The war we wage in quiet: part one

Intercession: noun: the act of intervening on behalf of another; the action of saying a prayer on behalf of another. 

“But Moses implored the Lord his Godand the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people” (Exodus 32:11-14)

Too many of us are haunted by a sense of defeat when it comes to intercessory prayer.

We look at the reality of the world around us, and find ourselves plagued by doubt. In the face of so much injustice, so much darkness, apathy and hopelessness easily break in to our hardened hearts.

We are perplexed by the same old questions:

“God, are you listening?”

“God, are you working here? I can’t see you.”

“How long, O Lord?”

Immersed in the darkness that we see around us, we lose sight of the power of God to redeem our present reality. To avoid disappointment, we relegate His promises to the future. Isn’t salvation simply something to be enjoyed in a far-off eternity only once we have suffered a lifetime in this godless world?

Standing in the Gap

Prayer is powerful. We believe this, but we don’t live like it. “I believe,” we cry out with the father of the boy with the unclean spirit, “help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

Our sense of defeat in prayer is fuelled by a small view of God; a God who is only interested in saving a few individual souls, and not in redeeming and restoring the whole of creation.

We need to reclaim a big-vision theology of prayer fuelled by a big-vision God. Our prayer must be fuelled by a picture of God who is content not merely to save a few forlorn souls from a world doomed to go to hell in a handbasket, but a God who is in the habit of making all things new (Revelation 21:5).

Intercessory prayer has been described as “standing in the gap.” When we pray for the Kingdom to come, we stand in the gap between the reality that is – a world marred by brokenness and sin – and the possibility of the restored and redeemed world that God has promised.

When we intercede, we anticipate a world to come, the day when there will be a new heaven and a new earth. To many of us, the prayer that Jesus taught us – “your Kingdom come, your will be done” – has lost its raw power. When we ask for the Kingdom to come we are not merely dreaming of some abstract, distant future alien to our present circumstances. To pray for the Kingdom to come is to call into concrete existence the rule and reign of God in the here-and-now.

Romans 8:22 tells us that “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” In prayer, we participate in the groaning of creation for the redemption of all things. We cry out to God, that he may bring about the transformation of this world.

When John the Baptiser sent messengers to Jesus to question whether he really was the Messiah to come, Jesus answered “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (Matthew 11:5). In other words, he tells them that the rule and reign of God promised by the prophet Isaiah – the Kingdom of God – is being established here-and-now. This Kingdom is not some far-off hope attained only in a foreign future, says Jesus. Your God is on the move now, in this time and this place, bringing about the redemption of all things.

When we intercede, we claim the same reality of God’s redeeming presence for our city, for our nation, and for the world in which we live. We believe that the Kingdom of God is really among us. We believe that we can see the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead raised, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them, because our Father is on the move here and now. 

To pray for the Kingdom to come is to call into concrete existence the rule and reign of God in the here-and-now.

A life of prayer is a life lived in tension. We acknowledge that the redemption of God is yet to come in its fullness, on that final day when Christ returns in victory. Almost paradoxically, we appeal to God to do what He has promised to do here-and-now. We pray in confident faith that we will see the goodness of God in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13). We appeal to the same Father who transferred us from the domain of darkness into the domain of light (Colossians 1:13) to overcome once and for all the darkness that haunts His Creation.

Intercession, then, is full of possibility. It is to stake our existence on the possibility that our Father not only can act, but will act to redeem His Creation. To pray is to believe that God will bring about that which He has promised: the restoration and redemption of all things.

Prayer as resistance

When we intercede, we call the power of the Father who orders all things into the disorder and chaos of this world. We call on our Creator God to speak into the storm of our existence, to bring peace where there is unrest and wholeness where there is brokenness.

To intercede is to stake our existence on the possibility that our Father not only can act, but will act to redeem His Creation.

To bow the knee in prayer is an act of resistance against a culture that continually puts the self at the centre. To pray is to surrender our own priorities for the priorities of our Creator, Redeemer God. Prayer is an act of sacrifice, an embodied statement of our utter dependence on our Father in Heaven. Prayer is a declaration of our commitment to the priorities to the Kingdom.

