So then, my brothers and sisters, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer. 2Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect. Romans 12:1-3 GNT
Did you know that it is possible for a Christian believer to live day after day, clutching the book of Ephesians, and still not realize that he is spiritually lean and hungry? If a pastor or evangelist suggests that this person could be in a more prosperous spiritual state, his reaction may be bristling: “Am I not accepted in the Beloved? Is not God my Father and am I not an heir with God?”
Yes, and my job is not to solve people’s problems or make them happy, but to help them see the grace operating in their lives. It’s hard to do, because our whole culture is going the other direction, saying that if you’re smart enough and get the right kind of help, you can solve all your problems. The truth is, there aren’t very many happy people in the Bible. But there are people who are experiencing joy, peace, and the meaning of Christ’s suffering in their lives.
For a man to be alive, he must exercise not only the acts that belong to vegetative and animal life, he must not only subsist, grow, be sentient, not only move himself around, feed himself, and the rest. He must carry on the activities proper to his own specifically human kind of life. He must, that is to say, think intelligently. And above all he must direct his actions by free decisions, made in the light of his own thinking. They must tend to make him more aware of his capacities for knowledge and for free action. They must expand and extend his power to love others, and to dedicate himself to their good: for it is in this that he finds his own fulfilment.
It is easy to understand what is meant by this man’s (Matt 21:1-13)being without a wedding garment, namely, without the new adornment in which we please God, which is faith in Christ, and therefore also without truly good works. He remains in the old rags and tatters of his own fleshly conceit, unbelief and security, without penitence and without understanding his own misery. He does not from the heart seek comfort in the grace of Christ, nor better his life by it, and looks for nothing more in the gospel than what his flesh covets.
Yesterday, I had the incredible blessing of sharing in the Lord’s Supper three times. All three groups (2 people, 4 people, and 1 person) had reasons why they can’t make it to church, and they know I will, or one of our elders will bring the sacrament to them, pray with them, and share the love of God, revealed in the scriptures.
As much as I want to, desperately want to, I cannot solve their problems. Peterson nailed it, and yesterday – all three divine appointments proved it. I don’t have to – what I have to do is help them see God – and God active in their lives. Then the joy Petersen mentions in is there, while they join in His suffering, and He in theirs. (Phil. 3:10)0 The longer i serve as a pastor, the more I realize this is where ministry truly occurs, in the midst of those wounded and broken.
I think that is Tozer’s point about those who carry the Bible, or a couple of verses (that they treat like cliches), without living in the truth of them. I think that is why some (especially Lutherans) love Ephesians 2:8-9, but miss out on the truth of verse 10 – that we are masterpieces created to live life loving others and helping them. You see this again as Merton points out that choosing to love and sacrifice for others is life—a life many don’t choose to live. This is also the poorly dressed man at the wedding banquet that Luther points to, the man trusting in his old ways, but wanting to be part of the party. The modern equivalents to this are those people who talk about being a Christian, but not needing church, prayer or even time in the Bible. They may pray, talk about prayer, but they deride organized religion (as if churches are organized!) as unnecessary.
Being alive in the faith looks like this: a dependency on God, which is only fed through word and sacrament, and loving others who are broken. This is what pastors can bring to people, it is why churches exist. It is an intimate relationship that starts with God and then, in Him includes all people, even those who don’t know they are loved, and don’t recognize the presence of God…
That is where pastoral care, and general love of the brethren come into play. The church can point out to each other the presence of Jesus, they can point out the healing available, they can point out the healing that will take place as we are gathered together by God. And they can model the life begun in them.
This is the church, the people God has gathered, whom He is healing, who we need to be part of, that we can grow closer to Him. Come join us…
A. W. Tozer and Gerald B. Smith, Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008).
Eugene H. Peterson, Introduction, ed. Rodney Clapp, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 13.
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 4.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 388–389.
Passover wasn’t celebrated in the first month,l which was the usual time, because many of the priests were still unclean and unacceptable to serve, and because not everyone in Judah had come to Jerusalem for the festival. So Hezekiah, his officials, and the people agreed to celebrate Passover in the second month.
Most of the people that came from Ephraim, West Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun had not made themselves clean, but they ignored God’s Law and ate the Passover lambs anyway. Hezekiah found out what they had done and prayed, “LORD God, these people are unclean according to the laws of holiness. But they are worshiping you, just as their ancestors did. So, please be kind and forgive them.” 20 The LORD answered Hezekiah’s prayer and did not punish them.2 Ch 30:1–4, 18-20 CEV
Before all else, the teacher of peace and master of unity desires that we should not make our prayer individually and alone, as whoever prays by himself prays only for himself.
In Cyprian’s words about the Lord’s Prayer, we find described a call to pray together. Not just physically together, but really together. To pray with one heart and one mind.
It was the reason for Passover being delayed that year so that all could pray together. That those who were unclean, those damaged by sin could deal with it, according to God’s provision. According to how God laid out one could become cleansed of sin.
They, as a people, needed to pray together, they needed to worship together, they needed to realize that they lived in the presence of God, who so desperately wanted to care for them.
But they needed to do it together.
I will repeat myself, not just together physically, but together spiritually, emotionally, cognitively.
We need this today as well. Isolation is oppressive, we grow more and more distant apart. We become more protective of what belongs to me and less aware of each other, and each other’s needs. Cyprian describes that well, as he talks about only praying for oneself.
That needs to stop.
We need to be praying for everyone. Everyone in our church, everyone in our community, everyone we don’t feel like praying for.
So as we come together, let us pray that the Lord unite His church and the communities in which it dwells. May the church help the community to learn, not only how to find reconciliation, but how to love.
Tertullian, Cyprian, and Origen, On the Lord’s Prayer, ed. John Behr, trans. Alistair Stewart-Sykes, Popular Patristics Series, Number 29 (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2004), 69.