This tomb, seen along the roadside in Israel, reminds me of another tomb where God testified regarding eternal blessing and renewal.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Jesus' Individual Instances of Prayer

In a recent post, I wrote that I counted nine individual instances in which Jesus was seen praying in the gospels. That bothered me. It was so few. Since this is part of one of my topics at Pepperdine next week, I have continued to look and read (you just can't find everything with a search, even if you know most of the words to look for!). Short story? I found a few more. So I thought I would publish them here in case anyone wants to add to them. I know some just came to my mind--some will likely come to you, too. My plan is to keep updating this as I think of more or change my mind about what I have already found and its meaning.

I have separated them into three categories, too--just because I am a sorter. :) You might separate them differently, and that is fine, too.

Times Jesus prays for direction or peace; times that more nearly "match" our "quiet time" prayer expectations:
  1. At his baptism--Luke 3.21
  2. Looking for direction after healing late in the night in Capernaum--Mk 1.35
  3. He was praying in Luke when the disicples ask him to teach them to pray--Lk 11.1. I am not counting the "Lord's Prayer" in Matthew here, but as teaching. I am not arguing that he didn't pray as he taught, but I am looking for personal prayer.
  4. The night before he chose his disicples--Luke 6.12
  5. Looking for direction and peace after he feeds the 5,000. Mk 6.46. At this stressful time, he knew that a) the people were planning to come get him to make him king (John 6.15), b) John the Baptist has just been killed (Matthew 14.13), and c) the disciples have just returned from having healed in His Name; they are so busy they can hardly find time to eat (Mark 6.30-31) .
  6. He is praying alone when his followers come and he asks, "Who do people say that I am?" It is here Peter confesses, "You are the Christ." Luke 9.18.
  7. He is praying on the mountain when his face is changed and Elijah and Moses appear. Luke 9.28.
  8. His longest recorded prayer for the disciples and all that will believe through their name is recorded in John 17.
  9. Matthew, Mark and Luke record the prayers in the Garden (John does not. John's Jesus speaks to the synoptic writers' claims in John 12.28; he will not ask to be spared the cross. This prayer is listed below in the second list. Find the synoptics prayers in the garden in Mt. 26.36f; Mark 14.36f, and Luke 22.40f.
Times Jesus prays as if speaking to a person who is standing nearby: (I am having trouble articulating this one. He is always conversational and personal with God, but in these instances, it is like God is physically beside him, directly involved in the situation. I think you will see what I mean.)
  1. Praises God for revealing the truth to little children, rather than the wise and learned. Matthew 11.25
  2. At Lazarus' tomb, he thanks God in the hearing of the people so they will know that he has invoked God's name in this miracle that is about to occur. John 11.41
  3. In speaking of his coming death in John, Jesus tells the disciples (who have brought Greeks to see him) that he is very troubled about what is coming. But, shall he ask to be saved from that suffering? No! Instead he says to God, "Father, do what will bring you glory!" God responds, I have; and I will again."
  4. I would argue especially that the entire time on the cross, Jesus is praying--though it is not what we would normally term as "prayer." Three times we hear him speak directly to the Father: Luke 23.34; 46; and Matthew 27.46 record these utterances, the last of which is committing himself into God's care before he dies.

Other instances when we know Jesus prayed:

  1. The people brought little children to him to be prayed over: Matthew 19.13
  2. Luke says it was his custom to withdraw and pray: Luke 5.16
  3. He tells Peter that he has prayed for him so Peter's faith will not fail: Luke 22.32
  4. He tells the disciples that he will ask the Father and He will send them an Advocate to be with them--the Holy Spirit. John 14.16
  5. He also blesses God for food at the two feedings and at the meal in the upper room.
One more note: Luke 5.33 records that more "religious sorts" did not think that he his disciples were men of prayer: Luke 5.33.

Oh, my!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Reflections on "Life"

I had intended to write today another piece related to my post yesterday. However, an incident in the lives of my DFW children has prompted other thoughts. My daughter-in-law Jo worked after receiving her Masters in Accounting degree from ACU for one of the largest accounting firms in the world. There, she met and befriended a young woman. Though Jo has changed jobs, she and this young woman remain connected, having daughters about the same age--three-ish. In the past week, this woman's younger brother has been shot and killed during a break-in at home in Fort Worth. His "life" has ended. As one who claimed Christ, his "Life," the one he began on this earth when he chose to follow the Lord, has begun.

