The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: Prayer (page 1 of 3)

Even If God Does Not

King Nebuchaddnezzar built a giant golden statue,
a self-image rising magnificently on the plain of Dura
in his empire of Babylon; it is for worship.
The herald calls to one and all:
“O people, nations and languages,
when you hear the sound of the horn,
you are to fall down and worship
the king’s golden statue.”

Thus, when the music sounded,
all Babylon within earshot bowed low
and worshiped the king–
except three.

Three among exiled Jews in the empire,
three chosen to serve in the king’s court,
three who now stand to answer the king  in his court,
because Babylonians, eager to denounce Jews,
pointed fingers at the three:  “Treason!”

Furious the king:  “Is it true?”
“It is,” confessed the three.
“One chance more,” the king replied,
or a blazing fiery furnace will be your fate.”

One expects a pause, a waiting to weigh their choices.
But the three speak quickly–and bravely.
(Or is it foolishly?)
“We have no defense, O King.”
It’s true–no defense, no power.
“We speak only this:
‘If we are cast into the blazing furnace,
the God we serve can deliver us,
and he will, O King.
But even if he does not, know this, O King–
we will not serve your gods;
we will not worship your image of gold.'”

The climax, we know.  Into the furnace the three are cast.
Enraged, Nebuchadnezzar peers to see his enemies burn.
Instead, he sees not three . . .
“But I see four, walking freely, unhurt in the fire,
and the fourth is like a son of the gods.”

So we celebrate, and we debate who truly is the fourth.
But  it is the words of the three that capture me
(To a furious despot before a blazing furnace):
“Even if our God does not deliver us,
we will not worship the gold image you’ve made.”
“Even if . . . ”
No assurance of deliverance, no promise of rescue.
This belief sure:  our God can . . .
This outcome in doubt:  he may not . .. ”
This devotion firm:  “Even if he does not . . . ”

This, then, is where we stand.
Not outside the fire, but in.
And we are not unhurt.

Shall we think our God absent?
Shall we say he cares not?
Shall we quake with fear and anger?
No!  We shall sing.
Stubbornly, defiantly, we shall lift our hands
and sing.
And if we cannot sing, we shall speak.
And if we cannot speak, we shall whisper.
And if we cannot whisper, we shall mouth:
“I know you’re faithful and I know you can
save through the fire with your mighty hand;
but even if you don’t my hope is you alone.
I will not bow down to the gods of unbelief.”

And we will remember, even if we see him not,
Or feel him not:
We are not abandoned, not alone;
One walks with us in the flames.

*Special thank you to my daughter, Meridith, and niece, Michele, for sending me this song!

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He Listens

“Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my sighing.
Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God,
for to you I pray.
In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait in expectation” (Psalm 5:1-3).

Jesus, the Lord, sits on a flat rock, comfortably.
In my imagination I approach.
How will he receive me?
Warmly he smiles, lovingly his eyes look.
I sit at his feet.

“ O LORD, you hear my voice . . . “
Jesus, Lord of creation, of eternity, listens.
As if I am alone of all men,
as if my words are weighty,
needing hearing.
He attends to my speaking,
without a hint of disinterest.
The Lord listens.

“ . . . in the morning I lay my requests before you”.
I give words to my weakness, admit my fears
and ask him to heal.
But more than requesting his help
I tell him my mind, my heart.
Though he is Lord, he listens as friend.
I unburden my soul.
Not once does he turn away
“O LORD, you hear my voice.”

Here, on my mind’s hillside, is the throne of grace.
I come as if a little child,
but a child of the King.
So I come expecting (like a child)
to receive mercy and grace to help
in my time of need
“ . . . and wait in expectation.”

 I remember a younger man,
who thus prayed often.
Not a carefree man
(the cares of his flock were heavy).
But healthy and strong he was–
capable, expectant.
He’s turned old, ill, weak,
needing care.
His feelings darker, words heavier.
But the Lord listens.

Now:  I’ve outpoured my heart to him.
He still sits, eyes searching my soul,
smile warm and caring,
hand on my shoulder resting.
His eyes mist, bringing tears to mine.
“O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice”. 

