Prayer or The Semblance of Prayer?

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Prayer is the verbal or mental communication with deity.  We may ask for things, seek help for others, give thanks, or give praise. These words are sometimes accompanied by actions, but they are meant to be communication.  They are an essential element of relationship.

Some prayers are formal or liturgical.  Others are spontaneous and are just speaking you heart or mind.  They may be set to music, or presented as measured mental ideas. But they need to communicate in a positive manner.  Sometimes we are rotten in the way we communicate.  I know I can be bad at it. I wish I was always dynamically engaging with the ones I speak and share with.  But at times, especially when weary or when the mind is engaged in other pursuits, the engagement (and thus relationship) is not as pure or rich as it should be.

Let me here apologise to all I have ever failed to give my full attention, or with whom I have held back my heart.  Such times are rare, but still points of pain and shame for me.  I also need to address to God, for my prayers so very often ramble, or fall into catch phrases and  cliches.  Lord, help me to really love You (and communicate with You) with all my heart, mind and soul.

It seems the early disciples were not exempt from this either.  In Acts 12 we find Peter bound in prison.  He is on the eve of his execution, and the people of God have gathered to pray.  we must in context presume that among the things petitioned for, is Peter’s deliverance.  The result is an angelic visit to Peter’s cell, and a miraculous escape.  it is what happens next that is telling, however.

 “Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen.”  When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying.  Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door.  When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!”  “You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.”  But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.  Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this,” he said, and then he left for another place (Acts 12:11-17).”

Peter goes to the place where the church is praying.  He knocks and is refused entry, because he can’t possibly be there.  “He is in jail, that’s what we are praying about.”  There seems to be no recognition that the things they are asking God for may happen. Are we that way?  Do we go through the motions without the firm expectation that he is faithful in granting what we as for? Or do we say the right words without a firm focus on what we are actually saying?

Do we pray or just seem to?  Just think what we will accomplish if we move beyond the semblance of prayer.

Padre

The Battle For the Mind

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Pastor Vince brought a terrific message this week as part of a series leading to Easter.  The theme of resurrection, and of new life, this week found its focus on the “renewing of our minds (Ephesians 4:23).”

As Christ has risen to a new life, so too are we to be lifted again.  This in the body, but also in the spirit, and in the mind.  But all too often we despair.  We make assumptions that our lives, struggles, and trials are somehow fixed.  We see that our old nature is “who we are,” and as such have no real expectation of things ever being different.  This is clearly a case of “stinking thinking,” and it is self-limiting. Proverbs 23:7 makes this clear, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he . . .”

The pastor noted, however, that this is not the case. Ephesians 4: 8 proclaims, “Wherefore he saith, When he [Christ] ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.” God, in Jesus’ resurrection overcame death.  He led us away from the captivity of Hell, but also from the captivity of our own self-limiting.

Satan (whose name indicates that he is one who opposes and obstructs) wants us to be self-limited.  He wants us to believe that we are bound to sin, bound to fail, bound to suffer. He is a deceiver, we saw this in Eden. His lies are just that, lies.  The power that raised Jesus from the tomb, now raises us. The devil has no power. It is the Gospel, and the power of the resurrected Jesus which (as in Matthew 16:18) the “gates of hell” will not be able to withstand.  Note here in our battle for the mind, that Satan (and hell’s gates) cannot prevail (and gates are a defensive weapon).  The real power is on our side. Let that thought help “renew your mind.”

Any suffering we experience is temporary.  Jesus was three days dead, but ROSE! We too shall be lifted up.  And these temporary trails are just that, temporary.  God is sovereign. Even in the case of Job, Satan could not do anything without permission.  The devil is not the master of circumstances.

So in this battle for the mind, we need to be steadfast.  Yes we mess up, yes we daydream instead of focus, yes we even backslide.  But this does not mean we are “unchanged” by the resurrection. Our changing of our mindset, is like the rest of our change in Christ. To repent means to “turn around” to go another way.  Our minds can do likewise. Romans 8:11 tells us, “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.” To our mortal bodies and our minds.  The battle is to “love the Lord our God, with all our mind, heart, and strength” – our whole renewed being.

