The Unobserved Sacrament… that we desperately need
Thoughts which draw me closer to Jesus, and to the Cross
16 Let us have confidence, then, and approach God’s throne, where there is grace. There we will receive mercy and find grace to help us just when we need it. Hebrews 4:16 (TEV)
16 Be joyful always, 17 pray at all times, 18 be thankful in all circumstances. This is what God wants from you in your life in union with Christ Jesus. 19 Do not restrain the Holy Spirit; 20 do not despise inspired messages. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-20 (TEV)
The New Testament language is as plain as can be—in Christ through His death and resurrection, every legal hindrance has been met and satisfied: taken away! There is nothing that can keep us from assurance except our own selves.
Let us quit trying to think our way in, to reason our way in. The only way to get in is to believe Him with our hearts forevermore!
Ultimately, if we should list as sacraments all the things that have God’s command and a promise added to them, then why not prayer, which can most truly be called a sacrament? It has both the command of God and many promises. If it were placed among the sacraments and thus given, so to speak, a more exalted position, this would move men to pray.
Imagine having tickets to some major amusement park, going in, and standing in line for 3 hours to ride the newest, greatest ride in America. As you get there, as it is time to take your place, you decide, its not worth it, and you walk away, apathy. All of that time and money invested, is now wasted, never to be used for something else. Or imagine someone giving you the best seats to the Superbowl, or to a favorite concert–plus the airfare and limo rides and access to all the good stuff, and just as you get there, you decide, “Nah, this isn’t worth it,” as you walk away.
Every person and every church has access to God the Father, because someone else paid the admission price, and waited for us to enter the presence of God the father with great confidence, but what do we do with this access? Tozer is right, to often we are the ones who dismiss the access…
Despite the encouragement to pray and be thankful, despite the commands and promises attach to it, the church has been not one that prays all that much. Not just today, even back in Luther’s day. even back in the 1st century.
We need to pray; we need to pour our hearts out to God, assured that He will provide what we need. His love, His mercy, the faith we need, even persecution and trauma that draws us closer to Him. We need to talk to Him enough that we can thank Him for the good things – and the challenging things in life as well.
The joy doesn’t come from the problems, but the awareness of God’s presence, His protection, His care, from the healing He causes. That hope comes, not from academic knowledge, but from experience. That is why the early Lutherans still considered prayer a sacrament, as sacred action that we need to keep at all the time. Not because doing that shows off our holiness, but because we need to be lifted up by God, we need to hear Him speak of His mercy and love..
So pray… and pray for me..
A. W. Tozer and Gerald B. Smith, Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008).
Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 213.
When (Our) Reason and Logic Fails…there begins hope
Thoughts which draw me closer to Jesus, and to HIs cross.
They assembled before Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! All the members of the community belong to the LORD, and the LORD is with all of us. Why, then, Moses, do you set yourself above the LORD’s community?”
When Moses heard this, he threw himself on the ground and prayed. Then he said…… Numbers 16:3-5 NLT
Give yourself to the LORD; trust in him, and he will help you; he will make your righteousness shine like the noonday sun. Psalm 37:5-6 NLT
For no one desires to be lifted if he is unaware that he has fallen, just as one who does not feel the pain of a wound does not seek to have it healed. Therefore, these people must first be shown that the things they love are vain, and then carefully (and over time) they should be made aware of the usefulness of the things they ignore.
We must be careful to follow neither the customs of the world nor our own reason or plausible theories. We must constantly subdue our disposition and control our will, not obeying the dictates of reason and desire.
Faith in God is possible now. What we are blind to is not the law of God, but the glory of God—calling into being that which is from that which is not.
Most of us like to think we are reasonable. Yet we can often see that which is unreasonable in others. Indeed, a loto f the counseling I do will hear the complaint that the other party is “unreasonable” or is too “emotional”
It is too bad that we cannot see the frailty of our own reason, and our need to be suspicious of it. Otherwise, we could prevent our own rebellion, whether we are rebelling against God, or against those whom God has allowed to be in place.
