Prayer


Wondrously show your steadfast love,

O Savior of those who seek refuge

from their adversaries at your right hand.

Psalm 17: 7

 

There are enemies at the gate, and enemies at the door to our houses. There are enemies all around us in this world and even beyond its bounds. This is one of those hard aspects of real life, and it is the sort of thing that we do not always fully appreciate, either. Although there may be a number of these life foes that we can see and who concern us in tangible and even obvious ways, there are myriads more of them that are outside of the visible and beyond the readily tangible. Yet, even with their existence being in the realm of spirit and much of their negative work being accomplished in the area of spiritual life, they are real, and their impact upon people is powerful and significant. The impact that they have on God’s people may be far greater than we realize; yet, their true power is minimized by the presence of Christ, and because of Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross, they have no lasting authority over this world or the one beyond.

 

When these foes turn their angry attention to us, we can look to our Lord for protection, for guidance, and for healing from the wounds that they inflict upon us. Christ goes with us into life, and He provides us with His protection and guidance as we journey forth. There is no better preparation for the adventure that is life than prayer and meditation upon God’s Word, and we have no greater source of strength and encouragement for the tasks that we face than that which comes from Christ and through His Spirit. This world is a hard place to dwell, and it is even a harder one in which to reside as a true and faithful follower of Christ. So, seeking after the Lord’s will and wisdom in all that we think, do, and say is of vital importance. When we enter into all of life with Christ as our guide and as our protector, we have gained an unbeatable advantage over these spiritual enemies and over the human ones that operate under their influence.

 

The way that Christ cares for His people is truly wonderous, and it is miraculous as well. There is nothing else in our experience that compares to the love that is poured out upon people by God. There is also no power in our world that is beyond or above that which is used by Christ to save us from Satan and from his vast array of spiritual forces. In Christ we find salvation for our souls, and through His presence in us and with us throughout the balance of our days, we know protection and saving grace and mercy for all that will attack us along the way. Lord, let us turn to You for wisdom and for guidance as we chart our course today. Also, grant us grace for our missteps, mercy for our times of distress, humility of spirit in order to give all glory to You, and cover us in the protection of Your blood, Christ, as we cling to the wonderous and eternal salvation of Your cross.

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Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.

1 Corinthians 5: 7

 

There is a real sense of urgency in these words. The sacrifice of the lamb has already taken place, and the blood of atonement is poured out. Yet, there is still an element, a trace, of the old sinful self present in the lives of the faithful followers of Christ. This is generally a situation that we all face at times and from time to time as well. We know Christ; yet, there is still sin present in us. We have given our lives to Him, but we are holding onto some aspects of our old self with a tenacity that almost seems to defy God’s ability to pour out grace upon us. As it was in Corinth, these elements of sinfulness in us and so in the fellowship of faith cause trouble and bring about dissention as they shatter our unity.

 

In Christ, we have the way and the means to clean out all that is corrupt, unloving, and broken in our lives. The cleansing property of His blood is far greater than any of the sins or sinfulness that we may be clinging onto, and Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection have also permanently defeated the hold that death had upon us. Christ has granted to us the final assurance that death’s terrible angel will pass us by, for although we all die in the body, in Christ all are eternally alive in the spirit. So, as we have come to know Christ as Savior and Lord, we are made new, and the old self with all of its weakness and unrighteousness is done away with in the eyes of God. It is not any lack of interest or capacity on the part of God that causes us to continue living in various states of rebellion from God, it is our own stubborn and fearful hearts and minds that grasp onto this leavening in our lives.

 

The journey into Christ’s righteousness is not a simple one. It takes commitment, happens over time, and is impossible to accomplish in our own strength and power. Additionally, it is not a solo adventure, for like all aspects of the Christian life, seeking after righteousness is something that is best done in the company of like-minded travelers. Yes, removing the leaven, the sinfulness, from our own lives and out of the body of faith is an urgent need, and we all are caught up in this important endeavor. Yet, Christ has gone before us, and His sacrifice on the cross gives us the power and the capacity to be victorious over all of the aspects of our old selves that are attempting to hold us down in our witness and to defeat our ability to live in the full expression of freedom that is ours as citizens of God’s Kingdom come to earth. Again, living righteously is not simple to do and it is not easy to accomplish, but the Spirit will guide us into knowing our sinfulness, surrender to Christ is effective in gaining His power and resources for change, prayer and meditation will lead us deeper into the Lord’s will, and the fellowship of other believers can be the support that we need to stay the course to its glorious end.

