prayer for the fifth Sunday in Lent

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer


worship of God

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

John 4:21-24

The Greek word here translated “worshipers”: προσκυνητής, simply means worshipers. προσκυνέω is the verb here (“will worship”; “worship”; “must worship”), the surface meaning: “to worship, pay homage, show reverence; to kneel down (before)”, the definition according to biblical usage of the term: “to do reverence, or homage by kissing the hand; in NT to do reverence or homage by prostration, Mt. 2:2, 8, 11; 20:20; Lk. 4:7; 24:52; to pay divine homage, worship, adore, Mt. 4:10; Jn. 4:20, 21; Heb. 1:6; to bow one’s self in adoration, Heb. 11:21” (Bill Mounce).

I am afraid that in our rationalistic way of approaching life, and I can speak well for myself, that the lifting up of hands, and bowing down is just something many of us don’t naturally do. And our romantic reaction against rationalism may not be much better. The passage here brings both together. We are to worship the Father in both spirit, and in truth. And of course the outward things we do might be empty religious exercises or rituals. Yet it seems both from the Bible and life that what we practice can change the way we both think and feel. As well as what we think and feel influencing what we do.

There are other words to consider, translated “worship,” in our Bibles, but I want to look at this one word for now. The word is used in other places (see passages listed above) for worship and adoration of Jesus, as well.

What we fix our minds on is ultimately what we worship. Or where we get our enjoyment. I’m not referring to necessary things we must give our attention to, nor enjoyment of the gifts God has given us. I am referring to what we value the most, what takes priority over everything else. And oddly enough in worshiping God, everything else as in the good gifts of God, is appreciated all the more, but in its proper place.

And worship of God is not something we do to get something out of it. We do it simply because God deserves every bit of it, and as a response to both who God is, and what he has done for us (Romans 12:1-2).

The worship spoken of here in John 4 and elsewhere, is what I want to intentionally purse and grow in, in days to come. In and through Jesus.

idolatry in the heart

Some of the elders of Israel came to me and sat down in front of me.Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all? Therefore speak to them and tell them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: When any of the Israelites set up idols in their hearts and put a wicked stumbling block before their faces and then go to a prophet, I the Lord will answer them myself in keeping with their great idolatry. I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols.’

“Therefore say to the people of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!

Ezekiel 14:1-6

Idolatry is everywhere. Some might think of it as something of a bygone era, when people used to make images representing gods, and bow down and worship the god of the image. But idolatry essentially is anything in our hearts we put before God, either in being devoted to it, or trusting in it. Anything, period, even things which in themselves in their right place are good. But also things which are either questionable, or not good.

Idolatry always exacts a steep price, and devastating consequences. Although much of it might be subtle enough to cover a lifetime, yet with some less than desirable fruit along the way.

I wonder myself. What do I put in the place of God? What can easily become an idol to me? Do I think that if I had enough money, I would be okay? Hopefully I am not under that illusion, knowing that some of the most empty people in the world are driven by money, and will scuttle truth and righteousness to make more of it. Knowing scripture and life. And yet those kinds of idols can still make their appeal to us.

Idolatry. It’s something to think and pray about, asking for God’s discernment to uncover where we’re most prone to it. We’re to have no other gods before us, but the one true God. And as Jesus told us, we’re to worship God in spirit, in the Spirit, and in truth, because the Father seeks such worshipers, and because God is spirit. God alone deserves our worship, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is no other.

And in the process of wanting to learn what worship of God is, and wanting to put it into practice, we need to become aware of any idols we may have set up in our hearts. Things so close to heart that they are a part of us. But if idols, in an unhealthy way. And again, most of what we make into idols, in their proper place and in God’s intent, are good. But not all of them. Maybe some of them, at least for us, we need to get rid of forever. Or let go of for at least a time.

And it’s not enough to get rid of idols, if we don’t replace that with the worship of God. So that our practices of faith characterize our lives, who we are from day to day, and hour to hour. Something I frankly am not sensitive enough to, myself. And want to grow much in, in and through Jesus.


getting rid of the “what ifs” and “if onlys”

Joel is a book that can be read or listened to in less than fifteen minutes. You will notice passages which are used in the New Testament, though the fulfillment in Christ seems somehow different in that in Christ is the day of salvation, God having taking on himself the judgment deserved by the world in Christ on the cross. Nevertheless there remains a day of reckoning for all, when the decision and result of our lives will be confirmed, and as it were, sealed.

But for so many, including myself, “What ifs” and “If onlys” can haunt and plague us. And we can rightfully wish that others will do better, that perhaps we can help them by gentle, wise instruction, and above all, by prayer. But we ourselves are left with the fallout of either the poor choices we made, or the lack of good decisions as well, or likely the combination of both. There is certainly nothing we can do in the present to change the past. But we live with God’s promises to us, each and everyone of them somehow fulfilled in Christ:

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.

2 Corinthians 1:20

Back to Joel. A book that needs to be read in its own context, and then in the context of the entire Bible, and considered in how it is applied in the New Testament. For us today in this post, it will be in terms of the “What ifs” and “If onlys” of our lives. First I want to note the call to repentance God makes to his people, one that can still echo to us today:

“Even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

Rend your heart
    and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
    and he relents from sending calamity.
Who knows? He may turn and relent
    and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings
    for the Lord your God.

Joel 2:12-14

This call was given in the midst of God’s judgment. Hard times had come from the hand of God, arguably through others who in the end God would judge. So there’s the prior, necessary call to repentance. We are sorry, yes for the consequences our past actions or inaction has caused. But the heart of repentance is always with reference to God. We’ve abandoned God, and we’ve lost out on God’s will for us, as well. We have sinned against the goodness of God, turning to our own understanding and devices. Or whatever we have fallen for in the past, making idols of that, rather than worshiping the true God. Whatever our past, we need to work through it in terms of repentance which gets right to our heart, no less. So that our life will follow.