Reflections on "Life"

Had it been that the whole purpose of Jesus was to die for our sins, I suppose that would have been enough. But it wasn't enough for God; he had much more in mind and we can see his purpose reflected quite clearly in scripture.

Had it been the whole purpose of Jesus to come and die for our sins, that event could have occurred very early. With the exception of Matthew, who records so much of Jesus' teaching that the story of his life advances advances at a slower pace, every gospel engages the conflict that will lead to Jesus' crucifixion within three chapters of the beginning of his public ministry. (1) As theologically profound as the idea of God paying for the lives of his adopted and fallen children with the blood of his only begotten son is, one must also recognize the reality that Jesus' appearance on earth was not some heavenly shopping errand--running out to purchase the lives of humankind with own blood. He had a bigger purpose in mind. The mystery of Jesus and his presence on earth involved more than buying pardon--even more than displaying resurrection. The incarnation--God among humankind--was required, as well.

Jesus taught us how to live, and I don't mean he showed us how to follow the rules. "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full," he would say. John wrote of Jesus in his introduction: "In him was life and that life was the light of men." More significant than his death was his life--both before and after the cross.

I have often pondered what it meant to God to return to walk on the earth. Had he done so since the days in the garden? I can imagine so, but (I think) we have no record of him walking with humankind after the sin of the garden until Jesus appears. What joy was there for him in his physical presence to walk the hills of Galilee with his bride Israel? What joy and what sadness--to live amidst the fallen-ness of his people in a world created for such a different lifestyle. Here, he too experienced firsthand life, in the lower case.

As the incarnate God, he would meet and fully experience temptation. One is not tempted without desire. How did it feel for the god of the universe to desire to succumb to the wiles of the Evil One? What fellowship with humankind did God gain in the experience? Because he was tempted in every way just as we are and he did suffer when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. What ramifications might this have for judgment? Did, could God's capacity for steadfast love grow during this time? Is it because he was "made perfect" that he is able "by one sacrifice" to make "perfect forever those who are being made holy?"

Oh, the mysteries of Life!--the peeks we might gain from observing the incarnation. I ponder God on earth--the god who did not come in power, but arrived helpless and dependent, a baby born without status, without privilege, homeless. A god who was despised by those who claimed to know him best, challenged by tyrants wishing to claim his possession as their own. Jesus was a god whose chief desire was to be with and to be known by his people--to bring a picture of hope to the blind, the broken, the outcast, and the homeless, to reach out to seekers as well as to marked sinners, even those overtaken by evil.

The world was a wreck, a dump in comparison to his plan, but the creator had returned and he "wasn't done yet." Jesus' presence on earth caused the angels to sing in chorus over the shepherds. A star that rose in the sky beckoned foreign nobles. All creation was to take notice. Thousands of years after the fall in the garden, God's appearance through Jesus' life on earth heralded the godhead's shear and unwavering determination to (re)create humankind in their own image, to have it--all of it--Their Way.

Jesus lived the abundant Life on earth, but that Life didn't end on the cross. It lives on very literally in two ways: in the fullness of Life at the Father's right hand and here on earth in the lives of his people--those who have been gifted with his very nature and Spirit and take seriously his call to walk as He did--in the world for the "sake of the world."

The young man who died in Fort Worth this week had some understanding of what that meant. As a high school athlete, his coaches said he was one who "walked the walk," a young man who recognized the need for "humanitarian achievement." One can receive no higher compliment than to be described with words that match the Master. To live like Jesus is to live Life to the full. Despite His determination to walk among humankind, to do good, and to love His Father with all his heart, mind, and soul, Jesus suffered a death that was unmerited and unjust. As surely as Jesus lives, He will claim the lives of those who love Him.

Jesus' death on the cross represents one more evidence of God's steadfast, unwavering, prideless, self-sacrificing, continually forgiving love for his creation. He has called us to live as He did. Where will that lead us? It could lead anywhere--among the homeless, the poor, or the diseased, to those overwhelmed by life or the habit or sin, around the world or next door. But when the call comes, we like Him, must be ready to go.

According to all who know him, Eric Forrester, in his short life on earth, prepared for and lived as best he could Life. That Life has not ended; neither has it just begun. Every good deed he did on this earth, every testimony he made both verbally and actively, lives on--just as he does. And his life, like Christ's, beckons us to look outward, to see the world Jesus died to save and to Live here in this world for the sake of the world--as we begin to Live Life to the full.