All for now has been said; he bids me go.
Outwardly, nothing’s changed.
Weakness is still mine.
Death still threatens.
But for moments, I’ve sat in a safe place,
a peace-place of hope.
The Lord has listened.
I go–to wait in expectation.
To see what he may yet do.
I go knowing he knows—
and somehow he stays with me.

 

 

 

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Your Prayers

 

Through the endless desert,
from oasis to oasis,
Moses led the Israelites.
Freed slaves seeking their Promised Land.
They dragged into Rephidim parched for water.
But Rephidim was desert-dry.
They raged at Moses;
He bore the brunt of their blame.

Amidst the furor fury came from outside.
Warring Amalekites attacked to destroy weaker Israelites.
Moses called Joshua to lead the fight
While he, Aaron and Hur retreated to a nearby hill.
With him, Moses carried the staff of the Lord,
The same staff with which he’d commanded the Sea to part.
He raised it now, over the battle below;
It was the Lord’s war
So long as the staff was held high.

But Moses grew weak
Arms, shoulders, wrists strained
Until the Lord’s staff was barely above ground
And then the Amalekites prevailed.

On either side of Moses, Aaron and Hur stood
Unsure what to do, afraid of the old man’s reaction.
Israel’s fate, though, now laid in their arms.
Quietly, simultaneously,  they grasped the old man’s weakened arms
And hoisted them high, the staff ruling over the fight.
Below the battle changed, almost imperceptibly at first
But now, now it was clear
The outmatched former slaves were putting warrior Amalek to flight.

 

I’ve thought often of that battle in Exodus 17.  It reminds me that the Lord rules, even over those battles we seem to be losing. Like Moses, I grow weary. My faith weakens as my symptoms grow worse.  I can’t fight alone.

You are Aaron and Hur to me.  Your prayers hold up my faith.  I’ve read your comments on my blog and on Facebook and email:  “We’re praying for you.”   Thank you.  Thank you for standing alongside.  Thank you for sharing your strength in my weakness.  Thank you for believing with me that the Lord is sovereign.  And he wins even the battles we seem to be losing.

 

Fingers dug into clay, searching for edges to grasp.
Slowly the stubborn roof yielded, the hole widened.
A rooftop for cool summer sleeping
Was becoming a doorway to healing.

The four friends had carted the paralytic on his mat
Across town to Jesus.
The house bulged with listeners, friend and foe alike.
They stood five deep outside
But the four would not be denied.
Their friend had been prisoner to his mat.
Day after day, night after night
He gazed at the clouds–and wondered why the Lord was silent.
His friends, too, lost hope
Until they heard Jesus was near,
Jesus who cleansed a leper
Could surely make a cripple walk!

Sweating and grunting they had dragged their friend up,
Determined, believing they dug the roof open
Until debris fell inside and arms-shielded eyes looked up.
Then  hands reached up to lower a mat and its prisoner.
And the paralytic lay before the Healer.
But Jesus saw more than a cripple, more than a broken roof.
He saw four friends’ faith:
“Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Pharisees present fumed, only God can forgive sins.
“So you know that I can”, he said to the paralytic,
“Get up, take your mat and go home.”

Silence fell, for a full moment,
Spectators waiting, wondering,
The paralytic unsure he could,
Then he rose, his legs restored.
He grabbed the mat he no longer needed
And with a glance of gratitude up at his friends
He went home.

 

Thank you for being my friends.  Thank you for carrying me to Jesus with prayers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I Am He

The woman lugged her empty water jar to the well, as the relentless noonday Samaritan sun beat down on her.  Her heart was as empty as her jar.  A line of five former husbands crowded her mind.  No matter who was at fault.  Each marriage ended.  And the man she now had promised no happier ending.

Noon was the hottest part of the day to fetch water.  But it protected her from the wagging tongues of the town’s women.  So she came when they wouldn’t.

She, a Samaritan, was surprised to find a weary Jew at the well.

“Will you give me a drink?”

Even more surprising that a Jew would ask a favor of a Samaritan. For Jews didn’t associate with Samaritans.

“How can you ask me for a drink?”

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who asks you for a drink, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

She wondered aloud how he could draw water from the deep well.  From where he would get this “living water”, if he thought himself greater than father Jacob who gave them this well.

“Every one who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up into eternal life.”

She wanted this water.  Forever-thirst-quenching-water meant no more struggling, stealthy trips to the well.

“Go, call your husband and come back.”

His command perplexed her.  She hesitated.  Then claimed to have no husband.

Shockingly, the weary Jew peered down the sad years of her life and agreed.  She’d had five husbands and her current man wasn’t her husband.

“Sir, I perceive you are a prophet.  Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim we must worship in Jerusalem.”

“Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem . . . a time is coming and now is when true worshipers will worship in Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.”

“I know that Messiah is coming.  When he does, he will explain everything to us.”

“I who speak to you am he.”

* * *

I read that encounter in my devotions this morning.  “I who speak to you am he” stopped me in my tracks.

I’d read it dozens of times.  From verse 1 I knew what the Samaritan women didn’t—that the weary Jew who met her was the Messiah.  It no longer startled me that he was weary and dusty.  No longer startled me that he had arranged to travel through Samaria at noon and sent his disciples away for food.  No longer startled me that he chose to give his most profound teaching on worship to a sad, sinful, Samaritan woman under a hot noon sun.

This is what startled me: “I who speak to you am he.”

For this is whose words I was reading.  This was who I was praying to.  This was whose presence I was seeking.  This was the One whom the prophets had promised.  This was God’s “Yes” and “Amen”—the One who will fulfill everything God had promised.

“I who speak to you am he.”

It struck me how easily and often I forget.  I sit before him as if he were . . . well, I don’t know what.  Someone less.  Imaginary almost.

The One whose words I “hear” on the sacred page, the One whose presence I seek to enjoy, the One to whom I make my familiar petitions—is Messiah.

Do I even realize the miracle?  The majesty?  The marvel?  The wonderful mystery?

As I’ve said before, my prayers inevitably are, “Heal me.”  The plea is a frustrated, weary, faith mixed with tiny expectation.  “Heal me; but I’ll be surprised (wonderfully) if you do.”  (I’m not crass enough to say that; but the words hide in my heart.)

“I who speak to you am he.”

The Samaritan woman never asked the Messiah-claiming Jew for anything.  So excited over him, she ran to tell the town’s women (from whom she had hidden) whom she had found.

“Jesus, Messiah.  Catch me up today in the wonder of who you are who speaks to me.  Who seeks me out in my emptiness.  Who comes to me.  Who offers me living water—a well springing up to eternal life.  Reignite my excitement in you.  Renew my wonder over you.  Open my ears to hear you say to me:  “I who speak to you am he.”

 

 

 

 

 

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So the Pope Said to the Interviewer . . .

Sounds like the start of a joke.  I wish.

According to “The New York Times”,  Pope Francis, in a TV interview, said the common translation “lead us not into temptation” was “not a good translation from ancient texts”.  He suggested, “Do not let us fall into temptation might be better, because Satan, not God, leads people into temptation.”

“Do not lead us” comes from the Greek word, icephero.  A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament by Arndt and Gingrich cites its literal usage in the New Testament.  Of the men who broke through the roof, since they could find no way to “bring in” their paralyzed friend (Luke 5:18,19).  Of the fact that we have “brought” nothing into the world (1 Timothy 6:7).  Of the blood that is “brought into” the sanctuary (Hebrews 13:11).  And to forcefully drag in (Luke 12:11–“When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say . . . “

Figuratively, icephero is used of bringing something to someone’s ears (Acts 17:20–“You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.”  The only other place where it’s used in the New Testament is the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 5:13; Luke 11:4).

So the Greek is not ambiguous.  To change the meaning to suit one’s theology is bad translating.

Why is this important?  Words are the objective revelation of God.  Think about this for a moment.  God has supremely revealed himself to us in his Son.  But we know of the Son, and what he did and taught, through words.  God has also revealed himself in creation.  But we need God’s Word to interpret creation’s revelation and to know the gospel by which we’re saved.  So words are crucial.  And getting the correct translation of the Hebrew (Old Testament) and the Greek (New Testament) is also crucial.   If we pass over the clear meaning of words, we corrupt the objective revelation of God.

So, what does, Do not lead us into temptation” mean?  Denny Burk (professor of Biblical Studies, Boyce College) makes these three points:

One, “A negative request does not necessarily imply that the positive is otherwise to be expected.”  If a man says to his wife, “Don’t ever leave me”, it doesn’t mean she’s planning to go.

