the habit of prayer

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Colossians 4:2

Going together with yesterday’s post on the word is this post on prayer. Both are central to our life and walk in Christ. We remember in Acts that the apostles set apart men to do special work in the church that needed to be done, so that they could give themselves to prayer and the word of God. In that case they were referring primarily to preaching, or proclaiming, as well as teaching that word. And yes, if we’re in the word we at least are witnesses to that through its impact on our lives. Of course I’m not talking about something apart from God. We’re talking about no less than God’s word itself.

Prayer is both our response to that word, and our anticipation of it. It would be best if we were in prayer all the time.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

A big part of prayer is silence in waiting before God. And in the midst of that, perhaps contemplating something of God’s glory and will, or whatever it is that God wants to get through to us in that silence. It’s amazing how silence can speak. In the tradition of the church, this has been called contemplative prayer. And I think scripture supports that.

God wants to hear our prayers. While we shouldn’t pray just for prayer’s sake, and fill the air with nonstop words (figurative of course, since most of our praying will likely be under our lips or in our minds), we need to have both preemptive, as well as reactionary prayer, as in words to God. It is a practice we may not at all feel like doing, and we may feel dead doing it at times, but we need to press on and simply do it. And keep doing it. So that it becomes a pattern of life by which we live. Even as we remain in the word along with others in and through Jesus.

Advertisements

living in every moment by the word

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
    a light on my path.

Psalm 119:105

Yes, I know some might think I need to say living in every moment by faith, and that’s true. But it’s faith in what? In God’s word, essentially in the gospel, but inclusive of the details about and surrounding that. The following passages might help shed some light on what I’m getting at:

 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

Romans 15:4

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.

1 Corinthians 10:11

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:14-17

How are we to negotiate this or that moment? Some things can be quite troubling to us, or maybe just not edifying as in a waste of time or worse. Or important growing points in which we need to have a different attitude.

Whatever the case, we need God’s word, scripture, and I mean all of it, from Genesis through Revelation to help us on our journey. We do well to listen to it as I used to do, and still do here and there, but I used to go through the Bible at least a couple times a year that way. Then I began to read through it, and now I do so much more slowly, both with a general reading through the entire Bible, and more of a meditative reading wherever I’m at or whatever I’m doing, when possible, through the New Testament.  A practice I have no intention of ending.

My goal is to learn to live better in the moment by faith in God, specifically through faith in God’s word. That takes discipline, but with that is the awareness that this is for my good and blessing, that I might be a blessing. As well as to simply keep me from being and doing quite the opposite.

And in every moment, so that the experience of those moments can change, but specifically on my part, what I do and don’t do through the word given to me from God, regardless of the experience. An endeavor I want to do not only by myself, but with the church. In and through Jesus.

prayer for the first Sunday of Advent

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

the true blessedness

[Jesus] said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 5:2b-12

Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount explaining to his disciples and the crowd who really is blessed which was in marked contrast to the ideals held among the Jews and Gentiles(/Romans) at that time. Jesus begins to reveal both the counter-cultural aspect of God’s kingdom come in him, how it would run against the grain of the world, a hint to where he was going, what we might call the cross culture, which at that time was not only avoided, but even despised. Only the lowest of the low were nailed to crosses.

Of course, what we call the Beatitudes gets specific enough and is interesting.  According to the Collins Dictionary, beatitude means “perfect blessedness or happiness.” There has been debate on precisely how to translate the Koine Greek word transliterated makarios. What is meant is more than just happiness, but that is certainly a part of it. It would go much deeper though, than what the world often seems to mean by the word, happiness, which is often superficial at best, and deceptive at worst. It is definitely a blessing and resultant happiness that is again, in contrast to what the world holds dear. And yet often admired by the world, with the attempt to emulate such, which apart from Jesus cannot fulfill what Jesus is getting at, and cannot be Christian.

We do well to remain in them for a time, so that they can get into our mind, our heart, and out into our bones in how we live. It is definitely part of the lifelong ongoing process to which we’re called in this life, a kind of goal. But more apt, this is really a description of Jesus’s followers, those who are part of God’s kingdom come under the Savior and Lord, King Jesus.

This helps us to see what the Spirit is working in us, and what we’re to work out of that as believers and followers of Jesus. In and through him.

In Luke there is a parallel “Sermon on the Plain” (Luke 6:17-49), good to read along with the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

regrets

To regret something means that we should have known better and done something different. Surely everyone has regrets. Some of them can be so painful that we don’t want to go there, or we deal with it, and it’s something we can’t dwell on if we’re to remain Christian. But such matters can involve consequences that call it to mind. Other matters we can continue to be hammered on, because they can involve something which seems threatening to us, or has consequences to this day on a different, what people might call more practical level.

Paul’s well known words most people would pull out at first blush seem appropriate, then on further thought not, but when all is said and done, I think these words can help us:

Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh.For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reasons for such confidence.

