I’m currently re-reading Tim Keller’s excellent book on prayer. When you end up underlining a whole page in a book, it is a pretty good indication that the author has nailed something! That happened to me on page 20. Listen to what Tim Keller had to say about the Apostle Paul’s Prayers:
It is remarkable that in all of his writings Paul’s prayers for his friends contain no appeals for changes in their circumstances. It is certain that they lived in the midst of many dangers and hardships. They faced persecution, death from disease, oppression by powerful forces, and separation from loved ones. Their existence was far less secure than ours is today. Yet in these prayers, you see not one petition for a better emperor, for protection from marauding armies, or even for bread for the next meal. Paul does not pray for the goods we would usually have near the top of our lists of requests.
Does that mean it would have been wrong to pray for such things? Not at all. As Paul knew, Jesus himself invites us to ask for our “daily bread” and that God would “deliver us from evil.” In 1 Timothy 2, Paul directs his readers to pray for peace, for good government, and for the needs of the world. In his own prayers, then, Paul is not giving us a universal model for prayer in the same way Jesus did. Rather, in them, he reveals what he asked most frequently for his friends–what he believed was the most important thing God could give them.
I’m currently reading through Daniel. Today I was focusing on these amazing and deeply challenging words from chapter 3: “But even if he does not [save Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the fiery furnance], we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image you have set up.” (3:18)
Nate Saint (1923-56) who was eventually martyred as a missionary to the Auca Indians in Ecuador said:
“The way I see it, we ought to be willing to die. In the military, we were taught that to obtain our objectives we had to be willing to be expendable. Missionaries face that same expendability”.
I would replace the word missionary with the word Christian!
“How great are my obligations to spend and be spent for Christ! What a privilege to be allowed to serve him … and suffer for him … But in myself, I am absolute nothingness. … Soon we shall be in heaven. Oh let us live as we shall then wish we had done!”
“When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.
To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means. As Thomas Merton put it, “A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.” The gospel of grace nullifies our adulation of televangelists, charismatic superstars, and local church heroes. It obliterates the two-class citizenship theory operative in many American churches. For grace proclaims the awesome truth that all is gift. All that is good is ours not by right but by the sheer bounty of a gracious God. While there is much we may have earned–our degree and our salary, our home and garden, a Miller Lite and a good night’s sleep–all this is possible only because we have been given so much: life itself, eyes to see and hands to touch, a mind to shape ideas, and a heart to beat with love. We have been given God in our souls and Christ in our flesh. We have the power to believe where others deny, to hope where others despair, to love where others hurt. This and so much more is sheer gift; it is not reward for our faithfulness, our generous disposition, or our heroic life of prayer. Even our fidelity is a gift, “If we but turn to God,” said St. Augustine, “that itself is a gift of God.”
My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.”
I’m just starting to re-read Tim Keller’s Book on Prayerand was amazed (again) and the challenging and beautifully written quote from Flannery O’Connor on page 11:
“Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of the moon that I see and mt self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all of the moon … what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing. I do not know You God because I am in the way.”
Here is such a help quotation from Paul David Tripp on the challenge of living at the intersection between faith and the reality surrounding you:
When you’re in the intersection between the promises of God and the details of your situation, what you do with your mind is very important. In this intersection, God will never ask you to deny reality. Abraham did not deny reality. Romans 4 says that he “considered the deadness of Sarah’s womb.” Faith doesn’t deny reality. No, it is a God-focused way of considering reality..
Jeremiah had a ringside seat in the arena of this reform. It is hardly conceivable, though, that he remained a spectator. He was not the sort of person to stand on the sidelines. He helped. He participated in the reform with his preaching. We have fragments of his sermons.
“You’ve solicited many lover-gods, like a streetwalking whore chasing after other gods” (Jer 3:2). The people had abandoned the God who loved and called them into being and had given themselves in reckless prodigality to every god and goddess they met. Moral pollution works the same way as environmental pollution. The waste products are careless living work insidiously into the soil of thought and the streams of language, poisoning every part of society.
Jeremiah pleaded with them: “Plow your unplowed fields” (Jer 4:3). Superstition and idolatry form a tough crust that makes us insensitive and unreceptive to the word that God speaks in mercy and salvation. Ploughing is a metaphor for the repentance that prepares the ground of our heart to receive what God has for us.”
Jeremiah was scathing and sarcastic: “And you, what do you think you’re up to? Dressing up in party clothes, … putting on lipstick and rouge and mascara! Your primping goes for nothing” (Jer 4:30).
Through it, all Jeremiah conveyed hope: “Ho stand at the crossroads and look around. Ask for directions to the old road, the tried-and-true road. then take it. Discover the right route for your souls” (Jer 6:16). There are old paths, well-trodden and clearly marked, that lead to goodness and to God. The Scriptures–in this case the Deuteronomy scroll–map the roads. If we ignore them, we stumble over obstacles. Jeremiah’s preaching was tireless in insisting on the plain, obvious truth: that God is among us, that we can and must live in faithful love with him.”
Is your vision too small and parochial? How would you even know?
Psalm 67 is a great vision stretcher!
May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us— 2 so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.
3 May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you. 4 May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the peoples with equity and guide the nations of the earth. 5 May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you.
6 The land yields its harvest; God, our God, blesses us. 7 May God bless us still, so that all the ends of the earth will fear him.