Two, God may lead us into temptation to test and fortify our faith.  Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am”” (Genesis 22;1).   “Remember the long way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments” (Deuteronomy 8:2).  Testing almost always involves temptation to disbelieve or disobey.  Hence, the Lord’s Prayer is a request that God not put us in such a situation.

Three, we’re right to pray for deliverance from temptation and testings.  Jesus did–“And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want'” (Matthew 26:39).

Paul did–“Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me” (2 Corinthians 12:7,8).

It’s uncomfortable to think God may lead us into trials, even temptation.  Some reject the idea entirely making Satan the agent.  But, if Job’s narrative is true, Satan is the culprit only by God’s permission.

“Lead us not into temptation” is a good prayer.  It humbles us before God.  It expresses our dependency on him in the face of trials.  It reminds us of the possibility of God leading us into painful circumstances we don’t want.  It brings us face-to-face with a humbling, but gracious, truth . . .

God’s loving, providential care reaches to every part of our lives–even trials which often contain temptations to our fallen desires.

 

 

 

 

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My Muddled Prayers

Puritans held a high view of God’s sovereignty and humans’ sinfulness.  Nothing happened outside his will.  He is the King and his kingdom rules over all (Psalm 115:13).  Humans are depraved and incapable of doing anything toward their salvation.

Here’s a sample from a Puritan prayer in The Valley of Vision . . . 

“I can plead nothing in myself
in regard of any worthiness and grace
in regard of thy providence and promises,
but only thy good pleasure . . .

Help me to pray in faith
and so find thy will,
by leaning hard on thy rich free mercy,
by believing thou wilt give what thou hast promised . . .

So shall I wait thy will, pray for it to be done,
and by thy grace become fully obedient.”

The prayer harmonizes with the apostle John’s promise and with the psalmist’s proclamation . . .

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us– whatever we ask– we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14,15).

“The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19).

I draw two conclusions.  One, my illness is God’s will.  Satan may be involved in some way, but ultimately the sovereign God has allowed it as what he wants for me at this time in my life.  Two, I must pray for God’s will to be done with me in this illness.

Does that mean I should pray for contentment with him, for grace sufficient to endure?  Or can I pray for healing?  If I were content in him, he would be glorified. If I were miraculously healed, he would be glorified.  How I should pray—and what the results would be (whether contentment or healing)—would result in God’s glory.  So God’s glory doesn’t tell how I should pray.

I’ve written here before that in his weekly phone call my brother-in-law prays for my healing.  So does a prayer group in his church (the church in which Lois and I grew up).  And so do I, pointing to Matthew 14:13,14) . . .

“When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”

And I pray: “Jesus see me.  Look on me with compassion.  And please heal me.”

I pray relying on Jesus’ mercy, because, while I have great confidence that he can heal me, I don’t have great confidence that he will.  So sometimes I pray for a gift of faith.   Often I’m just confused.

Praying for contentment in the Lord while enduring this illness seems like surrendering to it.  Everything in me wants to fight back.  To stubbornly refuse to give ground.  To stomp it out.  (Not by myself—with the Lord’s grace and healing work.)

Yet I find a certain peace in simply praying, “Your will be done.”  I can rest, not be agitated over healing I want but so far can’t have.  I can focus my thoughts on the Lord.  (Sounds so spiritual.  Honestly, often when I do the question intrudes, “But why won’t he heal me?”)

Despite that nagging intrusion, I think I should pray, “Your will be done” (keeping my prayer for healing on the perimeter).  The sovereign Lord has led me into this valley for this season of my life.  He will keep me here as long as he wants—until my dying day or until my healing.  (Either way, he has eternal healing for me!)  And here, instead of slipping into a mire of depression, I can meet with him in his Word and in prayer.  I can seek contentment in him.  I can admit what is more than ever painfully obvious:  I am utterly dependent on him.  Instead of withdrawing in anger or disappointment, I can draw near to him.  I can know Jesus in the fellowship of suffering (Philippians 3:10).  I can pray this Valley of the Vision prayer . . .

LORD, HIGH AND HOLY, MEEK AND LOWLY,

Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin, I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox

          that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,       

          that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from the deepest wells
and the deeper the wells the brighter the stars shine.

