I recently filled in teaching Sunday School (the usual guy was on mission in India). The topic for the weekend was the church – its role, its record, and how indispensable it is for the believer.
Suffice it to say I was blown away. The high school students in that group had solid, practical ideas about what a church should look like, how to evaluate one, and how much urgency we should place upon settling down in one.
Blown away because while these students knew the right answers, a lot of people my age find them hard to execute.
“I love Jesus, but not organized religion” has become millennial-code for rejection of the church. It’s not hard to see why. I could blame the media for doing its best to blackball the church by accentuating its faults. But I don’t have to. A lot of us have our own wounds to sport. We might have been judged. We might have been extorted. We might just be sick of gaudy sanctuaries, sermons resembling TED talks, and iPads handed out to retain newcomers. Or we might just feel that this or that church doesn’t “feed us” well.
But permit me to challenge. What if we shifted our view of the church from a service to an opportunity?
With many things on my prayer docket this week, it’s left me content to share three particular and immensely encouraging quotes from older saints of the faith, on the subject of prayer.
Presented without comment (for I have much to learn myself):
Charles Spurgeon –
“…it is the habit of faith, when she is praying, to use pleas. Mere prayer sayers, who do not pray at all, forget to argue with God; but those who would prevail bring forth their reasons and their strong arguments and they debate the question with the Lord. … Oh brethren, let us learn thus to plead the precepts, the promises, and whatever else may serve our turn; but let us always have something to plead. Do not reckon you have prayed unless you have pleaded, for pleading is the very marrow of prayer.
E.M. Bounds –
Importunate praying is the earnest, inward movement of the heart toward God. It is the throwing of the entire force of the spiritual man into the exercise of prayer. Isaiah lamented that no one stirred himself, to take hold of God. Much praying was done in Isaiah’s time, but it was too easy, indifferent and complacent. There were no mighty movements of souls toward God. There was no array of sanctified energies bent on reaching and grappling with God, to draw from him the treasures of his grace. Forceless prayers have no power to overcome difficulties, no power to win marked results, or to gain complete victories.
J. Hudson Taylor –
The prayer power has never been tried to its full capacity…if we want to see might wonders of divine power and grace wrought in the place of weakness, failure and disappointment, let us answer God’s standing challenge, “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and might things which thou knowest not.
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. – Matthew 7:7
We interrupt your regularly scheduled tryptophan haze to bring you this important head-scratcher:
What do grass, a Seattle Seahawks championship, and the mercies of God all have in common?
Nothing, thank God.
The first passes away on its own (Matthew 6:30). The second is dependent on human effort.
But the third “never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)
Of course, I rarely ever live as if that were true.
I’ve never been married. But I have been very interested in marriage.
The divorce of my parents when I was seventeen led me to the most fervent prayer I’ve made – “don’t let me end up there.” It’s the kind of prayer God is eager to answer. His first lesson? Much of the answer takes place before any vows do.
I’ve spent my single years keeping my eyes and ears open for “what it takes” for a thriving marriage. I’ve watched older couples, gleaned from them, read every book anyone gave me. Recently, I’ve been privileged to learn from couples my age as well.
I’m one of you – a single. God has helped me scout out where we’re going. And it’s led me to one solution, blinding in its simplicity.
I know. You’ve heard for years that you need God more than a spouse. But God just seems so boring compared to romance and white picket fences and sex and babies. He honestly seems unrelated, other than saying “no” to your longing.
But what if we saw Jesus not as a lecturer wagging his finger about what we should be doing better, but an ally desperately trying to spare us from a trap?
I honestly didn’t know where I’d be living in a week’s time.
My first teaching stint was coming to an end. The remote school sat surrounded by the trailer park they called teacher housing, on the very western edge of the Great Plains, right where they finally sweep upwards into the Montana Rockies – a glorious, meteorologically dramatic, almost heavenly collision of alpine and prairie. As trying as those three years had been, I found (as we often do with such trials once they’ve finished) that I was going to miss the place.
Unfortunately, my job prospects were just as empty as those vast green prairies. Each interview that spring had led only to the familiar “You interviewed well, but we’re going in a different direction”.
Since I’d been busy preparing and chaperoning the school’s senior trip (to Las Vegas, natch, and at the expense of attending some dear friends’ wedding, and after which I had to chaperone one of my students back to Montana by bus because he lacked enough ID to board the return plane!…but anyway…), the administration had given me two extra weeks in teacher housing. That was less than I’d been promised earlier. I had two weeks after returning (did I mention by bus? LOL) to secure new living arrangements, which largely hinged upon figuring out where my next teaching job would be. Then I had to be out.
Unfortunately, those two weeks hadn’t come through in the “get Brandon a job” department either.
I could always return to my hometown, and it wasn’t hard to imagine finding a church friend willing to take me in temporarily. But it certainly wasn’t the way I’d hoped to end the year. And let’s just say that employment gaps on a resume are particularly deadly for teachers – especially with hundreds of applications for any given position. (It’s a sparse state.)
With four days until I had to leave teacher housing, I was blind to the next step of my life.
Imagine the most gracious person you know. Someone who is always kind and patient with you, hard to offend, listens well, sees good in you that you miss, holds a higher opinion of you than you do. They might correct you when necessary, but they do so gently, and there’s never any doubt that they still believe in you. Their influence has only been positive.
It might be a best friend, a mentor, ideally a parent or grandparent. Whomever it is (I highlighted the correct letter for the grammar nerds), you feel safe and welcomed in their presence, even if you’ve made a mistake. You know, from your long experience, that they see more good in you than you do in yourself, and that they’ll be very hard to drive away.
Jesus Christ is better than that person.
He has more of everything that you value and appreciate about that person.
That really does take some of us aback. Especially the “hard to offend” and “sees good in you” parts (John 1:47).
For many of us, God is little more than the Cosmic Fault-Finder. And to be sure, he does point out sin. He’s allowed to get angry with us when we provoke him. He’s God.
But the manner in which he deals with us, from our good moments right down to our very worst, is laid out very clearly in Scripture.
I stared numbly at my laptop this morning, watching reports of terrorist attacks in
Paris Orlando fill the screen
Immediately the chatter began. Discussion of whether our nation’s leadership is doing enough, whether these acts truly represent Islam, how to respond going forward…all those arguments that you either want to flee or are all too eager to join.
Instead, I took refuge in praying for the families of the victims.
But later, I logged on to my Facebook account, hours after the tragedies…and was hit with an entirely new wave of grief.
Pictures of American military equipment assembled in rows with captions like “ISIS is doomed”…cartoons of American power symbols making their way overseas…snapshots of U.S. troops offering ominous proclamations to the Islamic State. The grim ill will echoing from the post-9/11 era, the hyper-patriotism that seems to go so naturally hand-in-hand with American Christianity.
Perhaps I have changed over the years, for I found myself aghast.
And struggling to reconcile it to the words of Jesus: