Come To The Table

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Yesterday we were encouraged to spend some time reflecting on this painting of the Trinity.   It is by the Russian artist Andrei Rublev and is dated to the 15th century.  It is based on the story of Genesis 18 when Abraham is visited by 3 angelic strangers.  This was interpreted by Rublev to be a visitation of the Trinity.  It envisions the community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit to be one of peace, unity, mutual love and humility.  Yesterday, as we reflected on the nature of God’s relationship within the Trinity, we were nudged to remember that in Christ, we are invited into that relationship with God.

This is a little poem I wrote during that reflection. Think of it as God’s invitation to a life with Him around the table of relationship.

Beautiful, Good
Together as one
Joy, love, power
Dances between You

Considering, deciding
Your gaze outward
Creating, redeeming
Sacrifice without reserve

Calling, inviting
A familiar name whispered
Forgiven, loved
Welcomed to the Table

Broken, healed
Together as one
Joy, Love, Power
Dances between us.

Calmly Trust in 2 Truths About Prayer

Have you ever been anxious about prayer? Do I pray the right things, with the right words, and have I prayed it enough for God to know I’m serious?  And will that affect how God responds?

I was reading Luke chapter 11, a few months ago and came upon a passage that has always increased my own anxiety about prayer, my prayers.  The story goes like this:  Luke 11:5–8 ”And he said to them,“Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’;and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’?I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence [persistence] he will rise and give him whatever he needs.”

This passage seems to be an example for us in how to pray.  The reasoning goes, just like this neighbor was persistent, we have to be persistent with God!  And when we are, he will get up and give us what we need, or want.  This understanding is the common understanding and it can drive us to pray and pray and pray, hoping that we can wake God, and even if it’s in frustration, He will answer.

But as I read this story in it’s context, I think it actually has the opposite meaning.  It is not an example, it is actually a contrast.  It is a story that exemplifies the opposite of how God works.

First, let me explain this from the context.  Let’s look at the flow of the passage.

v. 1-4 The disciples asked how to pray, and Jesus shared an abbreviated version of the “Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:5-9).  Jesus wanted them to know how to pray!  He wanted them to know what God cares about.

v.5-8 Jesus told the story of a man who pestered his neighbor into giving him some bread.

v.9-10 Christ encouraged his disciples to pray, seek and knock because God, the Father is a generous giver.

v.11-13 Jesus highlighted the goodness of our Father in wanting to give good gifts.

So, let me ask, If God tells us how to pray, encourages us to ask because He wants to give, and wants to give good gifts, why would we need to persistently pester Him into giving what I need?  I think that’s where the story, as an example, breaks down.  It doesn’t fit the picture of God we see in the rest of the chapter.

If it’s not a positive example of how we should pray, what could it be?  I think it’s a contrast!  This story shows how a human neighbor reacts. This is not how God reacts to our prayers.  We don’t have a God who is an annoyed neighbor, we have a God who is a loving Father and who is eager to give us what is good.  There is a hint in the text that Jesus meant to use this story as a contrast to how God treats our prayer.

In verse 8, Jesus used the word “impudence,” or some versions use “persistence.”  This sounds like a positive word.  This is why most of us think this what God is asking of us. But this word can have a negative connotation.  The word, ἀναίδεια (anaideia) has the idea of “shame” attached to it.  What this means is, the man asking is without shame (shameless) in his persistent asking.  And by his actions he is showing the neighbor withholding good, to be shameful.  The man behind the closed door is shamed because he is withholding what the Law would require, to be hospitable toward the visiting stranger.

Jesus tells us, our Father is not shameful.  He is honorable.  He is righteous.  He is gracious.  If this story is a contrast, we don’t have to anxiously ask God to answer our prayer.  We can come with calm confidence in His desire to good for us.  We can come trusting in Him, instead of trying to convince him to act.  This frees us to pray with a calm, confident faith.

We can depend on a couple of truths when we pray (let’s make it 3).