Let me find thy light in my darkness,
thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow,
thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty,
thy glory in my valley.

( I will inevitably sneak in:  “And if you want to heal me today, please do!”  That’s okay, right?  Ah, my muddled prayers!)

 

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What People Really Want

I just finished reading Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?  Four different theologians contribute four different perspectives on that question.  I may  comment on it in later blogs.

What I want to write now is the author’s compelling answer at book’s end to this question:   “What is the deepest concern of Christians in this area (of miraculous gifts)?”  Wayne Grudem’s answer spoke to my heart . . .

I don’t think that the differences we usually talk about among our churches are their deepest concern.  I do not think most Christians care deeply whether the pastor wears a coat and tie or a sweater or a robe, or whether the church has an Anglican liturgy or a Baptist order of service or charismatic spontaneity with tongues and prophecies.  I don’t think they care deeply whether the church leads music with an organ or with a guitar, or teaches that you should be baptized in the Holy Spirit or filled with the Holy Spirit. These matters are of some importance, but they are not matters of deepest concern.

“I think what people really want is to be in the presence of God.  They want to have a deeper experience of God as they participate in church life week by week.  They want times of prayer that are not just forty-five minutes of prayer requests and five minutes of prayer, and not just quickly praying through a long list of requests, but times when they can pray long enough—in an unhurried way—so that they not only talk to God but also hear his still, small voice bearing witness to their hearts.  And they want times of worship where, when they are singing, they are allowed to focus their attention on God for an extended time—where no one is interrupting them to tell them to greet their neighbor, or to sing loudly on the next verse, or to listen to the announcements, or to listen to the choir, or to fill out the registration card in the pew.  These things, of course, have a place, but they all shift our focus from God alone to the people around us, and they interrupt our times of deepest reverence in the worship of God alone.

“Christians instinctively long to be in an assembly of God’s people where they can focus their attention on God long enough that their eyes and minds and hearts are aware of nothing but his presence, where their voices are singing his praise (or perhaps silent in his presence), and where they are free to feel the intensity of their love for him and to sense in their spirits that God is there, delighting in the praises of his children.  That is what Christians today really long for.  They long to come to a church and be allowed to worship and pray until they sense in their spirits that they are in the manifest presence of God.

“When churches have allowed people to have such extended times of prayer and worship, this longing of Christians has been fulfilled, and these churches have grown remarkably.  No denomination or viewpoint on spiritual gifts should have a monopoly on such times of worship and prayer.  Cessationist churches and “open, but cautious” churches, as well as Pentecostal, charismatic, and Third Wave churches, can provide such times of prayer and worship, each with its own style and within guidelines that protect their doctrinal convictions regarding spiritual gifts.

“Of course, I am not saying we need to diminish the importance we give to sound Bible teaching, in which we have God’s voice speaking to us.  In many of our churches this is done well, in other churches it is not, and people go away spiritually hungry week and week because they have not been fed on the Word of God.  Yet I am saying that I think many churches need, in addition to such teaching, much more emphasis on extended, uninterrupted times of prayer and worship.  I think people are longing to come to church and to know in their experience that they have spent extended time in the manifest presence of God.”

To which I say a hearty, “Amen!”  By God’s grace, we had that when I pastored.  Now, retired and disabled, I can’t find it.  If I could, I’d wheelchair there, however difficult.  We need what this writer describes.  And my soul longs for it.

 

This book is available from Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Miraculous-Gifts-Today-Wayne-Grudem/dp/0310201551/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1502383463&sr=8-1&keywords=are+miraculous+gifts+for+today+four+views

 

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Scripture (Prayers) from a Friend

Prayer, according to the Westminster Catechism, “is an offering of our desires unto God for things agreeable to his will in the name of Christ with confession of our sins and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies.”  Great definition!

Paul urges us to “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  Great admonition!

But what to do when we’re too discouraged to put our desires into words?  Or when we’ve fallen into a rut repeating the same words the same way?  (Does God get bored with our prayers when we do?)  Here’s where Scripture reshaped into prayers can meet our need.

A dear friend (though she’s a wonderful “character” in a one-of-a-kind good way) sent me the verses below, telling me she uses them to pray for me and others.  I reshaped them as a prayer for my own use—and maybe for yours?

