devotion to prayer

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.

Colossians 4:2

“Thoughts and prayers” especially over gun violence with no change in sight, or desired change even from those who offer that, comes across as mere sentimentality, though I don’t doubt the sincerity of most of them. But is that enough? Of course not. For prayer to make any difference or be real prayer one’s entire being must be involved in it, and for it to have its intended effect, it must be in accord with God’s kingdom present in Jesus. I think of what is most often called “the Lord’s Prayer,” the prayer Jesus taught, and am reminded of just how down to earth that prayer is. It seems to me that the right heavenly perspective is an earthly perspective, and the right earthly perspective will be influenced by a heavenly perspective. I’m borrowing a bit from the discussion our church fellowship had yesterday.

We cannot be too devoted to prayer, individual prayers and prayers together. Prayer is too often treated like an add-on or even mere formality if it’s remembered at all. But it’s really at the heart, and we could say the heart of what we Christ-followers do, even our very existence. Our dependence on God is most evident in prayer, asking- even crying out for God’s help and all that we and others need from God. And God does listen to sincere prayer through Christ, even if Christ is not understood as part of the equation.

Praying is a matter of faith. If our faith is small or nonexistent, we won’t even think of praying, much less do it. But if we’re struggling to grow in faith, if we have faith at all, then it will become evident through our desire to pray, or willingness to do so, to at least be led in prayer. Our prayer habits and life are an important indicator of the health and strength of our faith. Other factors are involved such as spiritual warfare, which can make it difficult to pray, and still other factors, which together can result in prayer being more like wrestling or quiet groaning when we don’t have adequate enough words to speak.

In it all, we need to be devoted to prayer, not letting up on it. God will help us far more than we might think or can imagine as we do so.

does God really make a difference?

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Oftentimes the religious or what many of us would call faith experience is chalked up to mere psychology. It’s thought that in the evolutionary process somehow humankind came up with the idea of a superior being or beings and the Supreme Being which helped them cope in what ends up being nothing more than a material world. That their idea of spiritual was fanciful but helpful in some ways, but ending up being quite harmful in many other way, indicative in all the violence and destruction perpetuated in the name of religion, yes, even in the name of Christ.

I have no doubt that somehow in the evolutionary process something like this may indeed have happened. This seems pretty evident, or at least a strong possibility from what we can piece together from archaeology and probably other disciplines as well. But what if something beyond psychology is involved in this?

When I do what is told to do from the above passage in Philippians, is the peace that comes merely some psychological reaction from the myth of a God who makes a difference? Maybe, but based on fairly long experience now, I doubt it. And this doubt is not based only on experience but also on the tradition of Scripture given to us, and the witness of many. Admittedly it is based on faith and mysticism, but I find it as real as anything else in life, and somehow both transcendent while fully immanent in the sense of being present in down to earth, helpful ways, or at least that ought to be a part of the thought.

Why is it considered amazing that there’s more to everything than just nature? Even if science could get to what preceded the Big Bang, and I don’t doubt that it might, that in no way addresses the question of God. That is forever outside of science’s realm, even as any scientist would have to admit. Although what continues to unfold makes what science is observing more and more astounding, and less and less explainable, which might be taken as a clue.

All that said, in reality faith won’t be helped by that, but only by Christ, looking to Christ. I do agree with C.S. Lewis that when people in sincerity live in the light they have, that God honors that. But even though they may not know it, it is always and forever through Christ, who is the way to the Father. That is why if I were serving in hospice or in a chaplaincy and helping people near death, I would not try to get them converted to my faith. I certainly would pray for them, and be ready to pray with them. I would want to be fully present with them, and in so doing trust that Christ’s presence is with us.

But back to the question of this post. What difference does God really make? I believe without a shadow of a doubt, all the difference in the world. Yes, all the difference. We’re talking about night and day, light and darkness, from the edge leaning toward the abyss to the full light of day. Something like all of that. And what difference does God make? What we read in Scripture from cover to cover, and especially about Christ points us to what difference is intended. The God who made this astounding, wonderful, precarious world can and promises to remake, make all things new. That is the hope as in promise that we can begin to experience fully even as our experience is what it is, yes- in this life.

God does make the difference needed, but something we have to try to apply to all the broken places in this world. Opposed to all even in any religion that is opposed to the way of Christ. With the conviction that whatever good God does even through us now is somehow more than just a sign for the good world to come in Christ.

“It’s not just that Jesus is God. God is Jesus.”

