pray simply; simply pray

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

Colossians 4:2; NRSVue

This command or I prefer directive is given to a church, by extension to us as church today, as well as to individuals of the church. And it surely refers to public and private prayers.

Prayer simply put is talking to God. To pray well requires listening, being in Scripture and in life over time. But really beyond all else, prayer is a matter of the heart, a matter of being, and then from that, doing, so that in fact, anyone can offer prayer to God.

Frankly in my case my default is often feeling empty, unready, or even worse. At times it can seem uphill at best to pray at all. Most of the time for me, it can seem mechanical, just something I do. But then there are those moments when it seems like I’m taking up into a space of God’s making in which I feel the love and peace, yes presence of God.

Whatever may be the case in our experience of prayer, we’re told that we’re to devote ourselves to it. Praying for ourselves and loved ones, for neighbors and community, for the church, for the world, for concerns on our heart, whatever is on our hearts and minds. But also people and things we consistently pray for, regardless of how we feel (thoughts from morning and evening prayers in the hymnal, Voices Together).

Nothing fancy, in fact perhaps the most eloquent prayer might be the most simple. Just pray. Speak your heart and mind. For me that often involves not knowing what to think or how to look at a situation so that I just lift the person or situation up to God. We pray and keep praying.

giving up on praying is not an option

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” So he said to them, “When you pray, say:

Father, may your name be revered as holy.
May your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything out of friendship, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asked for a fish, would give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asked for an egg, would give a scorpion? If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Luke 11:1-13

We have words from the Lord to teach us how to pray, and simply encouraging us to pray, period. The Spirit helps us as well, and this is especially encouraging because while prayer is something we do, it won’t get through or matter apart from God’s help. But we can be assured that God will help us. We simply must persist. Giving up on prayer is not an option.

What happens at least to me in weakness is that somehow I think I’m short on time to pray. But just the opposite is the case. We can’t afford not to pray. We don’t have time not to pray. There’s actually nothing more important we can do, though rest assured, if we truly pray, we will be doing other things as well. It’s entirely possible that we won’t do as much or get as much done. Though actually we may get more done, certainly in a way that’s better. Apart from prayer, what are we really doing? It will turn out as far as God’s economy is concerned, not very much.

Something like what I’m slowly learning and have to keep coming back to time and again.

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.

the new world breaking into the old

In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.

John 14:19

…if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; look, new things have come into being!

2 Corinthians 5:17

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”

Revelation 21:1, 5a

I’m guessing at the moment that this promise Jesus gave to his disciples the eve of his crucifixion concerns his resurrection and appearances to his disciples, though given the context, it might somehow refer to them seeing him after his ascension through the eyes of faith by the Holy Spirit. At any rate, one thing is certain. The new world through Christ’s resurrection was breaking into the old.

This old world is beaten down, and again and again repeats many of the same tragedies, seemingly in death throes, but it seems like it survives to see a new day and again do the same. It seems pushed to the brink of extinction, at least for the human species, and at least largely from what we can tell, humans at fault. And given world history, even in recent times, why should we be surprised?

But God enters in Christ, into the old creation, and brings in something new, yes nothing less than a new creation. And somehow we’re participants in that, even in this old world. We certainly groan with all of creation, awaiting the redemption of all things when the old will be no more (Romans 8). But we also experience inwardly this new life destined to continue now and forever in God’s new creative work in Christ (2 Corinthians 4, etc).

not living under condemnation

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed, it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, then the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

So then, brothers and sisters, we are obligated, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs: heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if we in fact suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Romans 8:1-17

There is nothing more debilitating than living under the sense of condemnation, feeling and thinking one is condemned due to what they have failed to do, or whatever may be the case. And indeed the enemy of our souls, really of all humankind, the accuser of the sisters and brothers, likes nothing more than to rain down condemnation on us, to heap that on our heads, so that we’re weighed down and suffocating with it.

But in Christ Jesus we read that there’s no condemnation at all, none! Yes, because of Christ’s death, resurrection and intercession for us (Romans 8:34), we’re set free to live above and beyond any sense of condemnation, through the Spirit. We live new lives in a realm in which sin and death are taken care of, are actually banished as far as holding sway over our lives.

This is not just a matter of accepting something as true so that we escape the sense of condemnation. It’s living in a realm in which guilt and condemnation essentially don’t exist. Not that the accuser won’t be back to make us think otherwise. But in Christ Jesus we are indeed set free to live the life God has for us in love for God and neighbor, individually and together. With no condemnation at all.

should every thought on scripture and life from a Christian be Christological, somehow pointing to and centered in Christ?

“You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

John 5:39-40

It is challenging in any time to think through scripture with an application for the present. I’ve heard it explained, and this makes sense to me, that we first need to try to understand the author’s intent, or the intent of the writing when done, albeit from some original source perhaps edited and redacted. But equally important, so it was said, is the reception. In other words, it’s one thing to write or talk as to communicate something to someone, or some people. It’s quite another as to just how that message will be understood. That’s the first step.

In light of all of scripture, which for the Christian consists at least of the 66 books in every Bible, and for various Christian traditions includes what is called books of the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical books, we might say that somehow all must be seen in light of Christ and the revelation of God in him. That seems to me to say that all must be judged in light of Christ, and that seems especially to be in reference to the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and only then what follows.

All of this is beyond anyone’s pay grade, and especially one who is limited in theological education, such as myself. It is certainly first and foremost the work of the church by the Spirit, sifting through scripture and the writings of church fathers and mothers and theologians. It is a daunting, yet wonderful, enlightening task, even if one dips into it just now and then.

