Hebrews 13:17-25 – Pray for Pastoral Leaders

Be responsive to your pastoral leaders. Listen to their counsel. They are alert to the condition of your lives and work under the strict supervision of God. Contribute to the joy of their leadership, not its drudgery. Why would you want to make things harder for them?

Pray for us. We have no doubts about what we’re doing or why, but it’s hard going, and we need your prayers. All we care about is living well before God. Pray that we may be together soon.

May God, who puts all things together,
    makes all things whole,
Who made a lasting mark through the sacrifice of Jesus,
    the sacrifice of blood that sealed the eternal covenant,
Who led Jesus, our Great Shepherd,
    up and alive from the dead,
Now put you together, provide you
    with everything you need to please him,
Make us into what gives him most pleasure,
    by means of the sacrifice of Jesus, the Messiah.
All glory to Jesus forever and always!
    Oh, yes, yes, yes.

Friends, please take what I’ve written most seriously. I’ve kept this as brief as possible; I haven’t piled on a lot of extras. You’ll be glad to know that Timothy has been let out of prison. If he leaves soon, I’ll come with him and get to see you myself.

Say hello to your pastoral leaders and all the congregations. Everyone here in Italy wants to be remembered to you.

Grace be with you, everyone. (The Message)

A survey on American clergy by the Schaeffer Institute found some of the following information:

  • 90% of pastors report working between 55-75 hours per week.
  • 70% of pastors constantly fight depression.
  • 50% of pastors feel so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they had another job lined-up right away.
  • 80% of pastors believe church ministry has negatively affected their families.
  • 80% of pastoral spouses feel lonely and underappreciated by church members.
  • 40% of pastors report serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.
  • 50% of pastors starting out will not last five years.
  • Only 10% of pastors will actually retire as pastors.
  • Over 1,700 pastors leave the ministry every month in the United States; 1,300 of them are fired by their churches.
  • The number one reason pastors leave the ministry is that church people are not willing to go the same direction and support the goal of the pastor; pastors believe God wants them to go in one direction, but the people are not willing to follow.

As a church pastor myself, the one thing I want every single church member to know is: Your prayer support is the Pastor’s life support. 

Without regular, earnest, sustained, fervent, and constant prayers lifted upwards on behalf of pastoral leaders and their families, no matter how hard they labor or how much they work, the church ministry will go nowhere. 

Conversely, however, with habitual and spirited prayer, even the most anemic weaknesses of an individual pastor can be transcended, and the church can thrive and flourish with spiritual health and joy.

Lift prayers for your pastor today and every day, appealing to God concerning the following:

Protection from the enemy

Rest

Anointing of the Spirit

Yielded heart to God

Effectiveness in ministry

Righteous life of integrity

The spiritual and relational glue which binds believers together is prayer. Churches are bound to clergymen and clergywomen, not by a legal agreement, but by a bond formed and sustained by God. 

The heart of prayer is listening, and as we allow God to speak to us through Holy Scripture, in the events of the world and in the silence of our hearts, we are enabled to unite our prayer to the intercession of the Holy Spirit.

The renewal of the Church everywhere will not occur through the latest program or becoming expertly savvy webmasters. Instead, sustainable church ministry will come through a renewal of spirituality.

Ordinary Christian parishioners who are prepared to share their lives with God in focused, daily, intentional prayer will be the spiritual means of seeing God’s benevolent rule and ethical will done here on earth, as it is always done in heaven.

Loving God, thank you for being our shield and strength. You are a God of compassion and faithfulness. Please protect, nourish and sustain clergy, church councils, and faith community leaders everywhere through the work of your Holy Spirit. May they find rest and encouragement in your loving care.

Gracious God, without you we can do nothing. Clothe Christian leaders everywhere with your Holy Spirit so that with joy and reverence they may lead your people with integrity and effectiveness, worthily proclaiming your gospel of love.

Righteous God, you have shown us what is good. So, help ministers everywhere to do what you require: act justly; love mercy; and walk humbly with you.

Almighty God, through your Son, Jesus Christ, you gave the holy apostles many spiritual gifts and commanded them to feed your flock. Inspire all pastors to preach your Word diligently and your people to receive it willingly so that together we may receive the crown of eternal glory, through Christ, our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit reign as one God, now and forever. Amen.

Colossians 1:15-23 – Worship That Is Fit for a King

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (New International Version)

Jesus is King. Neither you, nor I, are. 

A simple statement; yet, not easily engrafted into daily life. 

The original sin of Adam and Even was rebellion – to break the bonds of loving authority God provided for them. We (especially us Americans) have this nasty anti-authoritarian strain which runs rather deep in us. 

As a child, when my middle daughter was grappling with the implications of faith in Christ, she once blurted out an honest cry that we can likely resonate with: “I just don’t want another person in my life telling me what to do!” 

Indeed, Jesus is King; we are not.

