Sunday, August 22, 2010

The hardest prayer to pray

Tonight I was over at a friends house for dinner. As we were getting ready we were chatting about church, and I mentioned that I had just started a short series preaching through the Lord's Prayer. I had started last week, so today covered "Your kingdom come, your will be done."

My friends wife immediately responded with conviction, "ooh, that's the hardest part." I was confused at first, and asked why she thought so. But the reason I was confused was because I was coming at the issue from the perspective of the preacher, and as a preacher, I wasn't to worried about this part. It's the whole "if you don't forgive others, God won't forgive you" part that has me worried. That's gonna be a doozy to preach on.

But my friend was commenting on the prayer from the perspective of one who prays. And she's right, it can be very humbling and difficult to pray "your will be done."

Our miscommunication simply highlights the particular difficulty of this passage. And that is, its not hard to understand, its just really hard to obey.

We know what the words mean, but to pray them in sincerity is difficult. It requires submitting our wills to God's, trusting that his way is always perfect, and he never gives his children anything less than the very best for them. Easy to believe in theory. Not always easy to practice.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Imagine That

One of just a few books I would recommend to anyone, anytime is "Lost in the Middle" by Paul Tripp. He apparently intended to write a book about middle age, but actually wrote a penetrating analysis of life's disappointments and biblical hope, and one which deserves to be read and re-read by everyone over the age of, say, 25.

In a chapter entitled "Towers to the Sky," Tripp discusses the death of our dreams. And along the way, he discusses the fact that our imaginations are fallen. Yes, it turns out that Genesis 3 affected even our imaginations. We do not dream the way we should, hope the way we should, or respond to life's changes as we should. There is too much of ourselves in our plans, aspirations, and expectations - and far too little of God.

I was looking at Isaiah 40 with this in mind, since this majestic passage of Scripture closes with these hopeful words:

Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:30-31

This passage seemed to relate because it involves dealing with adversity - approaching the future with hope in God. Yet what struck me in Isaiah 40 was not these famous verses at the end. Instead, I was struck (in fact, struck down) by all the verses leading up to these...verses 1-29. This chapter proclaims God's eternal nature in contrast with man's; God's greatness in contrast to the microscopic significance of entire nations; and the weighty, holy reality of God in contrast to the emptiness and vanity of anything else we call "great." "The nations are a drop in the bucket... The nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted as less than nothing and emptiness. To whom then will you liken God, or with what likeness will you liken him?" (vv.15-18)

An outline of Isaiah 40 might look something like this:
I. It's about God
A. It's all about God
B. It's all about God
II. It's about God
A. It's really all about God
B. It's really all about God
III. It's about God
A. It's all about God
B. It's all about God
a. Rely on Him and you'll be fine

Back to the imagination thing. One point Paul Tripp made in that chapter is that we should dream big dreams about God, and about our walk with God. We should not imagine the future with ourselves in the center, but with God in the center. So many of our personal hopes and aspirations need to be held to loosely. Over the history of the world billions of hopes and dreams have come crashing down... but God is still there.

The way we imagine our own futures will shift and change, sometimes causing a good deal of pain. But God will still be there. It's really all about Him.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Church, the church, and the Kingdom

Recently I was sitting through an exam, being administered by a committee of my denomination, to make sure I'm kosher. I wanted to share one part that especially stood out to me.

At one point I was asked to define the church. Interesting question, isn't it? Have you ever thought about that one? Well, thankfully, I had thought about it in preparation for the exam, and so I was ready with the following answer: The Church, before the law, under the law, and now under the gospel, is one and the same, and is the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consists of all those who believe in him, together with their children.

Pretty good answer, huh? I sure thought so. But one person took issue with it. They were uncomfortable with the fact that I had identified the church and the kingdom of God as being the same thing. They thought of the kingdom of God as being bigger than the church. And in a sense they were right. The kingdom of God is bigger than the church, but it isn't bigger than The Church.

the church is, of course, standing for our own local churches. Whereas The Church is standing for the whole thing, the worldwide communion, crossing denominational lines, national borders, and any other arbitrary line you would like to draw.

Said committee member objected that, for example, when other committee member John Doe, who is a lawyer, goes to work pursuing justice for the oppressed, that's not church work, but it is Kingdom work.

Well sure, it's not the work of First Pres, or Second Pres, or Third, Fourth or Fifth Pres. But it is the work of The Church (aka the kingdom) worldwide. The work of The Church is not simply handing out bulletins and teaching Sunday school. The work of The Church is pursuing justice, loving mercy, caring for the widow and orphan, preaching the gospel to every nation, discipling, praying, loving your neighbor, giving out cups of cold water, relieving suffering, and standing up for what is right. Or, if I might put it this way, working for the kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.

The work of The Church includes each member working at their vocation, using their gifts, and faithfully serving their creator whether they are actually in the church building or not. In this way we might say that 90% of The Church's work occurs outside the church!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Finally Getting Something Useful Done

Think about the Apostle Paul. Here's a guy God used to plant churches, preach the gospel, produce inspired writings for the church, endure hostility, cast vision and receive visions. And he was basically a workhorse for the gospel.

So he's in prison, and there's not much he could do besides pray. But he didn't disdain prayer - in fact, he seemed to treasure it. Also, he didn't assume that the prayer bases were covered and therefore he could set the rest of the church to work on the "important" stuff - no, he urged prayer continually.

Colossians 4, written by an imprisoned Paul, has a few choice statements on prayer:

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Colossians 4:2-4

Keeping "watchful" in prayer is a key phrase. Jesus used it, too. I don't know how to define it, but I think I've experienced it... it is through prayer that God begins to move our hearts, direct us, even warn us. Paul could be highly strategic for the gospel without ever leaving his cell.

So can we.

So should we.

Another quick take from Colossians 4:

Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. Colossians 4:12

We should not only be watchful in prayer, but also struggle in prayer.

And if you look at both these short passages, look at what flows from prayer: witness to others, maturity, assurance of the faith.

In short, let's pray. It's not just for those who don't have anything better to do.

Monday, August 2, 2010

All Things Good

The Bible continually calls us to praise God, who created everything. It even gives us ideas for how to do this. We should look at the oceans and the mountains and contemplate the power and strength of the God who made them. We should look at ourselves and ponder the knowledge and wisdom of the God who designed us. In the evening, on a clear night, look at the moon and stars and consider the God who is above and beyond all these.

Although the Scriptures frequently point us to the mountains, oceans, and stars, there are outskirts of God's creation that are also amazing. Deserts for example. Man, I love the desert. In the Bible, the desert (or "wilderness") is usually a metaphor. But even in that seemingly God-forsaken place, where things crawl, die, or beg for water, there is beauty. I know I'm in a minority, but I love the desert smells of heat and sand. I love the coyote-and-runrunner mountains and rocks that surround the desert. The Cactus is easily my favorite plant.

To appreciate the beauty of the desert, you need a few basic things. First, you need a good water supply. No one appreciates the desert when they're crawling through it; instead, they have mirages and wish for a better place. But if you have a good jug of water, or perhaps live in the desert where a water supply has been conveniently installed for folks like you--you can sit back and enjoy.

Oh, another thing you need is some shade, obviously. Standing out in the desert sun is wonderful, but everyone has their limit. A baseball cap might be all you need, or perhaps an air-conditioned house.

All this can be a wonderful metaphor for the way God cares for us in the wilderness, but what I really want to say is simply this. All of God's creation is spectacular, even those parts that get a little less play in the Bible. Because our God is a creative genius, an exquisite sculptor, and an unparalleled artist.

Our God is worthy of praise.