So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.

Acts 9: 31

 

Church growth, peace, comfort, and fear of the Lord, these are all good things that we only wish that we could experience today. Yet, these terms were used by Luke to describe the fragmented and fractious world of the church in those early days of its existence. They had made peace with their greatest individual opponent in the person of the redeemed Paul, now a follower of Christ. The church, in this wide-spread sense of its total existence was seeing great growth in that the Gospel of Jesus Christ had a powerful appeal to people who resided in many different cities and towns with their various cultures and prior religious beliefs. But all was not peaceful and calm, and life was not easy or absent all strife and turmoil in these bodies of faith. The narrative of the New Testament, especially the letters that Paul, Peter, and John wrote, is full of difficulties and challenges that had to be overcome both in the world around them and inside of the fellowship of faith.

 

For followers of Christ, even those exciting days when the church was new and it seemed like the imprints of the Lord’s feet were still almost visible in their streets of their towns required them to live humbly with each other, to submit their wills to that of the Lord, and to deliberately enter into the commonality of their calling and purpose. Otherwise, they were too different and diverse in their life situations, interests, passions, and concerns to ever build up a universal church that was capable of working in concert to change the world where they lived. Yet, the church of Christ was thriving and gaining in strength. According to the description that we are given, the church was committed to worshiping God and to respecting His word of truth and life above all else, and they were submitting themselves, both individually and corporately, to the peace-making guidance and direction that came from the Holy Spirit.

 

This is the sort of singular focus that often seems to be missing in our church today. Certainly, there are individual people and gatherings of us who do seek out Christ and His will above all else. We encounter situations wherein a body of believers will set aside all preconceived ideas, political interests, and personal goals in order to do nothing but to pray together, to talk in full honesty about the issues at hand, and to wait upon the leading of the Spirit in their decision making. This is the sort of process that I speculate might have been at the core of the peace and unity that the early church was experiencing. The comfort that the Spirit brought to them was almost certainly not always comfortable for them to embrace. The peace that they entered into with each other was gained through the hard work of listening, submission, tendering love and grace, and seeking to see God’s anointing in the persons of people with whom they disagreed. I suggest that today’s church and each of us in it could do more of these sorts of things, and if we did, there would be more peace in our ranks, and perhaps, the church would begin to reclaim its position of authority in our world.

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.

Jude 20, 21

 

Jude is dealing with the fact that there were people inside of the church who were not following the teachings of Jesus as they were taking people in a direction that was dangerous to their souls and that was destructive to the life of the church at that time. So, Jude counsels the people of the church in how to remain true to Christ and to stay on the path that leads to salvation. These are the sorts of issues that have existed throughout the history of the church, and they continue to trouble us today. Staying true to Christ has never been easy. There will always be people who believe that they have a better way or that there is an alternate doctrine that will make life more enjoyable and less challenging to live than does the rigid doctrine that comes out of a strict reading of God’s Word and a dogmatic following after of what Jesus taught and demonstrated.

 

Thus, Jude instructs us to stay engaged in and with God’s Word. This is the primary way in which we build ourselves up in our faith. God’s Word is dynamic and alive with truth that has no boundaries of time or place attached to it. The more that we encounter it in the course of living out our days, the more of the content of those days that will be spoken to by that living word. Through it God supplies wisdom, counsel, guidance, and the capacity to apply it all to living well in the time, place, and situation where we have been placed by God to dwell. Everyone who knows Christ has a place and a purpose in the church and in this world that we are to fulfill. God has useful and important plans for every life, and His will is often found and is always more fully comprehended through study of His Word and by virtue of meditation upon its content and meaning.