We are an army waging war on our knees. In prayer, we call upon God to make His power perfect in our weakness. We acknowledge our utter dependence, as creature to Creator, and appeal to His goodness to work for the good of His people and His Creation.

To pray is to wage war in the quiet. When God’s people bow the knee in prayer, we begin a revolution against the tyranny of busyness that plagues our world. When we kneel, we oppose the noisiness of a world starved of solitude, in order that the perfect peace of God may break in.

To pray is to wage war in the quiet.

So we do not lose heart. In prayer we stand together against the apathy and cynicism that pervades our culture and so often pervades our thinking. In prayer we appeal to a big God – the King of Kings and Lord of Lords – not the small God that our imaginations have created.

Our Father is in the business of making all things new, and in prayer He invites us to participate in the redemption of all things. He calls us to “stand in the gap” between the old order of things as He ushers in a new order:

Will you accept the call?

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

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Signed, Sealed, Saved (Or, Assurance For Crummy Christians)

“To those who have been called, who are loved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ…” (Jude 1, NIV)

Let’s talk about a spiritual condition lurking hidden, unspoken of, in many of our hearts.

It’s one I like to call “Crummy Christian Syndrome.” 

If you relate to the following symptoms, fellow sufferer, then this post is for you (I hope to offer you some encouragement below). But first, let’s diagnose this so-called “Crummy Christianity.”

  • You carry a constant general sense of “crumminess” regarding your spiritual life and discipleship. You are constantly frustrated that you are not a “good enough” disciple. You doubt the authenticity of your faith in Jesus, because surely you should be doing a much better job of it, shouldn’t you?
  • You feel shame, guilt or general discouragement at sinful habits that you can’t seem to break free of. You’ve been a Christian for years, and you know that you should be free from lust/pride/envy/gluttony/*insert vice here* by now, but you don’t feel you’ve made any progress at all. If anything, you’re more aware of your sin now than you were when you first became a Christian.
  • Jesus’ commandments seem burdensome to you. You have lost joy in following Him, and you feel like Jesus is lying when He says that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. In fact, walking with Jesus often feels like lugging a three-tonne stone rather than anything you could call “light.”
  • Sometimes you doubt that God loves you, or even that you are saved. You lack assurance about your place in His Kingdom. I mean, you believe God saves sinners, but surely you shouldn’t still be stuck in this rut if you’re really saved? Sure, God loved us enough to send His Son to die for us, but surely now that I’m a Christian, my life should look a lot better than this?

The crummy Christian is stuck in a rut. You long for things to be simpler, easier – but they never are. Breakthrough seems perpetually beyond your grasp. You’ve prayed the same prayers for breakthrough, read the same go-to spiritual books, ploughed on through hours of seemingly fruitless Bible study, gone up for countless ministry slots, and still nothing within you seems to shift.

You’re beyond the point of pressing on. You wonder whether God has given up on you. After all, everyone around you seems to be okay, so why is it so hard for you? Why not just walk away altogether?

Friend, you are not alone. 

The way in is the way on. The Father is faithful through a thousand failures and more. The grace that redeemed you at first is the grace that persists through your sin and brokenness, to carry you to your eternal home. Paul declares “that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). Be confident in the promise that the completion of the work started in you is not your own doing, but the Father’s.

Fellow crummy Christian, God did not save you simply to leave you to break under the weight of an unbearable load.

Too many of us think this way, however. We know in our minds that grace covers our sins, but this is not the reality that we live by. We like hearing about God’s grace for sinners, but we doubt the same is true for us. Surely the goalposts are different for us who profess to follow Jesus?

The truth of the gospel is the antithesis to Crummy Christian Syndrome. Jude 1, which captures succinctly our status as the saved people of God, tells us that we are called, loved, and kept. Let’s break that down.

