Unity


Moravian Church, Crest and moto, “Our Lamb Has Conquered, Let Us Follow Him”

I recently took up the spiritual practice of the Moravian Watchwords.

The Moravian Church is one of the oldest protestant denominations in the world, dating back to the Bohemian Reformation of the 15th century.  They fled Bohemia (western Czech Republic) to Saxony (southeastern Germany) in 1722 to escape religious persecution and settled near the town of Herrnhut.  From there Moravians have spread across the world.  Today the Moravian Church counts approximately 1.2 million members throughout Europe, North America, Africa, The Caribbean and Latin America.

Every year, for the past 290 years, the Moravian’s have published a devotional text known as The Watchwords.  A daily set of two verses, one from the old testament and one from the new testament, paired to provide a framework for meditation and prayer.  For three centuries millions of people have relied on the watchwords as their introduction to the scriptures and as a guide to prayer.  I started using them this summer after I finished my reading of the Psalms and when I heard that one my spiritual heroes, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, credited them with keeping him grounded while in prison for opposing Nazi rule.

Today’s watchwords where from Isaiah 53:5 and John 11:51,52.

“By his bruises we are healed” and “Not for the nation only but to gather all children into one”.

It has become increasingly necessary for Christians all over the world to recognize that we are united by grace.  We gather, from all economic realities, all walks of life, all countries, and all political affiliations, at the foot of the cross to be washed in the blood of Jesus our hearts sustained by the water of life that gushes from his side and sent forth into the world as one humanity.  He took our punishment upon himself and healed us.  Caiaphas thought that by killing Jesus he could save the Jewish nation, (John 11:50) but he did not realize that Jesus’ death would save, not just the Jews, but all nations and make them one.

My childhood church used two hymn books.  One a traditional, red hard cover tome filled with all the old classic hymns from yesteryear.  The other a small, green paperback full of more modern folk songs and spirituals called the “Sing and Rejoice”, songbook.

One of the songs that I remember from “Sing and Rejoice” was called “Unity” by Gerald Derstine.  Derstine was a charismatic Mennonite pastor active from the 1950s to the 1990s who was well known in certain Mennonite circles for his evangelical teaching style and spiritual song writing.  He wasn’t a particularly prolific songwriter however but with a bit of digging I managed to find this version of Unity on YouTube as performed by the Mennonite Covenant Choral.  Close your eyes and let the words wash over you.

In these polarized times, Jesus, help us live in unity.

Construction Project


Clearing Away the Debris and Starting Something New

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and –streams in the wasteland. [Isaiah 43:19]

Have you ever visited a construction site?  Especially at the very beginning of a new project it seems like there is more destruction happening than construction.

I have been passing by a new condo development on my run each morning for the past few weeks.  What was once an overgrown meadow has been cleared of brush, leveled, and filled with gravel.  An elevator shaft now sands off to one side towering approximately 8 stories high but other than that there does not seem to be much real construction happening on the property – yet.

Growing up I took part in my share of construction projects.  My dad is a do it yourself kind of guy.  When I was four years old, he built the house I grew up in.  When I was ten, he built a barn.   We were always building something.  It often seemed as though our entire life was one big construction project.

At the start of anything new there is always a phase of preparation that involves demolition and clean up.  It might not seem like much is happening in this phase, it might even seem like you are moving away from positive change.  But clearing away the old, used up or broken bits it a critical part of creation, you have to clear the pallet so the speak, for something new to rise in its place.

This past month has felt a lot like the preparation phase for a big construction project.  We are being forced to clear away the unproductive, unimportant and unnecessary bits of life.  It has been painful for many.  Some, who work in secondary and tertiary industries may never fully recover.  But through it all we have been reminded of what really matters.  We have gained a new appreciation for emergency services, medical professionals, consumer staples, transportation infrastructure, farmers, and the entire food supply chain.  Our forced isolation has also reminded us of the importance of family and community.