What we need to do is follow Moses example. Whether we are the one’s questioning someone else’s reason, or those whose logic is being questioned, we need to throw ourselves down, and pray and seek God’s wisdom. We desperately need to follow the psalmist’s advice, and give ourselves to the LORD who has saved us already.
This is the only hope for those who know their reason is faulty, that their logic has significant holes and gaps. The challenge is realizing it, for we are blind and deaf to such problems. This is nothing new – Gregory the Great points it out quite clearly, as well as reminds us it takes time to first realize we are broken, to stop defending it, and then to hunger for the healing found in the logic, the logos of Jesus.
It is only then, as we grow and humbly cope with our broken reason, that we can see that our problem wasn’t God’s logic, His definition of right and wrong. Rather, the biggest hole in our reason was not accounting for the glory of God!
For God creates something out of that which is nothing. He does this for one reason – He loves us. Broken, injured, flawed, yet being reconciled and healed and conformed to the image of Jesus.
Heavenly Father, with grace and patience, correct our flawed logic and reason, our emotions and feelings as well. Help us to welcome the Holy Spirit’s work in conforming us to the image of Jesus, cutting away that which is not like Him. We pray this in Jesus’ name.. AMEN!.
St Gregory the Great, The Book of Pastoral Rule, ed. John Behr, trans. George E. Demacopoulos, vol. 34, Popular Patristics Series (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2007), 194.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 25.
Gerhard O. Forde, “The Preacher,” in Theology Is for Proclamation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1990), 77.
Another Year… and The Cure for our Broken Time
Thoughts that drive me to Jesus, and to His cross, where redemption and healing occur
“The LORD told Moses *to say to the community of Israel, ‘Be holy, because I, the LORD your God, am holy’…. ‘Keep yourselves holy, because I am the LORD your God. Obey my laws, because I am the LORD and I make you holy.’” Leviticus 19:1-2, 20:7-8 GNT
And all who heard were completely amazed. “How well he does everything!” they exclaimed. “He even causes the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak!” Mark 7:37 GNT
When I did not confess my sins, I was worn out from crying all day long. 4 Day and night you punished me, LORD; my strength was completely drained,
as moisture is dried up by the summer heat. Psalm 32:4 GNT
Therefore he first gives the law, by which man recognizes this sin and thirsts for grace; then he also gives the gospel and saves him.
None of us can approach a consideration of the eternal nature and Person of Jesus Christ without sensing and confessing our human inadequacy in the face of the divine revelation…..This is the only one who can assure us: “No man cometh unto the Father, but by Me!”
It should be clear that the cure of souls is not a specialized form of ministry (analogous, for instance, to hospital chaplain or pastoral counselor) but is the essential pastoral work. It is not a narrowing of pastoral work to its devotional aspects, but it is a way of life that uses weekday tasks, encounters, and situations as the raw material for teaching prayer, developing faith, and preparing for a good death. Curing souls is a term that filters out what is introduced by a secularizing culture. It is also a term that identifies us with our ancestors and colleagues in ministry, lay and clerical, who are convinced that a life of prayer is the connective tissue between holy day proclamation and weekday discipleship.
I found one of those calculators that tell you how long you’ve been alive.
Over a half million hours. 30 million minutes, over 1,826,841,618 seconds – almost 2 billion seconds!
No wonder I feel old!
If I cannot even think through the enormity of those numbers, how in the world can I attempt to understand Jesus, who has been there. He knows me far better than I know myself – for I might remember a thousand or 2 of those hours– He knows every one of them.
What is overwhelming is that i remember as many of my failures and sins, maybe far more, than the good moments. Luther is right – the law causes me to recognize my sin, and thirst for this idea of grace! I hear the words from Leviticus–this call to holiness, and know I far too often fail spectacularly to meet that standard. I usually don’t even get to last part of verse 7, and the declaration that GOD MAKES US HOLY!
That is the point where a soul is cured. And it is revealed with more and detail every time we pray, every time we contemplate the scriptures.
It begins as Holy Spirit draws us to Jesus, who binds us to Himself in baptism, and brings us into the presence of the Father. And the ongoing work of revealing the cure our heart, soul and mind,
This is the work of the people of God, and those who shepherd them to Jesus.