 

In addition to study and contemplation of God’s Word, Jude tells us to pray. Talking it all over with God and listening to the ways that the Lord speaks into us and responds to us is a vital part of living out our days as a follower of Christ. The Holy Spirit imparts that same wisdom, counsel, guidance, and application to us and helps us see all that is contained in God’s Word and guides us in applying it to our own situation and circumstances. The Spirit also comforts us when we are troubled and distressed, and He gives us the gift of courage when it is needed and pours strength into us when we are facing challenges of all types and causes. God’s love is found in His will, and it is expressed by us by embracing that will with all of our being. This is accomplished by entering fully into the truth of God’s Word as we communicate with God in prayerful submission to Christ in all things. The path through this life can be hard and the journey is filled with challenges and trials, but Christ has promised us His presence for every step of the way, and eternity with Him at the end of our travels.

Be angry and so not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.

Ephesians 4: 26, 27

 

Anger is a natural and a normal response to forces, factors, and situations that do come about during the course of our days. The capacity to feel anger is something that God placed within us in His creation of our nature. We are told that God, Himself, feels anger. So, we cannot just discount these feelings as something that is wrong or that comes solely from some dark place within our fallen natures. Anger, itself, does not demand redemption; however, the way that it tends to play out in our lives is another story, indeed! For, anger is far too often something that we do not resolve. We carry it around with us and even summon it up again and again in order to fuel a particular need or desire to convey personal perspective or to gain an advantage in situations. This retained anger adds force and fury to words and expressions that might otherwise have gone unnoticed or under-appreciated, or so we think.

 

Yet, anger can turn from something that is a part of the nature that God gave to us and that is good and useful and become sinful in a very short amount of time. When we hold onto it and do not seek to resolve its causes it begins to eat away at our souls and to erode the love out of our hearts. The force and the power that may have driven us to seek justice and to demand righteousness quickly becomes a corrosive substance that defaces our understanding of the value and the beauty that God placed in others. We begin to see an enemy when we should see a sinner that is in need of understanding mixed with truth in order to bring about Christ’s redemptive work in them and in our relationship with them. That is why Paul places so much urgency in his directive about resolving our anger. Although there are some cultural aspects to what he says about not carrying anger with us over night, the more important aspect of this is the fact that resolving our differences needs to matter above and beyond all else as it is more important than sleep, itself.

 

Almost everyone will be angry from time to time, and there will be a number of different causes for this anger. Some of it will be generated by the injustice, violence, and oppression that are rampant in our broken world. At other times, anger will arise when people that we know are either harmed by the sinful actions of others or when sin is perpetrated upon us. Still, other anger boils up out of disagreement and dispute with others. Regardless of the cause, the emotion that is anger has a short life span as a healthy response to people. It needs to be worked through and responded to in a manner that leads toward resolution. Sometimes that next stage in its expression is found in prayer, in writing letters to governmental officials, in bible study that leads to the teaching of correct, Scripture-based responses, and in forgiveness of wrongs real or imagined. Sometimes anger is resolved by repentance and by entering into a dialogue with another person. Anger is powerful. It is a big emotion. It is best worked out in the much bigger power of the Spirit as that working out, that resolution, requires commitment and hard work to accomplish; yet, that end result leads us closer to Christ and to the center of His unfailing love and grace.

 

 

 

 

Know this my beloved brothers, let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

James 2: 19, 20

 

Speed kills, or in paraphrase, Haste lays waste. The point is simple, direct, and well-known. Anger can overtake us and when it does it operates much like a threshing machine in that it mows down everything in its path so that there is nothing except stubble left behind. I am not saying that there are not situations and circumstances that warrant anger, for there certainly are those times, and we all encounter them with too much frequency in our violent and oppressive world. I think that James makes an important distinction between the sort of anger that comes out of a foundation in God’s Word and one that is established within ourselves and that functions to establish personal power or dominance. It is in this distinction that lies the difference between that which is destructive and that which seeks to redeem.

