today Lord, I will succumb to sin. I will worship my idols. I will seek to fulfill my own identity in my own way, and it will break my relationship with you and others. Protect me from my own depravity Lord! Protect me from this sin within as well as the evil all around me, from those who would try to kill and destroy what you are resurrecting and renewing. Protect us from the evil one and his work in this world.

6. “For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever, Amen.”

This doxology was only found in certain fragments of original scripture, so most modern translations no longer carry it. I love to include it because I think it wraps up this model prayer by refocusing my spirit on who God is and my place within His greater narrative.

There is this inherent imagery we cling to that tells us we are the central characters in our own story, but that’s not how we were designed, nor is it how we flourish and find eternal meaning in this life. We were not created to be the main character in a story that we are writing about ourselves, we were made to be beloved members of the supporting cast in a Divine masterpiece that God has been writing since the beginning of time!

When we live as if we are the center of our story, as if our happiness, our desires, and our passions are central, we are actually living outside our created design and heading for ultimate misery. This doxology puts me back in my proper place and God fully in His!

Wrapping up The Lord’s Model prayer in my own words might look something like this:

“For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory!” I declare today Lord, that You at the center and I am on the periphery. You are at the center and I revolve around you! You are the main character in the story of this day, and I am here to serve the telling of Your story. Today is Yours, Lord. The dominion, power and glory are Yours, Lord. I am yours, today, Lord. Amen.

The Power of Prayer

Do you see how this simple model can work as a bridge to prayer? It makes the ethereal mystery of prayer more accessible, and I think that was Jesus’s intent. From this point, my prayers and petitions can flow in their own freeform manner because they have been shaped by Jesus’s gateway.

Prayer is powerful because it forces our hearts into a place of humble submission and surrender, right where we were created to live and flourish in God Himself.

30 Day Challenge

I challenge you to faithfully use this model for 30 days and see if it removes the normal fear and struggle most of us associate with prayer. Jesus told us to pray and He showed us how. Prayer doesn’t just supplement our work, it is the work. Let’s get to it!

This article was originally posted at The Stone Table, a resourcing community for faith, work, and missions.

Our Everyday Work: An Opportunity to Partner with God

We visited Hoover Dam today. Nothing can mentally prepare you for the sheer size of this engineering masterpiece. There is enough concrete in the dam structure to build a 4-foot wide sidewalk around the equator of the earth! That’s a lot of cement.

As we toured the massive infrastructure and listened to the courageous stories of how it was built, my mind wandered to the theology of it all. Yes, my kids are right, I really can find theology in anything.

Go with me for a minute. Have you ever wondered why God just made a garden? Why did He just make raw materials? Why didn’t he build roads, and houses, and cities, and dams?

Because it’s our job. The Creator of the universe has offered us a partnership agreement.

God made man to fill the earth, to have dominion over it, and to subdue it (Genesis 1:28). You can’t gaze on Hoover Dam without seeing this Creation mandate in full view.

Subduing Creation

Water is a major issue in the Southwest, and the Colorado River brought water down from the mountains as an uncontrolled force through the region. To harness this natural resource, engineers started by rerouting the Colorado River! Over nineteen months, they dug multiple diversion tunnels into the canyon walls and literally moved the raging flow of water, drying the riverbed for construction of the dam.

Then thousands of men worked in three shifts, 24-hours a day, 363 days per year to build the dam structure, completing it two years ahead of schedule. Hoover Dam now provides hydro-electric power for 1,000,000 people and diverts the water in a controlled manner through the arid region allowing for human flourishing.

What About You?

When we go to work each day, we too have the opportunity to partner with God, to have dominion over creation and subdue it to the glory of God and the love of our neighbor. You don’t have to build a modern wonder of the world to make this happen. Whether you’re a brain surgeon or sweep floors, your job is an opportunity to partner with the Creator of the universe. Each of us carries this mandate.

“And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” –Genesis 1:28

You don’t have to reroute the Colorado River to have meaningful work. How does your job give you an opportunity to partner with God today?

This article was originally posted at The Stone Table, a resourcing community for faith, work, and missions.

Work, Identity and Suicide

It’s been a tough week. The world lost two famous faces to suicide – fashion designer Kate Spade and culture and travel television host Anthony Bourdin. Coincidentally, the CDC just released new statistics showing suicide rates have increased 30% in half the states in America over the past two decades placing it in the top 10 causes of death today.


This issue hit even closer to home last Tuesday as a classmate of my 8th grade son lost her father to suicide. It’s so much easier to process statistics, but when it’s real people, people you bump into at school plays and wave to in the after-school pickup line, it’s harder to compute.

