This morning I got up early to join the weekly prayer meeting for our Church, we meet down stairs in the Parish lounge. Our Church has all kinds of struggles and difficulties, but it has some wonderfully welcoming and committed people, and, not unrelated to that, it has a small group who faithfully pray together every week. Usually I canâ€™t make the time because I need to be on the train to college.
tangent Just on a tangent for a moment, if anyone is moving to Sydney and looking for a new Church, give a thought to joining us at St Philipâ€™s. We have more opportunities for the gospel than we can handle with our small team. Donâ€™t settle for dogmatic slumbers in the suburbs – go to a Church on the mission field! Having said, that probably every Church feels the same way, and if you have better reasons to be somewhere else, I guess thatâ€™s ok…
still, we really need you.
I happened to hear a report on Kenya on the BBC world service last thing before I dropped off to sleep last night, and was deeply disturbed by one particular interview. I downloaded it and listened again this morning. It is completely heartwrenching.
I’ve extracted a portion of the audio (about 20secs) here.
You can listen to the whole report here:
A number of people were praying for Kenya this morning, we support some link missionaries over there. As we sat there in prayer, I had the realisation that all around the world at the moment there are Christian men and women petitioning God for the lives and safety of the people of that country. Itâ€™s very bad, very ugly over there, but I wonder what it would be without the prayers of the saints.
The little philosopher part of me gets anxious about stating propositions that have no conditions for falsification, but as a Christian I only know how grateful I am that He has left some salt in this world.
As the sun is full of light, the ocean full of water,
Heaven full of glory, so may my heart be full of your Spirit.
Pointless are all your purposes to love,
and the redemption paid by Jesus,
unless your Spirit works within,
regenerating my heart,
giving me eyes to see Jesus,
showing me the realities of the unseen world.
Give me your Spirit without measure,
as a flowing river in my thirsty wanderings.
I’m sick of my coldness, poverty, emptiness,
imperfect vision, lazy service,
prayerless prayers, praiseless praises.
Overpower my insults and resistance,
Holy Spirit come.
Come as power,
to expel every rebel lust, to reign supreme and keep me yours.
Come as teacher,
leading me into all truth, filling me with all understanding.
Come as love,
that through the Spirit I may adore the Father, and love him as my all.
Come as joy,
to dwell in me, move in me, animate me.
Come as light,
illuminating the Scripture, molding me with living Words.
Come as sanctifier,
body, soul, and spirit altogether yours
Come as helper,with strength to bless and keep, directing my every step.
Come as beautifier,
bringing order out of confusion, loveliness out of chaos.
I want to give off the beautiful aroma of your goodness.
Father, Son, and Spirit,
Show the greatness of your nature,
by being made great through me,
by being greatly in me.
[based on The Valley of Vision: a Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions p. 28. With extensive remodeling, revisions and rephrasing by Dan Anderson]Comment and Share
â€œOur fathers worshiped on this mountain, yet you |Jews| say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.â€
Jesus told her, â€œBelieve Me, woman, an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know. We worship what we do know, because salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.â€
The woman said to Him, â€œI know that Messiah is comingâ€ (who is called Christ). â€œWhen He comes, He will explain everything to us.â€â€ (John 4:20-25 HCSB)
The question about where to worship is crucial to the Old Testament. Yet with these words Jesus renders the question irrelevant.
Itâ€™s no longer to be about place: God the Father desires worshippers who will worship in spirit and truth. The Father desires worship that is appropriate to his nature. What good is worship that by its form betrays ignorance of the one being worshipped?
We might reveal in the praises of people who donâ€™t know us, knowing full well that if the details of our lives and failures were to become public, the praise would be quickly diminished. But the more we come to know God the more capable we are of worshipping him fully. He is good all the way through.
The worshipper in â€˜spirit and truthâ€™ approaches God in a manner that demonstrates the he or she really knows God.
Itâ€™s the kind of worship that is only possible once the Father has been revealed to the worshipper by the Son.
God is Spirit, as such, he is not bound by location. This was recognised by Solomon in his dedication of the Temple.
â€œBut will God indeed live on earth? Even heaven, the highest heaven, cannot contain You, much less this temple I have built.â€ (1 Kgs 8:27 HCSB)
Yet it was in the temple that God chose to meet with his people and accept their worship.
The Jesus we meet through Johnâ€™s Gospel is in a continual tension, almost rivalry with the temple. Early in the narrative we are told that the Christ understood his own body to be the replacement for the temple,
â€œTherefore the Jews said, â€œThis sanctuary took 46 years to build, and will You raise it up in three days?â€
But He was speaking about the sanctuary of His body. So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this. And they believed the Scripture and the statement Jesus had made.â€ (John 2:20-22 HCSB)
The place where God chooses to meet with his people is now in the person of his Son.
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â€œThe Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.â€ (John 1:14 HCSB)
How do we not know what we are made to know?
â€˜If humanity is made for the knowledge of God, why is it that many people do not feel the need of this knowledge, or seek God out?â€™
To say ‘I know’, could equally be a statement about facts or about relationships.
“I know how many elephants live in the zoo” and “I know Bob the Elephant keeper” are two different forms of knowledge.