Isaiah 43, which I quoted to start this post is not a happy chapter of the bible.  It was written to rebellious people, soon to be exiled from their land as punishment for their sins.  But regardless of the dire circumstances these folks would soon find themselves in, the tone is one of hope and renewal.  Even in the wilderness God makes a way.

I am not saying that COVID19 is punishment for sin.  I am not qualified to make such a statement and even if I were, it would not be helpful.  The apostle Paul said that our fight is against bad ideas, (Ephesians 6:12) not each other, pointing fingers and talking about sin at a time like this is an extremely bad idea.

What I am saying is that as we rebuild from this time, we have been given an incredible opportunity to reset our priorities and right some wrongs of the past, prioritize the things that matter, family, community and the core requirements of a healthy and sustainable life.

Much of what we are seeing in the news and online today is generating fear and judgement.  That is not helpful, and it is not the voice of God.  Mr. Rogers once responded to a child in his audience who had questions about scary things with the gentle reminder, “look for the helpers”.  In these challenging times we would all do well to not only look for the helpers but to look for opportunities to be one.  One of my weekly motivational goals is to give something back. Whether that is as simple is donating a few dollars to the children’s hospital, buying a few extra groceries for the food bank or something else on a grander scale, everyone can be a helper.

Our post COVID19 world is under construction.  Let us build something we can be proud of.  Take a minute right now to think about how you can contribute and let me know in the comments.  I would love to hear about it.

 

 

 

The Sign of Jonah


But he replied to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves a sign. Yet no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah”

Matthew 12:30 (NIV)
This is how I pictured Jonah as a kid…

When I was a kid my favorite Bible story was the story of Jonah and the whale. 

I liked this story, I think, because it was simple, bold and a little bit humorous.  Here’s a guy God calls to go out on a limb for Him and preach His truth, but Jonah refuses and runs away. 

Everybody knows you can’t run from God, at least, that’s the lesson I took from the story.  Silly Jonah.  God sent a storm to follow Jonah and caused him to be thrown overboard where a whale swallowed him up.  Three days later Jonah was spit up on the shore and went to do what God told him to in the first place.  The End.

That was how I first heard the story and the lesson I took to heart was, do what God asks, or you might end up covered in whale vomit. 

It wasn’t until many years later that I realized that the story doesn’t end there.  It goes on to describe how the city of Nineveh responds to Jonah’s message, how God shows mercy on them and how Jonah throws a hissy fit.  When I realized how much deeper the story of Jonah is than just being about a man who tried to run away, it stopped being funny. 

Jesus said that the only sign he was going to give the pharisees was the sign of Jonah.  This, like just about everything else Jesus ever said, pissed the pharisees off.  Why?  What would the pharisees have understood the sign of Jonah to be?  Why was it that Jesus could have scandalized the pharisees with such a seemingly simple off-the-cuff statement? 

This is is an example of how the Pharisees viewed the world, heaven forbid they should ever share their fishbowl…

Over the last few weeks I’ve re-read the story of Jonah several times.  All of it this time.  The pharisees were concerned with purity, keeping God’s chosen people separate and clean.  To a pharisee, the most important thing was to follow the law.  A gentile, for no other reason that an accident of birth, could never truly partake in the kingdom of God, the pharisees saw to that.  To be a gentile was to be forever separated from the grace and mercy of God. 

The sign of Jonah proves that God is more concerned with the condition of a person’s heart than their ethnicity, history or current practices.  God’s grace and mercy is available to everyone all the time.  The sign of Jonah is the message of the gospel.  Law doesn’t matter, history doesn’t matter, ethnicity doesn’t matter.  The only thing that matters is the condition of your heart and the grace of God. 

Scandalous!

The way many prefer to look at the “other” Never forget, these are people Jesus thought were worth dying for…

The world today is standing at a crossroads.  Many leaders, Christian and otherwise are asking for a sign.  What kind of a world will we live in, who’s in, who’s out and what is the will of God?  I am afraid no further signs will be given, except for the sign of Jonah.  Will you heed it?

