In the Gospels, people were often asking God what they should be doing in response to what He was doing. It’s striking how practical His answers often were, as in what John the Baptist said to those asking God through him: some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than what you have been ordered to.” Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, “And what about us, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.” (Luke 3:12-14). These “non-religious” directions from John make it clear that God is interested, not only in our religious observances, but also in the way our life in Him plays out in the real, here-and-now world.
But on one occasion, Jesus was asked “What shall we do, so that we may do the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:28-29). Behind everything that we do for God must lie a faithful trust in The One Whose Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension makes it possible for us to know and serve God at all. As St. Paul writes, whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:17).
I can think of no better way to respond to what God is doing, to believe in The One Whom He has sent, and to do everything in the Name of the Lord Jesus, than to pray. Thank you, praying Christian, for doing the work of God.
There is so much to be praying about in these hard times. From the pandemic to racial injustice to political division to social unrest, not to mention the many tough circumstances we or those we know are in, our prayer lists are long and challenging. It’s critical that our prayers not be hindered. And though there’s certainly demonic opposition to our intercession, prayer hindrances generally lie in the quality of our relationships. Peter specifically mentions the way husbands treat their wives, advocating considerate care “so that your prayers will not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). So today, as you respond in prayer to the needs that The Lord brings before you, please do a relationships check, and make any necessary amends, not only so that your heart may be cleansed, and that any pain experienced by others because of you may be healed, but also so that your prayers may travel freely to and from God’s throne with speed and power, for His sake, and for ours.
Our world is full of seeds, and the Bible has lots to say about them. From creation’s seeds in Genesis, to the seed/offspring of the patriarchs and matriarchs, to the seeds planted by the sower, the word “seed” connotes something very small which, in God’s Plan, becomes something very powerful. Jesus points to the tiny mustard seed which, when fully grown, becomes the greatest of shrubs, large enough that birds can nest in its branches, a metaphor for the seeming smallness of the Kingdom of God which, when fully manifest, will eclipse and reshape the cosmos into a glorious nest for all in Christ.
But as to the greatest seed, Jesus would point to your faith, particularly so as an intercessor. He said, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’, and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you (Matthew 17:20). And He validates that seed faith by becoming the Seed which, when it falls to the ground and dies…produces many seeds (John 12:24), including your seed of faith, and mine.
So today, as you approach God with your requests, both small and mountainous, may you remember the small and great seed of faith that you have been given, and may you plant it in The One Seed Whose death, resurrection, and ascension gives it tremendous and life-giving power.
Have you noticed the recurring theme of the New Testament letters? In the midst of all the challenges, opposition, and confusion faced by those first believers, the letters addressed to them note the believers’ thankfulness, for which the letters give thanks. Though these epistles contain teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training, their predominant tone, nonetheless, is thanksgiving, to those addressed, and to God. As you present requests to God by prayer and petition, may you also do so with thanksgiving, for His mercies which are new in all circumstances every morning.
As our nation is in a season of reckoning regarding past and current racial injustice, and many cry for justice, we can be encouraged that heaven also cries for justice. When John the Elder’s vision brought him into heaven, he wrote, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the Word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Revelation 6:-10). This cry for God’s True Justice validates the current and past cries for justice here on earth. But it also purifies those cries, in that The Lord, holy and true, alone can judge the intentions and actions of all of us, and alone can execute righteous vengeance. In this season of truth-telling, may we personally and nationally join those souls in heaven in calling upon God to judge and to restore us in His Truth and Holiness.
In these days, as we pray for the huge needs around us, none the least the need for people to embrace Jesus, it’s possible we might have developed the “Elijah Syndrome”. You know it, and intercessors may especially be subject to it, as was Israel’s praying prophet when he said to God in 1 Kings 19, I have been very zealous for The Lord, The God of Hosts, but [people] have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I am the only one left… Indeed, intercessors are a rare breed, precious to The Lord and His People … but not that rare, not that precious, and certainly not “the only ones”. As God reminded the prophet, nevertheless, I have reserved 7000 in Israel — all whose knees have not bowed to Baal… So take heart, prayer people. All around us are those reserved by God who are faithfully joining us in intercession. And there are still others, seekers who are being drawn by Him in great numbers. Note this recent statistic from the Desert Vineyard Church in California: “averaging 33,000 searches per month, 2020 has seen more internet searches for prayer than in the previous five years. Growing concerns over health and safety, economic stability, and civil unrest have driven many toward — or back to — faith and prayer.” So may we persevere in prayer, as a mighty army, such that these seekers will be drawn to The Only One to believe in and The Only One to pray to. And we thank God for reserving way more than 7000 to pray with us.