In the Biblical world view (and increasingly in the post-modern world view) both these forms of knowledge are bound together. There aren’t any such things as ‘Facts’ bare, naked, and objective. There are only interpreted facts, given in relationships, through testimonies, and in the context of experiences.
Our lack of knowledge of the ugliness and evil of sin, and of our dire need for restoration to friendship with God, is an ignorance of certain primary facts about the world and it is ignorance of our primary relationship.
In every sense our knowing is broken.
How did this come about? How did knowledge get broken?
If Christ is the self-evident Word of God, [the way in which God is known] why do so many people reject him? The answer lies in original sin, that original rejection of God’s word by Adam in which the whole human race is involved.
Graeme Goldsworthy, According to Plan, p. 60
It is interesting to note that the first time Knowledge is mentioned in the Bible it is not in the context of the relationship between Humanity and God. It is in the description of the forbidden tree as ‘the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’.
(What a strange plant, was it a weed?)
It certainly wasn’t an Apple Tree – this tree has no species, it is unique – named for its unique fruit. This is the tree – the fruit of which gives knowledge of good and evil.
As Adam stretched out his hand to take and eat he was wreaking a change upon the world that was profoundly to do with knowledge. Human rebellion against the word of God had fundamental consequences for our knowledge because, at this one point above all others, our knowledge-as-facts and our knowledge-in-relationship was intimately bound together.
There is a long history of speculation about what it means to have the ‘knowledge of good and evil’. Some have understood this to mean factual knowledge, i.e., what good and evil are, (what the rules are). Others have taken this knowledge to be experiential, having the first hand experience of good and evil. Still others have taken this to have some sort of sexual referent.
The difficulty for all these understandings is that later in the Genesis narrative we hear God saying,
â€œSince man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:22 HCSB)
The forbidden knowledge at the heart of human rebellion seems to be, knowing good and evil, as God knows them.
What is God’s knowledge of good and evil?
God’s knowledge is autonomous knowledge. It is not knowledge of what is good and what is evil as defined by ‘the moral law’, it is not experience of good and evil (God has no evil in him).
God’s knowledge of good and evil is the knowledge that defines good and evil.
God knows good and evil because he decides what good is, and what evil is.
For Adam and Eve to eat this deathly fruit was an arrogant grasping at the prerogative of God.
Rather than to continuing to know God (and through knowing God to know the world)
Adam and Eve sought to know like God.
Humanity sought to decide for itself what good is, and what evil is.
They did this, first, by deciding that it was good for humanity to eat a fruit of which God had said, ‘don’t eat!’
The knowledge of good and evil is a colossal thing. It is fundamentally a narrative, a system of meanings that locate our identity and purpose. This narrative had begun with the First Word,
“Let there Be…”
…And there was.”
God had given us identity and purpose. He told us the story into which he had placed us.
But in the Fall, Adam substitutes his own story, a new framework of meanings, and thereby deafens himself to the word of God.
The conclusion of this long answer is that our darkened understanding of who we are (that we are fallen) is a consequence of our grasp for moral autonomy. We have so thoroughly substituted our own definitions of good and evil, which is to say, our own fundamental narrative, that we cannot correctly identify our state from God’s perspective.
And all this is a very long winded way of restating Paul’s conclusion in Romans 1.
â€œFor though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened.â€ (Rom 1:21 HCSB)
Which finally, wearied I’m sure, and very much overdue, brings us back to the really important question:
How do I show my friend that our rebellion against God is horrifying, evil, and disgusting â€“ not just intellectually credible? And how do I do it with humility and gentleness?
We live faithfully, in faith, with faithfulness.
We trust and remain loyal to the Creator who is alone able to utter those decisive creative words that can utterly alter our thinking.
This trusting of God is expressed in speech, life, and prayer.
No actions on our part alone can bring a fellow human to knowledge of God,
but they are the vehicles through which the Creator God has chosen to express himself.
So we trust God through speaking the truth, which is ultimately the true story, the gospel announcement of the Death and Resurrection of God’s King through which the God’s Kingdom has come, meaning that the hour of judgement is at hand, though there is salvation for those who seek it.
Already it is an incomprehensible story.
And in the light of this story we will live incomprehensibly. As the Christian begins to comprehend the world and our place within God’s future, our values and priorities are derailed from the tracks in which they used to run. Certain things which appear to others as insane sacrifices are now ‘worth it’ for the Christian. The shape of our thinking is changed, the centre of our hope moves forward.
For the person who is not a Christian, watching as these lives are lived, they do not make sense, the Christian life will be simply incomprehensible.
And we pray. This sounds like such a weak answer after such a long build up. However, I’m more and more convinced, through reflecting on God’s word and seeing my own perversity, that unless God acts to change something in our perception of the world we can never see him. Our minds really are darkened – this is not just a nice turn of phrase.
Unless God gives us the interpretive key, this world-of-a-text remains a mystery, indecipherably encoded.
No one comes to know the truth about God or themselves without God taking a prior action to give this knowledge. The individual is powerless. In fact, all the individuals involved, other than God, are powerless. We are as equally powerless to stir up another person from their blind danger as that person is themselves.