It is why we pray, to revel in the relationship, to let God remove our burdens and empower us to live as Christ, giving hope to other sin the middle of their 1-3 billion seconds… to help them know they aren’t alone in this moment. This is what it means to be holy – to live in Christ, to love, to care for, to point people to the place where their souls find the cure they need. Even as the Holy Trinity provides the cure we need…
This is the work of the church…reviving the people Gpd called to be His own…seeing them cured.
This is the holiness God creates in us, as we are bound to Him.
Heavenly Father, help us see the cure provided as we are united to Jesus. Help us see that healing provided by the Holy Spirit, and help us look with joyous expectation to the moment we dwell with You forever! AMEN!
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 9.
A. W. Tozer and Gerald B. Smith, Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008).
Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 68.
I Need Someone to Pray to… The Probelem with “All Religions are the Equal”
Thoughts which lead me to Jesus, and His Cross
I said, “I have sinned against you, LORD; be merciful to me and heal me.” Psalm 41:4 (TEV)
The error of universalism is that it simply cuts off the move to proclamation. As a result, the God who supposedly loves and elects everyone never gets around to saying it to anyone.
But what do those do who are filled with fear and do not desire to have him come, when they pray, “Thy kingdom come,” “Thy will be done”? Do they not stand in the presence of God and lie to their own hurt?
Every once in a while, i have someone try to convince me that it doesn’t matter which god you worship, or if you even worship a god. All you have to do is be good to people. And then life will be good, and everything will be all right.
I have a significant problem with that.
A god without definition cannot meet my needs. I can’t be assured this universal and therefore unknown God is listening.
That’s a problem. I need a God who listens,
I need a God who hears my cries, whether they are for mercy because my life is challenging, or because I am struggling with guilt and shame. My cries for mercy, for healing—I need to know these cries, these prayers are heard. I need to know God loves me enough to hear and respond.
And a generic god who is an amalgamation of all religious systems, that god cannot tell me he/she/it hears, nor can I have any confidence that they can hear me.
That’s the difference about God who reveals Himself throughout the Old and New Testaments. The God who reveals Himself as a baby in a manger, as the suffering servant on the cross. The God who talks to us, whether as Jesus talks to the apostles and people, or as the Holy Spirit talks to us, as He dwells in the new heart given us in our baptism (Ezekiel 36:25ff)
He’s here, He listens, He speaks, and He heals.
His message–throughout scripture–I will be your God, and you WILL BE my people.
So whether oppressed by sin, or struggling with health, life, finances, relationships, know He will hear you.. and answer.
Gerhard O. Forde, “The Preached God,” in Theology Is for Proclamation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1990), 34.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 431.
live, and therefore learn, praying together
Thoughts that drive me to Jesus, and to His cross
Once Jesus was in a certain place praying. As he finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”……Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story. Luke 1,5 GNT
And I tell you more: whenever two of you on earth agree about anything you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them.” Matthew 18:19-20 GNT
But Christ approached, raised him up, and placed him on a higher plane of faith. “Go thy way; thy son liveth.” Thus the man advanced from his first faith, when he believed that Christ could heal if he were present, to a higher stage of faith, by reason of which he now believed the mere Word of Christ. For if he had not believed the Word, he would not have ceased until the Lord had accompanied him to his house; but he accepted the Word, believed Christ and clung to his Word.
Does that mean we learn how to pray in community, that what we do in solitude is something we take from the community’s worship?
That’s what I mean. If somebody comes to me and says, “Teach me how to pray,” I say, “Be at this church at nine o’clock on Sunday morning.” That’s where you learn how to pray. Of course, prayer is continued and has alternate forms when you’re by yourself. But the American experience has the order reversed. In the long history of Christian spirituality, community prayer is most important, then individual prayer.
I had to look it up, but Petersen is right, our being taught to pray starts in groups. Bible studies, small groups, but especially in the church. In the book he will spend more time on the issue, but I needed to think through just this first part.
It was even this way in scripture, as Jesus taught, bet before, as Moses at Sinai and Solomon at the dedication of the Temple, as Nehemiah and Ezra and Daniel all learned to pray, it was as the family of God.