The New Testament lesson for today is rich with the pre-eminence and lordship of Jesus Christ: 

  • All things were created through Jesus and for him. 
  • Everything in all creation is held together by Jesus. 
  • Christ is the head of the church. 
  • In Jesus Christ, complete divinity exists and reigns. 
  • Jesus made peace through the cross because he had the authority and the qualifications to do so. 
  • Broken relationships and proper lines of authority are now restored and redeemed in Christ.

We can also likely relate to, at times, indulging an illusion of being in control and independently dictating the course of our lives. Yet, mercifully, Jesus is the great Sovereign, and this is a good thing – because in Christ we find reconciliation and purity of life. 

“The supreme thing is worship. The attitude of worship is the attitude of a subject bent before the King… The fundamental thought is that of prostration, of bowing down.”

G. Campbell Morgan

Because Christ is King, we really ought to submit to him. In fact, we need to pay some attention to how our bodies are to submit to his lordship.

When the body moves to animating physical actions of submission, this helps the heart to follow. Whole person worship involves engaging the mind, spirit, emotions, and, yes, the body. To neglect the body in worship is to truncate the ability to connect with God in Christ.

A typical metaphor for the Church is the “Body of Christ.” We can live into that phrase through an embodied spirituality of submission. Our individual bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, important for expressing worship. (1 Corinthians 3:16)

God created us with literal physical bodies. And Jesus has a literal physical body. Bodies are important for whole person worship. This means the physical postures we take in worshiping King Jesus are significant. We need to pay attention to them.  

A healthy practice for Christians is to kneel in the presence of the Lord. I realize some Christian traditions do it as a part of their worship, and some do not. Some like it, some don’t. Yet, bowing, even prostrating oneself (if you are physically able!) can be a powerful symbol of the heart’s desire and disposition to submit to the lordship and authority of Jesus Christ. 

Crawling out of bed in the morning onto one’s knees and beginning the day aiming to live into the will of God, and ending the day in the same manner, are a practical means of remembering who Jesus is and who we are.

I believe all believers need to feel free in adopting a physical posture of worship which helps them connect with God in Christ. For some, that will be sitting in a comfortable position in contemplation. Others will want to stand, raise their hands, even dance in praise.

It also behooves us to let our bodies respond to whatever is happening with us spiritually. Exuberant praise needs the expression of hand clapping and toe tapping. Confession of sin needs a bit of bowing, kneeling, even prostrating. For prayer, hands open and palms facing up to receive blessing from God is a good bodily position of worship.

You get the idea. Just remember we need to strive for congruence in our worship, that is, what is happening with our outward bodily movements needs to match what is occurring inward with our spirits. And when the two are in sync, meaningful worship can happen – worship of submission fit for a king.

Sovereign God, in your mercy you have sent your Son, the Lord Jesus, who has brought reconciliation to a once broken relationship.  I bow before you in obedience, submission, and worship.  Let me live a cross-shaped life through enjoying the peace you have given me in Christ in both body and soul. Amen.

Matthew 5:6 – Blessed are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled. (New International Version)

Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness because they will be fed until they are full. (Common English Bible)

Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires;
    God will satisfy them fully! (Good News Translation)

They are blessed who hunger and thirst after justice,
    for they will be satisfied. (New Century Version)

God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,
    for they will be satisfied. (New Living Translation)

The words “justice” and “righteousness” come from the same word (δικαιοσύνη). The English words are much like two sides to the same coin – one side primarily emphasizing an action, and the other side a relationship.

The word “justice” in Holy Scripture refers to much more than a punitive corrective action toward wrongdoing. That is only a secondary concern for justice. The primary idea is to provide necessities to people without prejudice or favoritism. This is why the Old Testament is filled with references to providing justice to groups of needy or oppressed people such as orphans, widows, foreigners, and the poor:

Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this. (Deuteronomy 24:17-18, NIV)

Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow. (Deuteronomy 27:19, NIV)

Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely, who conduct their affairs with justice. (Psalm 112:5, NIV)

I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy. (Psalm 140:12, NIV)

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:17, NIV)

Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. (Isaiah 10:1-2, NIV)

God is greatly concerned for justice because the Lord is always just in all affairs.

The word “righteousness” primarily has to do with obtaining and maintaining right relationships with God and other people, with the result of doing right actions in the world. Holy Scripture is loaded with references to righteousness. In the Old Testament, justice and righteousness are often coupled together. That’s because justice is to be dispensed with personal relationship – and not detached in an impersonal way.

People do not merely need access to resources – they also require the gift of human connection in obtaining them.

The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love. (Psalm 33:5, NIV)

The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed. (Psalm 103:6, NIV)

Let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:24, NIV)

I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. (Hosea 2:19, NIV)

God hungers and thirsts for righteousness, which is why believers share this same appetite. Being attentive to the entire spectrum of needs that people have – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual – are what Jesus has in mind when characterizing true disciples.

