Prayer


Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne,

   steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.

Psalm 89: 14

What a strange way to crown a king. The party atmosphere that preceded the coronation itself has been replaced by the angry shouts of a lynch mob. The joyous gathering of family and friends that culminates in the Passover meal has turned somber with the foreboding shadow of betrayal hanging in the room. The night itself is filled with prayer, but these are not the hopeful expressions of a dream of a future of freedom and peace, but instead, they are the anguished cries of the teacher as He faces the torture ahead with absent friends and the sure knowledge of that necessary abandonment by the Father, too. In this ridiculous and scandalous ceremony, Jesus stands singularly suitable to obtain this crown and to sit upon the only righteous and just throne that has or will ever exist in this world.

If these fundamental characteristics that are the expression of the rule of a true king are to be found among us, then they must come from their source, and this is God, Himself. Outside of God’s touch and the provision of His grace, there exist only shadows of what is right and just in our world. There are times when people may attempt to act in such a way, and these moments of peace tend to last for short periods of time, but in the end, the powers of evil that attempt to control all of this place will gain some portion of control, and their chaos will return to cause those peaceful systems of rule to topple over. As people attempt to grasp onto those crumbling icons of goodness and mercy, we are usually left with nothing other than shards of broken stones held tenuously in our fingers. Yet, when we hold onto the mystically tangible presence of Christ in our lives, we find that our hands are being held in the sure grip of the Eternal King.

This is a King who loves each of us with a passion so intense and a love so lasting that He was willing to endure all of the agony and the anguish of that awful coronation in order to establish and perfect God’s plan for redemption for any of us who will accept Him and for the entirety of creation as well. Here we have King Jesus upon His rightful throne of grace, mercy, peace, righteousness, and unfailing love where He pours out God’s true and eternal justice upon this needy world. That bloody crown that was provided by humanity three days prior has been replaced by an unperishable one formed out of the glory of heaven. The wounds in the flesh are still visible, but now rather than bringing about a reminder of pain and death, they provide a soothing touch of healing to anyone who turns to Christ, even to those of us who have participated in placing those painful thorns on His sinless head. Today Christ sits upon His victor’s throne, the blazing light of righteousness surrounds His presence while His voice calls out to all people to come to Him and be healed of all that is hurt, damaged, and broken in our bodies, hearts and minds.  

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For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

1 Corinthians 1: 25

The presence of God in the world turns this place upside down, and the presence of Christ in a life sets that person right with God. The Lord’s way of viewing things is truly different from that of our culture, and what matters to Him is very far removed from all that is held as important in much of our world. It would seem that the realm of the eternal does not operate by the same rules as does the earthly one and that the ruler of heaven is not bound by the same constraints as is the ruler of the world. One of them owns all of creation and has total and absolute authority over it, and the other is living out his last moments before the certain destruction that is promised to him is brought about. Yet, people still look to the false wisdom of the worldly one and follow its death-inducing dogma to the grave. This world continues to utilize the minimal and depleted power that comes out of domination, violence, and greed rather than submit to Christ’s victory of love and peacemaking.

You see, I don’t think that it is God who has things turned upside down; instead, I believe that the Lord is going about the work of restoring the tipped over elements of the earth to their proper equilibrium and orientation. This can be challenging for us to follow along with and to join into, for the training that most of us have received since birth and the meta narrative of the world where we dwell all speak to a different approach to successful living than does Christ. He tells us to love others, to care for the weak, to free the oppressed, to embrace the stranger, to feed the hungry, and to cloth the naked. Christ touches the oozing sores of the sick without fear of contamination, and He speaks the truth of God’s Word when that eternal wisdom is guaranteed to arouse anger in those who will hear it. Then, when anger does come in response, Christ reaches out in love and stands confidently before His opponents so that He may even become the target of their continued fury and wrath. This contrary approach to engagement in our world and with its issues is risky on the one hand, but it also bridges great gaps in understanding and brings about peace where turmoil was present before.