“O God, You are not a man that You should lie.  Nor are you a son of man that You should change Your mind.  Do You speak and then not act?  Do You promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19).

Thank You for not showing favoritism!  Otherwise, I’d be easily overlooked (Romans 2:11).

Thank You for being with me, so I need not fear.  Thank You for being my God, so I need not be dismayed.  You strengthen me and help me.  You uphold me with Your righteous right hand.  Therefore, now I am strong.  Today I stand (Isaiah 41:10).

The word that goes out from Your mouth will not return to You empty.  It will accomplish what You desire and achieve the purpose for which You sent it (Isaiah 55:11).

Your Son, O God, walked among the sick and healed them.  This was to fulfill what You spoke through the prophet Isaiah: “He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases” (Matthew 8:17).

Your Son, my Savior and Lord, bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds we have been healed (1 Peter 2:24).

O God, You have given us fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority (Colossians 2:10).

Your Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, is living in us by faith.  So You will give life to our mortal bodies through Your Spirit who lives in us (Romans 8:11).

God, You didn’t give us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love and of self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7).

In this world even a righteous man may have many troubles, but You deliver us out of them all (Psalm 34:19).

O Lord my God, I called to You for help and You healed me (Psalm 30:20).

You forgive all my sins and You heal all my diseases (Psalm 103:3).

You sent forth Your Word and healed us; You rescued us from the grave (Psalm 107:20)!

This is Your holy Word.  I pray it in the name of Jesus Your Son, our Savior.  Amen.”

 

 

 

 

 

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The Hurt and the Healer

Can you bear reading about me again?  I write about me because writing helps crystallize my thinking about what I’m suffering.  So it’s for me.  I do it, too, because I pray it encourages you in your painful place, whether now or some tomorrow.  So it’s for you.

For months I’ve struggled drawing near to God.  Not that I’ve disbelieved; I just kind of kept my distance.  Like a master-hurt puppy who shies away.  After all, God is sovereign.  So he sent or at least allowed this primary lateral sclerosis.  Shying-away may be sin, or at least foolishness.  But, that’s how I felt.

I’ve asked, “Why this, Lord?”  Of course, he answered long before I asked . . .   So I would learn better to rely, not on myself, but on him who raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1:9).  So I could comfort others with the comfort I receive (2 Corinthians 1:8).  So I would grow in endurance and character and hope in God (Romans 5:3-5).  So I might know Christ in the fellowship of suffering (Philippians 3:10).

I didn’t like his answers.  I wanted (and still want) healing.  I want to walk.  I want all my broken parts to work right.  And I pray that way.  My brother-in-law, through his weekly phone calls (and at many other times), prays that way for me.  (Excuse him.  He’s a Pentecostal and believes God still heals.  So do I.)

I know what I’m asking.  PLS has no cure; it just progressively worsens.  But nothing is impossible with God, right (Luke 1:37)?  So in my shy-puppy position, I’ve prayed.  And I’ve stubbornly thought, “If this is supposed to teach me better reliance on the Lord, if it’s aimed at improving my endurance and character and hope, if this is geared at drawing me into closer fellowship with Christ, it ain’t working.  (Well, so far as I can tell.)

Recently, through my study of John Piper’s A Peculiar Glory (which I’m summarizing on my blog posts),  I’ve been reminded of what I’ve believed for a lifetime–the Scriptures are the very words of God.  They’re truth.  Reality.  The only sure objective ground on which I stand.  Everything that doesn’t measure up to them totters and falls.  So lately I’ve grasped Reality more tightly again.

And I’ve started again to encounter the Healer.  With open arms.  With a welcoming heart.  I’m learning to accept that, until he heals me (in the land of the living or in the resurrection), this is his chosen path for me.  (Though not my choice.)  With my mind I’m standing on his word.  With my heart I’m hungry for his presence.

I’m not saying (to follow the shy-puppy theme) I’m racing excitedly for the door when I hear Jesus come home.  But I am kinda nudging at his hand.

