Jesus' Parables for Disciples
James J. Tissot, "The Lord's Prayer" (1896), watercolor.
9 "This, then, is how you should pray: 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.' 14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." (Matthew 6:9-15)
The Bible, of course, nowhere calls Jesus' prayer "The Lord's Prayer," nor is it called the "Our Father." How are we to look at it? Is it
- An example prayer?
- A pattern prayer? or
- A prayer book prayer to be repeated?
It appears, from the context, to be a pattern prayer. Jesus has just criticized some of the abuses of prayer prevalent in his time. Verses 5-6: Prayer for effect (perhaps typified by the prayer of the righteous Pharisee contrasted by the tax collector's "Be merciful" prayer). Verse 7: Jesus has also contrasted righteous prayer with wordy prayers. He seems to be showing his disciples how to pray properly, avoiding some of the pitfalls, and including an appropriate mix of praise and petition.
Was this the only prayer the disciples were to pray? No. We have many prayers recorded by Jesus, his disciples, and the Apostle Paul. None of them has a word for word correspondence with The Lord's Prayer, but all of them follow patterns Jesus taught in this prayer.
The prayer begins by addressing God as "Our Father".
Bible scholars pretty much agree that behind the Greek word patēr, "father", is the word `abba in Jesus' native Aramaic tongue. Rather than the formal word for "father," `abba is the family word, something like the affectionate "Dad" or "Daddy" that we use in English. (See also Mark 14:36; Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6). There is a formal word for "father," but the word apparently used here stresses the intimate family relationship. This is striking. Jesus was teaching his disciples to understand God as their Father. Though the rabbis spoke of God as the Father of the people, Jesus is teaching them to address God as their own personal Father, a new and wonderful revelation.1
When you meditate on this a moment, the awe and wonder of it begins to break over you. The God who created the universe is our Father. The God who revealed himself in fire and smoke and thick clouds is our Father. "Father" is a relationship word, and to consider that we have the relationship of child to father with God himself is an awesome thought.
In Jesus' day, "father" included the concepts of care, love, responsibility, discipline, hopes and dreams for one's children, respect, authority, and blessing. In the West, fathers have nowhere near the life-long patriarchal authority that fathers have in the Middle East and Far East. Our fatherhood is but a shell of the powerful concept of "father" that Jesus communicated through this intimate word. Something of the Middle Eastern father is depicted in Jesus' parable of the Father and the Prodigal Son to illustrate the loving, searching, longing quality of our Heavenly Father (Luke 15:11-32).
"Father's Love Letter," originally written for a sermon illustration by Barry Adams, a pastor in St. Catherine's, Ontario, Canada, is a wonderful meditation of what kind of Father our God is. I strongly recommend that you read it, and take it personally. You'll be enriched (www.fathersloveletter.com).
Some in our generation have excised the word "Father" from their prayers on the basis that too many bad fathers have hurt too many children, and the image of father makes it hard for some to want to come to God. Resist this teaching that contradicts the express teaching and example of Jesus. As you meditate this week on the Lord's Prayer, I encourage you to reclaim for yourself the term "Father." Seek to find out in what ways he is a Father to you.
Notice that Jesus teaches us to call out to God as "our Father." Not just a self-focused "my father," but a communal "our Father." The Lord's Prayer is intended to be prayed not only privately, but especially in the community of God's people, the Church.
Jesus then teaches us to pray to God "who art in heaven," which adds infinity to our understanding of God. Though Solomon built a temple for God, he prayed, "But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!" (1 Kings 8:27) Yes, God is greater than his creation, but "the heavens" is a way to understand the greatness of God's dwelling. And when we reflect on God's greatness, it is easier to have faith to ask of him things that seem difficult to us.
The first petition is "hallowed be Thy name." The Greek word is hagiazō, which means "to treat as holy, reverence."2 Our word "Halloween" is short for "All Hallows Eve," or "All Saints' Eve"). "Hallowed" comes from the English word "holy." Why does Jesus include the concept of "hallowed" in the "stripped down" version of his prayer? Because without it, our understanding of "Father" can be distorted.
Our understanding of "Father" could become sentimental to the point of presuming upon and taking advantage of the Father's graciousness towards us. "Hallowed" reminds us that the Father is holy, set apart from sin. That he can be both the Father of sinners and set apart from sin requires Jesus' atonement to reconcile. When we pray, though we pray with the privilege of intimacy to our "Abba, Daddy," we are never to imagine that we are buddies with God, or his equals. He is always our Father, and he is holy and exalted. Jesus teaches us to call God our Father, recognize his exalted place of dwelling, and to reverence him.
