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.

gently leading others

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.

Isaiah 40

Isaiah 40 is truly one of the great passages of scripture, like Romans 8. I hesitate to say that, because I believe we should consider every part important, even the most obscure passages that we might not understand well, if at all. But this passage comforts God’s people both with God’s immense greatness and immeasurable goodness and in terms of God’s great salvation.

What seems especially helpful is the idea of God’s gentle leading. Oftentimes when people, when any of us think of God, we think of an extension of our experience with authority figures, which too often has not been encouraging, but quite the opposite. Or perhaps for some of us, those people were largely absent from our lives. The picture of God given to us in scripture is that God is beyond everything and yet nearer than the breath we breathe. That God is just as much intimate as God is transcendent. That means that the God who is not overwhelmed in the least enters into the picture for humankind, for the world, yes, for us. And God cares for us.

I love the imagery quoted above (see NRSV in link, “[God] will gently lead the mother sheep.”) That God leads the sheep, us, gently. We need that. And in turn, that is how we’re to help the young among us. Not pushing them, or being gruff with them. But gently leading. In fact, we can take that as the cue on how we’re to influence each other. Not that we’re in life to manipulate, but instead we want to learn to follow God’s leading, and hopefully help others to do the same, since we know that is best, and in fact is wonderful.

When one looks at the entire Story in scripture, one also sees that God leads out of weakness, that actually God’s weakness is strength. It is the way of the cross, the way of suffering love for us and for the world. And a part of our salvation for us now in this world, is to learn in and through Jesus to take that same road for others in our commitment to Christ and the gospel.

Let’s pay attention to those who gently lead, and especially to our Lord God, and then learn to follow in those steps. In and through Jesus.

embracing the hard places

With a here we go again attitutde, we can shortchange the changes God wants to make in our lives. There are problems, places, and let’s admit it, people, who at times along with us can be challenging, disappointing, and downright irritating. And it doesn’t help when we might be tired, and a bit battered and bruised from what life has brought our way to begin with. While it is true that we as humans are made in no less than the image of God, it is also true that we are dust.

In all of this, of course, we need grace. We need to wait on God so to speak, even in the midst of the flow of life. We should have a sense of expectation in waiting on God to work everything out according to his purpose for us and for others, as well as just his purpose in general, in Jesus. That takes both time and faith. We need to hold on, as it were.

And by faith, we should learn to embrace the hard places with outstretched arms as a kind of sign of the cross as part of a cruciform, cross-shaped life. We do this, not because we want to, or because that is the place we would ever go, but because we do want to follow Jesus in all of life, the one who taught us a good number of hard sayings and teachings (see Matthew 5-7, and read the rest of the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

Of course we will and do fail along the way. We have forgiveness already in terms of salvation, but we do need to continue to confess our sins to God, and when appropriate at times to others, and walk in the light God gives us to maintain fellowship and communion with God and with each other through Jesus’s blood cleansing us from all sin (1 John).

Embracing the hard places is most certainly an act of faith. We do so believing that good will come out of it from God, as well as to avoid the evil and the problems which come out of our refusal to accept such things. A part of the maturing process which is ours together in 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.

just pray

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Colossians 4:2

For all sorts of reasons, we can be so inundated with life, both the good and the bad, and even everything in between, that we simply fail to pray. And given the sense of our own deficiency in praying, we may think it doesn’t matter.

If there’s one thing we need to hear as far as our practice goes as Christians, it’s this: Pray, pray, and keep praying. Yes, keep praying even the poor prayers that we pray: broken, weak, and halting, as they may and often will be. And when one feels like praying, do it all the more, take advantage of that. That is an indication that the Spirit is present in helping us pray in the Spirit with all kinds of prayers and requests (Ephesians 6:18). But when we don’t feel like praying, we should also pray all the more. The Spirit helps us in our weakness, because we don’t know how to pray as we ought, we’re at a loss, but the Spirit takes our weakness and groans in this praying, and intercedes for us to God, according to God’s will (Romans 8:26-27).

There is never any shortage of things to pray for. Our call from God in Jesus is to be faithful in praying (Romans 12:12). Yes, there will be all sorts of reasons both conscious and unconscious as to why we don’t pray. That is perhaps in part why the quoted text above tells us that we’re to be devoted, to devote ourselves to prayer. Something I want to do more and more in whatever coming days I have left.

 

steely resolve

“Coldy determined. Hard.” That is the online definition that comes up for steely when I googled it. The Christian life and faith at its heart is warm and full of love. But sometimes in this life, we need to be cold and hard against what is evil, and against what is in opposition to the gospel. And yet maintaining a heart of love even toward others who might be cold or worse toward us. Even that takes a steely resolve on our part.

The truth of the matter is that we can’t live in that kind of atmosphere too long, or if it’s necessary, it’s likely a matter of spiritual warfare that we are involved in. God’s mercy and love will break through and help us into his peace in Jesus. Sometimes such resolve is to help us in a way not unlike the physical response of shock to serious injury. Shock sets in to deaden the pain for a time, so that hopefully we can deal with the matter, get emergency help from those in the medical field. In the same way the sense of spiritual numbness can set in to offset our fear or whatever it is that is affecting us, and help us carry on, and find God’s help in the matter.

We live through pain, through weaknesses of all kinds, and we learn to find God’s strength, comfort and help in the midst of all of that in and through Jesus. God gives us the grace to continue on even when every bone in our body would do otherwise. And get through the difficult experience. Always remember: “This too will pass.” On our way toward the ultimate goal in Jesus (Philippians 3).