I’m not here to discuss the theology of suicide or its multilayered causes, but I will say that depression is real and should be treated by Christians with the same compassion and empathy as any other disease. Depression has impacted my own family. It torments beyond logic or circumstance and you can’t “just snap out of it.” We live in a sinful world that breeds cancer, and Alzheimer’s, and heart disease, why should we be surprised that this same brokenness impacts mental health, too?

That said, our work (or lack of it) can be a driving cause of depression and suicide. Our identities get wrapped up in our work. When we have a job we’re proud of and that provides a comfortable salary, we feel pretty good about ourselves. If we get laid off or fired, we lose way more than just income. We can even lose sight of who we are.

I’ve faced this in my own life. During a season as a church-planter, I took a 40% pay cut that destabilized our family both financially and relationally. There were things I couldn’t afford to let our kids do, bills I didn’t know how I was going to pay, and people I had to depend on for things that really took a toll on my pride. Some of this “idol-shattering” was really healthy, but let’s be honest, my work (as much as I loved and believed in it) was impacting my mental health, my role as provider, and my very identity itself.

My wife faced this battle a few years ago as our kids started to get older. She had given her whole life to our three children for 15 years, but as they continued to grow more self-sufficient, her lack of a meaningful income-producing work led her into a season of depression. She applied for numerous jobs, some low-wage entry-level positions, only to be told she wasn’t qualified after so many years out of the workforce. She felt worthless, like she had nothing to offer, and it was destroying her very identity itself.

Our work, our mental health, and our identity are all intertwined.

My son got a text from his classmate two days after her father passed. She said her dad recently quit his job and felt really guilty that he wasn’t being a good provider for the family. I wish I would have known him better, that I could’ve had just a few minutes to share some of the fears and heartache of my own journey, and some truths about the real source of our identity as human beings.

But it’s not just low-income jobs or unemployment that assault our identity. Most would say Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdin had dream jobs – wealth, fame, influence. But anxiety and depression still found them there. Our everyday work, it’s level of financial stability, it’s social status, was never meant to carry the weight of our identity. It’s way too heavy. Only Jesus can do that.

Your identity isn’t brain surgeon or janitor. Your identity isn’t CEO or unemployed. Your identity isn’t entrepreneur or factory worker. Those things may be what you do – a way you honor God, love your neighbor, and provide for your family – but they’re not who you are.

Your identity is son or daughter. Your identity is image-bearer of God Almighty.

Your true identity will never be found in your work, by what you do or don’t do. It’s given to you. It’s a gift. You are who Jesus says you are. And He calls you His beloved, whether you occupy the corner office or sweep floors at the local Taco Bell. You matter because Jesus says you matter. He died to prove it.

If you ground your essence completely in Him, your identity can withstand life’s inevitable ups and downs because it’s finally rooted in something immovable – the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

If you’re facing work-related depression, the first thing I encourage you to do is get some help. Talk to someone. Pick up the phone. Now. The Christian community hasn’t always engaged depression and anxiety with understanding and grace, but there is no shame in struggling with depression. You’re not the only one facing it right now and there isn’t something unusually wrong with you. I promise.

We are all sinful people living in a fallen world, and we shouldn’t be surprised when our bodies and minds don’t work as they were originally designed. Go see someone – a counselor, a doctor, a pastor. Don’t let embarrassment or shame isolate you from the help you need.

But for all of us today – whether we’re wrestling with depression or not – let’s root our identity in something eternal. Whether we love our work or hate it, find it deeply meaningful or completely purposeless, what we do for a living isn’t who we are. The Gospel says that while we are far more broken than we realize, we are more loved than we can imagine. We are sons and daughters of God in Jesus Christ. That’s an identity worth holding onto.

This article was originally posted at The Stone Table, a resourcing community for faith, work, and missions.

A Power Much Greater Than Willpower

Will Power just won the 102nd running of the Indy 500.

No, I don’t mean a driver with willpower, as in extreme grit and determination to overcome the odds. I mean a guy who is actually named Will Power. His parents had to know what they were doing there, right? Like my father’s college classmate named Harold Butts? Come on, man.

Growing up with the name Will Power had to be tough, especially when you wanted to go back for that second donut.

We celebrate willpower (quite literally in the winner’s circle with a glass of milk this past Memorial Day weekend in Indy). It’s a human virtue, restraining our natural impulses and disciplining ourselves to overcome laziness and accomplish great things. Willpower is a noble pursuit.