The phrase "hallowed be Thy name" may seem a little awkward to us, but in the Near East the idea of "name" stood for the person, his authority, his character, and his activity. When Jesus tells us that the Father's "name" is holy, he means that the Father's whole Person is holy. "Name" can be used as a substitute for a person himself. To paraphrase, "Father, hallowed be your name," means, "Father, may you be treated with the respect and honor that your holiness demands."
It is common for Christians, particularly Christians who come to faith later in their lives, to have a rather profane vocabulary. They may be in the habit of using God's name often, and sometimes almost as a swearword. If, when being surprised, we say "Lord!" or "Christ!" or "Jesus!" or "God!" we are using God's holy name in a profane and common way. We are not reverencing his name, but debasing it. Disciples discipline their mouths and their hearts to reverence the Father's name.
Including "hallowed be your name" in our prayers means that we are to approach the Father, not only with familiarity, but also with reverence and respect for his greatness and holiness. He is our "Dad," but he is also Holy. And as we are learning to pray, we must not forget this.
Q1. (Matthew 6:9) What about our lives and words "hallows" the name of our Father? What desecrates and besmirches it? How should we "hallow" the Father when we begin to pray?
"... Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." (6:10)
When we pray, too often we want to get on quickly to our own concerns. But in Jesus' model prayer, we first pray about the concerns of God's Kingdom and his will. This is not the petitioner's prayer so much as the disciple's prayer. This is how disciples are to learn to think and pray and act, with God's Kingdom foremost and predominant in their minds.
"Thy kingdom come...." What are we asking? We can't take this phrase or fragment without looking at the rest of the sentence, since the meaning is found in the context.
"Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
The Kingdom of God
The idea of the Kingdom of God is complex. It goes far back into the Old Testament, at least to the book of Exodus, where God reveals himself as Israel's King. He makes a covenant with them in the form of an ancient suzerain-vassal treaty, a treaty made between a great king and a subservient people (Exodus 19:3-6). The tabernacle in the wilderness is the throne room of a desert monarch. He leads them by day and night. Having no king but Yahweh is one of the unique marks of the Israelites, to the point that their clamoring for a king under Samuel's judgeship is considered a sin (1 Samuel 8).
Saul was Israel's first human king. David, born in Bethlehem, of the tribe of Judah, was the second king and becomes the archtypical king. He is promised that one of his sons will always sit upon the throne (2 Samuel 7), fulfilled ultimately in Jesus Christ. (See above, "Excursus 1. What is the Kingdom of Heaven?")
John comes proclaiming, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Matthew 3:2), and Jesus takes up the same message (Matthew 4:17). He sends out his disciples with the authority to do miracles and proclaim to villages, "The kingdom of God is near you" (Luke 10:9, 11). The kingdom of God comes when Jesus proclaims God's reign, and demonstrates that reign by preaching good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, sight for the blind, release for the oppressed, and the Jubilee Day of the Lord (Luke 4:18-19). The kingdom is here in Jesus and his disciples -- and in you and me -- but it will come fully and completely when Jesus returns to earth to reign over all as King and Lord (Revelation 11:15).
May Your Kingdom Come
Jesus asks us to pray that the Kingdom of God come soon. As one of the last phrases of the Book of Revelation says, "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus" (Revelation 22:20). The Kingdom will only be present fully when Christ returns, when "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever" (Revelation 11:15).
When we pray, "Your kingdom come," we are asking God to manifest the power and glory of his kingdom in us, and throughout our world. What a prayer! We are praying that Christ might reign over all. We are also asking the Father to hasten the return of Jesus Christ to this earth. Amen!
May Your Will Be Done on Earth
This petition is also a condition for prayer, that all our prayers conform first to God's will. How can we pray the kind of prayer that Jesus wants of us, and still ask for our petty desires, which are so clearly contrary to God's revealed will in the Bible? Teach us to pray, Jesus, we say. Part of that teaching, surely, is to determine God's will and pray along those lines. Prayer for disciples is not to be selfish prayer, but prayer in tune with and guided by God's will.
Q2. (Matthew 6:10) In what sense are we asking that the Father's kingdom should come? Why are we asking for the Father's will to be done here on earth? How should this prayer affect our living?
Petition 4: For Daily Needs (6:11)
The fourth petition in this prayer is for our own needs: "Give us this day our daily bread." This is a curious phrase, because in one short sentence it includes two words that are specific to the current day.