Which is why we are to be humble and gentle in our prayers, and in our speech and action.
In our humble prayers we admit before God that we are unable to save the people that we love but that we trust that he can and that he desires to do so.Comment and Share
Apart from telling us not to babble on in prayer, Matthew 6:7-13 also teaches us that the things for which we pray are reshaped as we come to understand that prayer begins with God.
â€œWhen you pray, donâ€™t babble like the idolaters, since they imagine theyâ€™ll be heard for their many words. Donâ€™t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him.
â€œTherefore, you should pray like this:
Our Father in heaven,
Your name be honored as holy.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.â€
(Matt 6:7-13 HCSB)
Itâ€™s good to get a handle on this when we spend time praying together.
Often we allow our particular needs (and wants) to dominate prayer times. As a friend said recently, â€œSometimes our prayers never get out of the hospital.â€
God knows what we need, and has very clearly demonstrated his great love for us, there is no reason to babble on in prayer. In fact, (being a little provocative) there is no need to be primarily concerned in prayer for our own wants and needs.
There is a great contrast between Christian prayer and pagan prayer. In prayer the pagan is seeking to manipulate god into doing something for him or her. A pagan prayer needs lots of big words, and promises to God, and it must be accompanied by great sacrifices in the form of all-night prayer-vigil endurance. The Christian, on the other hand, is confident in Godâ€™s loving provision and prays that God would do his will, that Godâ€™s kingdom would come.
Now this will mean some very specific prayers about our own particular needs and situations. The first patch of ground on which I can pray to see Godâ€™s kingdom come is my own two feet. The prayer that Godâ€™s kingdom would come is a specific prayer about how I will study for my exams; the relationship I have with my wife; how much time I spend on the computer; whether I buy too many books; what Iâ€™m going to do with my summer holidays. In prayer we are able to bring all our needs and anxieties to the Father who will meet them and calm them in ways which grow his kingdom.
But we know well that itâ€™s also a much wider prayer. The coming of Godâ€™s kingdom is a prayer for the work of Christians in other countries. For the perseverance of Christians under persecution. It is a prayer for Godâ€™s mercy on our hedonistic Western culture.
Itâ€™s a specific prayer about the fighting and dying in Iraq, itâ€™s a specific prayer about who will win the next US presidential election. It is a specific prayer about rain and drought.
As we work together to encourage each other in prayer, donâ€™t let our focus always be on the list of upcoming events on campus or in Church. If you are running a prayer meeting, donâ€™t always spend the majority of time on study, exams, and sickness. Our heavenly Father who has approached us in his Son, knows all our needs. Our welfare is completely covered by the prayer that we would see his kingdom come.
As we are able, letâ€™s pray for the coming of that kingdom everywhere.Comment and Share
When we meet together to pray, itâ€™s easy to feel inadequate or not eloquent enough to lead in prayer.
Often Iâ€™ll sit in silence, or worse, fall into the verbose, formulaic, incantations. But Iâ€™ve found that the knowledge that prayer starts with God also helps me as I seek to understand how we should pray when we meet together.
The way we pray takes its shape from the relationship that we have with God.
Iâ€™ve lost track of the times Iâ€™ve stood to lead a group in prayer and begun my invitation for people to pray with me with the words â€˜prayer is just talking to Godâ€™. Itâ€™s a phrase youâ€™ve probably heard yourself, trotted out particularly during a campus mission week or ‘Open Church’ Sunday.
It can be a helpful way of emphasising for people that we donâ€™t need special words or postures or human mediators in order to come to God in prayer. And itâ€™s true, prayer is â€˜talking to Godâ€™. The danger is when we lose sight of the fact that prayer is talking to God.
There is no relationship that any human can enter into where he or she is at more of a disadvantage in terms of knowledge, power, and goodness. We are completely overmatched, we are not even playing on the same cricket pitch, in the same solar system. There is no way to bridge the gulf between creator and creation unless God himself condescends to our level. We should rightly be terrified to utter a noise in the throne room of God, let alone â€˜just talk to himâ€™.
Yet we have been approached by God as our God. We pray as his utterly dependent creatures, dependent for the words, for the breath, for the consciousness, and for the desire that we express to him in prayer. A new born child is not even close in its utter dependence on its parent, as we are in dependence upon our heavenly Father.
It is this dependence that is a great source of comfort and confidence to me in prayer. And it helps us to understand how we should pray. We donâ€™t need the big words, the impressive, well formulated, three part Symphonies of Prayer. Iâ€™m not even sure we need the expressive grunts, or repeated â€˜Lordsâ€™. Iâ€™m sure youâ€™ve heard Jesusâ€™ words on this subject many times:
â€œâ€œAnd 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.â€ (Matt 6:7-8 ESV)
Before God we are very simple people, and our prayers should be very simple. Any gaps in knowledge or expression will be adequately made up by the Holy Spiritâ€™s groaning (Romans 8:26-27). We should ask God for things because we are in a position where all we have to offer is requests. One of the most beautiful things I have ever come to know is that when I make requests of God, he understands them as praise.Comment and Share