Shocking that a pastor for 44 years has such struggles?  Well, I’ve learned (as I’ve written before) there’s a Grand-Canyon-wide difference between trusting God when one is young and healthy and busy in significant ministry and trusting him when one is old and weak and largely “on the shelf”.  How easily (and naively) I preached from Philippians 3:8-11 . . .

“What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ– the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

“I want to know Christ . . . and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings.”  My sufferings are world’s apart from his.  Yet in mine, I’ve been at times a spiritual wimp.  So much more maturing needed!

But, as I wrote above, I’m a puppy nudging at his hand.  A skeptic might argue, “If you believe the Lord sent or allowed your suffering, you’re an idiot for cozying up to him for comfort!  Typical Christian craziness.”

No, my skeptic friend.  God means it for good.  I admit I can’t see the good.  And I know it sounds foolish. He can see better than I can!  Besides,  to whom else can I go?  Curse God and die means only death (the eternal kind).  No!  The day will come (call me crazy) when this suffering will seem “light and momentary”–because I’ll be dancing (something I never could do!)

So while I pray and wait for healing, I’m learning to be happy with the Healer . . .

 

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Do Benedictions Work?

the pastor stands in the pulpit, extends both arms toward the congregation and proclaims, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:13).  With this benediction, the meeting ends and congregants head for the doors, friends, or children.

A benediction, according to one Internet dictionary, is “the utterance or bestowing of a blessing, especially at the end of a religious service.”  It’s not a prayer which, according to the Westminster Catechism, is : “an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ,  with confession of our sins,  and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.”  (A profound, delightful prayer-definition!)

Two significant differences emerge between benediction and prayer.  A prayer is spoken to God; a benediction is spoken to people.  A prayer asks God to bless (or thanks him for blessing); a benedictor imparts a blessing to others.

The question is, “Do benedictions work?”  For instance, using the above benediction from 2 Corinthians, does Jesus somehow mediate grace, God mediate love, and the Holy Spirit mediate his presence to people as they leave the meeting?  If benedictions don’t work, they’re just spiritual-sounding words that put a neat “The End” on a worship service.

Here’s a list of some benedictions found in the Bible . . .

Rom. 15:5-6 – May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Rom. 15:13 – May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

2 Cor. 13:11 – Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

2 Cor. 13:13 – The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Gal. 6:18 – The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.

Eph. 3:17-19 – (May) Christ dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Eph. 3:20-21 – Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Eph. 6:23-24 – Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.

Col. 3:16-17 – Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

15. 1 Thess. 3:12,13–May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Th. 5:23-24 – Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

2 Th. 2:16-17 – Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.

Philem. 25 – The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Jude 24-25 – Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Rev. 1:5b-6 – To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Rev. 5:12, 13 – Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing! …To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!

Rev. 7:12 – Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.

Rev. 22:20-21 – He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.

Thankfully we’re not saved by knowing the differences between benedictions and prayers!  In reality, they both in some way appeal to God.  But for the remainder of this blog, let’s focus on benedictions.

Do they work?  In my view, yes.  Though I confess, I’ve never seen any visible consequences.  Still, they convey the blessings spoken, because they are God’s words.  “[The] word that goes out from my mouth . . . will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).  Though contextually this refers to prophetic words, most assuredly it applies to all the words God has “spoken.”  So, yes, grace, love and the Spirit’s presence are mediated through the 2 Corinthians 13:13 benediction.

But how?  How can a human’s word actually convey blessings from God to others?  (The question has a practical application we’ll reach momentarily.)  By the pastor speaking them in faith, believing they are God’s words.  And by the hearers receiving them by faith as God’s words.  In other words, the benediction, which we sometimes “hear” with as much interest as reading a movie’s scroll of contributors can be a holy moment for us.

As I see it, the same would be true for a benediction created by the pastor to fit the theme of his sermon or the service, as long as his creation coincides with Scripture.

A pastor giving a benediction in faith and congregants receiving it in faith is a practical application.  Here’s one more.  How about making a practice of blessing our children with benedictions?  We could do it over them as they sleep, or, better, creating a holy moment while they’re awake.  I regret I never did that with our children.  But what good might be accomplished in them if they heard us again and again speaking the very blessings over them we long for them to enjoy?

In conclusion (as pastors are wont to say), here’s a benediction I pray God will bless us all with . . .

“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”
(Hebrews 13:20,21, NLT).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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