Prayer


For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Titus 2: 11-14

Purification is hard to endure. Most of us do not like it all that much. We may think that we truly want to know God and to be in a relationship with Him through the Son, Jesus Christ, but when the reality of what that means to me is looking me in the face, I am no longer so certain or sure. It is not that I do not love Jesus or believe in the holy God of redemption, it is more that I am not fully committed and so yielded to His will for me and His path for my life in response to that will. So, living as a follower of Christ might seem to be a simple thing until the actual cost of doing this is counted; yet, God does ask me to face reality and to do that very thing. He then asks me to grant the Spirit access to all of the darkened corners of my heart and mind so that every aspect of who and what I have been can be reordered into those of a person who reflects Christ fully in the conduct of my life.

For make no mistake about this fact regarding the world where we live and the age that it is in, we do exist in lawless times. Listen to the dialogue of our day, consider the violence that is present in every corner of the globe, and contemplate how little of the bounty that we possess is being used to care for the millions upon millions of starving and homeless people that are present almost everywhere. This is not a time when the world’s heart is in any way in synch with Christ’s. This world is spinning ever further away from the gospel of grace, love, peace, and redemption that is the center of Jesus’ call and appeal to His followers. As we know Christ, we are to be the people who work to bring about changes in this world. When we listen to the Lord’s voice, He is speaking faith, courage, engagement, and hope to us, and He is saying to us that we are to go out into this world and touch its inhabitants with the healing hand of grace and mercy that is directly attached to Christ’s heart.

The purity that Christ leads us into is not one of separation from the world around us. Rather, it is a form of holiness that seeks to get down into the ragged mess that is life on this planet and that is willing to breathe in the foul air of its most desperate of places in order to hold up the heads of those who are oppressed, defeated, and alone. Christ’s righteousness has no space within it for the categorical rejection of people, and it does not grant to us the right or the authority to make decisions regarding the worthiness or the worth of others. We are to love and to care for all of the people of our world without regard to any consideration beyond that of following Christ and of doing the sorts of things that He did. The good works that we are called to do are real and tangible, they also involve on-going and unceasing prayer, they require sacrifice, and they will bring about personal pain, suffering, and loss. Yet, Christ is committed to providing us with the strength, direction, and courage to go out and to do what He is calling each of us to do. His power and heart for redemption provide the zeal that keeps us going through dark days and hard times as Christ leads His people into the holy work of loving others.     

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And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you today, and you have only to stay silent.”

Exodus 14: 13, 14

The word host has many different definitions in the English language, and it comes from several linguistic sources. Many of them refer to large groups, gatherings, or even to armies. So, the idea of being a host is formed out of opening one’s doors to a large number of people, which should be a joyous and a pleasurable activity. The concept behind an army being called a host is that its personnel are numerous to the point of overwhelming an opponent. This is the sort of host that Moses and the Israelite people were facing. Pharaoh’s chariots with their trained warriors on board were being pulled toward them by their war stallions, and the ground between them was diminishing rapidly. Fear of a horrible, painful death was natural; yet, here was their leader standing in front of them and telling them to, “Fear not!” This makes no human sense, for it defies the evidence before them as it also seems to eliminate any prospect of surrender and survival. 

In my experience, no chariots driven by angry spear tossing and arrow shooting Egyptians have come flashing toward me. Still, the experience that the Israelites were having has been mine. There are enemies, challenges, fears, and hurdles to be faced in life today that seem to be as formidable and as relentlessly unstoppable as did that Egyptian army. Although Moses was faced with a choice between the sharp end of a sword and drowning in the sea that stretched out on the other side of them, he knew that he had followed God’s will in doing what he had done and in going to this place. Still, his real confidence came from something other than his execution of God’s marching orders, and it also was found in a place outside of his own skill, strength, and wisdom. Moses knew His God well, and he was aware His faithful heart that would care for them and provide answers for them in any and in all circumstances and situations.

When we are standing in that between place where the opponent, whether human or otherwise, is on one side and the precipice is before us on the other, this is a perfect time to turn to the Lord in prayer and in submission to His wisdom and will. The answer that comes may not be the same as it was for the Israelites wherein their adversary was destroyed as they were granted a miraculous safe passage through the sea. We may suffer pain, disgrace or shame, and be severely buffeted by the forces of this world; yet, the Lord will preserve the soul, and He does bring us out of the situation with our relationship with Him whole and often with it made stronger by the process. Trials and troubles of various kinds are certain to come our way in this life. The Lord’s words that Moses repeated apply to each of us in that we can truly, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord!”  