  1. You are called. From the foundation of the world, God chose you, predestining you as His son or daughter through His Son (Ephesians 1:5). His choice does not change; the Father is not a fickle deity who chooses us one moment just to leave us the next when we fail Him. He is steadfast in love to those He calls, more faithful to us than we could ever be to Him. “And this is the will of him who sent me,” declares Jesus, “that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day” (John 6:39).
  2. You are loved. Your new name as son or daughter is “the beloved” (see Colossians 3:12). “Your love, LORD,” exclaims the Psalmist, “reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies” (Psalm 36:5). This is a love no failure can shake, no power can stop, no sin can separate us from.
  3. You are kept. The grace that saved you is the same grace that keeps you for the day when Christ returns. Those whom God has chosen are protected by His powerful grace; through faith we are “shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5).

By grace your salvation has been signed and sealed, permanently. The antidote to the predicament faced by the crummy Christian is the grace which says that you are called, beloved, and kept by your Father.

And it is by grace – not by self-abusive flagellation – that we move on from the spiritual rut of crummy Christianity. The Father is a gentle and tender Redeemer, wooing and waiting for His children to come to Him and become like Him, perfecting us by His Spirit.

Just as no thing that we did saved us, so also no failing can snatch us from His faithful hold. Fellow crummy Christians and downtrodden disciples, rest knowing that His grace is sufficient for you. He calls you His own, and He is faithful to His word.

A Simple Calling

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification…” (1 Thessalonians 4:3 ESV)

Sometimes I wish that God would give me a Moses-moment. You know, a burning bush or a booming-voice-from-heaven to make his will for my life a little clearer. Or maybe show up a bit like Morgan Freeman’s God appears to Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty. It’d certainly make things a lot simpler.

Many of you probably know the feeling I’m talking about. We want to follow God’s will for our lives. Yet, with a plethora of choices ahead of us – about our career, our future spouse, whether or not to go on that long-term missions trip, where to study – following God’s calling often seems impossibly confusing

What is God’s plan for my life? What if I make the wrong decision? Do I risk disobeying God?

These are all valid questions, and of course we should pray carefully and seek advice from wise friends and mentors about the big decisions before us.

I think, however, that we often risk over-complicating what it means to “follow God’s calling.”

I think that us millennials too often confuse God’s purpose for our lives with what our society tells us gives us purpose, meaning, and identity. We talk about God’s calling in terms of particular career paths or individual vocations. Accordingly, we can all too easily conflate God’s will with the individualistic notion that our identity and purpose is found in our personal achievements and successes “for” God.

In focusing on what we do for God, we risk putting ourselves, rather than God, at the centre-stage of His will for our lives. We make His will about us rather than about Him, what we do for Him rather than about what He is doing in us. 

“He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

The gospel calls us to lay down our own agendas, our own glory, our own egotistical desires for the sake of the Kingdom. In some of the most challenging words in the New Testament, Jesus tells us that “whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25).

These words force us to drastically reconfigure our way of thinking about God’s will. God’s calling on our lives is not that we’d be recognised by other Christians for the great work that we do for the Kingdom. His will is not about our glory, but about His. It is about the putting to death of my ego, that I might become more like Christ.

His will is that I might lose myself so that I might find Him, enjoy Him, and be like Him.

God’s will is simply that we’d be conformed to the image of Christ, not the image of the high-achieving, successful, popular individual which society imposes on us as the ideal picture of the purpose-driven life. God’s will is nothing short than our sanctification, our transformation into the great Christ-like life.

According to Dallas Willard, “The most important thing about you is not the things that you achieve; it is the person that you become.”

The Word of God already tells us what God’s will is for our lives. Put simply, we are called to glorify God in all we do.

Paul tells the church in Corinth,

…whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10:31, ESV

Elsewhere, he tells us that, in whatever we do, “in word or deed,” to “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17 ESV). We are created to be image-bearers of the Father, ambassadors of Christ, to proclaim His name in all we do through our conduct and word. In whatever season of life we find ourselves, in every career and relationship, we are called simply to worship Him.

This is a freeing revelation. Often, we get so caught up in trying to discern the little individual details of God’s calling on our life that we miss the bigger picture, which God has already revealed to us.