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:1-14

I know, I know. There are things after the time we put our faith in Christ that we might well regret. Both commissions, as well as omissions. And rightfully so. I’m not so sure it’s wrong to regret; it can’t be regarding certain matters.

But what Paul is getting at here is our mindset, the one thing we do. And what he is pressing toward, as if a runner, involves all in the Christian life given to us in Jesus to which we’re both to aspire to and begin to live out.

Paul’s past was of the flesh, even though it seemed so good to him and to many others at the time. Whatever is of the flesh is what we leave behind. We live in the new way of the Spirit, of God’s calling, yes his heavenward calling to us in Jesus.

Are we going to get everything right through being committed and following through in the pursuit of this call? Of course not. It is both an individual and group endeavor focused on a Person, the Person of Christ. We will fail along the way, and will have to keep applying this truth of forgetting what is behind, and pressing forward. In the large and the small. Day after day, whatever the kind of day we face, whether a work day, a day of rest, or of relaxation and fun. We continue on toward the mark that God has set for us in and through Jesus.

faith and money

Looking at life and the Bible might make one wrinkle up their nose and shake their head. It seems like some things are irreconcilable, or don’t make sense. But then one needs to step back and look at the whole, and try to process it all as much as possible. And then simply trust God. I am thinking right now about faith and money.

Jesus’s words in the Sermon on the Mount about treasures in heaven and not worrying about one’s life (Matthew 6:19-34) are classic in trying to understand and sort through this. And then we have passages that encourage us to not get into debt and save, although in the Biblical world, when one could save, that is taken for granted that they should. But that they shouldn’t hoard, meaning store more than they needed, and that they should be generous to the poor and needy.

Jesus in the passage referred to above suggests that we can end up serving God or money, but not both. The idea is that money can become an idol, money itself not being an evil, but the love of money a root of all kinds of evil, as we read in 1 Timothy (6:10).

I have to wonder at the Christian leaders who actually are worth millions and millions of dollars. I don’t try to judge them for a second and I’m not critical, except when their life styles are exorbitant. Or when their teaching ties one’s material wealth to one’s spirituality. This has been a problem with the health and wealth preachers who seem to suggest that material wealth is indicative of the faith one has. They have great faith, therefore they have the material wealth. And people are to follow their example, especially, too often, by giving to their ministry. I take it for granted that we should give regularly to our church both for the continuation of the ministry in the gospel and in teaching, and in outreach for those who are in need.

Jesus himself said that he had no place to lay his head. And he taught us to pray that the Father would give us our daily bread. Translated for us today in America, that doesn’t mean we have to live from paycheck to paycheck. But that we should be devoted to God in how we handle money, and be generous in giving, and not trust in our material wealth. And a big trap for us here in the United States is debt, whether through student loans, or even through credit cards which we mean to pay off right away, but all too easily accumulate with interests which even if on the lower end then make them hard to pay off.

Faith looks to and depends on God, and what God gives us we are stewards of, in other words we’re responsible to handle that money in a way that honors God. Helping the poor and needy is central to honoring God (Proverbs 14:31). We want to do well with the money we have, but we don’t want to be devoted to money and making more of it, but only to God. All of this requires faith and wisdom, prayer and dependence on God.

Our Father is the one we count on to meet our needs, and that together, as we continue to grow and mature in and through Jesus.

the gospel from us evangelicals

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Ephesians 2:13-18

I frequently have seen critiques of evangelicals which to some extent ring true. One of the most common is the charge against us that we focus too much on individual piety, and on a personal relationship with Christ, and how our view of the gospel’s impact in the world doesn’t go much further than that. Unfortunately I think there’s all too much truth in that. But at the same time, in spite of it, I see evangelical concern for justice and for the poor made evident both within churches, and through organizations like World Vision and Compassion International.

The gospel is about reconciliation, and while certainly in terms of individuals to God through Christ, also about all of humankind being reconciled and ultimately brought together as one family under Christ. And this reconciliation, while breaking down the basic barrier between Jew and Gentile, also breaks down all other barriers as well, we might say all other dividing marks which put one party over or against another: slave and free, male and female (Galatians 3:28).

So I think it’s not a matter so much at all about what we evangelicals have taught, but more of a matter of what we either fail to teach, or more likely are simply lax in. So that when we consider one’s personal relationship with God and walk through Christ, we need to think of it in terms of community as well as their own personal experience. So that such is always factored in as part of the whole.

I no longer look for a church which has it altogether. I have lived long enough to doubt the existence of such a church. We all have our flaws, weak points, and at times, even blind spots. I realize too that I’m prone along the same lines as everyone else. I too have probably emphasized personal piety in my reading, meditation and teaching of scripture to the exclusion at times of the bigger picture. There’s always the possibility of gradually improving as one sees that picture in scripture.

So we need not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Instead we need to be thankful for the strong points, which are valid and helpful in their place. To thank God for that, and make the most of it. Even as we continue to work on understanding the expansiveness of the impact of the gospel, how it’s meant to bring in no less than a new creation of the old, making all things new only in and through Jesus.