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

Hebrews 1:1-4

Forgive me for borrowing this from someone else who shared this in the recent past on social media, though it’s nothing new, but something we may not think much about. Yes, we take it from the witness of Scripture that indeed, Jesus while fully human is fully God. Just as mysterious as the thought of the Trinity itself, though in our modernistic mindset we somehow think we can explain everything, plumb the depths even of God. Though the world now understands that while we’re blessed with an emphasis on reason and modernity, that simply is not the case. But many Christians have yet to receive or understand that.

But to the point of this post: God is Jesus. While Jesus as portrayed in the gospels might not seem entirely right in our times, that too could be a misreading of some of the stories he told, completely fitting in that day, and not really putting God into the same light as some of the characters which have been misinterpreted as corresponding directly to God. What we clearly do see in Jesus is quite a contrast to even the best of what we find in the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament, while not at all denigrating the seriousness of the faith of those preceding him. Remember, Jesus said that John the Baptizer was greater than all who had preceded him, but that everyone in the kingdom of heaven were somehow greater than John. That must have to do with the superiority, or in the words of Hebrews “better” covenant, kingdom and King now present.

If you want to understand who God is, then you have to look at Jesus. Study Jesus, especially in the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and don’t stop studying him there. And then go on to what follows and consider Jesus in all of that. And begin to grapple with and understand all the rest of Scripture in that light, so that you see where God’s people surely fell short in their understanding of God. Yes, God gets God’s hand dirty by not only taking us seriously where we’re at, but working with us there; full, utter grace. But God won’t stop there until we see God for who God really is. And that can only be seen through Jesus’s life, acts, teachings, death, resurrection and ascension with the promise of his return. We see God as God truly is only in the face of Jesus Christ.

don’t be meager in your faith

Now when Elisha had fallen sick with the illness of which he was to die, King Joash of Israel went down to him and wept before him, crying, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” Elisha said to him, “Take a bow and arrows,” so he took a bow and arrows. Then he said to the king of Israel, “Draw the bow,” and he drew it. Elisha laid his hands on the king’s hands. Then he said, “Open the window eastward,” and he opened it. Elisha said, “Shoot,” and he shot. Then he said, “The LORD’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Aram! For you shall fight the Arameans in Aphek until you have made an end of them.” He continued, “Take the arrows,” and he took them. He said to the king of Israel, “Strike the ground with them”; he struck three times and stopped. Then the man of God was angry with him and said, “You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck down Aram until you had made an end of it, but now you will strike down Aram only three times.”

So Elisha died, and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year. As a man was being buried, a marauding band was seen and the man was thrown into the grave of Elisha; as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he came to life and stood on his feet.

2 Kings 13:14-21

These are the kind of Scripture passages that I must confess I don’t really like to write on, teach or preach, whatever. I would like to ignore them, since there’s something in it which I don’t believe is Jesus-like at all, but actually antithetical to Jesus. That being said, as we’re told elsewhere about Scripture, we can and therefore should gain something good out of each passage or at least Scripture as a whole, even if sometimes it has in it more like an example of what we should not think or do.

In this case, with the great prophet Elisha, we find a weak king, Joash, who did not end well. I find something worthwhile to remember from this passage. Simply the idea that we ought to have a faith which doesn’t shrink and is vigorous in taking hold of what God has promised, as well as hope in God, and moving forward. That can be mistaken for the idea that with a little help from God we can do it on our own. And nothing could be more mistaken. That’s not the point.

What we need is a vigorous faith in God. That helps us do what we need to do and ought to do. We strike the ground over and over through our prayers, through being present, and doing what we sense God is calling us to do. Doing our best to do that. But with all the faith only and forever in God, not in ourselves. But through that becoming enabled to do whatever it is that God has called us to do. Not shrugging my shoulders and slacking off which I’m often tempted to do, and to some extent too often do. Not what God calls us to, as we learn in part from this passage in Scripture.

pressing ahead to God’s peace

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face various trials, consider it all joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance complete its work, so that you may be complete and whole, lacking in nothing.

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

James 1:2-8

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

There are times which trouble human souls (as the saying goes). And in this world, even during the best of times, there can and will be things which are unsettling. Scripture never promises us that all things always in this life will go well, that nothing bad will happen. No, not at all. But we do have promises that God will be with us, that Christ is with us, that no matter what we face, we can navigate it, even go through it well with God’s help.

We should be careful not to act out of fear or in reaction to whatever it might be. We do well to hold back, to try to look at the larger, even big picture, to pray and seek wise human counsel, and then let it go and wait. We’re going to be spinning our wheels, getting deeper in the dirt, going no where if we keep proceeding with a sense of panic.

It is hard at the moment and during that period of time, but we can actually grow substantially through it in ways we could never imagine. It has to be experienced, we have to be taken there, to a better place than we were before. A process which doesn’t end in this life, though I’m probably too glad myself for the intervals in which I’m okay in the inevitably imperfect state I’m in.

talk to God(?!.)

