a life of prayer

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

Colossians 4:2

There is nothing more important that we can actually do other than pray. I would put being in Scripture, in the fellowship of God’s people, and in prayer together. All three are vitally important for us in our following of Christ.

As I consider entering into the latter phase of my life, it may seem and does, that certain possibilities that I used to be interested in are now past. What can I keep doing day after day, while attending to what responsibilities and opportunities remain? Prayer, prayer, and more prayer. Filling my days and nights with prayer. That is an imaginative aspiration.

A kind of dream of mine would be to be a part of an Anabaptist monastic order in which prayers, liturgy, and good works dot and punctuate the days and nights. Such a thing probably doesn’t exist, although there does seem to be some expression of that in such circles.

This has to become something that one just keeps doing regardless of what one is experiencing. And it also can be more of a life and reality in which we live and experience. Both. But one has to keep doing it. Probably something akin to what Jesus did and experienced. As followers of Jesus, by the Spirit we can surely begin to realize some measure of the same.

I am responsible to practice this myself, but also to do so together with others in what is called corporate prayer. We join minds and hearts together in prayer through the Spirit and God’s word.

Above anything else, this is what I wish to practice and where I want to live the rest of the time I have in this life. Along with others. In and through Jesus.

the needed emphasis on prayer

That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed by demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases and cast out many demons, and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.

Mark 1:32-35; NRSVue

We really can’t pray too often. While we can and should pray throughout the day, there really needs to be those special times of prayer for ourselves and others. We need to pray for ourselves, because unless we get God’s help in our own issues and struggles, we can hardly help anyone else. And we pray for others.

I imagine, as one helpful commentary put it, Jesus surely prayed for himself after an exhilarating but surely also exhausting day of ministry, as well as for his disciples who in Mark more than any other gospel account, just don’t get it time and time again. And Jesus surely did this regularly. Luke’s gospel account brings that out more, and though most sparse in Mark, it is still sufficiently present to see how important prayer was in Jesus’s life and teaching.

As followers of Jesus we need to do the same. Prayer, prayer and more prayer throughout the day. And special times of it, as well. That should mark our lives. Too often we somehow think God’s blessing depends on us, our own effort. But no, not at all. In fact we’ll find little to no blessing that way, though God might bless in spite of that at times. No. No matter what we first and always give ourselves to prayer. Then God will help and give to us and through us to others what only God can give. In and through Jesus.

follow Christ by following those who follow Christ

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.

Philippians 3:17

Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:9

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

1 Corinthians 11:1

I’m not well convinced that just a steady diet of being in Scripture and prayer is the most important way to change. I’ve been pretty heavy in the Scripture part, and that’s helped. And I’ve prayed. But what really helps me is to find those people who are humbly following Christ, yes imitating him. And hopefully having their lives rub off on my own.

It’s interesting that so to speak that’s the way Christianity started. Jesus called twelve men to live with him, for him to be their Rabbi. It was not so much a matter of writing things down that Jesus said and did, but it was much more a matter of becoming like their Master. And that dynamic continues on. True spiritual leaders are not those who preach lights out or dazzle people somehow with this or that. No, it’s simply those who learned to follow and imitate Christ from others, so that others could learn to follow and imitate Christ through them. That can make the difference needed. By the Spirit in and through Jesus.

what John “the elder” and beloved apostle of our Lord might say to us now from 1 John 4:1-6

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit[j] of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

1 John 4:1-6

My dear friends, don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. Not everyone who talks about God comes from God. There are a lot of lying preachers loose in the world.

Here’s how you test for the genuine Spirit of God. Everyone who confesses openly his faith in Jesus Christ—the Son of God, who came as an actual flesh-and-blood person—comes from God and belongs to God. And everyone who refuses to confess faith in Jesus has nothing in common with God. This is the spirit of antichrist that you heard was coming. Well, here it is, sooner than we thought!

My dear children, you come from God and belong to God. You have already won a big victory over those false teachers, for the Spirit in you is far stronger than anything in the world. These people belong to the Christ-denying world. They talk the world’s language and the world eats it up. But we come from God and belong to God. Anyone who knows God understands us and listens. The person who has nothing to do with God will, of course, not listen to us. This is another test for telling the Spirit of Truth from the spirit of deception.

1 John 4:1-6; MSG

If John were here today he might say we have a problem. The problem being that so much out there which is not of God and therefore not of Jesus is accepted as though it is, or at least as on a par with God’s message. Of course here what we mean accepted by professing, yes, even genuine Christians. This is a warning to us all, that none of us are above and beyond deception. And what’s needed is yes, discernment for ourselves, and especially together with other believers. The Spirit directs not just one of us, but one and all. The Greek is plural. So that yes, while we as individuals are included, and each and every one of us need discernment from God, this is really addressed to the whole, to all of us, worked out in our gatherings together.

