Pastoral Backstory – January 7th, 2016

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January 7th, 2016

Paul Noth

Paul Noth

We’re going to resume our time of monthly church-wide prayer this Sunday night. We’ll convene at the Akovenko’s. Kevin will lead us in the prayer liturgy.

But there is a danger in doing so.

Not because winter weather threatens. Not because we’re likely to provoke intrusion or persecution from the surrounding community. And while prayer is that context in which we find ourselves arrayed against that which would seek to hinder the progress of God’s plans, most (but not all) prayer meetings do not experience an onslaught from forces unseen.

The greater and more disconcerting danger of attending to public prayer is both what it can belie, and also unwittingly reinforce, in those who participate in it.

In a sermon by Jonathan Edwards entitled, “Hypocrites Deficient in the Duty of Prayer“(free here, for your Kindle here),  he muses on Job’s lament-laden retort against his enemies:

Let my enemy be as the wicked,

and let him who rises up against me be as the unrighteous. 

8 For what is the hope of the godless when God cuts him off,

when God takes away his life? 

9 Will God hear his cry

when distress comes upon him? 

10 Will he take delight in the Almighty?

Will he call upon God at all times?

Edwards hears in Job’s cry a notion that there are some who may call upon God at some times, but not as a deep-seated, principled habit of humble submission. Prayer may appear attractive to souls at some moments, but like Jesus’ parable of the seed upon rock, the interest in prayer wilts as soon as the heat gets turned up. Or when there are no eyes to witness the praying.

Edwards casts that fair-weathered frame toward prayer as nothing short of hypocrisy. And as a prime example of such he points to those who make public prayer–even family prayer–a clear priority, but for whom private prayer is virtually non-existent. The danger then of public praying is to deceive oneself into thinking that this is all one needs to walk perseveringly by faith. That, Edwards argues, is akin to thinking one may live without oxygen:

The life that true Christians live in the world they live by the faith of the Son of God. But who can believe that man lives by faith who lives without prayer, which, is the natural expression of faith? Prayer is as natural an expression of faith as breathing is of life; and to say a man lives a life of faith, and yet lives a prayerless life, is every whit as inconsistent and incredible, as to say, that a man lives without breathing. A prayerless life is so far from being an holy life, that it is a profane life.

His sermon was a challenge to me as I read it (and re-read it) earlier this week. In a time of reflection before year’s end I had to ask why I give more time to public than private prayer. I had to reckon with the fact that the dearth of times of focused, extended prayer in my “liturgy of life” reflects, at bottom, a belief that either God is unnecessary to my task, or that I am more capable than I am. That’s a fairly “profane” posture.

Last Sunday we let Rahab’s story underscore what we must all become convinced of in order to see a heart made new. Part of what will facilitate that process of renewal is learning a little more to pray. Not just giving ourselves to longer and longer lists–though that accompanies the learning. But learning to pray like jazz musicians riff on melodies.

Jesus has given us a melody for prayer in the prayer he taught his disciples to pray. But he meant for us improvise in prayer, letting his words inspire ours so that we learn to speak, just like children learn from hearing their parents.

John Piper demonstrates here that improvisational way of praying as he prays through Jesus’ prayer. (Though it’s unlikely you’ll ever hear a soundtrack accompanying your intercession. Sorry.)

 

If you discover your public commitment far exceeds your private practice, responding to the danger of joining us for public prayer is not however to refrain from attending. Far from it! Our public praying may be just as prone to catalyze our private life–the communion of saints breaking up the ice flow of our excuses and hesitancies until we find a new communion in person alone. So come with us Sunday night.

Van Gogh

Van Gogh

If prayer is mightily served by letting it be in response to what we find in the Text, then as another prong of our new practices in search of a new heart, we might take up a new pattern for taking in the Text. Private practices can often be well nourished when pursued in community. So the outfit that’s taken it upon themselves to fashion the whole storyline of the bible in some brilliantly vivid ways is now seeking to bring us all along in reading the whole Text in due course. These folks have already served us of late. Have a listen to their challenge–both for us and for themselves:

 

 

The Decalogue

The Decalogue

We are back in Acts this Sunday (Acts 22:30-23:11), nearing the end of Luke’s second volume. Our tack into that text is what God consistently “bakes” into His nevertheless infinitely varied people.

