Our prayers for the church are “wobbly.”

I pray urgently for my church. Maybe it's because my local church is searching for its next lead pastor. Or maybe it's because my denomination is celebrating its 50th anniversary with reflection, thanksgiving, aspiration, and with some anxiety. I must confess: my prayers can get “wobbly.” What do I mean?

To borrow automotive terms, my prayers can be misaligned or unbalanced. When I purchase a new set of tires, the engine may be in tune and my car’s body waxed. But if the front end is not aligned or the tires rebalanced, my car will vibrate and not steer true.

My professor John Frame “triangulated” theology and ethics around three perspectives — the normative, situational, and existential. The normative is God’s revealed will in the Bible. The situational is God’s providence that orders my time and place in history. The existential is how my heart (fallibly) interprets my life experiences.

For a normative prayer, look no further than John 17:1-24, often called Christ’s “high priestly prayer” for his church. Only Jesus prays with perfect balance and true alignment with God’s will. What does Jesus pray for?

  • He prays for the Father to be glorified in the Son who accomplishes his finished work to redeem his people.

  • He prays for the Father to sanctify (set apart, make holy) his church by the continuing work of God’s Word of truth.

  • He prays that his church will be sent into the world just as the Father has sent him into the world.

  • He prays that the Father will be glorified as his people display spiritual unity-in-community before a watching world.

  • He prays for the Father to protect his church from both worldly corruption and the evil one’s schemes.

Unlike Jesus’ prayer, our prayers “wobble" and get misaligned and unbalanced. A friend, a wise church elder and counselor observed: “Psychology often hides behind theology.” Our prayers are skewed by our personalities and how we interpret our cultural situation.
  • I may pray for purity, to stay faithful to God’s Word, but then forget God sets the church apart to be sent — not siloed.

  • I may pray for missions, as Jesus was sent into the world, but be naive to the dangers of cultural conformity or deception.

  • I may pray for unity, but forget God is glorified when we speak the truth-in-love based on a mutual Confession of Faith.

In 1973, my church’s founding vision was summarized: faithful to the Scriptures, true to the Reformed Faith, and obedient to the Great Commission. That reflects the balanced prayers of Jesus.

But our unique personalities and our fallible interpretations of our circumstances can bend our prayers to our own dispositions:
  • Some personality types are more inclined to love the truth than to love their fellow believers.

  • Others fear that some have slipped into worldly conformity, and are tempted to slander, instead of showing mutual love and respect for one another.

  • Some want the church to be a refuge from the world, and forget that Christ calls the church to be a kingdom embassy, living in exile, and sent on God's mission into the world.

We need to regularly realign our prayers with Jesus, reaffirming the validity of the doctrinal, the missional, and the communal.
Like Jesus, we must ask God the Father to protect the church from both conformity to the world and spiritual deception.
Let us rebalance our “wobbly” prayers to bring them into sync with Jesus’ own perfect prayers for his church.
Lord, have mercy on Your church!

Easter: not just a day, but enduring hope

This “low church” Presbyterian did not prepare for a season of “Eastertide.” But the afflictions of four friends remind me that I do not just confess that “I believe I am going to heaven when I die.”

Now is a night time of weeping. But joy comes in the morning, the coming great Day of the Lord! As one African-American spiritual expresses, there is a coming “Great Gittin' up Mornin!”

Yes, I do believe “I am going to heaven when I die.” But, as the Nicene Creed confesses the Christian’s faith, “I look for the resurrection of the dead — and the life of the world to come.”

At our neighborhood church, the Easter sermon included this text: “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19). We who are septuagenarians are daily reminded about our mortality. But my suffering friends are younger, so gifted, effective, and fruitful in serving Christ. Why must these young leaders now suffer?

Three of my friends battle severe forms of cancer. Another friend is struggling with declining disability. Two friends are self-employed, so don’t have my health safety net from Medicare. Yes, resurrection hope is personal. But it’s more than hoped-for relief from personal, temporal sufferings.

Hope in Christ is comprehensive and cosmic. I not only look for a resurrected body, free from sin, sickness, and death. I also look for the new creation in Christ. One coming Great Day, "the fool will no more be called noble, nor the scoundrel said to be honorable … behold, a king will reign in righteousness." (Isaiah 32:1,5)

My ultimate hope is for more than ever-lasting spiritual life in heaven. There will be a cosmic restoration of all things when King Jesus “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

How apt that, on the first Lord's day after Easter, our congregation sang this traditional American, Shaker folk hymn:

How Can I Keep from Singing?
My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation,
I hear the sweet, though far-off hymn
That hails a new creation
Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing.
It finds an echo in my soul –
How can I keep from singing?

What though my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Savior liveth.
Although the darkness round me close,
Songs in the night he giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven & earth,
How can I keep from singing?

Hope in Jesus is not only for Easter Sunday, but for everyday. So, in this season of now-and-not yet, let us embrace this tearful, yet joyful and ultimately hopeful season of Eastertide. A season of expectant longing for that great Day when all things are made new.

Come, Lord Jesus!

From @IntlBuzz