why pray? what difference does it make?

You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.

James 4:2b-3

Prayer is interesting. Religious leaders, even (I say from my tradition and background) Christian pastors often are notorious for acknowledging that they pray little at all. But then you can find just any person in the pews or out somewhere else who have made prayer a habit. You get these religious leaders praying over government leaders as if they’re prayers have unusual power. Etc. Interesting, the collage that can come from the idea of prayer, really from all over the world.

I am a believer in all kinds of prayer: formal, informal, spontaneous, set. I love it when prayer is just a natural expression of my heart by the Spirit, but most of the time, that’s simply not the case. Oftentimes for me prayer is appealing to God, but in a way which is kind of like trying to feel my way toward what might be good to pray. I like prayer books, and in the back of our hymnal, Voices Together, there’s a morning and evening office to help us praise, give thanks, confess our sins, and pray for ourselves and others, along with a number of other prayers. All of that is good, and can potentially develop us to more and more become people of prayer both together in community and for each of us as we go about our lives.

James makes it plain that all the infighting and problems in community were related both to the cravings at war in them, and the failure to pray to God. Along with false prayers in that they were done not for the real good God wants to give, but to fulfill their own self-centered wishes not moored in love for God and for others as one’s self (click link above to see context, and if you do, note the rendering of The Message). It’s not at all like we shouldn’t cry out to God about our own troubles and problems, because indeed we should. Notice so many of the psalms. But we do so as people intent on finding God’s own good answer, according to God’s will, truly for our good and the good of all around us.

James’s words are both an encouragement to us, as well as a challenge. Pray, pray, and keep on praying. And don’t forget that a vital part of prayer is seeking to listen to God. To find God’s will, not our own. To live in God’s goodness, a goodness meant for others along with ourselves. Blessed to be a blessing. In and through Jesus.

the gospel and salvation is not only personal

Of Solomon.

Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy,
and crush the oppressor.

May he live[a] while the sun endures,
and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
like showers that water the earth.
In his days may righteousness flourish
and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

May he have dominion from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
May his foes[b] bow down before him,
and his enemies lick the dust.
May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles
render him tribute,
may the kings of Sheba and Seba
bring gifts.
May all kings fall down before him,
all nations give him service.

For he delivers the needy when they call,
the poor and those who have no helper.
He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence he redeems their life;
and precious is their blood in his sight.

Long may he live!
May gold of Sheba be given to him.
May prayer be made for him continually,
and blessings invoked for him all day long.
May there be abundance of grain in the land;
may it wave on the tops of the mountains;
may its fruit be like Lebanon;
and may people blossom in the cities
like the grass of the field.
May his name endure forever,
his fame continue as long as the sun.
May all nations be blessed in him;[c]
may they pronounce him happy.

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous things.
Blessed be his glorious name forever;
may his glory fill the whole earth.
Amen and Amen.

The prayers of David son of Jesse are ended.

Psalm 72

The vision cast in Scripture is that of the kingdom of God encompassing the earth, a rule in which no one is left behind with particular attention payed to the multitudes which either are left behind or given secondary status now. And that vision includes judgment against rulers and peoples who are directly or indirectly involved in oppressing the poor and marginalized, or who have failed to give them needed help.

God’s heart is especially toward the downcast, and God expects God’s people to have that same heart. If our faith is only about how well we’re getting along in life, even growth in Christ-likeness yet without expressed concern about this, then we’re failing to see and seek the realization of this vision so clearly cast in scripture after scripture.

What we’re referring to here involves not just personal sins, but systemic evil as well. When any people for any reason are relegated to a secondary status and worse, than it’s a mistake to suppose that it doesn’t involve something wrong in the works. Often the poor are looked down on, just as James reminds us, and those of another ethnicity and culture as well. Yet Jesus will have none of that. If we’re followers of Christ we’ll learn to develop discernment and a sensitivity to the same.

If we really want to be biblical, then we’ll develop a passion for this. Precisely what the psalmist wrote about in Psalm 72, above. Yes, to be completely fulfilled someday in Jesus. But that light present now in Jesus, a part of what the world should see we’re about in the present, as the church. In and through Jesus.

don’t go there

Let your eyes look straight ahead;
fix your gaze directly before you.