Too much of our 21st Century world view is linked to scientific determinism.  If A , then B.  All things are predictable, all things are set by laws of nature and physics. But the resurrection of the son of the Nain widow, of the daughter of Jarius, of Lazarus, and of Christ Himself, show us otherwise.  We need not say like Lazarus’ sister, “its too late, now he [I] smells.” But rather, like Lazarus we are to “come forth.”

Let us not succumb to the assaults of our own “old voice,” but “be renewed in the spirit of your mind.”

Padre

Theology

 

“Hi, I’m Padre and I’m a theologian.”  It is worthy of a twelve-step programme, the feeling that there is a necessity to analyze, scrutinise, and generally complicate things. And faith is one of those things.

Yes, I am a theologian, and the route there was one which took me through the paths of ecclesiastical history, and historical theology.  So why?  I used to believe (though my certainty of this has much diminished) that in a world largely agnostic, and increasingly atheistic, that there was a need for there to be believers prepared to give answers on the skeptics own turf.  This is well and good, and has some merit.

The problem, as in many enterprises, is getting caught up in your own rhetoric.  I have spoken often about the problem of theo-babble.  The tendency to use specialist jargon when plain speaking will do. My students often ask “why do we need to know the term ‘teleological’ when design will do?”  Their point has validity.  I respond that they “need to know it so they can converse with other specialists.”  So, why?  I am sure most educated people can understand “design.”  Why do we need to discuss “existential manifestations of the charisma?”  It’s the “spiritual gifts!”

Paul was way ahead of us here.  In Colossians 2:2-3 he says  “My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ,  in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (NIV).”  To know Christ, and in so knowing to have the full riches of complete understanding. Wow, how simple.  He continues “I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments (verse 4).”

The gospel is simple: the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus the Son of God. Let’s keep it that way.  Feel free to join me at Theologians Anonymous; or better still with God’s people in assembly. That’s where you will find those “treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

Padre

Beyond Fairy Tales

I have spent nearly my entire adult life working in the spiritual realm.  I have worked in military chaplaincy, been a student of theology, a minister, and a teacher of religion.  My pilgrimage through “this world below,” has not always been an easy one, yet my faith is dear to me.

I almost daily have that faith assaulted.  This is not new to people of belief, especially in this secular age, but I find it nonetheless disheartening to have my faith and my profession challenged as an invalid enterprise, by those unwilling to even explore its validity.  In my present role as a teacher of religion, I am faced daily with “all knowing” teenagers who profess a devout atheism.  When examined most prove to be somewhat more agnostic than they would like to admit. The intellectual and spiritual battle is nonetheless there.

More telling is the attitude of adults, who want to know why religion is even taught at all.  One once said to me “I have spent my child’s entire life teaching them not to believe in fairy tales, so why do they have to learn about religion?”  I find this disturbing for several reasons.  On the one hand, I feel what a diminished childhood it must be without tall tales and fantasy.  But, more significant is the failure to see that in this world there are people of faith, and that community cohesion, social understanding, and mutual respect can all be enhanced by being aware of everyone’s views (religious and secular alike).  Greater still is the limiting of the child’s exposure to faith itself, closing the doors of hope which it can bring.

I know some readers would say, that Christians do the same, by “brainwashing” their children with religious values- giving them a closed mind.  But is this so?  Do we live in a world where belief is the norm?  Can any Christian parent screen their precious child from scepticism and secularism?  I doubt it.  Yet, it is a world shrinking in biblical literacy, with even basic stories such as Noah or Goliath drawing blank stares when mentioned.

So I struggle on.  I teach, I tell the tales of faith, and I do my best to “fight the good fight.”  Your prayers for my endevours will gratefully welcomed.

 

Padre