God specializes in filling broken people and meeting their needs. The picture here is one of a starving person who needs food and drink, or he will die. The person who hungers does not merely view justice and righteousness as options, or something nice to have. Rather, they know that without God’s just action and right relationship, they will die!

People who strongly desire Jesus and his righteousness are easy to spot:

  • Those who are just and right crave and devour God’s Word, so they read and learn Holy Scripture.

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:2-3, NIV)

  • Those who are just and right are incessantly chattering about Jesus, so they pursue fellowship with believers and connections with unbelievers.

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:20-21, NIV)

  • Those who are just and right want to know Christ better, so they pray a lot.

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:16b, NIV)

  • Those who are just and right desire right relations with others, so they make things right with others.

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. (2 Corinthians 7:10-11, NIV)

Only those who know their poverty of spirit, personally grieve over sin, and are truly humble end up hungering and thirsting for righteousness. This is the recognition that without God, I will not make it. I can neither be justified nor righteous without Jesus.

Grant us, Lord God, a vision of your world as your love would have it: a world where the weak are protected, and none go hungry or poor; a world where the riches of creation are shared, and everyone can enjoy them; a world where different races and cultures live in harmony and mutual respect; a world where peace is built with justice, and justice is guided by love. Give us the inspiration and courage to build it, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

*Above painting by Hyatt Moore

Colossians 4:2-18 – The Christian Life as Its Meant To Be Lived

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.

My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.

After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.

Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.”

I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you. (New International Version)

Every church has its problems. Much like individual believers, each faith community has its own character and personality – which makes their particular issues unique to them.

The Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the church in the ancient city of Colossae to address an issue which was weighing on his heart.

Broadly speaking, the problem of the church was legalism. That is, boiling down and condensing the Christian life into spiritual rules to live by. Although, on the surface, that may not sound so terrible, for Paul it was damaging to Christianity.

Whenever anyone or any group of people systematize Christianity into a list, it is a fool’s errand. Let’s face it: the worship of God, and thus the Christian life, is, for the most part, ethereal and mysterious. Throughout church history there have been legions of folks who have attempted to nail down Christianity into laws we can clearly see and hold people accountable to.

Whether it is making human contrived lists of sins to avoid and codifying them as something like the Terrible Ten or the Nasty Nine; or whether it is trying to humanly comprehend salvation in a tidy Five Spiritual Laws or Basic Principles for Life – all this predilection for list-making does nothing but discourage the Christian heart and divide one another about things that just don’t matter.

Paul wanted all his churches to be encouraged and united in the love of God in Christ through the enablement of the Holy Spirit. This requires prayer – lots of it! Because we must live by faith, trusting God for each step to take in the Christian life, rather than relying on the list to tell me what to do.

So, that’s why Paul ended his letter to the church on a note exhorting the people to never give up praying.

“Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of Containing God’s gift of himself.”

Mother Teresa (1910-1997)

Devoting ourselves to prayer means that we will need to quit devoting ourselves to something else – namely, the nice, neat, packaged formula of do’s and don’ts on the list. Paul didn’t just want the people to adopt a different list; he wanted all the lists tossed into hell!

Instead of always trying to control outcomes, Paul wanted perseverance in prayer without knowing what the result and outcome would be. His deep desire was that believers would rely on God and the mystery of Christ. He longed for the church to pray with all their doubts and uncertainties – not believing they always needed sure answers for everything.

The Christian life cannot be made into some geeky algorithm so that we can avoid suffering, know all the right things to say in a conversation, and always keep God happy. God is not some algebra equation to figure out. He is not a gumball machine to put a quarter in and get what you want. He is not Santa God. 

Christianity requires living in the tension of not knowing everything and yet having cogent answers for others who inquire about our faith.  It is a dynamic relationship in which we must continually interact in prayer to God as we largely improvise our lives, spontaneously applying what understanding we have for each situation we face.

“The whole reason why we pray is to be united into the vision and contemplation of God to whom we pray.”

Julian of Norwich (1342-c.1416)

Christians need an ongoing dialogue with the God who answers in his own good time, according to his own good will. We are to make good use of the time God has given through choosing our words with others wisely as we simultaneously carry on a silent prayer conversation with God. This is a Christianity that’s far above rules and laws and checklists. It is Christianity as it’s meant to be lived, depending on Jesus, and relaxed in the Spirit.

This takes practice, practice, practice. Failure is both inevitable and expected. And that’s okay. We’re not living by lists and human contrived rules. We’re living a new life in the power of Christ’s resurrection.

God of Mystery, the One who conceals and reveals, forgive me for my attempts at reducing faith to a few spiritual rules to keep. Help me to speak in ways which are gracious, loving, and redemptive. May the person and work of Jesus come tumbling out of my mouth while I inhale the breath of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

*Above paintings of prayer by African artist Angu Walters