Prayer for Comfort

Standard

Prayer for Comfort

Genesis 8:13-19

In the six hundred first year, in the first month, on the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from the earth; and Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and saw that the face of the ground was drying. In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry. Then God said to Noah, “Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh—birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth—so that they may abound on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.” So Noah went out with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. And every animal, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out of the ark by families.

Confession and comfort are two sides of growth in prayer. Together, these two kinds of prayer encompass steps 4-10 of the way to recovery and spiritual maturity.

This kind of prayer involved more than wires whispered at a bedside. It is prayer with hands and feet. We go to Jesus as our mediator between God and ourselves, but we also need to go to Jesus to mediate between ourselves and others. It is confession that follows along the line of the teaching Jesus gave in a general sense I response to paying taxes. If you owe your neighbor an apology, God expects you to give it to her. If you owe your neighbor more than an apology, Jesus expects you to pay that as well. Zaccheus it’s a phenomenal example of this from the gospels and Paul writes to the Romans the same thing. Owe no one anything but love.

This kind of full-bodied confession is costly. Between the jabs of confession we need comfort. We need reassurance that, even if we have not been and are not okay in the present, God is meeting us and making a way. There may be no more beautiful and concise picture of this than what James, the brother of Jesus wrote to the churches: “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”

It is terrifying seeking reconciliation sometimes. It does not always go well. Sometimes it seems to make things worse because it is often easier to ignore a problem than to address it, especially if there is no convenient solution within our grasp. The healing comes not from our own strength, but from God. The promise we have about comfort is not that we will not suffer, but that we will not suffer alone and that healing and joy will follow.

John 14:27-29

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.

Advertisements

The Art and Science of God – The Wild Way of Holiness

Standard

The Art and Science of God

The Wild Way of Holiness

Jonah 4

Jonah’s Anger

But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.

The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

Jonah Is Reproved

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?” “

Before we close the book on Jonah, there is one important thing we need to acknowledge. The story of Jonah was not written to the people of Ninevah. In fact, it probably was not written to any of Israel’s neighbors either. This is a story that has been passed on to and preserved for God’s own people over the ages.

That is going to change the kind of takeaway we get from this story. In fact, if it were just written to those outside the faith, we could probably end the story (much like the story of the Prodigal Son) early. Jonah, chapter 4, helps us look back and re-view this whole story about how God uses mercy to work His will in our world, and the way that God’s mercy is sometimes harder to swallow than God’s wrath.

Ninevah miraculously repents, and instead of giving God praise or celebrating with them at the thousands of new believers that have entered God’s kingdom, Jonah, like the elder son in the Parable of the Prodigal, Jonah gets annoyed, frustrated, and even angry. You see LORD, this is why I ran away to Tarsus! I knew you would have mercy on them if I came here, and these people don’t deserve it! Jonah had wanted to see the fireworks of Judgment Day fall upon these people he considered enemies. Instead, God redeemed them. And Jonah was not happy.

Peter wrote to the early church, reminding them of the purpose of God’s work in our world and in us.

1 Peter 1:13-16

A Call to Holy Living

Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”1

Holiness. It is the stuff that flows out of those points and moments of grace in our lives. It is the fruit that God raises in the soil of our being. And it trips us up when we try to take the wheel and drive it ourselves.

Here is how it usually breaks down. We preach and teach forgiveness and grace as a holy mystery – nothing scientific or practical about God dealing with our past sin. Then we switch gears completely and say, from here on out, it is our responsibility to do the right thing and sanctification, or the growth in holiness and the dealing with sin in the present and in the future is taught as something sterile, practical, and behavioral.

Want to quit swearing for Jesus? Put a rubber band around your wrist and snap yourself every time you swear. Put money in a swear jar. Write down in a journal the times you have sinned and share that with an accountability group. These are some of the many ways we teach holiness in our life, and while they can be helpful, they all come straight from behavioral psychology. I have nothing against behavioral psychology, but it assumes that either 1.) God does not exist, or 2.) That God does not intervene in our world. It takes us right back to Deism again.