(1) Mark 3.6; Luke 6.11 and Matthew 12.14 all record the beginning of a plot to kill him. In John, Jesus clears the temple in a rage in chapter 2. Recognizing their intentions to kill him, he challenges them to "come on..." with a statement they will use to prove his blasphemy at his trial: "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." Without saying it explicitly, John opens his story with the foreshadowing of Jesus' death.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Time with God: The Gospels' Truth, part I

So, this is what I'm pondering this past year: where do we get (much less buy into) these ideas we claim about what defines true spirituality? And, how long must we spend chasing these pictures of holiness before we realize that once we achieve the goal, we may not yet arrived at any station, much less the one we are pursuing.

I wish I could recall right now the exact title of the lesson I was asked to teach that started me on this journey, but I can't. However, the topic erupted from a heart that desperately desired to enhance daily quiet time. Since I myself hunger for the same, the quest soon became one of my own heart. How could I help others to enhance their daily quiet time when I myself long for the same experience? The only way I knew was to spend time reflecting on the life of one man, the life I regularly dissect and inspect for Truth: Jesus. After all, wasn't he the king of quiet reflection with God? Like others, I had always claimed He was.

What I discovered launched me on this year's long journey: Jesus didn't practice daily the kind of quiet time ritual I was seeking to perfect.

Whoa!!! What????

He didn't. He couldn't. Like me and my friend, he hungered for it; he chased it; he even lived every moment of the last three years of his life, looking for any opportunity to practice it, but he rarely found the necessary, uninterrupted moment for quiet and prayer. It is true. Let me give you some facts I discovered in my study before I taught those lessons.

First, the gospels don't record a Jesus who was primarily known as a man of quiet and prayer. Instead, they record the story of Jesus' last three years of life--hectic years lived by a man who was suspect, followed, chased, pursued, harassed, invaded, and eventually arrested and killed. He was a man who accepted a mission that should have permitted him years longer to accomplish--but he was out of time. He was a man who stood in direct opposition to the powers that be, a man who had his own ideas about life and living, about a relationship with God and yes, even God himself--a man whose message was rarely heard though he preached it repeatedly in crowds of thousands. He was a man who lived at least the last months of his life knowing that he was out of time and that by every available indication, he was failing to do the job he had set out to accomplish.

Whoever said that Jesus didn't live a hectic life? Who told me that he had more to do than any man on earth, but he was never in a hurry, never felt rushed, never on edge, never near the brink of insanity? Who said that?

I know I did--more than once. But I know I was taught it, too. I believed it. But that is not the story of the gospels.

In fact, if one were merely a concordance student, content to measure the import of a topic by the number of times it occurred, Jesus and prayer might not receive much attention. I was startled that the New Revised Standard Version found no place to translate a word from the Greek of John's gospel as "prayer" or "pray." Though Jesus' longest and possibly most instructive example of prayer occurs in John, it is not named a "prayer," so a concordance for the NRSV will not pick it up. But that isn't the end of the surprising truth about Jesus' prayer life as reported by the gospel writers. All the gospel writers combined tell us of only 13 specific and individual situations in which Jesus prays.

Matthew's Jesus, the consummate teacher, instructs his disciples regarding how to pray, but he Matthew records Jesus praying only four times. In Mark, we find a Jesus who will pray all night for direction to understand his mission (twice), to select his disciples, and for strength before the crucifixion. Granted, Mark's Jesus continually seeks sanctuary, an escape from the crowds for a time of refreshing and (we assume) prayer, but he is interrupted or distracted most of the time. Luke, who gives us seven of the 13 instances, also records this charge: "The disciples of John and the Pharisees frequently fasted and prayed, but your disciples eat and drink." Truly, such an evaluation of Jesus' prayer life as noted here might leave us to wonder whether prayer were an important spiritual discipline practiced by Jesus.

