Month: January 2016

So which is it?

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Are we to pray for God’s will or are we to pray asking God for what we want?

Is Jesus contradicting Himself?

Matthew 6:9-15 Jesus clearly teaches us to pray for His purposes for His will to be done and by implication, Jesus is teaching that prayer is about us aligning our will with God’s will. In prayer we are the one’s who are changed.
And yet in the very next chapter (Matthew 7:7-11), in the same sermon on the mount Jesus is teaching us to be proactive in prayer to ask our Father in heaven for He who is perfect in His love for us will respond willingly/generously when we call on Him in need or even when we desire something we don’t need.
Depending on our Christian tradition we will find either one of these statements regarding prayer as a naturally better ‘fit’ for us. For some prayer is not telling God what you want from Him but us asking God what He wants of us. For others prayer is about faith, which is born out of the confidence of knowing whom we are asking and knowing what our relationship to Him is!

Neither of these traditions is right, they both are half right – which is not right at all.

I love the paradox here, Jesus teaches two different truths held in tension and we are to hold onto both of them to understand His will for us in prayer.
We are to align our hearts our wills to His, in prayer we get tuned into His perspective and His desires and yet we are to know the freedom of little children before their Father who tend to ask things of their Father, not for a minute questioning His goodness or His love, and quite frankly not even often paying attention to His desires in that moment.

What a lovely picture of prayer!

It’s complex, dynamic, it’s about relationship and reflection, it’s appropriate to express raw desires with confidence knowing who we bring our requests to with faith.

The type of prayer Jesus speaks of refuses to be put into one box or another – it’s glorious and it’s our privilege. Amen.

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Inelegant progress & peace

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 “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:12-15)

In writing to the Colossian church, Paul is appealing strongly for them to be united with one another and to be at peace with one another.  Having urged them to put to death, to put away all sorts of sinful behaviour which is no longer befitting of a community of Christ followers (Chapter 3:5-11) he then begins to exhort them regarding the lives that are appropriate for the church of God (Chapter 3:12-4:5).

In our individualised era it is worth remembering that these are all instructions to a community of faith, the church, not just to individuals.  All of these exhortations require a community and many of them assume we are immersed in a sinful community, working out faith and life in this age with all its brokeness!

After all, you don’t need to be compassionate unless there is hurt or pain or sickness or death, you don’t need to be exhorted to be kind normally unless you’re needing to do so despite someone’s unkind behaviour, you don’t need patience unless someone is irritating you or slow to change, you don’t need forgive unless you’ve been sinned against or hurt in some way…

Churches can be hotbeds for conflict & hurt!

Churches can be hotbeds for conflict & hurt.  This is because any relationship opens us up to both the opportunity to be loved and known and also the possibility of inflicting and or having hurt inflicted on us.  So, as a whole church sometimes rather slowly work out their salvation in close proximity to one another it can get quite messy relationally!

The bible is so real.  This is what we experience in the church is it not?  I don’t know about you but personally I am constantly aware of my need to change.  Sadly I let people down, I hurt people or disappoint them probably in more way that I know. As a result I am aware of my great need to be more like Christ and less and less like the old me.  Well, when you multiply that personal experience by a couple hundred people in a church – you end up with ample opportunity for tripping over each other relationally.

Therefore we are exhorted to remember that we are God’s chosen ones (vs12) – we ourselves are precious to God and so is that person you are so mad at!  Remembering how precious someone is to God, how their heavenly Father sees them helps us to get a different perspective.  That person might have done something terrible but they are God’s beloved child still.  It is good to ask ourselves in times like this; “How aligned are our thoughts to His thoughts about them?”

Scripture exhorts us teaching us that we are to be compassionate, kind, patient, humble, meek with one another because God has been all these things to us.  You could say that we are to preach the gospel to ourselves continuously, reminding ourselves of what God has done for us.  If we do, it will fill us with fresh grace for those who just like us are also progressing in the faith rather inelegantly at times.

In this passage, Paul points back to the gospel charging us that we are to forgive one another ‘as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must forgive’ (vs13).  Reminding ourselves of the gospel and that we have had all our sins forgiven, serves us by humbling us, reminding us that we are like “THEM” who have hurt or sinned against us, it puts us in the same boat as them which ought to result in humility, grace, mercy and forgiveness being extended to them by us, just as God extended all of these to us in Jesus.

Paul’s impassioned plea for the church is that we ought to be characterised by peace as a community of believers.  Dick Lucas has said;

“Now the rule of Christ is the rule of peace. It is inconceivable that those who share with one another the benefits of that great peace-making work of the cross (1:20) should live with any hatred or contempt for each other in their hearts. The Christian congregation should be a realm of peace just because every Christian is totally committed to the rule of peace. When Christ rules in the heart, his peace will rule in the fellowship”

As churches, we are those who share in the astonishing benefits of Jesus’ great peace-making work on the cross, we have been reconciled to God through His sacrificial death.

Therefore it is unacceptable that we tolerate disunity in our lives and our relationships within the church.  When we do tolerate disunity or disfunction, when we hold on to unforgiveness and bitterness in the church what we in fact are showing is that Christ is not ruling in that place in our hearts, because when Christ does rule, His rule brings peace and brings unity amongst us.

So here is the paradox, churches are communities with close relationships shared by Christ followers who are all on the same inelegant journey towards greater Christlikeness, and yet all who are on that journey are at various points along on it and so its guaranteed that there will be hurt, disappointment and conflict and yet we are those who have submitted to the rule of Christ and His rule is grace, mercy, patience, kindness and peace!

Therefore, may we be both less surprised when there is relational difficulty in the church and may we be more Christ-like in our determination to resolve conflict, to be peace-makers.

May we remind ourselves constantly of how God has treated us (the gospel) and determine to treat those whom God loves and whom God has saved and whom God has placed us into community with – with the same grace, mercy, forgiveness patience and kindness God has given to us.

Is there anyone you need to forgive or reconcile with?

What is stopping you?  Is it really a valid reason?  

Does it trump these commands from Scripture and the law of Christ?