One of the books that I am currently reading through is my friend John Dickerson's, I Am Strong. I love what he says about prayer:
The disciples knew where Jesus got His power. It was through prayer. That's why they made this request of Him: "Lord teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1). They weren't being religious when they asked for the prayer lesson; they were being hungry.
They wanted the same power Jesus had.
If you think of the lengthy prayers that preachers, politicians, and leaders bellow out with their eyes half closed, it's comical to note the brevity of Jesus' model prayer. No fluff or pomp. No chest beating.
The entire pinky of a prayer folds into two easy halves:
1. Jesus aligns Himself with the father.
2. And then Jesus asks.
That's it, He aligns. And He asks.
Quite specifically, quite gutturally, with vulnerable unveiling, He asks.
(Dickerson, I am Strong, 60)
I have always loved John's writing style, but this really caught my attention. It is a helpful approach to prayer: Align ourselves with God's will, Ask.
I think this fits neatly into the language of Union and Communion with Christ. Our Union with Christ is the objective, once for all, inclusion into the death and resurrection of Christ and participation in the benefits He acquired through them. Through our Union with Christ, we are dead and buried because Christ is dead and buried (Rom 6:1-4). We are justified because Christ is justified (Rom 5:25). Because Christ is holy we are holy (1 Cor 1:30). To be in Christ is to give him all of our sin, all of our shame, all of our guilt and to receive all of his righteousness, all of his honor, and all of his right standing before the Father. In Christ we are no longer at war with God, but at peace with Him. In Christ we are no longer condemned, but we are justified. In Christ, we are no longer slaves of sin, but we are redeemed. In Christ, we are no longer estranged, but we are reconciled. Because Christ is a son of God, we who are untied to him are adopted into the family of God, so that His Father becomes ours.
It is this union with Christ that we align ourselves so deeply with when we pray. We, "step into" our union with Christ to experience all that he has for us from the Father. We are not coming to the throne of the Father as childless orphans or servants plucked from some dungy corner of the house, we are a royal people availing ourselves of our royal privilege. We are the sons and daughters of the King. But we are also not pedestrians or citizens of another fiefdom. We have responsibilities and we exist for the interests of the King. We pray ultimately in the name of Christ and for the will of the Father. Being the sons of the King, we carry his standard rather than our own. We have both rights and responsibilities as the children of God. To align ourselves in prayer is to put on this royal identity, it is to "put on Christ." (Col 3:10)
But prayer is more than just "aligning." It is also asking. To ask means to give voice to that murmur that restlessly travels to and fro on the watery surface of our hearts. It is to allow that voice that rustles the leaves of our hearts out. It is to bring to God every worry, every concern, every anxiety the we have, and to trust that He will hear, and He will answer in His own way and in His own time. And that answer will be a good answer, because He is good.
This is the most sonly or daughterly thing you might do today: to reach out to God in prayer and to be honest with Him. This might be the most heavenly thing you do today: pray to your heavenly Father. I love what Helmut Thielicke says about this:
"A child who prays to the loving God for a hobbyhorse or for good picnic weather makes fools out of these wise men. With his little hands he points to the greatest good, the heart of the heavenly Father. " - (Helmut Thielicke, I Believe, 41)
This is what it means to align and to ask. To have union, and to commune. To be adopted by God, and to petition to God. This is the Christian approach to prayer.
- Pastor Matt LaMaster -
In the epic film Inception, a complex relationship between Ariadne (Ellen Page) and Cob (Leonardo DiCaprio) unfolds. Throughout, Ariadne tries to unlock Cob’s past, but throughout the film Cob draws a line and bids Ariadne, “Come no further.” What is this palpable boundary? In a word, shame. In seminary, I took a class on missions which called me to really investigate the sense of shame in child prostitutes. What is shame? These are some of my thoughts.
As those happily agnostic to shame’s more subversive influence, we, Westerners, struggle to define it, and to often ignore its presence.
But we should be careful about ignoring shame, for it is a universal fact. Though some of you will deny it, there is a deep and profound shame in each of us, the sense that all is not right. That downward look of children at having done wrong, that overwhelming need you have to defend yourself, that pain when someone stabs you in the back, these are all instances of shame. Ignoring shame is like ignoring cancer, you can deny its reality, but it will eat you away.
Shame is a flexible. Your shame touches your marriage, your children, your job, your parents, your church. Shame is subtle. You do not ever need to actively think, "I feel so ashamed" to feel shame. Shame is deceptive. We can notice our shame, but think, "It's no big deal." Yet if we would leave it alone, it would dismantle our souls.
Escaping shame is a long journey. Do not expect to be rid of it soon. It is a long, cold, winding and precipitous trail. Escaping seems to be impossible, as it will suck the life into its frigid vacuum.
The story of our first parents is instructive. Upon unbelieving God’s word and eating the forbidden fruit, our progenitors were illuminated to their nakedness (Gen 3:7). Thus, we see shame is at least semi-conscious: eyes are opened; attention is garnished. The first humans are instantly aware that evil is present and that they have entered in. This moment of realization begets shame. Notice, someone does not have to think, "I am ashamed" to feel shame, but merely to feel, "I am not right." Insecurity, hurt, pain, guilt, all shame.
Scripture tells of more: Judah himself enters in when his daughter-in-law Tamar reveals his unrighteousness with an incestuous verdict (Gen 38). While Judah enters in, shame overtakes the daughter of David, Tamar. Tamar sees the shame approaching like a storm on the horizon, and weeps when it has done its damage (2 Sam 13:1-19). Shame comes from both wrong we've done, and wrongs done to us.
Shame realizes all is not right, neither out there nor in here.
Shame is a spiritual “eye-sore.” It is nakedness. Nothing is dignified about it. It is embarrassment and humiliation. Shame needs to covered; it needs to be hidden. Adam and Eve sought to forget it through the use of fig leaves (Gen 3:7). We have become manufacturers of such things. The episode of Tamar embarrasses David’s whole family, but each finds a different “fig leaf.” Amnon banishes his sister, hiding her from her presence behind locked doors (2 Sam 13:18). Tamar hides herself in her brother’s house (13:20). David rages, but through inaction internalizes his anger (13:21). Absalom surges with revenge (13:29). Variegated taxonomies they may be, but they are fig leaves nonetheless. Shame is the desire to disappear.
We have our own fig leaves. We vigorously deny wrong doing. We avoid people attached to painful memories. We focus our mind on the nostalgic. We select that which is worth remembering, and discard the rest. We get angry when it is implied we have done wrong. How dare someone brings to mind our shame?
However, there is a hope.
God hates shame more than we, and goes to great extent to give us a permanent cover. Just as God provided a covering for Adam and Eve (Gen 3:21), he does so for the shame of the world. Christ so despises shame, that he embodied it and put it to death (Heb 12:2). Christ is the Father’s covering for us, laid on by the Holy Spirit. Fixing ourselves on him, we are covered. Rather than the dysfunction of the cosmos, we share in the honor of the Son of God. This is the hope that we need, the way out of shame, the escape from pain.
“Truly God is our glory and the lifter of our heads (Psalm 3:3).”*
*Diane Langberg, Suffering and the Heart of God, 137.
What is it that you are suffering? This world is full of toil and trouble. We live in a world where evil presses us on every side and in a body where sin fights all restraint. We live in a world where terrorists bomb innocents, where earthquakes shake cities, where fire and drought and hurricanes and tornadoes all have their way unchecked. We live in a place and a space where evil is institutionalized, where sin is tolerated, and where hatred is cultivated. We live in a families whose systems are dysfunction, whose relationships are estranged, and whose stability is groundless.
Hatred, rife, gossip, sin, quarreling, licentiousness, untruth, bitterness, murder, coveting, idolatry, greed, gluttony, lust, adultery, abortion, and death.
This is the world East of Eden, the world of the Fall. How are we Christians to light up the world, when it seems that our flickering flames are about to be snuffed out? James tells us in his letter: Be Patient (5:7).
Be patient in the pain.
Be patient in the hurt.
Be patient in the evil.
Wait. Wait for the coming of the Lord. Wait for Christ to come and claim his people as His own. Wait for the one who purchased you by his blood and rose you with him Christ. Wait for the one who will wipe every tear from your eye. Wait for the one who will put all this death to death. Wait like the prophets of old, who endured the sufferings of this world. Wait like Job who sat scraping himself with pottery until his boils popped and oozed with puss. Wait because like them, we know the Lord will end this.
What kind of God would allow his children to suffer such ill?
He is a "very compassionate" God. In James 5:11 Scripture tells us that God is "very compassionate." But the English does not do this justice. This is actually a compound word in the Greek: πολυσπλαγχνος (polusplagknos) taken from the words πολυς (polus) meaning "much" and σπλαγχνος (splagknos). Σπλαγχνος (splagknos) is an interesting word. It's base meaning is what we might call "guts." It is the entrails, the intestines, the digestive system. It is our gut. In the Greek it also came to be used when the normal word for "heart" might not do justice. It came to mean the visceralness of love. It is the kind of love someone feels when they love so bad it hurts. It is empathy, compassion, sympathy, tenderness. It is a love which is taken from the abstract and embodied before you; it is a love you can touch. What that is, God is plentiful in it. We are told that God is "very splagknos". He is very visceral in his love, his compassion, his sympathy and tenderness for you. He loves us so bad it hurts.
We can be patient in the pain, patient in the toil, patient in the trouble because God is "very compassionate." He has not abandoned his people, but he feels for them with an extra share of affection. He is visceral in his love for us, even while we go into the valley of the shadow of death. He feels what we feel, and at the perfect time, he will return to release us from the pangs of death. So be patient.
Southern Heights Christian Church
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