Not exactly the devotional thought of the day….
For the last three days, another pastor and I have been leading a prayer and devotion time over breakfast. It’s been a good time, and I was asked to share the theory behind the study. So this blog is about devotion, not a devotion.
The theory is basic; it is about learning to let Scripture guide our prayer. It is a method that works great with a brother or sister in Christ, with others who are leaders in the church, for example with elders, or other pastors. It is a little harder to do alone, but it is possible. It is a very loose adaption of an old method, called Lectio Divina. In this, it works from the outside in, from how we pray for others to how we minister to how we live. I call it blood, sweat, and tears.
It starts simple, with acknowledging God’s presence, which He’s called us into a relationship with us. He is our Father, our Lord, our Savior, our Brother, our Friend. A prayer desiring His presence, to build our desire for that presence. It seems odd, for shouldn’t most of us want this, this intimate relationship with our Creator, the one who loves us? We need to pray for this, even as the man confessing his trust in Jesus also prayed that God would increase his trust.
People familiar with Lectio Divina’s methods may be wanting to move on, to get to the Oration, Meditatio, Tentatio. You cannot jump this point. It is this prayer, this time to slow down, this time to realize our priority is His presence that makes this style of prayer and devotion work. It seems odd, but we need to pray that God would help us make our relationship with Him not a priority, but the priority.
So we start there… I usually end this time with a simple creedal statement….Peter’s creed of faith, of dependence.
“Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. And now we believe and know that you are the Holy One, who has come from God.“ John 6:68-69 (TEV)
We need to know this! He is the Holy One, who has come to us!
Now we are ready for looking at a passage, knowing that this is His message to us. For the pastor’s conference, we used the same passage for three days. Different translations each day, (with some intent by the leaders who set it up) Here is the last version we used.
16 No longer, then, do we judge anyone by human standards. Even if at one time we judged Christ according to human standards, we no longer do so. 17 Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come. 18 All this is done by God, who through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also. 19 Our message is that God was making all human beings his friends through Christ. God did not keep an account of their sins, and he has given us the message which tells how he makes them his friends. 20 Here we are, then, speaking for Christ, as though God himself were making his appeal through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf: let God change you from enemies into his friends! 21 Christ was without sin, but for our sake God made him share our sin in order that in union with him we might share the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 (TEV)
Great passage – the other translations were the ESV and NLT – but this one we saved for last. And here is what we did with it.
BLOOD – ORATIO (Prayer)
Discuss with another this question. How can you pray that your congregation learns the truths in this passage?
Not what they will learn from it, not considering how they will learn it If you aren’t a pastor, replace that word with family, or friends, small group, whoever you minister to among family in friends. Consider just one thought how will you pray for them, that they learn the truth about Jesus from that passage.
How will you pray for this….
Then pray for them – pray that they would learn about Christ.
I called this “blood,” thinking about Jesus sweating blood in the Garden. As we think about those people, we influence, directly as shepherds, or indirectly as friends. But our prayer is that of a servant leader, about bringing our ministry, our service to them, even embracing the pain and sacrifice of being someone who loves and cares, in this case pleads with them to be reconciled.
Though this is the first area of prayer, it is by no means simple, or easy. It may include significant grieving over the people we will praying for and interceding with them when done for more than brief moments as we did during this conference.
SWEAT – MEDITATIO
So the second stage of meditating is one where we re-read the passage again, but this time spending some time prayer meditation (and if in a group discussion) on how the passage will affect our prayer for our own ministry. Not just meditating on how the ministry will change, but how we pray for God’s leading and being aware of His presence as we minister. Here is how we worded it for this retreat and this passage.
After the passage is read again, discuss with another how will you pray about this ministry you have been given, pleading with people to let Him transform them from enemies into friends.
I am not sure how much time we pray for and about ministry. Whether we are in the office of ministry, or whether part of it ha been delegated to those who minister/serve (as one of our Lutheran forefathers talked) as deacons, elders, teachers, deaconesses, or within our vocations as neighbors, do we pray?. I believe we need to, and that may take very challenging forms. We may pray for the strength to obey, to dare, for the humility. It may include praying that God would show you the priority (in that case – pleading with people to God transform them)
I call this one SWEAT, because this is both examining your ministry against the what happens in scripture (which can be nerve-wracking – especially if this is done with another brother or small group) and because what might come out of the prayer is some sweating. Sweating as you realize the need to keep conversing with God in this midst of serving others.
And again, even as we consider our prayer life – we pray for ourselves and each other, laying before God that which His word brought out in its reading.
TEARS – TENTATIO
The last section, TEARS, is named such because we are going to struggle the most. The battle has snuck up on us, and now the passage hits us right between the eyes as we apply it to our core. Not just to our ministry, but we allow its law to crucify us, and its gospel to lift us, to revive us. In this particular passage with this translation, it looked like this,
One final time the passage will be read, instead of looking out to minister, spend a few moments meditating on those areas of your life where you need to let God transform your life.
If you are a pastor – applying God’s law to your people or the world may be second nature. But we need to apply it to ourselves. Our old sinful nature, which is no longer part of our essence in Christ Jesus, Conversion is both an instant and life, it is passive in that the Holy Spirit does the transformation, yet we can hinder it.
But we need to, and you may find that you need a brother minister to provide absolution. In our groups, that absolution was heard in the re-reading of the passage a fourth time. Re-reading it with this modification – applying it personally to each person there. I would suggest that those who try this alone, and not in a small group, would have what we call a father-confessor, or a spiritual director, to help address that which comes to the surface.
But this is a struggle, it is designed to get deep into us, in this case to allow God to reconcile the parts we try to hide from Him. Or that we are afraid to think even of, for the anxiety, fear, guilt and shame. We need to deal with those things, even pastors. No, especially pastors.
We need to struggle with what some would call our “old Adam”, our proclivity to sin, doubt, despair. We need to struggle with it, and if we open ourselves up to the Scripture, we will struggle with it. That struggle is good, if we realize what we started out praying about, that we would desire God’s presence. That is why this came last, though some might put it first. By the time we get to the struggle, the passage has already been heard and our hearts considered how to apply it, first to those we are to love, then to our pragmatic application. It becomes very difficult to avoid hearing ti speak to our souls…having done that.
After hearing the passage a fourth time, we prayed for others, then summed up all we couldn’t bring ourselves to pray for, using the Lord’s prayer.
We then left, with the benediction from Hebrews….and as I sum up what we did, and why, may these words bless you as well.
Now may the God of peace— who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and ratified an eternal covenant with His blood— may He equip you with all you need for doing his will. May He produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to Him. All glory to Him forever and ever! Amen!
(ps – feel free to sk me questions about it – or for copies of the actual bulletin guides we used. )