We need to learn more than by reading a book, for there we can only learn a form. We need to see others struggling with God, blessing God, realizing how complete His mercy is, how beyond reason God’s love is. I think that is what lifts us up, as we see Jesus lift up others. It is in these groups of believers that prayer becomes more than a spiritual exercise routine. It becomes a conversation based on our trust in God, our dependence on Him. We learn that from observation, from sharing in the tears, and in the joy, from sharing as our anxieties are calmed, our spirits are comforted, and as we realize that God is in our midst.
Does this mean we do not pray on our own? Of course not! But there is something about knowing others are praying for you, with you, as we storm heaven to ask God to be there. There is something about seeing others – locked in prayer, and being comforted by the Holy Spirit. The numbers aren’t the issue, the communion, the fellowship, the bonding is.
For as we realize we are praying in one voice, we realize that voice is in respons eot the Voice-the Voice who taught us to pray, together….
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 393.
Eugene H. Peterson, Introduction, ed. Rodney Clapp, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 15–16.
He is Here…but i struggle to focus on Him
Thoughts that draw me closer to Jesus
Even now my witness is in heaven. My advocate is there on high.
I need someone to mediate between God and me, as a person mediates between friends. Job 16:19,21 (NLT2)
This does not mean that we do not have unwanted thoughts during prayer, but that we return again and again to the basic consent of self-surrender and trust. We say “yes” to that presence, and every now and again enter into union with it as we identify the divine presence in Christ’s humanity with the divine presence within us. When we say, “Come, Lord Jesus,” we should remember that Christ is already here and that his coming means that he becomes more and more present to our consciousness.
Somebody asked, “Doctor [Luther], if a parish minister absolves a woman who has killed her infant child and afterward the matter becomes public through others, should the parish minister, when asked, offer testimony in this case before a judge?”
“By no means,” said the doctor [Martin Luther], “for the forum of conscience is to be distinguished from the forum of the civil government. The woman didn’t confess anything to me; she confessed to Christ. But if Christ keeps it hidden, I should conceal it and simply deny that I heard anything.
When Fr. Keating mentions prayer being interrupted by unwarranted thoughts, I breathed a sigh of relief. I struggle with that often, for even while I am praying for someone or about some situation, my mind wanders far off. Then, rather than refocus on the cross, my soul struggles with my spiritual lack of focus, I wallow in guilt and shame.
I need to run back to the cross, I need to find my comfort and strength and direction there. I need to find Him in my consciousness. And like Job, i know my advocate is in heaven, but I need to know He is here on earth, with me as well. A mediator who is more than that, a mediator who is a friend.
There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus is here. But to convince my hear and soul of that, and that Jesus is a friend…sent by God the Father, is a little more of a challenge. Especially when my mind struggles to focus on our relationship.
As I was reading my devotional readings this morning, I kept coming back to Luther’s words about a pastor. I know I speak for Christ, and as I hear other pastors, and they speak the words that declare us righteous, holy, for our sin has been removed. I treasure those words, and what they mean to me and to other believers. What hit me from Luther’s answer was that not only is the pastor put there to say those words, but He is there to hear the sins, the failures, the words loaded with grief and shame as well.
Hearing that opens a door, it helps me see another side of Christ – that He is will to hear those words, despite how they confess my betrayal of Him. He desires to take that burden away, ridding me of the weight of it. And then to bring me into the presence of God the Father, saying “Abba, look who I’ve brought home…this is my friend..”
Thinking about those moments, and other sacramental moments, helps calm me enough to see His presence. To just realize the presence of God, is one thing – to realize the purpose of His presence, to spend time with us, with me, is another. He is there as Job requested, to intercede with the Father, to comfort with His presence, to share in a love that goes beyond our words.
Knowing this helps the focus, and when it loses its sharpness, causes me to remember, and look again to see my Friend, who is already here with me, and there with you.
Heavenly Father, help us realize the presence of Christ in our lives, and that He has drawn us into His death so that we could rise with Him! Help us, when our concentration fades, to still see His face, and be drawn back once again into His love. Thank you for not giving up on us, but caring for us and teaching us to be compassionate. We ask this in Jesus’ name. AMEN!