Luke alone tells us of a Jesus who "would withdraw to lonely places and pray" as if his habit might have ended in some success. Matthew tells us that people brought little children to Jesus so that he could touch them and pray over them. Jesus' own teaching on prayer, that we not "pray to be seen" or heard by others, helps us to understand that this part of his life was both private and intimate--certainly not on display for the Pharisees or the world at large. Jesus prayed; he did; and some people seemed to know it. But, more than the quiet, reflective outpouring we know as prayer, I would argue that Jesus' very life, his every thought, his every action was lived as prayer, begging the fulfillment of intimacy with God. Only nine of the 13 mentioned times might be considered classic "quiet time" situations. I would dub the other four conversational moments in which Jesus recognizes the Father's presence with him and begins conversing son to Father, friend to friend. (Once, God answers, and Jesus responds back!) The "quiet times" were sought--experienced in proportion to need--to make a decision, to determine priority, to re-center life according to His purpose--but the Father was never far away. He was at hand.
  • I can do nothing on my own....I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me." (John 5:30)
  • "...the one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him." (John 8.29)
  • "I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it.... So whatever I say is just what the father has told me to say." (John 12.49-50)
I doubt Jesus ever taught that "time with God" could be reduced to a regular, early morning ritual made up of prayer, Bible study, and meditation. I am equally convinced that he never bound that definition of spirituality on anyone. I doubt he would have termed the ritual we know as "quiet time" as the most necessary or apparent fruit of a spiritual being. To Jesus, time with God was an every minute, every thought, every word experience. That's why he looked to escape a lifestyle so hectic that he missed enough meals to prompt his family to come looking, expecting to find him insane. He hungered for time alone with God. He craved it. But he had to pursue it. He needed it; I need it...enough to keep me in His Presence every, every minute.

Jesus was a busy man, a man whose life mission often left him exhausted and spent. He took his calling--to be the presence of God in the midst of a world gone haywire--seriously. And note this: His world was not so much different than our own.

More later.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pretreat Boosts Spirits: Onward: Thailand!

Worship on Sunday morning, on a patio overlooking a small inlet on Possum Kingdom (yes, that's the name of this Texas lake) raised the bar for experiencing community, group prayer and shared mission. The last day of the "Pretreat" for a Psalm 103 renewal opens with worship (planned by partner Jeanene Reese of Abilene)--at 7:30 a.m. It is the same time and manner in which we open every day at the renewal. However, at the "Pretreat" this worship occurs on Sunday, the first day of the week, and it includes communion, as well as breakfast. What a joy!

We meet at the assigned location (this time on the patio overlooking the lake) for 15 minutes of prayer and song before we retreat to fill our plates and bowls with quiche, fruit, yogurt, muffins, and/or cereals. When we gather once more, we eat, and after a bit, we hear again Psalm 103 and begin to discuss its content theologically. On Sunday last, Arlene Kasselman of Amarillo led this rich and full discussion that mined the depths of our hearts and minds as we considered what it means to be women in covenant with Israel's God (and our own), YHWH. We reflect on the gift of being recipients of His hesed--His steadfast love. Mariana Long of Abilene and Sandy Mitchell of Fort Worth led us in meditations over the bread and wine as we shared communion. Several of us commented as we sat together at table with the Lord. An ease of fellowship and community permeated the air and continues to inspire me even today--so relaxed, so common, so breathtaking.

Then, we prayed. As Jesus had done in the upper room, we prayed for a team, as a testimony, and as a standard at the June renewal. We prayed for one another. Cara Flanders, a counselor at Abilene Christian had been called away a few minutes earlier to help deal with a campus crisis--we prayed for her, for the students, for the school. We prayed for the women (again)--those we will meet at Thailand, some as old friends, others for the first time. We prayed for them as they prepare their hearts and minds and families for their trip. Right now, women from six countries in Southeast Asia are registered: Thailand, Cambodia, Viet Nam, China, Japan and the Philippines. We prayed for more to come, for the Lord to use us up in his service June 14-18. We thanked him for the gifts he has given, for the weekend we shared, for our families, and for the ministry as a whole. And we prayed it all without a plan, speaking our hearts as we looked each other in the face, seeing each one mirroring the love of the sister on the other side of the table. Most of us had cheeks marked with tears, but regardless of the pain and struggle we might have carried, they were tears of joy and faith.

I love Come before Winter. I remain in awe that we have been called to this privileged place of service, that God provides for us as He does--teaching us how to conduct ourselves, inspiring our programs, sending us women to serve and the finances to serve them, and giving us this bond of community, this tiny model of what He intended. Here I have witnessed what can occur when women commit themselves to listen, to surrender their selfish motives for something bigger than themselves, to turn in their pride and commit to do what they can to make the others (and therefore God) "look good," to trust Him alone, to receive those He sends, and to "go" where He directs.

Hang on, Southeast Asia! We are coming your way--and we love you dearly!