Friday, September 11, 2020

Devote Yourselves to Prayer...Together


“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” -Romans 12:12

A Godly desire for a vibrant prayer life will be tested in this world of pains and afflictions. Whether things are going well or poorly, whether in comfort or pain, rejoicing or weeping, I am to be “constant in prayer,” or faithfully devoted to prayer.

How do I persist in a vibrant prayer life when things are going well in my life? I am to rejoice in hope. How do I persist in a vibrant prayer life when in tribulation? I am to be patient. Whether I am rejoicing in hope or patient in tribulation, I gather strength from sweet communion by the Spirit with the heavenly Father through Christ in prayer.

Yet, we need help to obey this commandment of Scripture. To rejoice in hope, faithfully endure in all afflictions and trials, and faithfully devoted to prayer is a community project. The early church “with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14) and “devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

The hope of a healthy, vibrant prayer life of a follower of Christ that endures all things and rejoices in hope leans heavily on a local church that enjoys a healthy, vibrant prayer life together. Later in Romans 12 Paul commands us to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” A rejoicing hope is not enjoyed in isolation, but celebrated in the community of a church family. A tear is not to be shed in simple solitude, but grieved in the community of a church family. And all of this in a love for one another which enjoys a healthy, vibrant life of devoted prayer together.

Often, we are tempted that our value in friendships within a local church family is dependent on our own usefulness. Yet, we simply rejoice with those rejoicing and weep with those weeping. There is an end to our counseling and consoling, even an end to our usefulness in labors. Yet Christ’s ability has no end. When hope calls for rejoicing or afflictions test patience in lives around us, we are called to devote ourselves to prayer.

Beloved, do not simply give words or deeds as a church family, but devote yourselves to prayer. Pray for and with one another in love for one another in Christ regularly. May we, the building up of spiritual stones, be made into a house of prayer. By God’s grace we petition for and with one another with thanksgiving in our hearts that His peace that surpasses understanding guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Guards to rejoice in hope; guards to be patient in tribulation.

Heavenly Father, make us into Your house devoted to prayer, pleading for Your needed mercies for each other considering other’s interest above our own. Be glorified in Your praying people. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Thankfully Self-Righteous

"God, I thank You that I am not like other men.” -Luke 18:11

This is the prayer of the Pharisee who walked out of the temple unjustified. Let’s break this simple sentence down. First, the Pharisee is talking with God valuing prayer as an important religious duty. Second, he is thankful to God, entering prayer with thanksgiving to God. Third, he is thankful to God that he is more moral than other men.

Luke sets up our Lord’s parable with this: “Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.” There is the rub. The Pharisee thought he could justify himself by valuing the duty of prayer, being thankful to God, and being moral. Jesus told this parable about the heart of people desiring to trust in their own decision making skills, moral living, and pious activity that didn’t lead their heart to trust in God for righteousness with humility; but rather with a smug, sanctimonious pride which “treated others with contempt.”

I confess, in my pride I have fallen in this trap a few times. To think, “well, I’m thankful! I’m even thankful to God that I’m a good person!” Yet, if this leads me to think of others with scorn, I have sinned greatly against God. It is evil of me to think of those not as cleaned up as me, or having made great moral failings, even going so far as to betray my kinsman in collecting taxes for a foreign power as the weeping, justified tax collector beside this Pharisee!

There I times I am tempted to feel justified having contempt for sinners who live, talk, and act in ways deserving contempt! I mean, “On account of these the wrath of God is coming” (Colossians 3:6). Yet we read in the very next verse, “In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.” How dreadful! How wicked I am that a man as me rescued from the very sins deserving the wrath of God I, too, once walked! How ugly is the pride of my heart saved by God’s grace alone would think so highly of my good works and so lowly of others as to “treat others with contempt!”

I hate my pride. I know God opposes the proud (James 4:6). I do not want to be an enemy of our Just and Compassionate God who justifies tax collectors. The answer to my prideful heart is humility. Not like the world which sees humility only as seeing myself as lowly, but being lowly before a majestic, powerful God. Before His greatness I repent of my self-obsession and thinking so lowly of sinners that I treat with contempt the very people He in His grace is able to save.

The threat of pride in my heart is routed by His invading grace as I look to the cross of my Savior. I, too, once walked as the world in their blindness. I, too, deserve God’s wrath. Yet, His wrath was poured upon Christ for me. My only goodness was given to me in exchange for my sin by Christ. I have no boasting before God except Christ and His righteousness.

Heavenly Father, forgive us of boasting in our goodness and any treatment of others with contempt in our pride. Humble us before You and lead our gaze to the cross of Your Son where You poured the wrath we deserved upon Christ, and have given us the righteousness of Christ by faith in Him alone. Grant to us gentle, peaceable hearts to treat those we think deserving of our contempt with love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Lockdown Longing

“I stretch out my hands to You; my soul thirsts for You like a parched land.” -Psalm 143:6
My soul is fine through the week, but I feel the frustration of longing on Sunday mornings. I miss the church gathered. It brings tears to my eyes even now when I think about it. And this longing to gather exploded off the page as I read Psalm 143. Why does the Lord ever place me in situations where I feel longing? Why can’t I have what I need right now? Why wait? Why do I need to pray and wait? I pray for the church to be able to regather in safety.

Longing led Israel to weep by the waters of Babylon when in captivity, longing to be home and gathered to worship the Lord (Psalm 137). Why do I have longing to gather as a church now, pray in my longing, and still must wait? 

Even as I write this, I do not have an answer. The Bible does not answer the question, “How long, O Lord?” Yet, the Bible is clear how to wait with longing. Frustration sets in when our longings are intense, which a table of temptations is set in our hearts. When my heart is frustrated and my soul thirsts for the Lord to answer my prayers, I am tempted to become bitter, angry, demand to have what I need right now without waiting. 

Yet, my heart is to be ruled by Christ’s peace (Colossians 3:15) and no matter my circumstance to learn the secret of contentment (Philippians 4:11). I can wait to gather while intensely longing to gather through Christ who gives me strength. Waiting when my soul thirsts like a parched land longing for rain makes me weak, but He is my strength. 

Why a pandemic now? Why wait when I am spiritually thirsty now? I do not have an answer, church family. Yet, I know our Lord does not leave us to fend for ourselves. He does hear our prayers in Christ. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Our anxieties, bitterness, and anger in times of waiting are unjustified in light of the sovereignty of God in His kingdom and righteousness. 

Trusting the prosperity of the kingdom of God and His righteousness does not mean we will not suffer here. We may not live to see tomorrow. We may lose jobs or even suffer greatly. Famines and nakedness come to God’s children commanded not to be anxious. Yet, even here, our anxieties are unjustified. Not because pains will not come or things are not scary, but this from Romans 8:35: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?”

The world suffering from a pandemic and economic pains is scary, but I take my weaknesses, my anxieties, and my longings in prayer to God. He is my peace, my strength, and my song. Even if I do not get answers to my questions, or an answer I do not like, I run to Him for safety and mercy. I urge you, beloved of God, take it to the Lord in prayer.
Heavenly Father, thank You for Your steadfast love. Ease our anxious hearts. How we long to gather again. How long, O Lord? Give us Your strength to endure in the waiting, to endure with rejoicing that in any circumstance we would enjoy Your peace. Bless Your church, O Lord. In Jesus’ name. Amen.