The word translated "This day" is Greek semēron, a fairly common word that means "today". But also in the sentence is an extremely rare word, which is usually translated "daily," the word epiousios. While its exact derivation is a matter that scholars love to debate, it probably means either "for today" or "for tomorrow."3 Whichever it means, it is a prayer for the immediate and not distant future.
Bread, of course, is the staple of life. The word is often used for food generally, since bread is the most important food, and is extended here to mean, all of our needs, all those things that we need to sustain us.
Receiving from God
So, the prayer means something like, "Give us today what we need for today," and fits very well with Jesus' teaching later in the chapter, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (6:34).
The implication here is that we are to come to God with our daily needs. When we say "Give us," that doesn't mean we don't expect to work for our living, but that we recognize God as our Provider. So often in the Western world we have a regular salary that comes like clockwork, month after month, and we take our livelihood for granted. Only when we are laid off or touched by serious illness do we begin to ask daily for his provision. Jesus teaches us to learn to become dependent upon our Father, and to bring to him our daily needs -- though we disciples are to put our own needs after the Father's holiness and kingdom and will.
Our Strong Desire for Independence
It's strange, but we long to break free from the necessity of praying this prayer. We would like to store up enough money so that we don't have to worry -- or pray -- about where our next meal will come from. We would like to be "comfortably" well off, if not rich. We don't want to have to pray for our next meal.
I don't think that Jesus wants us poverty-stricken (though that may happen to us and in that he will be fully able to meet our needs). But he does want us to get in the habit of relying upon the Father -- for everything. Should we thank God for our food if we have earned the money for it by our own labor? Of course!
"You may say to yourself, 'My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.' But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today." (Deuteronomy 8:17-18)
Since it is God who gives us the ability to earn a living, then in a real sense, it is he who "gives" us our daily bread. He strengthens us and provides through us. So often, when we have our health, we take this ability for granted. Jesus is teaching us to look to the Father for every provision.
Sometimes you hear the teaching that we should pray for others' needs, but never for our own, that God will provide without us even asking. Though that teaching sounds pious and faith-filled, it goes directly counter to Jesus' own teaching. We are to ask God for our daily needs. He is interested in our jobs. He cares about your school. He is concerned about the health of your business. He cares about your marriage, and children, and relationships. Your church matters to him.
Jesus teaches us, "Give us today our daily bread." How is it that we so often confuse such a simple concept?
Q3. (Matthew 6:11) Why do we seek to be independent of asking anyone for help? Why do we seek to be independent of God? Why should we ask God to "give" us daily bread so long as we can earn a living for ourselves?
The fifth petition is for forgiveness. But like the daily-ness of the fourth petition, the fifth petition, too, has a twist. The prayer is:
Forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors.
Three Greek words are used in relationship to sin in the Lord's Prayer in Matthew and Luke. Christians from different traditions use different words as they recite the Lord's Prayer.
"debt"(Matthew 6:12), Greek opheilēma, 1. "debt = what is owed, one's due." 2. In a religious sense debt = sin (as Aramaic hobah in rabbinical literature).4
"trespass"(Matthew 6:14-15, KJV), Greek paraptōma, "in imagery of one making a false step so as to lose footing: a violation of moral standards, offense, wrongdoing, sin." Paraptōma is a compound word from para- "beside or near" and piptō "to fall."5 Thayer defines it as "a lapse or deviation from truth and uprightness; a sin, misdeed."6
"sin"(Luke 11:4), Greek hamartia "sin. The action itself as well as its result, every departure from the way of righteousness...."7 Literally, "a failing to hit the mark."8
But this prayer, "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors," is a sort of trick prayer. It is a prayer Jesus uses to teach his disciples the elements of praying aright. The Greek word hōs, is a conjunction marking a point of comparison, meaning "as."9 Jesus teaches us to ask God to forgive us "as" we forgive others. In other words, if we forgive others only a little and hold grudges, we are asking God to forgive us only a little and bear a grudge against us. Wow! How many people pray the Lord's Prayer thoughtlessly, and each time they pray, they pray a curse of unforgiveness down upon themselves!
Jesus is making a point in this prayer, a point which he explains in more detail just after the prayer:
"For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." (6:14-15)
How could it be plainer? Jesus had just told his disciples not to seek retribution. "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven" (5:44-45). Now he makes it clear that we must forgive, if we are to be considered sons of the Father. Otherwise he will not forgive us.
It is a hard saying, but it is God's way.
