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.
As someone who grew up with lots of internal pain, and lots of tears, I’ve always been fascinated by this concept: put my tears in your bottle: These words are addressed to God by David in Psalm 56:8, written about when the Philistines had seized him in Gath. In addition to finding the concept somewhat gross — tears captured in a container — and weird — what kind of bottle is this? — I nonetheless find it comforting. The notion that God takes note of our tears, especially when they’re frequent and copious, is so different from my experience growing up, when I got the sense that big people just wished I’d stop crying and suck it up. Apparently this isn’t the case with God, and it’s confirmed by the example and teaching of Jesus, the man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, Who encourage us to weep with those who weep. So, as you pray today, perhaps with groans and sighs to deep for words in these days of intense pain in our neighborhoods, cities and towns, and country, not to mention the whole world, may you be able to “capture” and value the suffering of others, not trying to minimize or fix them, or even to dry them (that’ll come later, in glory), but just sit with them, even as you have been sat with by Him.
During these specific 10 days between Easter and Pentecost, 2 Millenia + ago, the disciples knew that they were to wait for The Holy Spirit to come, with power. They were told to stay in the city, and not to move on the Great Commission which Jesus gave them to go into all the world. They were largely confined to the Upper Room, socially isolated, in prayer, waiting for Phase 1 of their re-entry into the world in their new ministry …
Sound familiar? We have been confined, waiting for what, we hope, will be some kind of return to normal, Phase 1 of our pandemic-recovery life. We’re all aware, of however, that it will be what many are calling “a new kind of normal”, something smaller or at least different from what we were used to.
Many of us are also waiting for an outpouring of The Holy Spirit, God’s Consolation in the midst of this desolation. Some of us had the sense, Hallie and I for decades, that this revival would be accompanied by some kind of terrible devastation. Now that we know what that devastation might be (and more might be coming still), we’re expecting God to do something amazing, even as we pray it will involve the healing and saving of many, many lives. The question is, will we stay put in Christ, waiting on Him for the sending of His Holy Spirit to heal, deliver, save, and restore? Or will we rush out in our own strength, either to recover our lost lives (and thereby potentially lose them and take others with us), or to try to save this hurting world (and thereby potentially adding to its pain). Or will we wait on The Holy Spirit to come, in small whispers, or in a great rush of wind, and respond accordingly?
To state the ridiculously obvious, this is a very scary season, not only in the U.S., but around the world. Not only are we witnessing the catastrophe of an epidemic of historic proportions, we are seeing the meltdown of the global economy, rescued in the U.S. only by huge borrowing.
In this season of Lent and Holy Week, the Cross of Jesus Christ has something to say to us about these matters. To view a recent message from Fr. Len prepared for the Palm Sunday 2020 online worship gathering of The Journey Community Church in Worcester, Mass., please click here: https://vimeo.com/403943790/351ba6977c