And then we have God’s gracious promise to help us move away from the “What ifs,” and “If onlys”:

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—
    the great locust and the young locust,
    the other locusts and the locust swarm—
my great army that I sent among you.
You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
    and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
Then you will know that I am in Israel,
    that I am the Lord your God,
    and that there is no other;
never again will my people be shamed.

Joel 2:25-27

Exactly how that plays out, or what it looks like for each one of us, we do not know. We have to trust God in that.

All of this is in the context of the big picture, for Christ and for the gospel. It is not about us having our own dreams fulfilled, but rather, the dreams which God gives us:

“And afterward,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your old men will dream dreams,
    your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
I will show wonders in the heavens
    and on the earth,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved

Joel 2:28-32a

We can be assured that no matter what our past, if we repent, God will somehow restore the years, so that we can serve him in and through Christ for the gospel. As witnesses by how we live, and what we say. In and through Jesus.


the command/directive not to be anxious about anything

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

I was thinking yesterday about the command or directive from God not to be anxious, or worry about anything at all. The Greek word translated “anxious” by some Bible translations, and “worry” by others is μεριμνάω which according to Bill Mounce means “to worry, have anxiety, be concerned.” It seems rather unreasonable given the nature of the world, and the responsibilities we have, so that it would sound not only like foolishness in the eyes of the world, but a mistake even to those who have faith in God through Christ. Radical, for sure. But the imperative doesn’t end there.

We’re to pray with thanksgiving, to let God know just what is going on instead of giving in to anxiety, or trying to fix the problem ourselves. It is easy over time to just kind of give up and lose hope due to a number of circumstances, but mostly due to lacking faith in God. We’re to believe not in ourselves, but in God’s promise and love, even his calling to us. Confident that he will bring it to pass, and enable us to fulfill that calling through the gifting God gives us. I’ve been there, and it’s not good. It doesn’t matter how we feel about something, whether anxious, or losing all hope. We need to pray, and keep praying, and not give up. Continuing to bring it to God in prayer.

The answer promised is not necessarily a nice fix of the problem like we might envision, or like. It is simply God’s peace. This suggests to me that our solutions, or even wishes may somehow be misguided, probably the basic point being that we are trying to solve the matter ourselves, rather than letting God work it out, rather than waiting on God. It’s not like we won’t end up doing anything in the end. It’s just that we need to do so not in anxiety and fear, but with God’s peace. Or to simply remain in that peace, not doing anything ourselves. All of this in and through Jesus.


learning the language and heart of contrite brokenness

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

Psalm 51:1-2

Psalm 51 is the great penitential psalm, attributed to David in the aftermath of his terrible sin in committing adultery with Bathsheba, and being complicit in her husband Uriah’s death. We know the story from scripture, and the fallout which followed. Once when I was going over the psalm and rather overcome by its magnificence, I made the statement that it arguably never would have been written apart from David’s sin, but sin is never ever worth whatever good might come out of it. Yet God is the redemptive God, in the work of redeeming sinners, and even bringing good out of what forever remains evil.

There is what’s called soaking in God’s presence. I think it’s good to soak in scripture, as well, to soak in God’s presence in scripture. And in this passage, which can help us learn both the language and heart of a contrite brokenness. Contrite in the sense of being sorry, but not sorry just over the consequences of sin, but over the sin itself, especially in the sense of being against God, and then from that, grieving over its hurt and loss it has inflicted on others. Not to suggest that we don’t find salvation even in the midst of this, as is quite evident in the psalm itself.

I am in this psalm right now, working on memorizing it to begin with, and then in prayer, offering it to God. So that it must become not only the psalmist’s prayer, but my prayer as well.

A new thought did dawn on me, something that had never occurred to me, or hit me in the same way, something I want to pray through, and perhaps somehow act on. Whatever my own thoughts and wishes, my intention is not to be in a hurry, but let this language become my own, so that the heart from that language might be my own heart, too. In and through Jesus.


something of the devil’s schemes

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist,with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

Ephesians 6

Ephesians 6:10-20 is one of my go to passages I have memorized in the past, which I can go back to and repeat at least nearly verbatim. And sometimes I find that I really need to. There are times when all of the sudden it seems like I am stuck in a place I really don’t want to be in terms of spiritual warfare.

This passage could mean that we live in the evil day, or that the evil day will hit us along the way (NIV). I don’t know. I tend to want to include both, that we should be ready all the time now, and that we’re to put this into practice when we know we’re under attack. I remember that Christians have actually made a regular practice of “praying on the armor.”

Of course we have to take to heart, as well as put into practice all that the passage means, and that’s saying quite a lot. We have to find our strength in the mighty power of the Lord and put on the armor of God, what God provides for us in Christ through the gospel to stand firm. Too easily I can be duped by being taken in by the devil’s schemes, so that I give in to something less than God’s will or best.  It can be in terms of defending one’s self, rather than being open to truth, and taking the way of the cross in following Jesus. Oftentimes it’s a subtle, yet outright denial of God’s word, or God’s goodness, just as the serpent tempted Eve in the garden (Genesis 3).

At any rate, we do well to realize that this is the point in which we live, and why in part there’s so much trouble in this life. Particularly so in that we are followers of Jesus in the face of that which is in direct opposition to Jesus and the good news in him. Although in this day in our culture it’s mostly quite subtle. And the schemes of the devil include getting us off the mark of God’s will for us in Jesus. So that it might be all about defending ourselves, or something less than Christ and the gospel, rather than standing firm in the faith, and for Christ and the gospel, come what may.

Something I was not simply reminded of yesterday, but thrust into. And through which I am seeking to learn, and do better, in and through Jesus.