Perhaps the most powerful example is that of Jesus himself. "He came to his own [people]," John records, "and his own [people] did not receive him" (John 1:12). His miracles and bread attracted the crowds, but when he had to say some hard things, they would leave as quickly as they had come (John 6:66). A number of times, when he said something they didn't consider Kosher, they tried to kill him, but he slipped away from their grasp (Luke 4:28-30; John 8:59; 10:31). But the time finally came that God had planned (Galatians 4: 4-5). Jesus knew it was coming, and though it filled him with pain to think of it, he faced it openly. This time when his enemies sought to arrest him, he stood forth, said "I am the man," and allowed them to take him. He allowed a mock trial filled with patently false and unsupported charges. He could have called legions of angels to deliver him -- the armies of heaven were at his beck and call -- but he did not. Soldiers spit in his face and mocked him with a cruel crown of thorns and a purple robe they said made him look like a king. They scourged him nearly to death. Pilate washed his hands and ordered his crucifixion. And as they crucified him, he said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).
If we are to know and understand God, we must love. We must know and understand forgiveness. If we reject this part of God, we reject the kernel of who he is (1 John 4:16-21). So when Jesus puts it so bluntly in our passage (6:14-15) -- you must forgive to be forgiven -- we dare not reject this truth.
Isn't this a sort of "works righteousness"? some ask. If you are required to do something before you can be forgiven, then isn't this righteousness by works? No. There's an old story of how to catch a monkey. You chain a cage to a post, and put an orange in the cage. Then when the monkey tries to grasp the orange, and can't pull it through the bars he is trapped. Can't he just release the orange and escape? Yes, but monkeys don't let go of the things that enslave them. They hold on tightly -- just like people. And so he is captured, just as surely as if he were in the cage itself.
To be free you must let go of unforgiveness. Is that meritorious so as to earn heaven? No, not any more than repentance from sin is meritorious. We don't earn heaven by repentance or by forgiving. But we must let go of our bondage to sin and hate if we want to receive something better.
The Struggle to Forgive
Forgiveness is sometimes terribly difficult. It's usually not so hard to forgive people we don't know. The people with whom we have a relationship of trust who turn on us, who betray our trust -- those people are the hardest to forgive. Husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, children, and boyfriends and girlfriends and our best friends. They can turn on us and wound us deeply. Sometimes we even doubt that "It is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all." Maybe we should withdraw and protect ourselves and never venture out again.
No. The path of health is forgiveness. The path of healing is forgiving.
Sometimes we resist forgiveness because we mistake it for substitutes. In my article "Don't Pay the Price of Counterfeit Forgiveness,"10 I try to distinguish true forgiveness from its chameleons. True forgiveness does not minimize the sin or the hurt, nor excuse the sinner. True forgiveness chooses not to hold the sin against the sinner any longer. True forgiveness is pardon.
You may be freshly wounded and find your anger too massive to forgive. The injustice may be ongoing, the outrage constant. Perhaps you do not feel you are able to forgive right now. Then I ask you to pray this prayer: "Lord, I find it beyond my ability to forgive this person. I ask you to make me able to forgive in the future." Even that prayer may stretch your faith (or obedience) to pray, but pray it anyway. The God of Forgiveness answers prayers like that. He makes a way where there is no way. He takes us beyond ourselves.
Two simple lessons we disciples learn from this petition: (1) we must ask for forgiveness time and time again, and (2) unforgiveness blocks God's blessing.
Q4. (Matthew 6:12, 14-15) Why should we continually ask forgiveness? How can unforgiveness on our part block God's blessing? How can unforgiveness block God's forgiveness?
Petitions 6 and 7: Help When Tempted (6:13)
"And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one." (6:13)
The sixth petition goes beyond asking for forgiveness; it asks for help in our times of trial and temptation so that we do not sin so as to require forgiveness.
Keep Us from Temptation
On its face it is hard to imagine God leading us into temptation at all.
"When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed." (James 1:13-14)
Sometimes we disciples flirt with temptation. We don't exactly seek temptation, but we are attracted to sinful things and so we sort of wink at them. Our resistance is low; we are being "dragged away and enticed" by our "own evil desire," as James puts it. This prayer, "and lead us not into temptation," helps teach us how important it is for us to stop flirting with sin but to actively flee and resist it. That is to be part of the content of our prayers.
Some of you are saying, "But if God knew what I really thought about, or wanted to do, he wouldn't have anything to do with me." Some of you are ashamed of your secret sins, but afraid to open them up to God himself. My dear friends, there is nothing we have done or said or thought that can surprise our Father. The miracle of the cross is that he cares about us in spite of our rebelliousness. This part of the Lord's Prayer reminds us to call upon the Father for strength when we are tempted. We are not to fight a secret war against sin; the Father wants to be our continual partner. He knows your weakness, and mine. And wants to free us and make us whole. What a wonderful Father! What wonderful grace.