The other part of the sermon will center on how God does that. Without giving too much away, one prime means God fashions in us what He wants is by making Himself “present” to us.

We’ve appealed to Pascal Emmanuel-Gobry and Tim Keller numerous times in these pages. The two of them struck up a conversation on Twitter late last year, one which, as you’ll see if you know nothing about Twitter, can invite a whole host of other voices to chime in. Don’t fear if you get lost in the thread, but click on the “tweet” below and read how the conversation unfolds about how we ought to think about seeking and expecting God to make His presence known to us. Even if the conversation is limited to 140-character responses, the topic is treated with care and helpful insight. Their deliberation may very well find its way into our sermon Sunday.

 

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Our next Intro to CtK gathering begins this Sunday during 2nd hour. It will run for several consecutive Sundays. We’d ask you pray for the dozen people planning to attend.
For the rest of the Body during that time, our soon-t0-be Assistant Pastor Kevin Gladding will be teaching through the book of I John. Here’s his plan:

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Is there a thread that ties the whole book together, or is it a collection of loosely connected christological convictions? Is there a purpose to John’s writing? Is John writing against heresy(ies)? If so, which ones? And what does 1 John have to say to the church in the 21st century? We will consider these and other questions as we investigate this book.

There are some interesting debates surrounding certain parts of 1 John, and we may touch upon these as time permits, but our focus will be understanding the text in its central message(s), not necessarily the singular words or phrases that have engendered controversy.

But don’t worry. If all goes according to plan, there will be a Q&A portion to each session. That way, no one feels as though we have completely abandoned the norm.

We look forward to seeing you there!

 

So stick around for 2nd hour and explore with Kevin what the apostle John had for us in his lyrical letter.

 

1 John word cloud

1 John word cloud

 

Finally, it’s one of those years divisible by four. Which means it is an election year, presidential in particular (as if you were unaware). With all the seductive invitations to become either too inebriated or too devastated by the outcomes of any quadrennium’s plebiscite, here’s a little insight from W.H. Auden (HT: Alan Jacobs) about how we should regard what we’re all about to endure experience this year.

If we were never alone or always too busy,
Perhaps we might even believe what we know is not true:
But no one is taken in, at least not all of the time;
In our bath, or the subway, or in the middle of the night,
We know very well we are not unlucky but evil,
That the dream of a Perfect State or No State at all,
To which we fly for refuge, is a part of our punishment.
Let us therefore be contrite but without anxiety,
For Powers and Times are not gods but mortal gifts from God;
Let us acknowledge our defeats but without despair,
For all societies and epochs are transient details,
Transmitting an everlasting opportunity
That the Kingdom of Heaven may come, not in our present
And not in our future, but in the Fullness of Time.
Let us pray.

– For The Time Being; A Christmas Oratorio

W.H. Auden

W.H. Auden

 

Okay, one more: what’s been in our player this week. We heard a cover of this song a couple months back, but the original writer still plays it best. Peter Mayer: “Holy Now.” For not much cash you can have it in your player, too.

 

Screen Shot 2016-01-07 at 1.52.28 PMThere’s a lot going on in our Community, planned and unplanned–and several needs we need everyone to give aid to as their availability allows. All that is found on our City page. If you’ve become part of us, even in an informal fashion, consider becoming part of our City group. It’s how we learn to be present to one another and our world.

And one thing we have particular need of is a few extra hands to help configure our meeting space into a warm, welcoming, and orderly spot each week. Phil Swayne heads up that efficient team. They usually get things straight on Saturday mornings. Email Phil if you’re able to help.

Author: Patrick

Pastor of Christ the King Church (PCA)

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1 Comment

  1. Yes, personal and private prayer helps us each day to smooth out the ruffles in our day’s events. God even helps us with the little, daily stuff.

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