If following Christ means that many in this world will call me a fool, then let me be the court jester for my Lord. Should living out Christ’s will and proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus through actions and in words be viewed as being weak-minded and powerless by some of the people that I encounter in life, then I pray that all of my human strength and self-instigated might would be drained out of every fiber of my being. Let Christ rise to the forefront of my life as its source of power and as the substance of its expression, and I pray that all of the wisdom that I call upon to enter into the various discussions and dialogues of this day would be founded upon the eternal truths of God’s Word and be given expression with the continuous guidance of the Spirit. If all of this means that I am involved in doing things that disrupt the natural course of the world around me, then so it must be. Yet, it is true that when Jesus caused disruption and brought about turmoil, He also provided a way to healing and restoration. So, as things around me are upset or disrupted by the presence of God’s truth, I also desire to see the order of creation restored in those settings so that Christ and His love would remain and rule the day in those places and with those people.    

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

1 Timothy 4: 4, 5

Although Paul had just indicated that he was discussing the subject of marriage and of setting aside the consumption of certain foods, this statement about the goodness of all of creation is, I think, to be much broader in its application. This statement takes us back to the beginning of earth’s time when it was all formed out of nothing by God’s hand, and when at the end of the phases of that process it was pronounced to be good and very good by the most exacting of all critics, God Himself. Nothing that He made was of any lesser character or quality, and in the end of that process, it was all here for the care, feeding, and nurture of God’s final and pinnacle work, God’s companions in the garden, humanity. Now, not everything escaped the rampage of sin upon the perfection that came forth from God’s touch, but everything was given the promise of redemption from sin and restoration to that sacred point of origin.

Moving ahead from Paul and Timothy’s times to ours, we still live in an age where our understanding of the holy and the sacred becomes confused and distorted. We see some times in our lives as our periods of devotion to God. We may take an hour or two out of a Saturday or a Sunday to commit to worship and to gathering with other people of faith in the name of the Lord. We might also give some part of other days or even of every day to a spiritual practice or devote it to the reading of Scripture and consider that to be serious devotion of our lives to the Lord. But Paul is telling us to live life with a different set of priorities and a reframed perspective on all of the content of our days. When he says that all of God’s creation is good, Paul is indicating that there is little that we will encounter in the universe that falls outside of the realm of the sacred. As Paul talks in terms of the elements and the aspects of life being made holy through prayer and by the word of God, he is providing us with a form of liturgy to be lived out in the course of life.

With this attitude and approach to each and every aspect of life on view, the ratio of the hours of our days that are sacred verses those that are secular is inverted. The perspective that is being stated here makes even the most ordinary of tasks into something that can be devoted to worship of God. It says that we can and even should be giving thanks to God for the pleasure that we find in the company of friends, for the stimulation of a good book, for the simple joy of biting into a crisp apple, and for every other element of this world that we encounter or engage with. It is all good as it is taken before the Lord and dedicated to Him. All of life is thus lived out as an act of worship, and every day is one that is spent in the presence of the same God and Father that walked with the first people in the garden. Now the mundane is sacred, the routine is divinely inspired, and all interactions with our world and especially with God’s preferred of creation, with people, take place in the presence of the Most High God.  

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,

   for my hope is from him.

He only is my rock and my salvation,

   my fortress, I shall not be shaken.

Psalm 62: 5, 6

David knew what opposition and trouble looked like. He faced plenty of it during his days. Some of it was the result of his own poor decisions and some was caused by his overtly sinful behaviors. Much of it was born out of the jealous or otherwise evil intent of others. That is the way that life in this world tends to go for many people. We face into things that put us on trial, that cause us trouble, and that challenge our ability to continue on, and we are the cause of some of these situations, and we are the victims of others. Yet, through all of these times of challenge and trial, David’s words of hope and encouragement remain true and valid. Today’s shelter and tomorrow’s hope are found in the Lord and in Him alone.