…persevere in prayer.

Romans 12:12b

Paul’s words here can sound like some mere religious exercise. Not that a religious exercise might not be helpful. But prayer as we see in Scripture, I think is a lot of things. But one of the things it astonishingly is, is actually talking to God. Yes, talking to God.

That is not only astonishing if we really take it at face value, but it also seems to be quite presumptive. Can God listen to the prayers of people who lift up their voice to God, regardless of their religion or lack thereof? I think we can clearly say from the pages of Scripture that yes indeed, God can and if it’s truly prayer in a Scriptural sense, God does. At the same time, God can shut God’s ears to the prayers even of God’s people when their prayers for whatever reason are somehow worthless and even offensive to God. There are a number of examples in Scripture on both sides which I won’t mention here.

But there’s nothing more valuable than talking to God. Do it slowly, thoughtfully, should I say prayerfully? I had an aunt who passed away not that long ago, and it was said of her that she took three hours daily to pray for her family. What a blessing, and what better thing could she have done?! I think I knew her and know that family well enough to believe without a doubt that prayer was just an expression of her heart and soul, meaning her body and life was fully engaged as well. That spoke to me then, and still speaks to me today.

What better thing can we do than talk to God? And if we do it right, then it seems to me that we won’t be hurrying or shuffling through it just to get it done. We’ll take our time. And maybe it will become not only the most important thing we do, but the thing we’re doing in the midst of life. Not only during a time set aside for it, which is important. But throughout the day, through all of life. Surely at least a worthy thought and goal.

the gift and necessity of reason

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Philippians 4:8

As I heard recently on a podcast, the emphasis on reason that remains with us from the Renaissance and the Enlightenment which followed is a blessing from which we have many gifts we take for granted today, such as modern medicine, which for all our complaints, is light years ahead of what was in the past, mortality being just one indicator of that.

We do have to be careful that we don’t make, as it were, an idol out of reason. As modernists found out, we won’t arrive to any final answer through reason, and they’ve made peace with that. But as the podcast I referred to pointed out, evangelical fundamentalists think that through reason they can prove the validity of the faith or more precisely for them, the Bible. While reason is a gift God has given us to use as we pore through Scripture, it can’t do what only God can do.

On the other hand, I think reason is often all but lost due to many things which effectually cancel it out. Like theology not worthy of the name. Misreadings of the Bible, for example in Genesis. Apocalyptic misapplications of passages like in Revelation, which end up casting out most all reason, being held captive to conspiratorial thinking or whatnot.

Reason is a gift from God, to be used not only in our reading of Scripture, but in all of life. Sure, there are many things we won’t be able to understand, but so many things that we will be able to reason through. We should try to apply logic in terms of comparison and contrast, and ask many questions.

Yes, as a friend reminded me, overthinking can be a problem, and I suppose I’m rather a prime candidate for that. But actually I often think due to laziness, or whatever else, I can be prone to underthinking, which might be good on an odd occasion or in a certain way as part of life. Not “ignorance is bliss,” but going on by faith, even when we don’t understand.

But as Paul reminds us in the above passage: There is so much both in the faith and in the world that we can and should think about. The terms from the Greek in the Philippians passage above seem to refer more to human culture than anything religious. And that actually is a blessing given to us. Maybe even akin sometimes to “thinking God’s thoughts after him.”

keep pressing forward no matter what

My soul clings to the dust;
revive me according to your word.
When I told of my ways, you answered me;
teach me your statutes.
Make me understand the way of your precepts,
and I will meditate on your wondrous works.
My soul melts away for sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word.
Put false ways far from me,
and graciously teach me your law.
I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
I set your ordinances before me.
I cling to your decrees, O LORD;
let me not be put to shame.
I run the way of your commandments,
for you enlarge my understanding.

Psalm 119:25-32

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day here in the United States. Martin Luther King Jr. seems to be celebrated across the board nowadays, though I’m sure that if he were still present, some would at best only grant him a grudging respect. Some of the same elements that he and the Civil Rights Movement were up against, have come to the fore today, saying and standing for some of the very same things which he was challenging. King was committed to nonviolent resistance to evil, always in love for enemies, grounded in the promise of shalom in the gospel of Christ.

Part of King’s story was the need to go on no matter what, whatever pressures were being faced internally or externally. This is something of the same lesson I have to keep going through, of course in my case, in much lesser matters. I find that I have to just keep pushing through, going through by faith. And one of the most important aspects for me to remember is to simply accept the heaviness, fear, whatever it may be I’m experiencing, and keep going through in faith.