Proverbs 4:25

This is applicable in oh so many ways, but whatever it is, good as it may seem, important, usually urgent, or whatever, we can learn what distracts us from God’s peace, indeed from God’s good will. This is part of training in godliness, not to go where we think we have to go, often with the sense of fixing something, maybe even panic over some perceived problem. Or it maybe something that we know is no good, like eating too much of the wrong food at the wrong time. Or something even worse. Often though it can be things that are not at all wrong in themselves in the proper place and space and time. We have to be responsible. We don’t just throw everything to the wind with the idea that the Lord will take care of it. God will, but we’re part of that so that we have to be engaged and responsible in life.

But to the point of this post. No matter what the thought, now urgent it may seem, we will do well and find much help in simply refusing to go there. And a key issue here is distraction. Whatever might be distracting us from what we are doing at the time, the necessary and good thing we’re doing is a sign that God is not in the distraction. It has the mark and scent of the devil. The Lord will speak to our hearts with a strong sense at various times, but always with much freedom. It’s more like an invitation, and never with the sense of rush to throw us into panic. Though there may be directives from the Lord when we ought to act at the time in a specific way. We have to develop a sensitivity to what’s of God and what’s not.

The thought, again in all kinds of ways, just don’t go there, is helping me. We seek to be responsible in everything, in all of life, but always in the love, care and calm of our God. In and through Jesus.

God’s concerns, or just human concerns?

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.

Matthew 16:21-25

Peter was blessed in speaking the truth that was given to him by the Father that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Son of God. But that blessing was soon replaced by a needed rebuke. After Jesus and his disciples heard that blessed confession from Peter, and felt his disciples were well enough grounded toward a true understanding of Jesus’ calling, then Jesus began to emphasize his coming suffering and death and what would follow.

“Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him.” Then Jesus put Peter in his place. And used this to emphasize and bring home to his disciples an important teaching. It’s either the way of the cross in self-denial in following Jesus, or they’re not following Jesus at all. Taking up one’s cross must have sounded not only ghastly to the disciples, but completely contradictory. Would-be Messiahs were exposed as frauds by being nailed to crosses. And there was no worse way to die.

Jesus brings it to a point. We either have in mind what concerns God, or what concerns us as humans, one of the two. Our prayer needs to be that we’ll always have God’s concerns in mind. It’s God’s concerns which win in the end, over mere human concerns. And human concerns here means that which does not consider God’s will, but just what we think and want. Jesus tells us that if we do this, we lose our lives. But if we follow God’s will, we find our true self, the one God made us to be, our true lives, true life. That should not be why we do it. It’s a byproduct, we might say, of the love of God, of God’s love to us, and our love in return to God and to others.

Something I want to grow much deeper into. In and through Jesus.

who is in Jesus’s family?

While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”

He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Matthew 12:46-50

I’m not into doing posts in reaction to what is happening out there. Mostly they relate to things I’m working through in my own life. I must say though that after living through the past four years and what’s preceded that, there has come some breaking points for me. To the point now that I left a tradition in which I lived for over four decades. And I still work for a ministry in that tradition in the factory end, and I continue to have a high regard for that ministry both in its substance, and in the humility and integrity in which its done.

Jesus’s words in the gospels are potent, and no less here. Striking indeed that Jesus makes this point you might say at the expense of his natural family. It’s not like they no longer mattered to him, as we can see throughout the rest of the story. Blood matters, even with Eugene Peterson’s rendering in this passage: “Obedience is thicker than blood.” In the realm Jesus was referring to, one’s physical descent matters nothing at all. There has to be an obedient faith for one to be in this spiritual family.

Jesus makes it plain that it’s only those who follow the will of his Father who are in this Spirit born family. And this isn’t merely “accepting Jesus as my Savior,” going to church, reading the Bible now and then, memorizing a verse here and there. No. It’s more if we’re to be included in what Jesus is saying here.

It’s doing the will of the Father, doing God’s will, even as Jesus did. As given to us in Scripture: the heart of that being to love God with all of our being and doing, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. And this includes loving our enemies. Don’t forget Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). The way of the cross in this life. Etc. In and through Jesus.

Augustine: Love, and do what you will.

The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

1 Timothy 1:5

The whole point of what we’re urging is simply love—love uncontaminated by self-interest and counterfeit faith, a life open to God.

