Don’t Dare Settle For a Functional Church!
Devotional Thought of the Day
The LORD said, “I was ready to answer my people’s prayers, but they did not pray. I was ready for them to find me, but they did not even try. The nation did not pray to me, even though I was always ready to answer, ‘Here I am; I will help you.’ 2† I have always been ready to welcome my people, who stubbornly do what is wrong and go their own way. Is. 65:1-2 GNT
2 We honor God for what he conceals; we honor kings for what they explain. Proverbs 25:2 GNT
A church that merely “functions”, that is merely “functional”, no longer provides what was special to it: a space in which to be, a space in which to leave the world of goals and to enter into the freedom of God. To erect such spaces is, especially today, a rewarding task that becomes all the more pressing the more we are isolated in the towering domiciles of our cities.
If one were to gather all the churches together, including their clergy, they would have to confess that they never prayed from the heart even for a drop of wine. Not one of them took it upon himself to pray out of obedience to God or faith in the promise. Nor do they reflect on their troubles, but do not think any farther (to put the best construction on it) than to do a good work in order to pay God; they do not want to take anything from, but instead give to God.
If a prayer is to be prayer, it has to be done with earnestness, so that one feels one’s need—and such a need that it squeezes and drives us to call out and scream. In this way the prayer happens by itself, the way it should, and requires no teaching as to how one should prepare oneself for it and prepare oneself for devotion. In the Lord’s Prayer you will find sufficient need generously expressed that should be our concern as well as the concern of others.
Do not hurry. Do not dabble in spiritual things. Give time for each stage to play itself out fully in your heart. Remember, this is not something you are doing by yourself. Watch and pray.
The quote from Proverbs this morning interested me. How do we honor God for what He conceals? For that matter, why would we honor Him for hiding things from us?
It was the last of my scripture readings, and it took some thought, and indeed the other passages and some thoughts began to form.
Look closely at God’s words to Israel. See His desire to step in and help, and yet they didn’t ask. See how He’s always ready to make himself known to those who ask, who plead with them. It is what Luther noted in the Large Catechism quote in green as well, that people in prayer, pray with the earnest of a desperate cry for help – a cry that comes from the gut, and with all our heart and soul. It cries out in need, knowing that God will respond, that He will be faithful.
It doesn’t have the sense of trying to figure out how to work the machine, how to impress or pay off God for His blessing. That kind of sincerity Willard mentions as well, when he talks of taking the time for spiritual things to play out in our heart. For someone does not do this “by themself” it is something worked out in a deep relationship with our Creator, with our Lord who loves us.
That’s where Pope Benedict (then Cardinal Ratzinger) comes in to play. Prayer isn’t just functional. It has no mechanical attributes, it is not an automaton, it is relational, it is dynamic and changing as our life changes, as we encounter brokenness, sin, and the traumas that call us to cry out.
It’s not functional because we need more than a functional God. We need one that moves with us, in every way and movement. We don’t need a God who punches a time clock, or gives us blueprints for our lives. (Gosh, if we knew what He had planned, would we? could we deal with it?) We have to have a God who is bigger, who is stronger, who adapts and heals our brokenness. And a church that moves with Him in that process. Not changing for the sake of change, but changing as He meets our needs, and the needs of our community.
CS Lewis one said that Aslan ( a picture of Jesus) was not tame. Indicating God is not tamable, not able to be put in a box. Neither can a church that is in a relationship with him be simply functional. So don’t settle for one that goes through the motions like Israel, but doesn’t call out to Him. Go for the one that relates, and even at time is dysfunctional. And doesn’t hesitate to cry out to God when it does.
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 258). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Luther, M. (2007). Luther’s Spirituality. (P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey, Eds., P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey, Trans.) (p. 201). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
Willard, D., & Johnson, J. (2015). Hearing god through the year: a 365-day devotional. Westmont, IL: IVP Books.