Thomas Keating, The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings, ed. S. Stephanie Iachetta (New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2009), 183.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 54 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 395.
The Cost of Intimate Prayer: Don’t Say I didn’t warn you!
Devotional Thoughts for this day:
I will sing of the LORD’s unfailing love forever!
Young and old will hear of your faithfulness.
2 Your unfailing love will last forever.
Your faithfulness is as enduring as the heavens. Psalm 89:1-2 NLT
What Satan intends for evil, God uses for good. By these assaults we move from mere intellectual comprehension of his grace to very personal and experiential enjoyment of the multifaceted dimensions of God’s comforting mercy and love.
Prayer and meditation do not occur in blissful peace in some sweet never-never land or beautiful isle somewhere, but in the throes of real life. Prayer, meditation, and spiritual warfare are a package deal. The struggle goes with the territory in God’s economy. Pain, distress of body and soul, emotional struggle and spiritual assault come to all of God’s people. And you can be sure that they will come to you—if they haven’t already
Just as the First Commandment instructs the heart and teaches faith, so this commandment leads us outward and directs the lips and tongue into a right relationship with God. For the first things that burst forth and emerge from the heart are words.
The songs of prayer
The songs of prayer lodge in our mouths.
Let us sing through the snow.
At the dinner table.
On the rooftop where we dance.
May these sounds heal our ears
and those distant ears that hear.
This morning I want to start with Luther’s words in dark blue above. They sound so nice and innocent at first, for if we recognize God is God, and specifically the God who loves us, then words of praise will just force themselves from our heart, through our vocal cords and we will use God’s name to praise Him. An awesome picture!
Just like the Psalmist who sings of God’s unfailing love forever! If only our lives were that simple! If only we were aware of His grace every moment of every day! Then we would spend more time talking to God, thanking Him and giving our problems and anxieties to Him, trusting Him to deal with them
Except that the easier life is, the more like I am to forget God exists. I won’t remember how faithful He is, unless I have a need, and then see His faithfulness as He comforts and cares for me.
It is the relieved heart that overwhelms the voice and causes it to sing praises. It is the broken heart that is rescued and healed that tells others, even distant others, of God’s healing!
And as odd as it sounds, Senkbeil is right. The more Satan attacks a mature Christian, the more we do not fight, but run inot the arms of our Lord, knowing His death rebukes Satan and totally defeats him. The more we spend time in God’s presence, the more we release our hearts’ burdens. It is a blessed circle of freedom, one that affects not only us, but others, as they hear our sincere praises, and see lives at peace amid chaos. Satan and his minions will do everything they can to stop this. But all that should do is drive us back to the hope of the cross and empty grave. This sounds like a high cost, spending time in prayer and becoming susceptible to attack, but it is more dangerous for Satan, as others see his attempts backfire
Trials will come for a season, yet they will cause a closer, more intimate relationship with God. This I’ve found true in my life, over and over. God is there, and the more trauma I see, the more oppression, the more things don’t make sense, the more it is time to stop everything, pray and count the blessings we have, because we are His children.
Heavenly Father, help us hear your offers of comfort in times of trauma, or when Satan is prowling about. My our hearts praise You, even as we recognize Your salvation, and the peace found as we find refuge in You. Amen!
Harold L. Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 256.
Martin Luther, “The Large Catechism”, Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 392.
Hawksley Workman from https://www.northumbriacommunity.org/offices/morning-prayer/ for 5/27/2022
Thoughts to encourage us, as we are drawn to Jesus..
Teach me your ways, O LORD, that I may live according to your truth! Grant me purity of heart, so that I may honor you. 12 With all my heart I will praise you, O Lord my God. I will give glory to your name forever, 13 for your love for me is very great. You have rescued me from the depths of death. Psalm 86:11-13 (NLT2)
I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, 17 asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. Ephesians 1:16-17 (NLT2)
2 God is my Father! If you meditate on it, you will never let go of this consoling consideration. Jesus is my intimate Friend (another rediscovery) who loves me with all the divine madness of his Heart. The Holy Spirit is my Consoler, who guides my every step along the road. Consider this often: you are God’s… and God is yours.