Whether you are employed or unemployed, you are called to worship Him. Whether you are married, single, or dating, worship Him. Whether you are eating or drinking, playing sports, studying, working, resting, God’s will is simple – worship Him. Our highest calling is to be satisfied in Him, to give glory to Him, to decrease as He increases in us

To paraphrase the famous words from John Piper, God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him. 

God’s will is simply that we would be conformed into the image of His Son through the transforming work of the Spirit. It is to worship Him in all we do – whether that is in the valley or on the mountaintop. It is to give ourselves to Him in the trenches of our mundane day-by-day living. It is to give Him glory in our relationships, our recreation, our procreation, our eating and drinking, our laughing and crying, our failing and succeeding, our living and our dying.

His will, I think, is simpler than we’ve made it. 

The Beloved

“This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

All that matters is to accepted by the Father as a child radically beloved by Him.

In His presence, we find out who we truly are. He sees into the cracks and crevices of our heart; His light shines into every dark corner of our mind. He is the one who searches us, who knows us intimately, discerning our thoughts from afar (Psalm 139:1). He knows every terrible secret that we so carefully lock away far beneath, always fearing that we will finally be sniffed out for what we truly are.

And yet, He embraces us in our totality.

At the end of ourselves, fearful and alone behind the mask we put on before the world, He whispers these words into our hearts: you are precious in my eyes, and honoured, and I love you (Isaiah 43:4).

Before we spoke a word, He was singing this song of love over us. He takes great delight in us and rejoices over us (Zephaniah 3:17). He saved us, not because of any righteous that we have done, but because He is a Father of mercy and love (Titus 3:5).

He embraces our wounds, our vulnerability, our rebellious self, our wandering ways. He accepts us in our totality – not just those parts of us that our particularly holy or righteous or beautiful, but all of us in our ugliness, sinfulness, and pridefulness. He sees to the very core of our being – He sees what we truly are, vulnerable, broken, alone. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out,” says Isaiah about the faithfulness of this God in the midst of our brokenness (Isaiah 42:3).

He is Abba, Father – the God who runs after alienated and estranged children to bring us home. He gives us a place at His banquet, when we barely deserve the crumbs under his table.

The core of our being is constituted by the truth that we are Abba’s delight, beloved by Him, precious in His sight. When the beauty and strength of youth fades and the illusion of our self-sufficiency and autonomy shatters, when worldly glory vanishes and the fickle approval of man fails, His love remains. When our abilities crumble and our bodies grow frail, when our minds are dimmed and our hands grow weak, we still have the love of God and yet have all.

At every moment, we owe our existence to the love of God. The very core of our being is utterly dependent on the sustaining, creating, renewing love of the Father which never fails, which never fades, which is always faithful. In Him we live and move and have our being, always loved into being by the God who is Love.

To accept this radical love – to put on our identity as the beloved – requires a total conversion of the heart.

To accept our identity as a child of God is to lay down every illusion of self-sufficiency, autonomy, and strength. There is no part of our existence that receives its being apart from the life-giving love of the Father.

To be accepted by Him in our totality shatters the facade we put up to be accepted and approved by others. To be embraced in our totality by Abba means we can lay down our striving for the glory of man, because we have been endowed with the robes of righteousness that the Father lovingly puts on the backs of His children. We can walk with new confidence, new boldness. This is perfect love that casts out fear (1 John 4:18), fear of man and fear of condemnation (Romans 8:1).

Run out of hiding. Lay down your striving. Throw down your fear. You are accepted by Abba through Christ. He embraces you not because of your righteous deeds, but in spite of them. He rejoices over you and invites you in your pain, in your rebellion, in your hiding, in your hurting.

He will not break a bruised reed, nor will He snuff out a smouldering wick. Come to Him, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light. He is gentle and kind. Let His perfect love cast out fear; let the truth that you are His beloved speak against every lie of the enemy.

We hear Heaven’s music on the horizon, and we are invited to the banquet as Abba’s children. May we have faith to accept the invitation.