  1. God doesn’t have to be talked into answering our prayers.  It is His heart’s desire.
  2. We are free to keep asking (seeking and knocking).  According to verses 9-12, we can ask because He wants to give us something good.
  3. When we ask, God promises to give us the best gift ever, Himself!  When we ask, even as we await resolution, God shows up.  (v.13 “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”)

I hope this reminds you, that prayer is God’s invitation to come to Him, as often as there is a longing in our hearts.  We can ask one time, we can ask multiple times.  We can come with one need, or we can come with a long list.  However we come, we have a Father who will lovingly open the door, join us and share His goodness with us.

Thanks, as always for the comments, likes and shares!

 

To Pray, or Not to Pray in Public

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There was another news story this morning about students in Beloit, OH who are fighting for their right to pray publicly before football games.  You can read the article here.

I understand standing for our rights of free speech.  I do believe in that.  But is prayer in public what God prefers?  A while back I reread the Sermon on the Mount and wondered if God appreciates us using our conversations with Him to fight political battles?

This is what Jesus said about prayer.  “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:5–8, ESV)

I sincerely struggle with where the line is and what our motives are.  Are we fighting to pray in public to win a cultural battle, or to have God move in response to our neediness?  Can it be both?  What do you think?

I’d love to read your comments.

The cradle & the stars…

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I loved these words I read from St. Ambrose (378 AD), when writing of the divinity of Christ.

“In one God did the Magi believe, and they brought, in adoration, gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Christ’s cradle, confessing, by the gift of gold, His royalty, and with the incense worshipping Him as God.  for gold is the sign of the kingdom, incense of God, myrrh of burial.

“What, then, was the meaning of the mystic offerings in the lowly cattle-stalls, save that we should discern in Christ the difference between the Godhead and the flesh?  He is seen as man, [Philippians 2:7] He is adored as Lord.  He lies in swaddling-clothes, but shines amid the stars; the cradle shows His birth, the stars His dominion; it is the flesh that is wrapped in clothes, the Godhead that receives the ministry of angels.  Thus the dignity of His natural majesty is not lost, and His true assumption of the flesh is proved.”

He is God who came.

Lord, Creator, God of the universe, you have come!  Do not let the noise in my world, nor in my mind, keep me from hearing the praises of the heavenly hosts.  Do not let the man-made lights dilute the brightness of the star that proclaims your presence.  Do not let my plans for celebration over shadow your plans for the redemption of humanity, nor your plans for my next hour.

Bless You, my God.  Amen and Amen.

What 5 things does God want you to have every day?


WHAT ARE 5 THINGS GOD WANTS FOR YOU EVERY DAY?  Happiness? Health? Success? Prosperity? Achievement? Maybe.  But there are 5 things we can be sure of…

The 5 things God wants for you every day are found in one of the most well-known passages of Scripture.  Almost all Christians memorize it.  Almost all church traditions recite it, at least from time to time.  But most of us don’t reflect on the power of it!

[Jesus said] “Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:9–13, ESV)

A question came to mind as I read this again and reflected on it a few weeks back.  Why would Jesus tell us to ask for these things?  I wouldn’t tell my kids to ask me for something, unless that’ what I wanted them to have!  So, let’s look at these requests of this famous prayer and get a clear picture of the life God wants us to have.

  1. A Life with God at the center.

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

This request reminds us that nothing will work they way it should, until God is at the center.  When we remember that He is on the throne, we will desire that He be honored.  Remember, there is no Kingdom of God, without God being the King.  To want Him at the center is to want all of our lives to revolve around His goodness, His power and His beauty.

  1. A Life lived in God’s will.

Your kingdom come, your will be done.

This request reminds us that neither prayer, nor life is essentially about getting God to act on our concerns.  But prayer is about us wanting what God wants.  And life is experienced when God’s desires are fulfilled.  What does God want?  All that God wants is offered and demonstrated in Jesus Christ.  He wants all to know the light and life of His reconciling love.

  1. A Life of daily abundance.

Give us this day our daily bread.

Does daily bread sound like abundance?  This is not the abundance that seeks to feed our greed.  It isn’t the abundance of stuffed barns, packed basements and fat bank accounts.  It is the abundance of a loving, generous father who lays before us a full plate each evening at dinner.  It is an abundance enjoyed in trustful dependence.