That One Thing!


Question – Do you have a recurring sin?

Even the most faith-filled followers of God can mess up habitually.  It’s nothing to be super ashamed of.  One of my favourite sayings is a line I coined a few years back.

Today is NOT Judgement Day…

What I mean when I say that is that it’s okay to make a mistake, even the same mistake, over and over again.  The key is to try and learn from it and move on.

In my experience sins fall into five main categories.  Fear, judgement, lying, blame and manipulation.  And there are eight keys to fighting your habitual sins with love.

1 – Say Your Sins.

Confess them, through prayer and in community with each other.  Get it out in the open.  You can’t get help if you don’t admit you have a problem.

2- Live Like You’re Vulnerable.

Admit your weaknesses, like before.  Stay away from temptation and practice radical separation.  When Jesus told his disciples to pluck out their eyes and cut off their hands (Matthew 5:29-30) he wasn’t advocating self mutilation, he was deliberately using a form of hyperbole to drive the point home.  Just get as far away from the temptation as you can.

3 – Think About Your Sins Effect on Others.

It’s not about you.  Love is not self-seeking and neither should we live in a selfish manner.  If we keep our minds focused on other-centeredness we are less likely to sin.

4 – Don’t Confuse Acceptance and Agreement, Grace and Approval

Grace is not a license to sin. Messing up is not a path to blessing.  God wants to be kind to us but that is not to be abused.

5 – Remember Who and Whose You Are.

We are ambassadors of the Kingdom.  We have a higher calling.  When you fall into a sinful pattern try to remember that you are better than this.

6 – Drive Out Fear With Love

Do Not Worry.  Let nature and history be your guide.  There are literally thousands of people who have experienced the same kinds of temptations you are faced with.  Look to them, read their stories and take comfort on how they overcame.

7 – Get it TOGETHER

Go to the community of believers.  Spend time with others that are on the same path, facing the same struggles and living life in a similar context.  Build honest relationships and ask people for feed back. When you’re ready, and can take a bit of constructive criticism ask the question “what do you see in my life that I need to work on?” and take the advise you receive back seriously.

8 – Jesus Is The Key

He was called the friend of sinners.  Let him be your friend too.  Read his teaching and work out what it means for you in community.

We all have that one thing that slows us down.  Look to Jesus and his community to help remove it.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

 

Whom Do We Follow?


I think most people can agree that in 2018 we’re living in unique and uncharted history.

That might sound silly, all history is unique and uncharted while we are living it, but that’s not the point.

The point is that in 2018 things are very different than they have ever been before and the choices we make today can and will have lasting effects on our future.  It’s as if we are standing at a crossroads of history.  Fifty or a hundred years from now people may look back on these moments and say that the era in which we are now living was a major turning point.

History is a funny thing.  It turns all the time.  But this time somehow feels different to me and as I look back over some of the major sociopolitical events of my lifetime I see an accelerating trend that appears irreversible and that is scaring the hell out of me.

Sociologist and historians have begun to refer to our current cultural moment as the turning point from Christendom, in which most people identified, at least nominally, as members of the Christian religion to a new “Post-Christian” period.  For the first time in over 1500 years polls are showing that people who identify as Christian have fallen to less than 50% in most western countries.  And those who identify as having no religion all are the fastest growing segment of society.

What this means for our society is not yet known.  For clues we can look back to the pre-Christian period, that time before the Church became the dominant sociopolitical force but that will only give us a few clues, looking backwards can’t accurately predict the future.

In the pre-Christian period for example the sanctity of life was not a given.  As a result, unwanted babies were simply thrown in the trash, people were bought and sold as nothing more than units of labor, conscripted into armies and treated like “canon fodder” to advance the ambitions of a despotic leader.  Human rights were practically non-existent.