If I resist those negative experiences, as a friend reminded me this morning, I’m resisting it in the power of the flesh which will get me nowhere. If I’m getting nowhere over time, that’s a sure sign that I’m going about it wrong. But going on in the Spirit, means I accept whatever I’m experiencing, that being a part of trusting God instead of thinking that somehow it’s up to me to get rid of it. At least this is something which has worked for me over and over. Though it seems like I still have to be reminded the hard way.

Martin Luther King Jr. was able to be triumphant through it all, because he did not try to escape reality, but was willing under the leadership of the Spirit, to confront it head on, along with others. Part of what Christ calls all of his followers to.

what is needed today more than anything else

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist but others Elijah and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16:13-19

God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Ephesians 1:20-23

Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

Ephesians 3:7-10

It doesn’t take long before one is reminded that it seems like people have lost their minds, and for a good variety of reasons. Yes, it’s complicated, and the world has always been challenged, with catastrophes added. It is a wondrous, beautiful, wild, threatening and broken world, all at the same time. But the God who created it is somehow present in all of this, and will make, in fact has begun to make all things new, bringing in a new existence. And that’s present now, and what is needed today more than anything else.

It is nothing more or less than the church, yes, the church. The church, which more than understandably has gotten a hard rap, and probably to some significant extent, richly deserves it. When the church buys into, or is bought into the principalities and powers, and is subsumed in them, then the church deserves critique, even scorn, and like some of the churches named in Revelation 2 and 3, is in danger of being church no longer. Yes, there’s a more than understandable saying that many love Christ, but not the church. I’m afraid that the church is often watered down and contaminated, not that any church that’s ever existed is without something of this problem.

But the church is Christ’s body on earth. And through the church, Christ somehow fills everything, whatever precisely that means. What could possibly be more important than that? It turns out, all kinds of things. Let’s make an inevitably partial list: an inerrant Bible with just the right theology and doctrine supposedly Spirit-led, nothing more than fiction; a supposed government/state, which is godly, even Christian; being “right”; everyone knowing their place and remaining there; (ab)using the earth for more and more profit; a large, powerful military; laws that supposedly facilitate justice, and we could go on and on and on.

At least something of the intent and some of what’s listed might have some grain of truth in it, even when still mistaken. In the world in which we live, faith and visions can’t be imposed on others, and there ought to be an appreciation of a common grace from God to all, so that everyone is involved when it comes to the state/government. You can see that I strongly support democracy, and am opposed to any kind of authoritarian government.

But regardless of how we parse anything and everything, as far as believers and followers of Christ should be concerned, there is one thing that makes everything else not only pale in comparison, but really not exist at all, since it’s not in that level or sphere. And that’s yes, the ordinary church. Simple people like myself, voluntarily joined together by baptism and faith, and in that entity and gathering by the Spirit, nothing less than the body of Christ.

To be present in the world, with God’s mysterious work in that. To be about doing good works in helping where help is needed. Being what the world needs, a light to expose all darkness, salt and light to influence all society for good. The church being Christ’s body on earth.

This certainly doesn’t answer all the questions, yet that is what we Christ-followers can and should settle into. Yes, we’re concerned, and there’s many things we could humbly suggest, and should do in reference to the problems of the world. But what is needed above and beyond anything else is the church, the good news of God in Christ for the world present in that church, shining out to all the world.

we never outgrow the careful, prayerful application of Scripture

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face various trials, consider it all joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance complete its work, so that you may be complete and whole, lacking in nothing.

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

James 1:2-8

On the one hand, you have the evangelical concern for Scripture, almost as an end in itself, so that what can lose out is the purpose of Scripture itself, to point us to Christ, and Christ-likeness. On the other hand, you have for lack of a better word, the liberal dismissal of Scripture as yes, a good book, even sacred, but on something of an equal par with many other “inspired” sacred texts. Neither one is very helpful, but in spite of both, the Word can break through in both the public and private reading of Scripture.

A primary thing that is needed is the careful, prayerful application of Scripture. We never outgrow or get beyond that. Some seem to have suggested that we start with Scripture, and basics we derive from it, but that we’re not meant to stop there, but actually get beyond it into the sphere to which Scripture leads. That sounds interesting, and can be at least somewhat compellingly argued for, but really does not entirely make sense on the face of it.

For example, the above scripture from James is something that has to be applied in this broken, difficult existence, in this life, and that ongoing. We will never arrive to a place in this life in which such application is no longer necessary. If we think we’ve outgrown it, we’ll soon find out otherwise. Life itself will teach us differently. God has given us provision, yes through Scripture, somehow even all of it (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It’s up to us to take it, and prayerfully apply it. Indeed that’s indispensable.