Certainly there’s much more to say beyond my limited attempt here. I used to end almost all my posts on this blog with “in and through Jesus,” or something like that. Maybe I should resume that. Whether or not I do, I certainly believe all scripture should be read in light of Christ, putting the reading of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) first to not only understand what follows, but to appreciate what preceded, how Christ and his words, the revelation in him actually are connected to that past, and how it is the culmination which becomes ever present through the resurrection and Pentecost into eternity. Yes, always in and through Jesus.

imagining yourself 5, 10, 20 years from now (and remembering 20 years ago)

And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:18

Sometimes it can be downright discouraging when we’re facing the same or a similar trial with the same poor response, perhaps tied up in knots and set on a panic or being completely ill at ease, even while praying. Not handling this or that all that well. Having a poor attitude, or even if trying, finding ourselves at a loss and essentially lost, as if left on our own and not feeling well. We should get a trusted friend to pray for us, get needed counsel, whatnot, and continue to pray ourselves. As it is, just as a friend was telling me this morning, you don’t see any change in yourself from day to day, just the same unfortunately. But when we look back on the years, maybe even a year, but especially five, ten, twenty years in the past, we can see some significant changes.

I have wondered if I could meet and talk to the Ted of twenty years ago, just how much affinity I might have with that person now. And whether that person back then would listen well to the Ted of twenty years hence. Or whether for that matter, if I could meet the Ted of twenty years from now if I live that long, whether I would have the wisdom to hang in there and find affinity with and learn from that Ted.

All of this gives me hope not just for myself, but for others as well. May God give us a vision of how we might be in the midst of troubles, of the same difficulties, compared to how we are now. Completely different. And perhaps from examples of others we’ve seen. I think God can do that, and I think God does. God is concerned about many things, but one of the most important of quite a few other important things surely, is just who or what we’re becoming, the people and persons we are, were created to be, in essence, our real selves in community and in Christ. So much is secondary in comparison.

God wants to change us into a different person. But that won’t happen overnight. It is incremental and will take time. However the total change will be so great that it will hardly be recognizable. But God can put that desire in us, allowing us to recognize enough along the way to encourage us and help us keep on keeping on. Along with others in Christ by the Spirit.

putting on the whole armor of God: the sword of the Spirit, the word of God

Takethe sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Ephesians 6:17b

Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

James 4:7b

And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God has willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo! his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.

And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we tremble not, for God has willed
that truth will triumph through us.
Though Satan rant and rage
and fiercest war engage,
such wrath we can endure,
for evil’s doom is sure.
One little word shall end it.

Martin Luther, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God (traditional, Voices Together Hymnal)

One thing for sure: We are in a spiritual battle. I’m always glad for the respite and relief that comes after that. But I don’t think evil rests. God keeps us and is indeed a mighty fortress for our protection. But as this passage from Ephesians reminds us as followers of Christ and as the church, we face opposition that at its heart is as crafty as it is pure evil.

We are no match for this. So our strength is only in God and our hope to stand in the spiritual battle only in the armor God gives us to put on. And there is one offensive weapon in that armor: the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

That seems to suggest a word that the Spirit gives. We could say it’s the word of the gospel in the Word who is Christ. It is perhaps more likely a needed and fitting word given and spoken at the needed time. Some say you have to say it out loud, even as the story is told, Luther used to do, throwing inkwell at the evil presence. I remain skeptical about that, thinking that these spirit beings might well be able to penetrate our thoughts. They certainly send thoughts our way. Not sure any of this matters one way or the other, though I stand to be corrected. It seems to me more than enough to accept the needed word from God, the rest taking care of itself, God taking care of it.

What we can be sure of is that while we’re to stand our ground firmly against the onslaught of evil, we also have a powerful, penetrating spiritual weapon at hand. God will help us by the Spirit to know what that needed word is in that instance, individually and especially together as church. In and through Jesus.


But Martha was distracted by her many tasks

Luke 10:40a

Distractions can be a blessing. We get caught up in them, usually one at a time, and we can’t see straight or clear as a result. We’re caught up in fear or whatever else. I speak from experience. But again, distractions can be a blessing because we see the fruit or lack thereof: our own lack of peace, our own lack period, how the commitment we have to the Lord in reality is just in our heads and nowhere else.

That’s when we can see what’s distracting us for what it really is, yes a pure and out and out distraction. Turning our attention elsewhere. Distracting us from sitting at Christ’s feet and hearing him. Distracting us from settling into and doing all the will of God as we understand it. Distracting us from becoming what God wants us to become through the Spirit’s working.

I know about this all too well. But to simply recognize and acknowledge the problem can help us on our way to truly following Christ.

the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit

They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.

Acts 16:6-10

Instead of depending on ourselves or others, our own spirit, we need to learn to depend on the Holy Spirit. That Spirit might well indeed speak through others, through circumstances, even within or intercepting our own thoughts. There’s a huge difference when it is clear that the Spirit is leading.

I wonder if part of following Christ and being a Christian, being the church involves much muddling along, not sure about many things, in much prayer, while always subject to revision and correction. I tend to think so. But there are those remarkable times as here in Acts when the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit in directing one’s path becomes evident.

I think we’ll see more of that, at least in junctures of need, as we press hard to live in and do all of the will of God. Both for our general orientation and understanding, and when need be specifically as was true in Paul and his band so many years ago.