Intercession is not for snowflakes! The work of prayer in which we engage, though it’s driven by the Power that exceeds that of the universe, is nonetheless hard work. We know this from the example of Epaphras, a companion of St. Paul, of whom Paul says, is always wrestling in prayer for you [Colossians] 4:12. And perhaps the same could be said of Jacob, who was left alone, and “a man” wrestled with him till daybreak (Genesis 32:24). For we are, and they were, wrestling with God for more than just the “answers” to the prayers we and they bring before God. As in the case of Epaphras, we wrestle with God so that, in the midst of our need, and our intercession, we and those we pray for may stand firm in all the Will of God, mature and fully assured. So thank you for being a champion in prayer, and for doing the hard work to follow His intercessory calling.
In these days of isolation, anticipation, and anxiety, it is so good to believe, in the words of the most common Creed in Christendom, “in the communion of saints”. There is this unbroken communion which we share with one another, in Jesus, that traverses the miles. Hallie and I, largely confined here in Worcester, know that our brothers and sisters in Christ, in locations variously distant from us, are as near to us in The Holy Spirit as is The Presence of Jesus which He mediates to us all. This communion is true not only with the saints militant — those like you who fight the Good Fight with us in this life — but also with the saints triumphant — those who have received the crown of glory and reign in eternity with our Lord. And that communion includes prayer, not only from you who are in this life with us, but also from the saints who are in the face-to-Face Presence of Christ Jesus. For though we would have to disagree with those who interpret this “intercession of the saints” as their serving as special mediators between us and God (a Role only held by Jesus), we nonetheless are grateful that the saints in heaven no doubt join in the Intercession there of The One Who lives to make intercession for us, and for you (Hebrews 7:25). So join us in giving thanks that in our loneliness we are indeed surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, earthly and heavenly, who are praying for us. May The Lord bless you with a sense of that communion of saints as you intercede along with all of them and, most importantly, with The Holy One Himself. And thank you for being among their number.
In a number of instances, Jesus tells His disciples that, in terms of the power of their praying, it has something to do with the quality of their believing, such as in if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’, and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20). Though I’m glad that even a small faith can do powerful things, it still makes me wonder if I have enough to pray effectively for anyone. Perhaps I need to return to the beginning of my life in Christ, as described in John 1:12: to all who received Him, who believed in His Name, He gave power to become children of God. Note here that becoming a child of God begins with receiving God/Jesus Himself first, and then the believing follows, including faithful prayer, the birthright of the child of God to whom The Father loves to give good gifts. So, as you pray today, may you once again receive Jesus in The Holy Spirit, listen for His prayer for you and those you’re praying for, and then act on that wee bit of faith that will flood your heart and strengthen your will.
June 9 is St. Columba’s Day, remembering the 6th century Irish Monk who, like Patrick of Ireland a century before him, is largely credited with bringing an entire region to Christ. Columba accepted what was called “white martyrdom” (“red” involving the shedding of blood) in which he was willing to leave his beloved Irish homeland to go across the Irish Sea to Scotland. Once there, he founded a number of monasteries from which he brought many to Christ, including the monarchy and others in authority.
The monasteries adopted a simple Rule of Life, named after Columba (https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/source/columba-rule.asp). Among its tenets was this: Be always naked in imitation of Christ and the Evangelists. I must confess that I began to scan my knowledge of Church history to recall if there ever were monastic houses whose members were nudists. Finding none, I take this to mean living in the “nakedness” which is part of the fallen, and the redeemed, human condition. In Genesis 3, after their fall from grace, Adam and Eve painfully state that they are naked and afraid, which represented the awareness of their vulnerability, depravity, and mortality now that they had abandoned living in obedience under the protection of God. This was a far cry from the statement in Genesis 2 that they were “naked and unashamed”. But the beauty of our redemption in Christ is that we are positionally restored to our original state in Christ, “naked and unashamed” before Him, because of what Jesus did in being naked on the cross and bearing the sin and shame of the world, including you the reader and me the writer.
In Hebrews 4:13 we’re told that all things [including us] are naked and opened unto The Eyes of Him with Whom we have to do” (KJV). Whereas for sinners like us this Word might have a certain ominous “uh-oh” tone, the Scripture goes on to speak of how we have a Great High Priest Who sympathizes with us in our weakness. He, too, was marked by His nakedness, His complete openness before The Eyes of His Heavenly Father. However, He was naked and unashamed. And, in Him, we can be too, experiencing the freedom of being able to stand buck naked in the Presence Fo God, having been justified by the Love and Cross of Jesus, “naked” before God, and before others.
May you be given grace to do the same, to be both the horribly wrecked sinner in the Eyes of God and the gloriously redeemed saint from whom God never removes His Loving Gaze.