1 Timothy 1:5; MSG

Once and for all, I give you this one short command: love, and do what you will. If you hold your peace, hold your peace out of love. If you cry out, cry out in love. If you correct someone, correct them out of love. If you spare them, spare them out of love. Let the root of love be in you: nothing can spring from it but good. …

Augustine

Augustine’s quote is taken to mean that one can do whatever they feel like and want to do if they love God. But that’s not precisely what Augustine meant, and can open us up to misunderstanding. His point in the context of his sermon was that whatever we do is to be done out of love. Love for God and love for neighbor flowing together. As revealed in Christ in his fulfillment of God’s will. And then everything we do if done in that way will be good.

I think a good way to assess our actions and thoughts, indeed the fruit of our lives is to ask ourselves whether love for God and for our neighbor is our motivation and animating impulse, what moves us. If so, then we’re living in God’s grace as God intends for us in Christ. If not, then we’re living in something else, foreign to that grace. Sometimes we may simply be struggling to accept God’s love and then live in that love at all. God understands those times. We should still try to love, even when the sense of it is far removed from us. But make no mistake, the God who is love as John points out elsewhere and Paul as well, wants us to live in love, in everything we think, do and say. In and through Jesus. 

what John “the elder” and beloved apostle of our Lord might say to us now from 1 John 2:15-17

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

1 John 2:15-17

Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.

1 John 2:15-17; MSG

John would likely warn us in no uncertain terms that to play by the world’s ways is opposite and in fact in opposition to following Jesus. And that it shouldn’t be about our wanting, but about doing God’s will. This can be especially poignant when considering the political sphere. What are Christians advocating for and why? All of that needs to be examined in the light of Christ, who he is and his coming. Of course also what he has done and what that means for us both in terms of believing and doing.

When John is speaking of the world here, he is referring to the world system, the ways of the world. John describes what he means: “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes,…the pride of life.” It’s centered around us, what we/I want, self-centered. It’s not about loving God, or loving our neighbor as ourselves.

John might tell us that Christians ought to advocate for others, be present for others, and not be concerned about ourselves. To seek to live in God’s will which would involve seeking the good of all, and the good of God’s good world. And that both God’s special revelation given to us in Scripture and the gospel, and God’s general revelation in creation worked out in some fashion in science and in other ways should be front and center in this.

We accept the good gifts and abilities God has given us and humankind, while we reject all that which is opposed to God’s will. But that rejection only in the way of Jesus, mostly in terms of what we actually accept and are all about: God’s grace and kingdom come and present in and through Jesus.

in trial

They came to an area called Gethsemane. Jesus told his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James, and John with him. He plunged into a sinkhole of dreadful agony. He told them, “I feel bad enough right now to die. Stay here and keep vigil with me.”

Going a little ahead, he fell to the ground and prayed for a way out: “Papa, Father, you can—can’t you?—get me out of this. Take this cup away from me. But please, not what I want—what do you want?”

He came back and found them sound asleep. He said to Peter, “Simon, you went to sleep on me? Can’t you stick it out with me a single hour? Stay alert, be in prayer, so you don’t enter the danger zone without even knowing it. Don’t be naive. Part of you is eager, ready for anything in God; but another part is as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire.”

He then went back and prayed the same prayer. Returning, he again found them sound asleep. They simply couldn’t keep their eyes open, and they didn’t have a plausible excuse.

He came back a third time and said, “Are you going to sleep all night? No—you’ve slept long enough. Time’s up. The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up. Let’s get going. My betrayer has arrived.”

Mark 14:32-42; MSG

This is not really written for us when we are experiencing our very worst days, or difficult moments. Jesus did for us what none of us could ever have done for ourselves. And this was at the heart of that. He endured the hour of trial, so that we’ll never have to.

But as followers of Jesus, we indeed can, and should learn from this. First of all, when we face trials our first resort should be to do what Jesus did: pray. Yes, Jesus prayed alone, but he also had his disciples nearby; Peter, James and John just a stone’s throw away, close enough to hear and see him. It’s as if he needed their special support during this time, borne out in the synoptic gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke) when you compare the ideas that they’re to stand and watch in prayer with him, as well as for their own sake. There are times when we need to carry each other’s burdens, which will include others helping us carry ours. That can be a tremendous help. In this case Jesus’s disciples were nearby, but he had to carry it alone.

For us, yes, we need trusted friends, and likely one we can see as either a mentor, or alongside with us to help us through our struggles. But above all we need to be in prayer ourselves. Committed to doing God’s will regardless of what we’re experiencing, believing that God will help us through, even as was true with Jesus.

get specific in what you ask God for, and then keep asking

As they were leaving Jericho, a huge crowd followed. Suddenly they came upon two blind men sitting alongside the road. When they heard it was Jesus passing, they cried out, “Master, have mercy on us! Mercy, Son of David!” The crowd tried to hush them up, but they got all the louder, crying, “Master, have mercy on us! Mercy, Son of David!”

