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.

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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.

doing the word (not just hearing it)

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

James 1:22-25

It has been dawning on me recently, the idol I had made out of certainty in my life, and how I often am not at rest until I would have it for brief periods of time. Like so often, the realization of truth comes with some relief. “I can see it,” and “wow!” But it won’t be long before we will lapse into pretty much where we were before if we don’t begin to put it into practice.

In my case, I had been thinking about that just recently, and posted on it on Saturday morning, only to be besieged Saturday evening with new revelations which put me back into a kind of panic mode and desire to overcome my uncertainty. The Lord helped me to have the strength the next morning to be able to put that aside, and simply to attempt to act on the truth which I had posted the previous morning. But this reminded me of the necessity of putting into practice what we hear from God’s word.

For people like me who have been in all of the Bible for years, and who teach it on a regular basis as well, this can be challenging. And really all of us as Christians should be in the word on a regular basis, weekly at our church gatherings as we hear it proclaimed and taught, and during our own times throughout the week, hopefully daily, as well as in our small groups. We all need to be in the word, so that we can “hear” God speak to us through that word. And with that, it is critical that we begin to act on what God has said, and keep working at it, not letting it go, but letting it become part of the fabric of our lives.

I am thankful for the church we’ve been taking our grandchildren to, that they make this a big deal: both being in the word, and putting it into practice. This is what I want to major on the rest of my life, both reading for understanding, and putting into practice what God is telling me, is telling us, in and through Jesus.

faith

If there’s one most basic thing the Lord calls us to, it probably is faith. Faith in God, in God’s word, in the gospel, the good news in Jesus.

Faith at its bare essential is receiving from God, so we do well to be in that posture. At its onset it comes from hearing the message about Christ (Romans 10).  Faith ushers us into a new relationship and reality. We know God and are a part of God’s family. And that involves a number of basic things for sure. All expressed in love, and with hope; faith, hope and love being joined together.

But even though I’ve been on this faith journey for decades, in some ways I’m afraid I never matured, at least not much. Anxiety has been my number one “besetting” sin. God has been working on that, and teaching me to let go and live in his peace more, but still I find myself in need of doing the same thing over again, and again and again. I wish I could settle more into a disposition of rest and peace in God’s grace.

There are Christian traditions which seem to make much of the faith, the gospel, and there are other Christian traditions which seem to make much of faith, the response to the gospel. Of course we need both. Faith comes from the faith, and is dependent on that. But the faith gives faith and instills that in us.

And so as I face a new day, I want to do so with a renewed commitment to faith in God, come what may. Believing in God, receiving his word, trusting in him so that I can do the works that come from a faith characterized by love and sustained by hope. In and through Jesus.

 

doubting one’s self (part of my story)

A lot of water has come and gone over the dam. Much good over the years, and much not so good, even some not really good at all. Although I can be thankful that I’ve been married to one woman, and have known only her, and want to be with her to the end and beyond in the next life (if she will have me).

I always wanted to be a pastor. And I do that kind of work Sunday after Sunday at a nursing home in leading a worship service which includes singing and preaching/teaching, along with prayer and visiting. And I would have enjoyed teaching as a job, either, but I have seen myself over the years especially as aspiring to a pastor’s heart.

But perhaps the strongest undertow that swept me out and that I failed to overcome by faith, which I could have by the way, was the lie that I was a nobody who would fail in life, just as I heard a close relative (not in my immediate family) say when I was 10 years of age or so. So that I not only doubted myself, but rarely if ever saw anything good. And no one else did either, or if they did, for whatever reason they failed to help me understand the gift God had given me, and encourage my development and growth in that. And by the way, I don’t imagine at all that my gift is any more special than anyone else’s. All of our gifts from God are special, so that we’re all special gifts from God in creation, and new creation in Jesus.

But the biggest problem was that I failed to break past that by believing in God and God’s goodness and assessment of me. Instead believing the old stories that had piled into and accumulated in my head, and by and by took over my heart. So that I came to the dangerous place, even after graduating from two schools with a Bachelor and Masters degree, one a seminary, in which I had given up and believed I never would fulfill my heart’s desire and become a pastor, one ordained into the ministry.

Around that was a sense of defeat instead of faith in which I failed to work through the difficult things of life, which are inevitable for us all. Though I always did hold down a job through the years, the Lord’s gracious provision for us in my factory work.

I say all of this to encourage any reader to do better, to avoid the pitfall I experienced.

I am grateful to God, knowing it could have been worse. And if I have health and some years after retirement, I hope to serve in something like a chaplaincy role.

We can learn from the past, and work through it for some healing, but we also live in the present. This is where we live, and we want to do well here and now. To have the faith and everything toward God which honors and pleases him, who alone is the Faithful One. To hold on to that, and continue on faithful to the end. With others, in and through Jesus.

back to the Bible

I have a call for both progressive and conservative Christians, and really for everyone regardless of what stripe or tradition in Christianity we might be. We all need to get back to the Bible.

I know no one reads the Bible without interpreting it, just like any other book. And theology informs that reading of scripture, just as scripture ought to inform one’s theology, shorthand here for one’s understanding of the faith and the gospel. But the Bible by itself will impact you if it really is God’s breathed out, written word. In your heart, mind and practice.

Back to the Bible is one of my favorite Christian organizations, probably second to Our Daily Bread Ministries where I work. I love what they try to do, and look like they’re still doing in a helpful new way. I remember the days of Theodore Epp, who used to be, and in a sense still is one of my favorite Bible teachers.

I would like not only to see any theological system challenged probably mostly in refining, but perhaps with some bigger changes through the reading and study of scripture. But just as importantly, each one of us. We need to go back to scripture again and again, pore over it, ask the hard questions, and keep reading and praying. We won’t be disappointed if we continue to do that. And like Charles Spurgeon noted, there’s never an end to the depths we find in scripture as well as the life in and through Jesus.

the grace of God, the word of God

Two themes coming out, as I’m reading Acts, besides the gospel are the grace of God and the word of God. We can rightfully say that the word of God is often shorthand for the gospel, but it includes the full scope of all of God’s written, breathed-out revelation (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  This seems to me to be essential for the church, the Christian life and witness in the world.

Grace can be misunderstood and must be read in its full context and usage in scripture. The gift of grace is never a license to sin, nor does it simply ignore sin. Grace includes both the judgment and correction of the sinner through Jesus and his death. Repentance and faith are involved in that, repentance simply meaning a change of heart and direction of life. Faith is the essential, faith in God’s word, the message of the gospel, as well as all that God gives us in his word through the gospel. We can say and rightfully so, it is a submissive faith.

The word of God is essentially the message of Christ. And all of scripture comes across to us as God’s word written. If we want to know God then we’ll have to be in the word. And through it we can come to know God’s grace through the gospel, and in our daily lives. A grace which forgives and helps us to live in the new life in Jesus.

Simple, yet profound, and indeed life changing. The only way and place we can find and live in that life. In and through Jesus.