experience or the word, or both?

Sometimes we rightly are critical of an emphasis on experience which is not grounded in God’s word, scripture, and in the gospel, the heart of that. We can make all too much of experience. How we feel, or how it’s going, or if we have a sense of wellness is considered more important than anything else.

On the other hand, as we see from scripture, it’s not like experience isn’t important. We find the psalmists over and over appealing to God for a better experience, for escape from distress, sorrow, and death through deliverance into God’s salvation which involves rejoicing, and even singing and dancing.

We need to be grounded in scripture, and the heart of that, which is the gospel. Scripture takes seriously and addresses all experience. It is not counter or in opposition to experience at all, but about real life, where we live.

So in the end, it’s not really a case of either/or, but from being grounded in scripture, building our lives on that which is solid, through Jesus. So that whatever we are experiencing in life, we can more and more by faith rest in God’s promise in Jesus both for the present life and the life to come. In and through Jesus.

working hard at prayer

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.

Ephesians 6

Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis.

Colossians 4

I love the times when the Spirit seems to help me pray. Feeling the love, and the blessed empowering of the Spirit as a complete, sheer gift from God. And I want to know more of those times, and engage in prayer during such times. It can seem as if the Spirit is taking our spirit to be with someone else, with their spirit, and in their circumstance.

But more often than not, and for the most part, prayer can seem like drudgery more than delight. I am doubtful that we can blame our spiritual lack on that. It might be more in line with human weakness and living within the realm of the world, the flesh and the devil, even when in and through Christ by the Spirit we are no longer in any of those realms ourselves. Check out the New Testament, if you doubt me on that latter point.

I believe the Spirit can help us through and out of those difficult times of praying, when it seems all is uphill. And then we can experience the empowerment of praying in the Holy Spirit. But one of the all kinds of praying in the Spirit surely must be a kind of wrestling in prayer in which much of our own effort in the midst of all kinds of weakness is given. To struggle to pray, and actually pray in that way is surely not only underrated, but looked at as less than spiritual. But that surely is a mistake.

To live in the realm of the world, the flesh, and the devil -in Christ, is surely to be up against resistance on every side. And dependency on God in our humanity is something Jesus himself experienced on earth as he looked in prayer to the Father. We should neither think we ought to be immune to it, nor be discouraged by it. In fact that sense can be a wake up call for us to get on our feet, more like on our knees so to speak, and pray, and keep on praying. Something I want to keep working on and continue to grow in, in and through Jesus.

the missing sermon from the Bible

I am increasingly convinced that Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7; see his corresponding Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6) is essentially off the radar for many Christians, not a real consideration at all. And the ironic thing is that Jesus ends that sermon (both sermons) with the analogy of the man who built his house either on the rock, or on sand. That this teaching from our Lord is actually foundational.

I believe our heart by the Holy Spirit is often better than our heads. Christians often have a kind of sixth sense, so to speak, by the Spirit, so that they do much better in life, akin for example to what our Lord says about loving our enemies, etc., in the sermon. And those whose theology actually takes it out of consideration can be grace-filled, loving believers. But good theology, Biblical interpretation, and God’s written word matters. We need to be in all of it from Genesis through Revelation. And certain passages need to be underlined and probably emphasized depending on the culture in which one lives. Surely the Sermon on the Mount fills a needed dearth among many Christians in the United States.

We must beware of seeking to apply these words of our Lord to nations and unbelievers. Rather, they are for believers and followers of Jesus. But we must apply them, indeed. We can respect and want the US Constitution and foundation for this nation to be adhered to for the continuation of this liberal democratic state, liberal not in the way spoken of today, but according to what was meant at the nation’s inception, though much of what carries over from that might logically follow. But for us in Jesus, we need to be in all of the word, and Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount should certainly be a staple of our thinking and living. Along with my psalm, Old/First Testament, and New/Final Testament reading, I read from either the Sermon on the Mount, or the Sermon on the Plain, daily. Hopefully more and more of that will soak in and make a difference. Something for the entire church to help make the difference that’s needed in our lives and witness in and through Jesus.

 

reading and hearing the Bible together

Probably more than anything else, I’m a Bible person. Two things I like to carry and likely am carrying are my little New Testament/Psalms & Proverbs and coffee. It is good for us to read the Bible, or listen to it, in fact I highly recommend it. That’s in large part within our historical context the result of the Protestant Reformation. And within and around that are both good and not so good influences. A good: examining the translated original texts for ourselves. A not (necessarily) so good: the questioning and often rejection of authority, especially religious authority. But I live in a part of what has come out of that mix. And again, there is great good there, along with that which is not so good.