In Thee, O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be ashamed; in Thy righteousness deliver me.

Psalm 31: 1

If only I could say with honesty that there is nothing that I have done in my life that I am or that I should be ashamed of; however, truth makes a lie of any such notion. There are too many times when my courage has failed to overcome and when my integrity has collapsed, and there are also a long list of situations where my arrogance and pride have concealed from my view the wisdom that God makes so freely available to all who will listen and obey. Yet, Christ has gone before me to the Father and pleads my case before the throne of God; thus, my sins are washed away, and I am told to hold my head high and to walk through life knowing that I am loved, protected, and cared for by God. 

The Lord has also given me His Spirit to guide me into the truths of His Word and by His direct interaction with me into a way of living that can become more and more infused with God’s righteousness. As I realize that I have nothing to offer other than my willingness to seek, listen, and follow, Christ takes away the prideful aspects of my being, and He replaces them with a humble heart for serving His will. His righteousness overcomes my failings, and His holiness becomes ever more my desire.

The refuge that the Lord provides is a safe place where I can stop and still the pace of my days. It is a shelter from all of the chaos and the turmoil that swirl about in our world. Refuge means prayer, and it means quiet meditation; it can also be found in screaming at the top of my lungs to God in order to get the true feelings of the moment out and fully expressed. The Lord wants us to turn toward Him and away from our own strength; also, He wants us to draw upon His sources of truth, wisdom, and direction when we are trying to comprehend life’s daily challenges. When I turn toward the Lord, He covers me with His righteousness, and Christ gives my heart the sort of peace that allows me to see the Godly path to follow as I travel through my day. 

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

Galatians 6: 1

The thoughts contained here are very broad on the one hand, and they are rather exclusive or limited on the other. When he says, “If anyone” and “any transgression,” Paul is aiming at a wide spread and highly diverse target. Within the family of faith, many people will get caught up in transgressions at some time or other. We all sin and do truly fall short of the glory of our calling in Christ. Much of the time we catch ourselves, or perhaps stated more accurately, the Holy Spirit within prompts us to recognize the wrong that we are perpetrating against Christ and His holy church through our thoughts, words, and actions. Then repentance, often self-confession, and working on restoration of relationships that have been harmed or damaged is the course of action that we follow. Some of the time, this is a big process, but most of the time, it is something that just happens in the general living out of our days.

However, there are other times when the sin in our lives can be either too great or too subtle to be handled on our own. These situations can be very challenging for others in the body of Christ as we are left with a difficult task that involves discernment and that can lead to confrontation, which is almost never something that we enjoy doing. Yet, God does call upon us to be honest and direct with each other, and we are to engage with people in the area of the sin that we observe in their lives. Any and all of this sort of action requires that we be prayerful in discerning the truth of the situation and also in our approach to a brother or a sister who we believe to be engaging in such sinful living. This is all to be done in a spirit of restoration and with Christ’s grace setting the tone and the nature of our approach to the person with whom we are engaging. The message that we deliver should be one of love, care, and concern for the person and for their relationship with Christ and with His body.

All of this is to be done with a spirit of gentleness. This means that we are careful to remain non-judgmental in the process of calling out that which the Spirit has revealed and that God’s Word has described as sin in the person’s conduct of life. We need to be careful in all of this to keep our own egos under control and to eliminate the contemplation of owning the outcome of these conversations. Christ is the one who is acting in these situations, and we are doing what we are called to do by Him as brought forth by the Spirit and in His Word. This is where Paul warns us to be careful, for it is easy to become angry, frustrated, or judgmental during the process of engaging with someone regarding sin in their life. Thus, there is the restrictive concept expressed in the text whereby Paul instructs us to do any of this sort of thing with the guidance of the Spirit. So, when we are told that “those who are spiritual” should be the ones who confront sin in the body, I think that Paul is saying that any of us in Christ can do this, but that each and every instance of such engagement needs to be done with prayer and with the guidance of the Spirit of Christ. 

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.  

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.  

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