But God does test us. He allows circumstances that stretch and try us to make us pliable enough that he can remold us into his own image.
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance." (James 1:2-3)
Job was tested. So were Abram and Jacob and Joseph -- and Jesus. Trials can be positive, and Jesus wouldn't be teaching us to pray to escape what is strengthening us. So it is probably better to see "Lead us not into temptation," as the negative of its positive counterpart, "but deliver us from evil." Testing may involve temptations, but God's desire is to help us escape temptation -- and the tempter. Here we're praying: Don't lead us into places where we can be tempted, but lead us in places where you are, and where we can be free.
Rescue Us from the Evil One
This seventh petition is a prayer for deliverance or rescue from the evil one. It is recognition of the spiritual nature of our warfare against sin. There is not just our own temptation, but a tempter. In our own selves, we are no match for him. So we call out to God for rescue, for deliverance, for salvation from our enemy.
Together, petitions six and seven are asking God: "Keep us from giving into Satan's temptations."
Petition five deals with forgiveness; six and seven with delivering us from sin. Together they make up a prayer that helps us follow Jesus on his path.
A Doxology (6:13c)
"For Thine is the kingdom,
and the power,
and the glory
Having been raised a Protestant, the first time I heard the Catholic version of the Lord's Prayer that left off the last doxology, I was shocked. It was like waiting for the other shoe to drop -- and it never did. Actually, the Catholic version may be closer to Jesus' own words than the Protestant version. Let me explain.
The Protestant version of the Lord's Prayer includes a doxology. Our English word "doxology" comes from two Greek words, doxa -- "praise," and logos -- "word"; a "word of praise". Sometimes it is called an ascription, since these qualities are "ascribed" to God.
Our best guess is that the doxology was added -- perhaps on the basis of 1 Chronicles 29:11-13 -- to adapt the Lord's Prayer for liturgical use in the early church. Although the doxology was probably not part of the original text, Jewish practice was to conclude prayers with a doxology, so it is unlikely that it was offered in New Testament times without some form of doxology.11 One of my favorite parts of the Lord's Prayer is the doxology. I love to speak out loud as words of declaration and praise, "For Thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory," for all these are his in abundance. Praise is a fitting way to conclude our prayer.
The Lord's Prayer is deceptively simple. We may pray it often and by rote. We may take its words for granted. But this week -- especially this week -- let the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray fill your thoughts and meditations. And may its vocabulary become yours.
Sermon on the Mount: The Jesus Manifesto is available in paperback and ebook formats
Father, teach me to pray the right way, the way Jesus taught us to pray. I confess that my way of praying is often self-centered and self-serving. Teach me to pray. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.
- Gotlob Schrenk, "pater, ktl.," TDNT 5:984-985.
- Hagiazō, BDAG 9-10.
- Epiousios, BDAG 376-377.
- Opheilēma, BDAG 743.
- Paraptōma, BDAG 770.
- Paraptōma, Thayer 485.
- Hamartia, BDAG 43-44.
- Hamartia, Thayer 30.
- Hōs, BDAG 1103-1106.
- "Don't Pay the Price of Counterfeit Forgiveness," Moody Monthly, October 1985, pp. 106-108; https://www.joyfulheart.com/maturity/forgive.htm
- The discipline of Textual Criticism tries to determine which version of a disputed text is closest to the original words that Jesus actually said. The original Gospel of Matthew was doubtless copied for use in other churches. And each of those copies became the source of yet more copies, families of copies. In the last century and a half scholars have categorized the earliest manuscripts we have into families of manuscripts according to the similarities found between them. Some of the earliest manuscript families lack the doxology -- specifically Alexandrian (Aleph and B), Western (D and most of the Old Latin), and the pre-Caesarean (f1) types. Those that include it are K L W Delta Theta, Pi, and f13, et al. A few manuscripts (such as the Didache have a different doxology altogether. Some of the earliest Church Fathers (Tertullian, Origen, and Cyprian, for example) didn't include the doxology in their commentaries on the Lord's Prayer. So W.L. Liefeld, "Lord's Prayer," ISBE 3:162. See Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (United Bible Societies, 1971), pp. 16-17. At some point the use of the doxology had dropped out in Roman Catholic liturgy. John Calvin (1509-1564) comments, "It is surprising that this clause ... has been left out by the Latins...." (A Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, q.v.). John A. Broadas (Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Judson Press, 1886), p. 139) notes that the doxology wasn't introduced into the English Book of Common Prayer until the time of Charles II.
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