  1. A Life filled with mercy.

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

God paid the price of justice and offered us mercy.  And he wants us to experience it.  We can’t experience it if we don’t offer it.  Mercy is enjoyed as we offer it.  Mercy that never extends to others decays and becomes self-righteous entitlement.  This generous mercy is always aware that no one has offended us as much as we’ve offended God.

  1. A Life of daily salvation.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

To be delivered is to be “saved.”  The cry for daily deliverance comes from an awareness of the power of the enemy and the power of our own flesh to pry our attention and affections from the very One who holds life in His hands.  Our life is delivered from sin every time God gives us the power to walk toward Him in loving obedience.

God at the center;  An obsessive desire for God’s will; daily abundance; receiving and giving mercy; daily salvation… this is the life God wants for you and me.  It is the life He has told us to pray for simply because it is what He wants to give to us.  And asking is essential.  None of these can be obtained by our talent, our strength, our cleverness, or our man-made desires.  These are gifts of grace.  And gifts cannot be obtained, or earned. They must be given.

The Ultimate Yes

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You’ve heard it said that there are three answers to prayer.  God sometimes says “Yes.”  Sometimes he says, “No.”  And sometimes he says, “Wait.”  This passage tells us there is always one answer to prayer.  “Yes.”  But it may not be the “Yes” you expect.  It’s better!

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”   Luke 11:9-13

These few verses follow Luke’s version of the Lord’s prayer.  In it Christ instructs us to pray for God’s honor, pray for God’s kingdom, pray for God’s provision, pray for God’s forgiveness and pray for God’s protection.  If we could just remember that each day, our prayer life would be revolutionized.  Jesus then goes on to let us know that God is a good God who wants us to ask, seek and knock.  God wants us to approach him.  And then he shares the promise of these verses is Yes!

God is so good, Jesus reminds us, that He always answers our prayers.  But look how he answers.  “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  It almost seems, at quick reading that God gives a replacement gift.  After all, what if I’m asking for a job?  What if I’m asking for a relationship to be healed?  What if I need physical healing?  Why would I ask for God’s Spirit?  Why would I want him?  I want, no I need God’s good stuff.

What God is promising is the best answer ever!  It is the ultimate “Yes!”  He is giving His active, present, powerful self!  Wrapped up in the Spirit is every good answer to prayer – most we haven’t even thought of.

The Spirit is the One who is active in the world.  He is the One who moves mountains, heals diseases, establishes Kings, works the work of reconciliation.  He is the One who empowers the Word of God.  He is the One who gives life to the dead.  He is the One who prays, when we are blind to our real need.  He is the One who preserves and protects our souls for eternity.

Without the Spirit, the things we hope for are pale substitutes for life.  With the Spirit, we have the very active, powerful, loving presence of God.  Without the Spirit, a relationship may plug a hole, but with the Spirit it gives new life.  Without the Spirit a job provides a paycheck.  With the Spirit, a job is a calling to bring eternity to someone else’s world and meet your needs.  Without the Spirit, physical life with its pains, is temporary.  With the Spirit, our physical lives are a journey toward Christ-likeness.

You see, Jesus is not pulling the old bait and switch.  He is promising, “you pray, you get my Spirit.”  And when we have God’s Spirit in us, we have the same Spirit who moved in creation, reached out in redemption and secures us for glory.

In this season of gift giving and receiving, I encourage you to pare down your list.  Ask for the One who will change everything!  And when you do, the answer will always be “Yes.”

“Father, thank you for being a good and gracious Father.  I confess that in my praying, I’m short sighted and earthbound.  I pray today for your most gracious gift, the Holy Spirit.  Spirit, I ask that you fill me.  Work in and around me.  Transform my life into a life-giving vessel.  Meet my need, so others may see your love at work.  Father, thank you that the Spirit lives in me by faith in Jesus Christ my Lord.  Be glorified as I listen, follow and learn from your Spirit.  Amen.”

Thank you friends for reading, commenting and sharing.  Blessings to you this Christmas and may the Spirit of God be with you, as you seek Him.