Over the last 1500 years however the Church has played a big role in the slow progression away from these attitudes.  The Church wasn’t perfect but Christian monasteries were the first to take in unwanted children giving them a chance at life, William Wilborforce, a devoted Christian politician, championed the abolishment of human slavery and the Red Cross was founded to help and protect wounded soldiers left to die on the battlefield.

One only needs to look to societies where Christianity has failed to penetrate to see what our future could be.  Abortion, human trafficking and even the failure to adequately care for war veterans were once the exclusive purview of nations heavily influenced by Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim theology.  But as the influence of Christianity wanes these debates are becoming more and more mainstream.

The abortion debate is alive and well as are discussions of Euthanasia and welfare programs.  The poorest members of society continue be victimized by those with wealth and power.  Human trafficking resulting in sexual slavery and indentured servitude is happening right under our noses in every city and province of Canada while arguments regarding how best to educate our children about things like sexuality and the funding for social programs to assist the poorest among us continue to be hijacked by far-right discussions of personal responsibility.  All of this results in the restriction rather than expansion of human rights.

What is the true Jesus follower to do?

First, we must remember that Jesus was no friend of the ruling class.  When Christians align with political power the result is almost always an ugly, misshapen form of oppression.

Jesus was called a friend of sinners, relentlessly pursuing the downtrodden.  What an irony that today his followers are seen in the opposite light!  How can people love God, whom they can’t see if those of us who claim to represent him don’t respond to outsiders with love? David Kinnaman; unChristian; What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why it Matters

It sickens me that Christians can in one breath proclaim the love of Christ and salvation for everyone while voting in politicians who gut social programs, close boarders and deny access to health care on the basis of some misaligned morality and “traditional” values.  There is a huge disconnect and when people really study the teachings of Jesus the untruth of what many of His followers teach becomes glaringly obvious.  The sad fact is that most self-proclaimed Christians refuse to see it or try to explain it away by saying that Jesus didn’t really mean that to apply to us, just to his first century followers.  That quite frankly is heresy.

When people live life the way Jesus intended the result is undeniably counter cultural.

There is nothing more powerful than the Christian life lived out in obedience; there is nothing worse than a flat, self-righteous form of faith that parades around in Christian clothes. David Kinnaman; unChristian; What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why it Matters

Christians who endeavor to embrace Jesus stand out.  They are perpetrators and ambassadors of an entirely new way of living.  The way of Jesus is not the way of politics or religion but the way of discipleship on a completely different plain.

Jesus declares not that he has come to reform religion but that he’s here to END religion and to replace it with himself. – Timothy Keller; King’s Cross

Followers of Jesus are not perfect.  We get it wrong a lot, probably more often than we care to admit.  But our heart is aligned with Jesus, completely and totally.  No pretence, no caveats and no compromise.  We work together in community to study the scriptures and learn from one another to bet better versions of ourselves and better followers of Him each day.

We are not followers of a book, or a set of rules, we are followers of a person.

If your religion does not look like Jesus, it’s heresy, plain and simple.

 

 

Creating a Spiritual Rule of Life


I’m a creature of habit.  I love my routine.  If I had been born in a different time and place I would have been a monk, or a farmer, or maybe a passenger train conductor – “All Aboard!”

So, when I learned about the spiritual practice of a “Rule of Life” I was immediately intrigued.

According to the CS Lewis Institute

“A Rule of Life is an intentional pattern of spiritual disciplines that provides structure and direction for growth in holiness. A Rule establishes a rhythm for life in which is helpful for being formed by the Spirit, a rhythm that reflects a love for God and respect for how he has made us. The disciplines which we build into our rhythm of life help us to shed the “old self” and allow our “new self” in Christ to be formed. Spiritual disciplines are means of grace by which God can nourish us. Ultimately a Rule should help you to love God more, so if it becomes a legalistic way of earning points with God or impressing others, it should be scrapped.”

The ancient monks understood the value of creating a Rule of Life.  They lived their lives to a rigid schedule of prayer, worship and work.  It was these monks who erected the first clock towers throughout Europe, many of which are still standing today, as a way to stick to their Rule of Life.