We may plan and scheme regarding the ways that we will take control of life and get things going in the right direction, but I have found that I frequently don’t even begin to understand the compass heading for that positive travel. The view from my swirling eyes is obscured by a cloud of doubt and my mind is addled by the vertigo that stress and pain have caused to settle into its processing center. In these times I have a real need for the perspective of another, and I also benefit from wisdom that possesses perspective that is greater than any that I can summon up in my current state of being. These are times when the Lord, His Word, and the fellowship of His body are of vital importance to me just as they were to David thousands of years ago.

Yet, knowing this ancient and on-going truth is not quite enough, for it is very hard to wait on the Lord’s answers when the pressures of life are building up to the point of crushing body, mind, and spirit. Still, God asks us to wait on Him. These challenging times are ones in which our trust in God’s provision is tested. These are moments in life when we are dwelling in the balance point between taking actions that might be rash, hasty, or foolish and continuing to pray and wait on God’s wisdom and provision. These are usually times when it is wise to pray earnestly and to listen for the Lord’s answer in submission to His grace, love, and mercy with endurance that might need to exceed anything that we have experienced previously. In these days of prayer and silent listening we can also devote ourselves to study and meditation upon God’s Word with its message of hope, provision, and the care of the eternal shepherd, and finally, we should seek out the supportive prayer and the mature wisdom of others who dwell within the fellowship of faith in Christ. Trials and troubles will come, but like David, we can say,

“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,

   for my hope is from him.”

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for all people.

1 Timothy 2: 1

Do you pray? Do you go before God to speak to and with Him and to listen and hear what the Lord has to say? Sometimes this is ordered in one direction as in, I speak forth what is on my mind and pressing upon my heart and then wait for God to respond. At other times I simply wait in silence and attempt to clear my mind of everything in anticipation of the far greater thoughts that God might have for me. There are also times when words pour forth from my mouth as if they are being forced like a geyser’s spout out of my overly full spirit, heart, and mind. The point is that prayer takes on many forms, has various shapes, and can occur on any day, at every hour, and in any circumstances that I might find myself. Some prayer has a formal and even a ritualistic quality to it, but most of it is among the most casual and in-the-moment speech that comes out of my mouth. Prayer can be constant, unceasing, and as present in the life of a follower of Christ as is the air that we breath.

With all of that said, God desires to hear from us. He actually cares about what is on our hearts and the issues that are filling our minds. The Lord also wants us to trust Him with the feelings that are rife within us and with the thoughts that are circling about inside of us. God’s intense interest in what is going on inside of His people is interesting to me in that I understand that He already knows all about everything and everyone. Yet, the Lord cares about relationship with us so greatly that He delights in these times when we enter into the intimacy of prayer with Him. Prayer is a way that we can grow closer to God, wherein we can hear that deep and personal voice of our Creator as He speaks the truth of life into us. There is no more personal a thing that any of us can do with God than to pray, and there is perhaps nothing that we can do as a gathered body of faith that is more impactful upon our unity than praying together.

As Paul instructs us, offering up prayer for all people and in every situation leads us deeper and more fully into God’s heart and mind. There are many people in my world that are easy to pray for. I care about them and they care about me, and I have much in common with them and share important aspects of life and of living with them. There are other people who are close to or important to people that I know and care about; so, it is also easy to seek out the Lord’s involvement in their situations. Then, there are those people who have positions and authority such that the things that they do and the manner in which it is accomplished has an impact upon my life; thus, I tend to pray for their wisdom and protection in carrying out their responsibilities. But after that, there are people who I do not like, that I might fear, or that possibly are antagonistic in some way to and with me. These people are not so easy to pray for, but they are certainly included in the “all people” that Paul is urging us to pray for. As we pray we are taken into God’s heart and mind in ways that are wonderful, powerful, and profound. In prayer we often see solutions to relational challenges that had eluded us in other aspects of engaging with people. Through prayer, we are provided with the grace and the forgiveness that are necessary if we are to truly love others regardless of what they may be doing or saying, and it is this form of Godly love that seeks for the salvation of people that we despise and that desires for them to become a part of the same body in Christ that we dwell within.   

Give thanks to the God of gods,

   for his steadfast love endures forever.

Give thanks to the Lord of lords,

   for his steadfast love endures forever.