Jesus stopped and called over, “What do you want from me?”

They said, “Master, we want our eyes opened. We want to see!”

Deeply moved, Jesus touched their eyes. They had their sight back that very instant, and joined the procession.

Matthew 20:29-34; MSG

Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

Matthew 7:7-8; NLT

Is there something that is like pushing us off the cliff? Like we’ve had enough of it. I’m not so sure I’m referring to incidents and actions of others, although we could include them. What I’m thinking of mainly are character issues in ourselves which we can’t seem to get a handle on, or get any resolution to. It just keeps coming back again and again, and we’re hampered.

We need to go to God in prayer, and be quite specific. Yes, plead for mercy, so important because we need that. But be quite specific in just what is troubling us. This is what, with the Lord’s urging the two blind men did. Jesus met them where they were, and helped them.

I add our Lord’s words from the Sermon on the Mount about the necessity of continuing to ask God for something. We are often so half-hearted in our prayers for a number of reasons. It may be due to lack of faith, or simply not caring that much. To continue to ask God, as well as seek and knock carries with it the sense that we are serious. What if the two blind men thought that Jesus wouldn’t have mercy on them? Or that he couldn’t possibly heal them? They would have been blind until the day they died. And more importantly, they wouldn’t have received the touch that only Jesus could give, they wouldn’t have experienced God’s answer to their plea. Just the same with us. We need to be specific in just what we’re asking for. And then keep doing it in faith. Only God can answer, but God indeed will. There will be an answer.

One last Scripture:

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

1 John 5:14-15

Sometimes we don’t get what we want because it’s not God’s will. But we can be sure that if we’re praying about a character issue, or a a weakness, or something somehow not in line with God’s will that God will answer and grant our request. And no matter what we sincerely pray, God will answer and be at work according to his will, even if God seems to be silent. We can be assured of that.

So let’s be specific, be persistent, and confident in prayer to our merciful God. In and through Jesus.

the slippery longing for shalom in this world

The wolf will romp with the lamb,
the leopard sleep with the kid.
Calf and lion will eat from the same trough,
and a little child will tend them.
Cow and bear will graze the same pasture,
their calves and cubs grow up together,
and the lion eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens,
the toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent.
Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill
on my holy mountain.
The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive,
a living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide.

Isaiah 11:6-9

Shalom (שָׁלוֹם) is the Hebrew word meaning “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace” (BDB). It certainly carries the idea of the absence of war which so many of us more than less take for granted, but would seem a luxury in too many places. Both human flourishing, and the harmony and well being of all creation are part of this wholeness which shalom brings. It is really like a dream that comes true in the First/Old Testament writings, as seen above in the prophet Isaiah. It is not to come to fruition until the new creation. God who made creation, can certainly remake it, and that’s the promise from Scripture that God’s people count on. While the word is not in the above passage, the words there are an apt description of this shalom.

We long for something of that in this current existence. That promise is present in our minds, and the new creation is breaking in through the new life and existence in Jesus, but it’s breaking into a world which seems largely incompatible with it. That is in part why Christians are called to take the way of the cross in following Christ even today. It is an uphill battle and slippery slope we might say, a daunting journey all the way, though Christ followers don’t do it in their own strength, but in all their weakness through the life and power of the Spirit.

I  think as we say in “the Lord’s prayer,” that we should long for something of God’s kingdom and perfect will in this life. But at the same time, we have to recognize the limitations set in place. After all we have natural disasters, and conflicts between warring factions, as well as just random violence everywhere. Add to that the human abuse of the earth for consumption and greed. And then to cap all of this off, even in the best of times humans just don’t get it all right, but we live in an existence in which even if one possibly did, they still wouldn’t be shielded from trouble, even disaster at times.

God’s people must remember that while the Day is coming, we need to be advocates for the poor, the marginalized, the outcast and downcast. We must not let up, but go forward in love, taking the way of the cross, remembering that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. In this life the lamb and the wolf don’t get along, and sin resulting in broken relationships between people and God is very much present among us.

In Christ is our hope for seeing the beginning of shalom now. Bringing healing and new life in the midst of the old. We accept the limitations, in the way of Jesus now, even as we are part of that new creation in Jesus breaking in.