In churches of the Great Tradition, so much more scripture is read Sunday after Sunday through the lexical readings, so that essentially the entire Bible is read through over the course of I think four years. That is a great benefit, and such churches are blessed. Where we have been attending, taking our grandchildren, the Bible is wonderfully taught in a 45-55 minute message, preceeded by some (surprisingly enough to me) good worship in song, my earplugs intact with the guitars, keyboards and drums (though most Sundays I really could get by without them). But we don’t hear the Book read through except for passages related to the teaching. I would be surprised if most Christians, aside from services, and teaching times, read much scripture at all for themselves.

Within Judaism there’s a practice of reading scripture together, and then discussing and often debating its meaning. I think we can take home something important from that, because we will ultimately better understand the message of scripture together, not apart by ourselves. The Spirit gives the entire church the understanding of scripture and the gospel, and that mediation is more rich and clear through the church, rather than through individuals here and there. Not to diminish the value of scholars who themselves gather from the entire church in their work of helping us understand the text, along with pastors and priests who do the same.

Yes, read the Bible for yourself, and keep reading it. But also find a context where you are reading it with others, and gathering insights from them. And read from the best pastors and teachers, and from scholars as well.

hold that thought

“All people are like grass,
    and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
    Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    but the word of our God endures forever.”

Isaiah 40

There are all kinds of thoughts that come our way in the course of a day, for ill and for good, and everything in between. We are often caught up and captured in such thoughts. Even consumed by them.

But there is only one word which endures, when all the rest will be gone. And that is the word of God, scripture itself, which points us to the Word of God, Jesus himself.

We need to be in the word day in and day out, year in and year out. It doesn’t matter whether we’re always “getting” what we’re reading. We need to keep at it; the Spirit will help us. Of course a big part of how this happens is through the church which indeed has a special place in God and in God’s working: nothing less than in Christ, as Christ’s body by the Spirit. So that is important if we’re really going to be adherents of God’s word, of scripture.

We have to make other things secondary to our intake of God’s word. Of course I’m not referring to the necessities we must do daily. But when all is said and done, we live by one word, the word from God.

…man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Deuteronomy 8

Many thoughts will come to us, and they have varying degrees of significance. But the promise of good both for this life and for the life to come is found in one source: God’s word in scripture, and in Jesus. We live by that word, and die with it in hand, in and through Jesus.

 

having the Spirit to pray

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

Ephesians 6

In Jesus we have the Holy Spirit to help us pray, and that Spirit is present and active, no matter how we feel. Romans 8:26-27 tells us that when we feel weak and at a loss, the Spirit helps us, and even prays for us:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

Thankfully there are those times when we sense the Spirit to help us pray boldly and persistently. It’s encouraging, no matter what, because I often feel at a loss, yet I seem to gradually be more aware of the Spirit present to help me pray, of course all by God’s grace to us in Jesus.

And so I am thankful to God for the Holy Spirit who through Jesus helps us to pray, and to keep praying. For God’s good will for us, and for the world. And in accord with the gospel: God’s good news in Jesus.

focused praying

The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

James 5:16b; NLT

Exactly how to translate this verse is up for grabs. I like the point that the NLT rendering, along with other translations (see link, and other translations on Bible Gateway) makes. Real prayer is focused, whereas simply praying a prayer is not necessarily so, akin to when Isaiah (quoted by the Lord) says that people can praise God with their lips, while their hearts are far from him.

Whatever the correct way to translate this passage (and that seems up for grabs, or interpretation, but might be a good further study), I think the idea of earnestness or fervency, wholeheartedness in praying, is certainly apt and commendable. We are so good at doing religious things half heartedly, going through the motions. But faith, especially in difficult matters, but really in anything in this life wants to take hold of God, like Jacob of old, who wrestled with the angel of God (Genesis 32).

It’s not like in all of our weakness, we shouldn’t feebly utter a prayer. We should; we should pray all kinds of prayers. I think in part so that we make sure we’re not merely going through the motions, it is good to give at least some of our prayers the strong expression they deserve, sort of like making our words bold in print. It seems like in our human weakness, this helps me to be focused, and cut through my own denseness, or ineptitude, and through the spiritual resistance of the devil, and hopefully pray in the Spirit.

Prayer requires effort, and is part of the fight of faith we are in for the good of others, was well as for our own good in this life. In and through Jesus.