A Rule of Life is not just about prayer.  It is a whole life spiritual experience.  Buddhist and other forms of mysticism refer to “mindfulness” as a form of whole life meditation that encourages the practitioner to focus completely on the things they are doing while they are doing them and to block out extraneous thoughts and “noise”.  In this way it is said that a master of mindfulness is able to be fully present and free of distractions at all times.

While not quite as demanding as mindfulness, a spiritual rule of life helps to focus the mind at certain times of the day and creates space for a fuller experience of all aspects of life.

Over the last few months I have concentrated my personal devotional time on developing a rule of life for myself.  This rule has helped me to live a bit like a monk in my daily routine and deepened my relationship with God.

At the present time my rule consists of four specific activities that I do on a daily basis.  Like the old adage about placing large rocks, small stones and sand in a jar, these four activities are my largest rocks, if I do them consistently my life is in balance and I am able to be more focused and productive in everything else that I do.

Here is my personal Rule of Life

1 – Practice Sabbath

Every Friday night by 7:30, sometimes earlier, my computer, phone, email and social media are turned completely off.  They remain off for at least 24 hours.

During that 24 hour period I do nothing that is tied to my work.  I do not communicate with clients, I do not write articles or parts of my books, I do not develop financial plans and I do not study for any of the continuing educations courses that I need to complete for my licenses and certifications.  Instead I read for pleasure, garden, watch movies and spend time with my family and friends.  God created the sabbath after he had completed all of his work as the first “rock” in Adam’s rule of life and if it was good enough for Adam, it’s good enough for me.

2 – Read a Psalm

I begin each day at 7:00 am in quite contemplation by reading a Psalm.

The book of Psalms is 150 chapters long.  Each one except Psalm 119, can be read in less than 5 minutes.  Reading a Psalm a day you can get through the entire book twice in one year, even if you break 119 up over a few days.  Many of the Psalms follow a similar pattern, they begin with lament, move through a period of acknowledging God’s sovereignty and end in praise.  This pattern helps me to see that God is in control and reminds me that doubt and despair are natural emotions that God understands.

3 – Pray the Lord’s Prayer

After I have read a Psalm I immediately move into a structured walk through of the Lord’s Prayer.  My daily prayer is not a rote recitation of Matthew 6:9-13 or any other memorized version of a prayer.  Rather, I use the Lord’s Prayer as a framework for the things I say to God and for the way I listen for his response.

The way I see it there are eight phases to praying this way.  They are; Preparation, Community, Praise, Partnership, Personal Needs, Confession, Temptation and Worship.  A full explanation of this framework and how it forms my rule of life is beyond the scope of this post.  It is the subject of my current book project, tentatively titled “Prayer School” excerpts of which I have been publishing in this space off and on for the last few months, if you’re interested scroll back through the feed and look for titles related to Prayer School.

4 – Meditate on the Examen at points through the day and especially at the end of each day 

The Examen is a rule of life in and of itself that was first practiced by Saint Ignatius of Loyola in the early 16th century.  Saint Ignatius is most famous as the founder of the Jesuit Order and the Examen is still practiced by Jesuits to this day.  The Jesuits are encouraged to pause at regular intervals throughout the day and contemplate one or more questions related to their relationship with God.

Once again, this meditation is not meant to be a recitation of the specific questions but rather a framework for the thoughts I try to conjure up as I take a moment or drift off to sleep at night.

Traditionally the Examen consists of three questions.

“Where am I experiencing feelings of joy and peace?”

“Where am I connected with God?”

“Where am I experiencing sadness, apathy and a sense of disconnection from God?”

I am convinced that God speaks to me in my dreams.  Although I reserve the right to think on these things when ever the spirit moves, by making a conscious effort to contemplate the Examen as I drift off to sleep God has answered me in some powerful ways through my dreams.  I wake up each morning refreshed and ready to start again.