Psalm 136: 2, 3

We live in a world where there are many gods. They are all around us, and their presence is almost impossible to ignore. People spend all forms of their capital on them. We worship at the alters that have been erected by the priests that serve them, too. Although we may not identify these entities as deity, the way that we devote ourselves to them and the sacrifices that we are willing to make to them suggest otherwise. Each person may have his or her own forms and versions of them, but almost everyone goes to these pagan temples and expresses loyalty and fealty to the lords of those places.

This is the point in the narrative where I might begin to list out the various ways that this modern version of idol worship takes form and shape. I am not going to do that. Instead, I am asking that each of us consider for a moment and ask the Lord to reveal to us what it is that I worship and where do I go to seek the face of the god that is worshiped during my days. This process itself may be very powerfully revealing to some of us. It might even grant new perspective to the way that resources, time, and passion are allocated and spent during the course of the day.

At the end of this process; although, I suspect that the need for seeking the Lord’s guidance on what it is that I worship will never find its end, I hope to be placed in a position where my worship, adoration, and priority would be given to the one true and everlasting God as Lord over my life. Hence, the reminder from the Psalmist that there is only one God that reigns supreme over all others and over everything that might seek to rise to that level of significance in my world. There is a singular Lord to whom I owe my allegiance and from whom I should take direction in everything and for all aspects of the way that I live out my days. Again, one God, one Lord, and anything or anyone else that seeks to take precedence or to give direction to my heart and mind is an idol to be discarded and abandoned on the waste heap of lost and dead things of this world.    

And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.

Luke 2: 47

Jesus was mature for His age. He was in the temple talking with the teachers, asking questions, and entering into the ongoing discussion of God’s Word and the Law with the wise men of Israel. Yet, He was only twelve. His knowledge and understanding came from a place far beyond the usual teaching that a boy in those days received from the rabbi who served the local community. Deep within Jesus held the wisdom of all time, and He also heard God speaking to Him with guidance and with counsel that was pertinent to all matters and situations that the young Jesus encountered. It is admittedly hard to grasp what it must have been like to live with Jesus as He was growing up, but this glimpse into His early adolescence suggests just how special He must have been. 

This extraordinary understanding of things that were pertaining to God and to the application of His Word in life is something that people do not always seem to appreciate. In this we are not all that different from Jesus’ parents. If I think about this scene, I am taken aback at the surprise that Mary and Joseph exhibit here, for they were there from the beginning of the story when the angel came to each of them to explain how a young virgin woman would conceive a child and the role that her fiancé was to play in this grand miracle that God was starting to carry out in the history of creation. Now, all of that seems to have become a dim and a distant memory, and the realities of raising a boy into manhood had taken over their thinking. Whatever the thoughts and the feelings that Mary and Joseph may have had, they were as equally amazed at Jesus’ capacity to think and to discuss matters related to God as they were also worried about the safety of their son. They did not seem to fully appreciate who and what Jesus was about in this world.

Most of us have heard the story of Jesus’ miraculous beginning on earth, and we have been exposed to the way that He conducted Himself during those thirty plus years of life that God allotted to Jesus as He lived among us. Yet, we too often fail to grasp how significant His wisdom and understanding truly are to us. The twelve year old who was leaving the wise men of His day in a state of awe and wonder did mature into the man whose life gave us the perfect picture of righteous and just living, whose death brought about the possibility of acceptance for each of us in the presence of a holy God, and whose resurrection overcame the oppression of sin in this world. We too can sit at the feet of Jesus and hear the same sort of counsel that is wise in all matters and that is more than sufficient for any situation or circumstance that we might be encountering. Jesus speaks to us out of God’s Word, He counsels us and leads us into the deep places of understanding as the Spirit speaks to our hearts and minds, and Jesus is also present in the conversation and the prayer of His body, the fellowship of believers. So, let us cease to be amazed at the understanding that comes from the mouth of Jesus, and instead, draw near to Him and seek out that same wisdom as it applies to all that we think, say, and do in life.  

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