 

For people, our first response is often to draw upon our own understanding and strength to attempt to handle whatever it is that we are facing. This is our go-to, fast response in many instances. When it comes to the highly charged environment that surrounds an angry response, rapid deployment of our words is frequently the first thing that we do. We toss out the most powerful and often the most caustic of remarks that we can summon up, and we do, in fact, intend to use this expression as a form of artillery barrage. We want the other person to be set back on their heels, fearful, and ready to concede to our point of view. We seek to win almost as much as we desire for them to lose. This is not the way that God operates, and it is very far removed from the manner in which God’s anger is known to be employed.

 

When we are counseled by the Lord to speak slowly, He is asking us to enter into His Word, especially as it is implanted in our hearts, and to listen to the prompting of the Spirit before we engage with other people. This moment or two of hesitation and contemplation can be truly valuable for both parties when we are face to face, and it can lead to saving us from the sort of ruinous written statements that flow far too freely in our fast moving world of electronic expression and communication. In most tense situations it is best to pause before speaking, seek the Lord in the moment, stopping to pray may seem strange to many of us, but it is never the wrong thing to do, and then speak with redemption as the intent of the words. The other thing that the Lord counsels us to do is to listen. Jesus was a good listener, for He knew the stories of the people that He engaged with. We, too, can allow others the space to tell us their concerns and let us into their journey before we pronounce judgement or attempt to solve the issues at hand. In all of this contemplative approach to conflict, Christ is glorified; for in it, Christ is revealed as the source of our strength as His love sooths the situation and seeks to redeem the relationship.

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,

whose trust is the LORD.

He is like a tree planted by water,

that sends out its roots by the stream,

and does not fear when heat comes,

for its leaves remain green,

and is not anxious in the year of drought,

for it does not cease to bear fruit.

Jeremiah 17: 7, 8

 

The setting of these verses would suggest that the person described here by Jeremiah was something of the odd duck, the outlier, in his day. The nation, itself, had taken a turn away from God. It was operating out of the wisdom of man, and the people were choosing to follow the counsel of profane and worldly rulers. The Lord was clearly upset with His people, and He was troubled by the impact that His nation, Israel, was having on the world. There was no longer a national witness for justice, peace-making, righteous living, and outreach to all who were world-weary and oppressed. This was God’s calling for Israel and for that nation’s people, and it remains a significant part of God’s calling for people who know and follow Him today. We are to be the voices for compassion, love, acceptance, and peace in our world. We are to stay true to truth as it is presented to us in God’s Word; so, we are to follow the example of this outlier, this odd duck in Jeremiah’s narrative.

 

The prophet is not speaking about a place; for, it is neither a nation nor is it a religion that will set God’s people in the right situation and location to be fed deeply by God’s truth. He seems to be suggesting that it is an attitude of heart and mind that creates the setting for this sort of nourishing of the soul and body, and the only physical local that matters in all of this is the one that comes about as we seek after the Lord with all of our heart, mind, and body. God works in and through people who are different and even more so through those who choose to be on the outside of the cultural norms in our times. Since humanity turned away from close communion with God, we have developed and promoted a law of moral and ethical conduct that has shifted by degrees away from the pure and wise guidance of God’s Word. This reality of our world makes it inevitable that Godly thinking and acting will be differentiated from the way that the majority of our societies engage in the same processes.

 

So, from God’s perspective, there is nothing at all wrong with drinking from that rare stream called Absolute Truth when those around us are gathering to satisfy their thirst at the river of The Worldly Way with its abundant supply and somewhat murky lack of real clarity. It is worthwhile to be left off of the invitation lists for society’s gatherings in order to spend that time in contemplation, prayer, and listening for the God’s voice of wisdom, insight, and direction. There is a time and a place for engagement with the world and with its activities, but these are not the places where our roots sink down into the life-giving source of the counsel and the nourishment that will sustain us through the harder days that will inevitably come. Finally, there will be days when God’s people will stand out from the crowd by virtue of our vibrant and healthy peace, calm, and assurance that stand in stark contrast to the distress that droughts of various causes and types have brought upon the world at large. These are days when the true fruit of God’s love, grace, mercy, and redemption will draw people toward their Savior. These are the days when all of that time spent living as one who is different, that odd duck, will be counted for the glory of the Lord.

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