 

So that’s my rule of life.  What’s yours?  Do you have a “rule” that you follow that helps you get closer to God?  I’d love to hear about it, tell me your rule of life in the comments below…

Praise – Part 1


The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book and training series "Prayer School" For more information or to book a Prayer School training seminar write to the Matthew 5:5 Society here and subscribe to the blog for regular updates and release dates as they become available.
Prayer School – Part Three

hallowed be your name. [Matthew 6:9b]

Prayer is an act of worship.

The Lord’s Prayer is a praise sandwich.  It begins and ends in worship.

Here in the very first verse of the prayer, after acknowledging God’s position as head of the family we begin with praise.

When we pray we are in conversation with “Ultimate Reality”.  The personal deity that took on flesh and walked among us.  It would be disrespectful for us to begin a conversation with the creator of the universe, the most all powerful, God, Love incarnate without at least acknowledging that fact.

Praise, therefore is an essential part of prayer.

Jesus taught that when we pray we are to begin by addressing God as nothing less than our holy father.  God’s very name is holy and worthy of praise.

Dictionary.com defines holy, among other things as being “entitled to worship or veneration.”

Therefore, when we pray we must remember to praise God. After having worked through the rest of our prayer we will return to praise in chapter 8.  By that point our praise will have taken on deeper meaning and carry additional weight in the context of what we have just prayed but for now our praise is focused on the personal essence of God.

As I have already stated God is Love incarnate.  But this is a concept that I have found a lot of people have trouble articulating at first.  Therefore, to praise God we must work through what this means and how to address him.

Addressing the Person of Love

When you love someone, you want to be with them, you want to spend time with them and you want to converse with them.  Being in the presence of love should never feel awkward or forced.  Conversation among intimate partners is different.  It’s usually slower, quieter and less pointed than conversations with people who are not your partner.

While it may take time to develop this kind of a relationship with God, your prayer language should reflect this loving relationship.  Take your time with it, approach God like you would a loving life partner because in many ways that’s what He is.

Acceptance

God loves you just the way you are.  There is nothing we need to do to gain His approval.  Safe in the knowledge of our eternal acceptance we can approach God in complete security and submission.

Whenever I think of God’s acceptance of me I remember the parable of the Lost Son, [Luke 15;11-32].  God, the loving father, is so overjoyed at the presence of his lost son that he doesn’t even let him speak before showering him with full acceptance and love.

That’s what it means to be accepted by God.  All we have to do is receive it, we can’t add anything to what God has already done for us.  [Luke 12:29-34]

Thanksgiving

It’s human nature though to want to give something back.  In this case, the only thing God wants is your love and thanks in return.  The story of the bible is in many ways a story of mankind’s attempts to set up rules and rituals designed to curry favor from and give back to God.  But God wants none of it, he simply wants your love and your thanks. [Micah 6:8]

When we say, “hallowed by thy name”, we are coming to God in reverence, accepting his love and thanking him for every blessing that He is continually pouring out over us and the entire world.  The only appropriate response to all this blessing is praise and then to get down on our hands and knees and drink it up like a deer at an ever-flowing stream.  [Psalm 42:1]

If God is For Us…


Pacifist Lamentations Volume 4

It’s been a while since I wrote a Pacifist Lament.  This one has been on my mind for a few weeks.  I stems from some bad preaching I heard recently on Romans 8:31.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

Taken out of context, as this verse often is, it could seem that Paul is saying that with God on our side we are invincible.  And while that may be true, it leads to a violent interpretation of what we are capable of when God is “for” us.  Sadly, Romans 8:31 has been mis-quoted in this way from the barricades of revolution and war for hundreds of years.

“God is on our side!  Therefore; let us go and slay our enemies!”

But taken in context of the entirety of Romans 8, we begin to form a very different picture of what it means to have God “for” us.

In the first half of Romans 8, Paul lays out a detailed analysis of what happens to us when we believe that Jesus dwells in us and is transforming us from the inside out. Put simply, we have become so deeply like Jesus that we have become children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus himself and co-heirs to the kingdom.

