Tag Archives: bible

Covenant Prayer (part 2)

10 Aug

Today’s guest post continues a series on “Covenant Prayer” from Steve Witherup, one of the other pastors here at Center City Church. He holds a MTh from the University of Wales and is way smarter than me.

As promised, the purpose of this brief series of blogs is to supplement the focus on prayer not through examining theories or ideas about prayer, but by becoming an eavesdropper to some who dared to actually engage in the transformative conversation with the Divine. As we listen, what we will hear is perhaps quite different from the safe ‘proper’ prayers we hear ourselves uttering.

​In Genesis 18, we read the story in which the Lord is on His way to investigate the outcries of evil He has heard coming from Sodom. Abraham sees three ‘men’ traveling and invites them to stop and rest. During this visit, it is confirmed to Abraham that he and Sarah would indeed have a son within a year…and then we are given the privilege of being able to listen in as Abraham and the Lord engage in somewhat of a strange conversation.

​It is easy to read stories like the one found in Genesis 18:16-33 with some preconceived thoughts. We ask the question, ‘how is it that Abraham seems to have so much influence in the interaction?’… and respond with the safe answer of–‘well, God is just testing Abraham’. However, there is no indication of God simply testing Abraham in this interaction. In other places (Gen 22) when it is a test, the reader is made privy to that fact.

What we do read is that Abraham stood before the Lord and had the audacity to speak and listen in hopes of ‘changing God’s mind’ for the sake of the righteous living in Sodom. We are left to speculate the thoughts of God behind His words. We do not know whether or not God would have destroyed the righteous with the unrighteous without Abraham’s influence. However, Abraham (right or wrong) seemed to believe with humility simply that his prayer had a chance to make a difference…his prayer mattered.

So…how could Abraham, who referred to himself in 18:27 as ‘but dust and ashes’ come to believe that his side of the conversation could make a difference? And how is it that God even entertained Abraham’s requests? I think the introduction to this story is key to establishing the mindset with which we read the prayer. God and Abraham’s interaction follows 18:17-19 where we are reminded of two very important things:
1. Not only does God have a plan, He desires to reveal it to his people. Creation was never in a static state, nor was it abandoned. God is at work and His plan will be brought to completion.
2. For whatever the crazy reason may be, God desires His people to play a part in His plan. He invites us to learn His desires and participate in them.

This happens through interaction…through transformative conversation in which we learn to listen and speak and respond. Abraham knows that he is not entitled to the privilege of conversing with God. He knows he is ‘dust and ashes’. However, Abraham dares to speak out of the confidence he has in the covenant relationship that he did not establish, but was invited into by God himself. ​

Finally, lets read this story with honesty…this is not a neat and clean story with a clear moral. If we wrote it, we would want it to read like this: Abraham intercedes and the people are saved! We would then easily apply it to our lives and we would be inspired to intercede so the ‘people would be saved’. Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed…Lot’s wife turns into a pillar of salt. Certainly, Abraham is aware of the destruction. Prayer is not a series of isolated events. It’s not a series isolated wins and loses. It is an ongoing transformative conversation that we are invited into. Despite the city being brought to ashes, Abraham continues on–learning who God is, what His intentions are, and what it means to be in covenant relationship with God as he works out His plan for creation.

Blogging through Bonhoeffer 3

27 Jun

In chapter 2, “The Day with Others,” Bonhoeffer showed us what our life with others, centered around the person of Christ, should look like. In chapter 3, “The Day Alone,” Bonhoeffer explains what spiritual aloneness means for the Christ-follower.

Bonhoeffer begins the chapter with an indictment on people that look to the church to alleviate their loneliness. “The person who comes into a fellowship because he is running away from himself is misusing it for the sake of diversion, no matter how spiritual this diversion may appear.” This is strong language and I find myself challenged by it. I hate to be alone. This is no secret. I am energized being in a crowd of people. I start to go stir crazy by myself. Bonhoeffer would tell me that I desperately need ‘”the day alone.”

“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.” Some of us go to community looking to get our needs met. Others run from community to bask in aloneness, where the self is king. There is a “together/alone” continuum that we need to find our rhythm in. Truth is found in the tension of opposites. Togetherness means nothing apart from aloneness and visa-versa. We are called to both community and solitude. “One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair.”

Henri Nouwen calls silence and solitude (which cannot be divorced) the furnace of transformation. It is when the noise and pace of life stops that we hear the still small voice of Jesus. But we run from it. Even those that enjoy being alone rarely experience solitude. We use our aloneness as an opportunity for distraction. We read a magazine, watch 14 episodes of Lost, or mindlessly browse the internet. Be sure, this is not the solitude that Bonhoeffer speaks of. He quickly dispels the selfish aloneness as well as the mystical approach to silence. Christian solitude and meditation is not about emptying ourselves and becoming aware of some mystical reality beyond our world. “Silence is the simple stillness of the individual under the word of God.” When we are bathed in the Word of God we find ourselves silent, meditating on what has been lodged into our soul. The Word doesn’t stop communicating when silence begins. The God who inspired the scripture continues to speak to us in the most intimate way. Silence and solitude are not ends but means to an end–intimacy with the father. But too many times we allow the noise of our busy lives to distract us from the voice of God who speaks in the stillness. If we step away from the commotion and retreat to a solitary place, like Jesus did so many times, there the voice of Abba Father speaks tenderly to his children. But it is also in the stillness that we see the darkness of our own heart. So we run. We don’t like facing our fears and our hurts. But it is in precisely that place where God wants to meet you. He wants you at your most vulnerable.

It is only in the context of this deep intimacy with God in solitude, silence, and meditation that the individual can truly enjoy community. Bonhoeffer concludes the chapter with a question about the purity of the Christ-follower’s aloneness. He asks, “Has it (our solitude) transported him for a moment into a spiritual ecstasy that vanishes when everyday life returns, or has it lodged the Word of God so securely and deeply in his heart that it holds and fortifies him, impelling him to active love, to obedience, to good works?”

Your solitude shouldn’t lead you some existential euphoria or state of centeredness. It shouldn’t make you withdraw from the world. It should cultivate your heart to prepare you to dive head first into a community that loves each other and the world.

We stand alone together.

-Joseph Phillips

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