The confession of Christ coming in the flesh should be enough. Nothing more is needed. We don’t need that and something more. Today those who actually make this confession, but then add something more are essentially lying out of their teeth, or probably more accurately, speaking lies. Deceived and deceiving. What I’m referring to here is not just about our salvation, but ultimately the salvation of the world. And in terms not just of our life of faith and our church life, but all of life. Politics should never be excluded, because, after all, the gospel of the kingdom in King Jesus is political, touching each and every part of life. Consider “the Lord’s prayer” (Matthew 6:9-13).

John would likely not only caution us against special claims put in the same breath with what Scripture says, with the gospel, or as if being the fulfillment or correct interpretation of Scripture and the gospel. He would slam the door shut on all such claims. Instead John would point us to the life of Christ and what that life means to the world in terms of God’s grace and kingdom coming in Jesus. And at the heart of this for John as we see from this letter is to know God, be with others in the fellowship of the Father and the Son, and to be assured that one has the eternal life found in the Son. 

John might especially lean on historians as well as those who have lived through these times, or if he would have lived through them himself. Well, it’s really hard to imagine all of this in a way. None of us can stand outside of the time in which we live and imagine ourselves an objective observer. We’re all people of our times, for better and for worse. Which is why we need the Spirit of God to help and direct us, and that together.

But I imagine that John might possibly say that the growing deception among Christians today didn’t start a few years ago, but has gone on for decades, and in a sense throughout the entire American experience. That is not to deny the good here, nor to think we’re unique in having that problem since the same spirit pervades every nation and experience of this life. It is present with us, and we have to deal with it, whether we like it or not. And none of us like it, that’s for sure. But it’s half the battle to simply accept reality. Then, and only then, we can deal with it.

Whatever adds to Jesus and is not in sync with Jesus’s teaching of God’s kingdom, as well as not in line with Jesus’s life and death is definitely not of God, but is actually opposed to God. Not the Spirit of Christ, but the spirit of the antichrist. And just as John tells us in the letter, they’re a dime a dozen; many of them out there. And none of us should ever think we’re above escaping their influence. Something to always be aware and wary of. In and through Jesus.

 

learning to trust God/the Father in everything

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
he’s the one who will keep you on track.

Proverbs 3:5-6; MSG

None of us are going to be perfect in this life. We’ll lapse into this or that which is wrong. Though we really should be making progress. And hopefully leave the most hurtful, damaging sins behind, and get help with whatever addictions we have. There indeed ought to be substantial progress in our lives toward Christ-likeness together with others in Christ.

In my own life, though I’ve had other issues, probably far and away the one that has plagued me the longest, and been most endemic in my life is the anxiety issue, which a few times has bordered on panic. A feeling of depression might come in second, though I think for me, anxiety and nagging worry is the clear enough winner. I was glad for those times when it seemed either dissipated or absent, but more often than not, it was present in one form or another. I am surprised in talking with others just how common this is.

It seems to me that God might be trying to teach me a new radical trust. I’m not talking about sinless perfection, since there is none of that in this life. Instead what I’m referring to is a new habit of life, learned over time. The Scripture quoted above from Proverbs might seem idealistic and really beyond our reach in this life. But really? Didn’t Jesus both exemplify and teach us to trust the Father without reservation (Matthew 6:25-34)? Again, we won’t do that perfectly in this life, and even when we have our times of doing it better, we’ll certainly flub up along the way.

I think what the Father wants us to get accustomed to and acclimated with is the idea that he’ll take care of us, he’ll take care of everything. That we need to and indeed can settle into that reality, and develop a new disposition corresponding to that. And that if we don’t trust the Father in one particular matter, then we’re failing to trust him. This isn’t at all like an Authoritarian ready to beat us with a club if we don’t trust them. But a most loving, caring Father.

This hit home to me, because there are a number of matters about our house which have given me grave, likely a bit of undue or overblown concern, but real issues, nonetheless. It probably doesn’t help for me to downplay them, because then trust in God really isn’t going to matter that much. It’s not like I should be negligent in what I know I need to do, or have to do. And I’m not. But does involve weighing everything, and trusting God with the resources God gives us to make good decisions. And above all, for the likes of me, to simply trust God. A simple trust. That God will work things out, that I not only need not worry and fret. But that indeed, I should not. That God will take care of it, whatever that ends up involving on my part. All of this as with everything else in and through Jesus.

living differently

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.

1 Peter 4:1-11

What is referred to here is not God-given human desires, but such desires twisted because of sin. Instead we’re to live the rest of our lives for and in the will of God. That’s to be our goal, what characterizes our lives. The norm of how we live from day to day.

We arm ourselves when we’re willing to suffer for God’s will. Christ set the example which we’re to follow in his suffering for us (1 Peter 2:21). We want to avoid any martyr complex. Just living simply according to God’s will as followers of Christ will get us into enough difficulty. Saying no to our own sinful inclinations, and yes to whatever God’s will is. In the way of Christ, in and through him.

 

Jesus: our example of faithful endurance

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

This Holy Week we think of Jesus having set his face like a flint to go to Jerusalem knowing full well what was awaiting him there, just as he had told his disciples three times, doing so either for the joy set before him, or instead of. The Greek word, ἀντὶ (transliterated, anti) can mean “instead of,” or “for.” Either way Jesus endured, scorning the shame of the cross. That was the worst form of Roman execution, reserved for non citizens. And whoever was hung on a tree was said to be under God’s curse in Jewish Scripture, yes indeed, in God’s word.

Instead of the joy set before him might mean something like the idea that Jesus was ready to undergo the Father’s will, even when it went against his own will, evident from his prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane. I probably prefer the other way it can be translated, for the joy set before him, with the idea of doing something in exchange for something else (see BAGD Greek Lexicon). There surely is mystery in Christ’s sufferings for us. But the intent of this passage is to strengthen us in our suffering. So that we can endure because we know the good that awaits us at the end of what’s set before us. Or persevere against our own wishes. Following the pioneer and perfecter of faith, Jesus. In and through him.

stepping aside for others

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:1-11

This passage in its rich context tells us that as those in Christ we’re to value others above ourselves. We’re to take the place of the servant just as the one we follow, Christ did. Of course he did it par excellence, like none other. He not only set the precedent, but only in and through him can it be lived out to its fullest. Not to say we can ever do it to the degree and perfection he did. No. But certainly by the Spirit, we can live it out from the heart.

There’s a time to step aside and let others take over and lead the way. Maybe after we’ve shown them the way by example and word. Then we can continue to be an example by letting them take over.

We do well to take the lower place. We want to do so in fellowship with the one who took the lowest place for us and for the world: Jesus. That’s the fellowship in which we’re to live ourselves, and with others in him. In and through Jesus.

truth is caught more than taught

Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.

Philippians 3:17

I believe in good teaching. Teaching is definitely a vital aspect of Jesus’s ministry on earth. Many Bibles red letter his words, not my preference for a Bible, but seems to be done in the majority of editions nowadays. And every word of this post is teaching.

But truth is mostly caught. Children pick up the habits of their parents, even when the parents might speak against those habits. Either in following them, or reacting against them. “Do as I say, not as I do,” is hollow, when it comes right down to it. Especially children, but even we as adults pick up on what others do. Why do we do it that way? That’s the only way we know; that’s how it was done all our lives.

What is needed nowadays are mentors who live well, and in doing so, can influence others. How we live for good or for ill does influence others, particularly those who watch us. And to some extent we do watch each other. If we rationalize this or that, which we know is either not right, or really the best, then we more or less put our stamp of approval on such an action.

Paul was set apart for Christ and the gospel of God both in terms of teaching it, and living it out. Reading the Acts and his letters makes it clear that an important part of his ministry was his example in following Christ, and proclaiming the gospel, being a witness in word and deed to that.

It can be harder for us who are older to believe we’re taken seriously. I have my doubts, actually. I think we are to some extent, but that we’re often more or less just kind of tolerated with a wink and a nod. But even if such is the case, we need to live not just with ourselves in mind, but others. In fact it should be others first, and then ourselves. We look after other’s interests, not our own (Philippians 2:4). And in so doing, we follow Christ. We seek to follow Christ, but often that is easiest for us through following the examples of others who follow Christ.

Let’s not kid ourselves or anyone else. Our lives aren’t neatly lined up in a straight row, all neat and tidy. We don’t have everything together; there are loose ends. But our passion, what moves and motivates us, and what causes us to critique our own behavior, and make changes, that is what will help others. And it’s all because of God’s grace in Christ at work in our lives. We follow Christ through the Spirit and the word, and through seeing his life and the difference he makes in other’s lives. Through relationships, a big subject in itself, in and through Jesus.

 

a good plan and what is not, according to James

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

James 4:13-17

Planning is good, and especially planning with good in mind, as in having others in mind. James’s words here are not at all undermining the value of planning. But as in the wisdom tradition we find in Proverbs, James is simply stating that in the end it is God who will determine not only the outcome, but whether or not it takes place at all. All must be subject to God’s will.

It is often a matter of wanting to be in control, in fact that is the default attitude of so many of us much of the time. I think of entrepreneurs. And of course it’s not wrong to be one. A good one will plan and yet be able to adjust with the flow of things, and figure out what it takes to be successful. And yet behind that can be either an unwillingness, or more likely, not even taking into account any possibility that God might want something entirely different.

James chalks that up to boasting in one’s arrogant schemes. And we can be sure that such plans are not in line with God’s will. There is the lack of humility in acknowledging God and God’s will. And there’s the lack of appreciation for just how uncertain life is, both in terms of what might actually happen, and whether or not one will actually live to see it. It is as if someone is taking the place of God in their own attitude. Certainly not the mind of Christ whose delight it was to do God’s will, and submitted to it even when it was against his will as he did in Gethsemane.

James is warning believers, but he’s also encouraging them to submit their plans to God. That those plans might have value in God’s eyes, so that God may see them through.