I believe there is both art and science in all of God’s work. That means that while there is mystery in the way God forgives us of our past sins – there is a bit of logic and science to it as well. I would bet that, if studies were done, there would be significant brain changes, blood pressure relief, and some degree of general physical healing when a person accepted God’s forgiveness – especially for the first time. I think there are some kinds of things we can expect every time, from every person when they take some of those important steps to being a Christian. We may not be able to systematize the whole thing, but I suspect there are at least as many similarities as differences.

I also believe that our growth in grace is not any more systematic than our initial acceptance of it. Some parts we can plan. Some aspects are formulaic. Do this and don’t do that. But I think the real power in growing as a disciple of Jesus, walking that wild path of holiness, comes from God Himself as He intervenes into our lives every day, using both the good and bad experiences we have, to show us more of Him and His love, and to transform us from the people we are, into the people He has created us to become. We all need to learn to pray, but we will all have different experiences that will teach us the value of prayer and the methods of doing it. We all need to learn to search in and trust God’s Word, but the way I read my Bible may differ from the way you read yours, and some of those differences are intended by God. We all need to love one another. How that looks may be as varied and unique as the number of people God is calling. We will all struggle with holiness in different ways, and God, through His artistic prowess, will weave our stories of victories and failures, into a work of art that will overflow with His grace, encourage, and even direct those around us and the generations that follow us.

We all, as God’s people, are much like Jonah, and God will use us, with us or in spite of us, to do the amazing work of bringing grace and holiness into our world.

The Art and Science of God – Synthesis

Standard

The Art and Science of God

Synthesis

Jonah 2

A Psalm of Thanksgiving

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying,

“I called to the Lord out of my distress,

and he answered me;

out of the belly of Sheol I cried,

and you heard my voice.

You cast me into the deep,

into the heart of the seas,

and the flood surrounded me;

all your waves and your billows

passed over me.

Then I said, ‘I am driven away

from your sight;

how shall I look again

upon your holy temple?’

The waters closed in over me;

the deep surrounded me;

weeds were wrapped around my head

at the roots of the mountains.

I went down to the land

whose bars closed upon me forever;

yet you brought up my life from the Pit,

O Lord my God.

As my life was ebbing away,

I remembered the Lord;

and my prayer came to you,

into your holy temple.

Those who worship vain idols

forsake their true loyalty.

But I with the voice of thanksgiving

will sacrifice to you;

what I have vowed I will pay.

Deliverance belongs to the Lord!”

Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land.

I think the heart of the story of Jonah is the world-changing power when repentance meets forgiveness. In the church we call that power grace and we have been singing songs about it for centuries. Grace stands in that middle place where the almighty power of God touches our frailness and brings forth greatness that we cannot contain ourselves. If you think religion and spiritual life is just a checklist, like eating healthy and exercising regularly, you are missing out on most of it.

It’s a power of synthesis, when two spiritual entities collaborate to share existence, to work together, to act as one. In science, when this typically happens between a greater and lesser being, the greater entity swallows up the lesser into is own being and the individuality is lost, the way we cannot see the raindrops within the clouds. However, even in science we see those hard rules of nature respecting this creative power of God. Those same clouds, as the heat is removed from them, distribute those unidentifiable drops of water as billions of snowflakes, each unique in its own delicate beauty.

God knows those snowflakes and He knows us even more. We are not made without purpose. We all fit into creation in a unique way. God does not separate the value of the holy and profane, the special and the plain, the way we, in our prejudices do. He created it all, and while He often creates an abundance of more than is strictly necessary, He does not let His world go to waste.

Case and point: even Jonah’s deliberate act of disobedience is redeemed and transformed into a story that has inspired the world to follow God for thousands of years.

This is grace, where the science of how things should work together meets the art of working through the disconnections and conflicts – creating something even more beautiful because of the fragility of it all. In our efforts to see how our world was made to work, when we look closely enough, we see that the only way it works at all, is if God continues to hold us all together.

Matthew 12:38-421

The Sign of Jonah

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! “

If you closely enough at the struggles you face today, can you see God working to hold everything together even there?


  1. (Lk 11:29–32)