God certainly isn’t against excellent effort, but the Gospel is opposed to thinking we can earn our position in God’s economy by those efforts. Our identity is a gift, not a wage. Not only do we need to understand this for our personal lives, but we also need to understand it in light of our everyday work as well.

Willpower is beautiful when it emerges from my surrendered trust in the Holy Spirit. It’s scary when it arises from an aggressive pursuit of my own glory.

When our work is rooted in pride and self-reliance – our ability to “willpower our way” to our desired outcomes – we are ultimately heading away from the real power that we need.In fact, this great sin is the root of all other sins. CS Lewis says it so powerfully in The Problem of Pain:

“Sin against God…has been described by Saint Augustine as the result of Pride, of the movement whereby a creature (that is, an essentially dependent being whose principle of existence lies not in itself but in another) tries to set up on its own, to exist for itself. From the moment a creature becomes aware of God as God and of itself as self, the terrible alternative of choosing God or self for the center is opened to it. This sin is committed daily by young children and ignorant peasants as well as by sophisticated persons, by solitaries no less than by those who live in society; it is the fall in every individual life, and in each day of each individual life, the basic sin behind all particular sins; at this very moment you and I are either committing it, or about to commit it, or repenting it.”

My attempts to control and manipulate outcomes, fueled by my own willpower, is the prideful root of human striving. But Gospel transformation is something altogether different. The Gospel brings my thinking and behavior into alignment with God’s intended design, and is fueled not by willpower, but by my repentance and dependence on Jesus.

In that way, our everyday work is actually a response to God’s lead and surrender to His will. That’s the fuel. If we want more power in our everyday work, we need to stop trusting so much in our own human willpower and place our dependence where it belongs – in the finished work of Jesus. There is no greater power than that (sorry Will).

This article was originally posted at The Stone Table, a resourcing community for faith, work, and missions.

The Leader You Were Designed to Be

Our family is a huge fan of the TV Show Psych, where a quick-witted smart-aleck with a photographic memory deceives the Santa Barbara police department into believing he has supernatural crime-solving abilities. My kids can probably quote some Sean Spencer quips better than they can the Bible (I’m not proud of this).

Sean’s sleuthing partner is a high-strung, by-the-book, straight man named Gus, who’s opposing personality quirks provide a hilarious contrast and some of the show’s funniest moments. Gus is a self-described “sympathetic cryer” who can break into tears at the slightest show of emotion from anyone, even random strangers he doesn’t know. He just cries because they’re crying.

I can relate.

I’ve gotten pretty good at hiding my moist eyes when Colts release a bald eagle during the pre-game National Anthem, when the pastor shares a moving story during his Sunday sermon, or when my wife makes me watch an episode of “This Is Us” (don’t tell her I said this), but I’m sappy by nature. It’s how God made me.

My Design

This expresses itself in interesting ways in my life, with my family, friends, and in the workplace. I’m empathetic by my God-given design. I feel what other people say to me. I can easily put myself in their shoes and see things from their perspective, even when they’re wrong. This can manifest in beautiful ways and help me connect deeply with others, both as a colleague and a leader.

But this exact same empathy can also sprout from a sinful root.

I like to be liked, and sometimes I will fall in line with someone else, not because I buy into their perspective, but because I don’t want to experience the discomfort of disagreement. That “niceness” isn’t always aimed at their good but at my comfort. Sometimes my empathy causes me to encourage and agree when truly loving the other person should manifest in confrontation and correction.

Beautifully Broken

The same God-given quality can be beautiful and it can be broken. It can be for the selfless good of others, and it can be for the selfish protection of myself.

There are instincts in me that are beautiful, that inform who I really am, what I should pursue, who I was created to be. And there are instincts in me that are broken, sinful, that want to flow downhill in the easiest direction toward my baser, fallen instincts. And sometimes they look the same even though their root is very different.

We need wisdom to stir up and embrace the beautiful, to recognize and repent of the broken, and to never confuse the two with one another.

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” This is a powerful portion of the Lord’s model prayer. I might synopsize it in my own words this way: “Heal the sinful, me-focused manifestations of my personality Lord, and resurrect the glorious God-honoring expressions of my original design.”

Your Leadership

How is your leadership being redeemed by the Gospel? Where do you need to repent? What do you need to stir up? It might look the same, but search your heart for the underlying motivator.

Here’s the Good News: Jesus is standing ready to resurrect and empower the you He originally designed.

This article was originally posted at The Stone Table, a resourcing community for faith, work, and missions.