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. [Romans 8:16-17]

Provided we suffer with him, not provided we go out and fight for him!  Paul goes on to talk about how all believers will be treated and “glorified” with Christ.  We will suffer in this world, but we can count it all as nothing in comparison to what awaits us.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. [Romans 8:18-19]

And then we get to the big question that is so often taken out of context – If God is for us, who can be against us?

God for us is an expression of love.  Deepest, most profound and all-encompassing LOVE.

If God is for us.  If God, who in his very nature is love, expresses that love toward us.  If God has made us part of his family.  Who can do or say anything that will negate or make any negative impact on that?

No one can stand against that!

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:37-39]

More than a conqueror!  This is not a violent image.  This is not about dominance.  This is about transcendence.

We can remain above and outside of violence!  Nothing that is done too us can have any impact on our salvation.  We therefore transcend violence and remain passive, continuing to love our enemies and work toward reconciliation even in the face of our own death.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  God is for us!

L C Sheil writes regularly about, spirituality, life and business coaching.  He is the founder and director of The Matthew 5:5 Society (formerly The Meekonomics Project) where he coaches ministry and business leaders to Live Life to the Fullest in Complete Submission to the Will of God. 

Mr. Sheil has authored two books and is available for public speaking and one on one coaching in the areas of work life balance,  finding and living your core values  and financial literacy.  Write to The Matthew 5:5 Society here for more information or follow L C Sheil on twitter and instagram.  

 

The Community


The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book and training series "Prayer School" For more information or to book a Prayer School training seminar write to the Matthew 5:5 Society here and subscribe to the blog for regular updates and release dates as they become available.

Prayer School – Part Two

This then is how you should pray:

Our father in heaven, [Matthew 6:9a]

The opening line of the Lord’s Prayer makes it crystal clear that prayer is not to be done in a narcissistic manner.  The very first word of the prayer points to and acknowledges the fact that the spiritual life is not a life of isolation but a life that must be lived out in community.

When we pray to God as our father we are simultaneously acknowledging that He is my father, your father and the father of all who call upon His name.    It is at this point, after we have spent time in meditation preparing our hearts for prayer and getting close to God that we begin by recognizing His sovereignty over our lives, the lives of the people in our community and the lives of all those who call Him father.

When we begin our prayer this way there are three phases to these opening moments.

Our father in heaven, thank you for blessing me.

Around the beginning of this century, as the tech bubble burst, the phrase Ponzi Scheme hit mainstream media and was used to describe the world’s largest energy conglomerate and terrorists flew airplanes into two of the world’s tallest office towers, there was a movement within some religious circles to re-examine an obscure prayer from deep inside the genealogical records of Israel.  The prayer of Jabez, as it is known, appears in 1 Chronicles 4:10:

Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.

I first learned of this prayer and this movement at a particularly low point in my life.  By praying specifically for God to bless me, enlarge my territory, (which in modern terms would be to pray for prosperity), for protection and comfort, my mind was also drawn to instances when God was already doing this for me.

It’s okay to pray for your needs.   It’s even okay to pray for the desires of your heart.  God granted Jabez his request because he asked.  Some commentators have also suggested that the last line in the Hebrew suggests that not only will Jabez be free from experiencing pain but also from causing pain to anyone else.  Therefore; God granted his request because it contained some other centeredness.

Our father in heaven, thank you for blessing them.

The term intercessory prayer is used to describe a prayer meant to intercede in the lives of others.  When you say to someone in your community that you will pray for them what you are really saying is that you will leverage your time in conversation with God to intercede on their behalf.

I always begin this portion of pray by thanking God for bringing certain people into my life and for the blessing that they have been to me.  I then ask specifically for the fulfillment of whatever needs they have, those that they have brought to my attention and those that they have kept private.

Jesus modeled this for us in John 17:6-26 when he prayed for his disciples.  He begins by thanking the father for them.

Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. [John 17:6]

He then goes on to describe the troubles they will experience because of him and requests that God give them protection and strength.

Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. [John 17:11b]

By turning my focus outward, to my community I become both thankful for the intimacy of my interpersonal relationships and aware of my role in the lives of others.  I am now ready for the last phase of the opening of my prayer time.

Our father in heaven, thank you for blessing us.

The world-wide community of believers is a family.  God is our spiritual father and through our relationship to Him are all connected.  It is through this familial connection that I can thank God for the blessings in your life and intercede on your behalf, even when I don’t know you personally or have any knowledge of your specific needs.

Jesus modeled this too in John 17 when he prayed:

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, [John 17:20-21a]

This also sets us up for a deeper prayer for God’s heavenly kingdom which comes later.  For now I simply pray thankfully for the world-wide community of believers and ask for blessing and intercession into the lives of my brothers and sisters whom I may never meet.  I pray for their safety, their health, their prosperity and the impact of their ministries on their local communities.

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So here in the opening phrase of The Lord’s Prayer we have thanked God for all that he has already given us, requested blessing and provision in our lives, thanked God for the people he has brought into our circle and interceded for their needs and thanked God for the world-wide family of believers and interceded for the needs of those half a world away whom we my never meet but with whom we share a connection few outside the faith will ever comprehend.

 

Preparing Our Hearts for Prayer


The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book and training series "Prayer School"  For more information or to book a Prayer School training seminar write to the Matthew 5:5 Society here and subscribe to the blog for regular updates and release dates as they become available.

Prayer School – Part One

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; [Psalm 46:10a]

God can do anything and the way in which he speaks to us, and hears us, is no exception.  But I have found, in my years of faithfully listening and speaking to God is that he operates best in the quiet and stillness of our minds.  Therefore, it is fitting that at the beginning of our discussion of prayer we begin by calming and quieting our minds.

All throughout scripture we see examples of people encountering God when they are alone with only their thoughts.  Moses was alone on the mountain when he encountered God in a burning bush.  Elijah heard the “still small voice” of God after a loud and violent storm had passed by.  David wrote most of his Psalms while alone and running from his enemies.  And who could forget the example of Jesus himself both at the beginning of his ministry, spending forty days alone in the wilderness, and on the night that he was arrested walking alone through the garden of gethsemane.

Prayer happens best when we are quiet and alone. Jesus even went so far as to command that we pray privately.

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. [Matthew 6:6]

In recent years spiritual teachers, self-help gurus and psychologists have popularized the concept of “mindfulness”.  According to Wikipedia, mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment and can be honed through a period of meditation.  “Living in the moment” is then the process of taking that focused period of mediation and expanding it into the way we live our daily lives.

Mindfulness has been proven to be an effective form of therapy for those recovering from addictions, anxiety and trauma.  In my own experience, mindfulness has been very helpful as a form of therapy in dealing with my own life history but is not prayer.

Preparing our hearts for prayer is a bit like mindfulness meditation but instead of focusing our minds on the present moment we focus our minds on God.  As Paul wrote to the church in Colosse;

 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. [Colossians 3:2]

So, how do we prepare our hearts for prayer?

I like to start with a bible verse in mind that helps me to focus on God.  A couple of my favorites have already been mentioned, Psalm 46:10, Colossians 3:2 but here are a few others that work just as well and you may have others that work for you. Exodus 20:2-3, Isaiah 41:13, Isaiah 43:3, Psalm 23:1, Matthew 16:15-16.

It’s helpful if the verse can be broken into a couple of phrases.  Speak, or think, the first phrase as you inhale and the second phrase as you exhale.  Repeat this process as many times as it takes to calm your mind and focus on God.  For me it seems that the optimal number is four but if I am feeling extra stress or am otherwise  distracted it can take a bit longer.

Once you have calmed your mind and focused your attention on God you’re ready to pray and open I dialogue with him.  Speak to him as you would a wise friend and listening to what he says.