I show them (the sacraments) due honor when I believe that I truly receive what the sacraments signify and all that God declares and indicates in them, so that I can say with Mary in firm faith, “Let it be to me according to your words and signs” [Luke 1:38].
King David, the writer of the Psalm above, found his identity so enveloped in his intimate friendship with God. So much so that he was called a man whose heart resonated with God’s, for that was his goal. As the church fades in American, we struggle to find to resonate with things. The next book that is right on, the next new believer’s course, the next mission statement, the next strategy of consolidation or repurposing.
Without resonating with the heart of God, none of those options are worth the outcome of a bowel movement.
From his intimate conversations with God, David learns so much of God’s love that he automatically responds with praise. He realizes what God has done, far more than you learn from a theology text, or the latest book written to motivate us to keep trying to do things that are beyond our comfort zones. We see the same heart in Luther’s thoughts on the sacraments. Meditating on them leads Luther to accept, as Mary did, what God has planned and promised. St. Josemaria encourages such meditation as well, as he concludes that when you realize the divine madness that is the love of God, you will never let go of the hope it gives.
You don’t find such love by reading—you have to experience it. That is the idea of knowledge (epiginosko in Greek) . Study alone does not impart such knowledge—it comes by experiencing God’s presence as God reveals and enlightens our hearts. The Apostle Paul, another brilliant man, desires this for his people, and that is what he asks God for, for them.
The purpose of this all – to intimately know God. We all need to experience His presence and love in a way beyond description, but in a way that teaches us.
It is what I desire for myself, as David did.. and what we need to learn to desire, not just for our friends at church, but for all people.
Lord, teach us Who You are… and who we are in Your sight.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 101.
His Church: Marketing or Talking with God?
Thoughts to encourage us to spend time with Jesus.
Please listen, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph’s descendants like a flock. O God, enthroned above the cherubim, display your radiant glory 2 to Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh. Show us your mighty power. Come to rescue us! 3 Turn us again to yourself, O God. Make your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved. Psalm 80:1-3 (NLT2)
He told me, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your gifts to the poor have been noticed by God! 32 Now send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. He is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.’ 33 So I sent for you at once, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here, waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has given you.” Acts 10:31-33 NLT
Listening to someone personally beats hearing about that person second hand. Yet strangely when it comes to the mission of the church we settle for the latter. Too much of what passes for gospel mission is second hand information; it may be factual and instructive, but it’s not personal. It resembles advertising more than anything else.
Then he [Martin Luther] was asked whether the sacraments have a spiritual power in themselves, so that baptism would be consecrated water which by its own strength could wipe out sins, even in case the water were drunk by an ass. He replied, “Because the spiritual power of God doesn’t comprise corporeal, inanimate matter, baptism doesn’t accomplish anything at all as water existing by itself. But as an action (which would be in its use) baptism has power, so that if anybody sprinkles an infant with water together with a recitation of those words of Christ by which he instituted baptism and promised the forgiveness of sins, that action, and not the water, has divine power.
The experts that study the church have told us for years a simple thing about why people come to church. It is because a friend, relative or co-worker invited them to come, and made sure they knew they would be welcome. Maybe it is because we are tired of trying to motivate our people, or we’ve seen too many “invite-a-friend” Sunday fail that we fall for the glamour and hype modern marketing and business planning offers us. Mission statements, goals and objectives, strategic implementation all geared to help us sell our faith…
BUt we aren’t in the business to sell our faith. We are ind the ministry to share why we have hope.
Sharing why we have hope, giving the reason for it means that we have discovered a reason to have hope—God revealed it to us, It is an overwhelming hope, as God guarantees us an eternity free of guilt, shame, resentment, pain, sorrow. It is a life where His presence brings us peace during the trials and traumas of life. This is hope at its best, and assurance of God’s love and presence in our lives–a presence that is available to everyone.
What if our efforts were teaching people to pray like those who wrote the Psalms did, expectantly begging God to make Himself known to all of us?
What if we realized He desired to turn us and draw us to His side, to smile at us, to save us all?
Senkbeil mentions the importance of hearing from someone directly, and he is talking about hearing from God. Both Cornelius and Peter did, and responded to what the message God had given them. Luther takes it another step–it is listening to God’s promises in the words of Christ that make a sacrament a sacrament.
If the people who are the church hear God, hearing His word will transform them. That transformation will cause their hearts to break as they see people suffer without Him, and they will want them to know His peace.
That causes revival, the knowledge of God’s love and His work rescuing us…
Or, as we say at my church – we are the broken people finding healing in Jesus, while helping others heal.
Lord Jesus, reveal to us today more of the work you are doing in our lives, turn us again and draw us closer to You. Then Lord, help us see others as You do, and use our lives to draw them through You to the Father. AMEN!
Harold L. Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 226.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 54 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 358.
Prayer is like a jacuzzi…
Thoughts to Encourage Your Devotion to Jesus…
But when you pray, go into your own room, shut your door and pray to your Father privately. Your Father who sees all private things will reward you.” Matthew 6:5 (Phillips NT)
The habit of breaking off our prayers before we have truly prayed is as common as it is unfortunate. Often the last ten minutes may mean more to us than the first half hour, because we must spend a long time getting into the proper mood to pray effectively. We may need to struggle with our thoughts to draw them in from where they have been scattered through the multitude of distractions that result from the task of living in a disordered world.…
First he invites Christians to pray his very own prayer along with him, joining their prayers to his. “Our Father,” he invokes, by these words implying that any Father of his is our Father too. Since we pray in and through Jesus to the almighty Maker of heaven and earth, we have the privilege of approaching him as beloved children
From God’s point of view, it is not accomplishments but efforts that count. If we accept our poverty and limitations, but still go on trying, we will rate higher than everybody else in God’s book, just as the poor widow did.… If we make the effort and receive that one precious point for trying, God can take his pencil and start adding zeros after it.
As I was confronted by Tozer this morning, I struggled with his honesty. I don’t know how often I start to pray or read the scriptures and find my mind wandering off into space. I find myself checking a text, answering an email, or thinking of someone I need to call. Many things demand my attention, and I don’t even struggle to fight them off. I try to justify it by saying I am growing old, and my concentration isn’t what it once was… but that is just a poor excuse.
We need to sink into prayer like we do when we go into a jacuzzi. It requires great patience and the acceptance that it takes a little while to get used to it. But when we do, the comfort it gives, the stress it relieves, and the benefit it brings us are beyond belief. So it is with prayer, the first five to ten minutes are tough. Still, eventually, Satan will tire, and the distractions will dissipate. You will find yourself welcome in this conversation with God.
We need to realize that we belong in that moment. There is a point in entering a jacuzzi when you know you can take the final step in, when the heat has moved up your legs as blood returns to the heart, and you are internally ready. We can boldly enter the water then, and in the same way, as we pray, we get to the point where it just becomes a bold move. We are up to our necks….dwelling deeply – nothing else but our Lord, listening, comforting, directing, healing, empowering.
It takes effort because we are, as Keating notes, poor and limited. What we have to offer doesn’t seem enough. We go on trying, encouraged by the Father of Jesus, our Father, who loves us. And as we struggle, we learn to keep praying, knowing we will find ourselves in a moment with Him. Then we learn it was not about us straining to reach Him but realizing that He came to us.
Distracted as you are praying? Find a quiet place – keep praying… even if it is simply savoring the Lord’s Prayer or personalizing Psalm 8, 23, 139. Keep trying to pray, seek His face, His voice, and His care. You will get there… and then the feeling is incredible…for He is your God, and you are His.
Lord, help us to be patient while we enter the waters of prayer. Help us to keep praying until the distractions pass, and all we know is You and Your love. AMEN!
Tozer, A. W. 2015. Tozer for the Christian Leader. Chicago: Moody Publishers.
Senkbeil, Harold L. 2019. The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
Keating, Thomas. 2009. The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings. Edited by S. Stephanie Iachetta. New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury.