Spiritual Dementia

 
 
            Last week I spent a few days in my native Iowa visiting my elderly Mom.  She has dementia.  Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life.  I have watched her faculties slowly erode and decline over the past few years.  My Mom is now at a point where she rarely remembers my name, only knows me once in a while, and never recalls the conversation we just had thirty seconds ago.  It is difficult to watch and to experience, this woman who once cared for me.  Now my siblings and I care for her in ways that were unthinkable to us five years ago.
 
            As I made the drive home from my visit I spent the hours reflecting on how much church ministry needs to be a memory unit experience because Christians are continually forgetting their identity and what they are supposed to be doing.  This is not a new issue that is endemic to the contemporary church; this is a problem as old as sin itself.  There is even a book of the Bible, Deuteronomy, completely given to memory issues.  The constant refrain of the author of Deuteronomy is to “remember.”  Since the ancient Israelites were in danger of forgetting and having a kind of spiritual dementia, Moses reiterated the covenant and the law for the people before they entered the land.  It was a fresh re-hashing, nothing really new, of what God had already communicated to them.  God’s people were to continually remember that they were once slaves in Egypt and that God had delivered them and brought them out to be a people for his name.  They were to remember that they had provoked the Lord in the desert and that an entire generation of people had been wiped out because they had, well, forgotten what God told them.
 
            The New Testament is no different.  Jesus miraculously fed a great crowd of people not once, but twice.  The second time he called his disciples to remember what had happened the first time in order to understand the second.  In the Epistles, Paul kept reminding the Jews in the churches that they should remember the ancient covenant, and called the Gentiles to remember that they were once estranged from that very same covenant.  Both Jews and Gentiles together needed to collectively remember the death of Christ that united them into a new covenant community.  Like them, we are to “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David” (2 Timothy 2:8).
 
            We, as the church of Jesus, are to remember who we are and what we are to be about:  we are blood-bought people of God, belonging to Christ, and given a mission to make disciples and participate with God in the redemption of all creation through remembering the poor, seeking justice, and being peacemakers in the church and the world.  Maybe the ancient words in the book of Revelation to the church at Ephesus ring true for us today:  “Remember the height from which you have fallen!  Repent and do the things you did at first” (Revelation 2:5).

            There is a difference between my Mom and the church – my Mom will never recover but will only worsen, yet the church can recover its collective memory by listening again to the ancient Word of God and being constantly refreshed with the promises and covenant of God.  We must neither rely on pragmatism nor simply by doing things the way we always have done them without any understanding of why we do it. 

            Why does your church exist?  How does the Word of God inform and influence your identity as a church?  Does the mission and practice of your church intentionally remember the risen and ascended Christ?  Are disciples being formed around collective remembering of God’s covenant and promises?  Are ministries and policies being established based on Christ and his commission, or on something else?  Let’s reverse the trend of spiritual dementia and give our memories to Christ.  Amen.

Remembering Prayer

 
 
The early believers in Jesus turned to God in a time of persecution, found comfort in how God had worked in the past, and claimed the strength to carry on with speaking about Christ in their everyday lives.  When the church heard about the threats against the apostles, they did not get angry about how awful the government is, or upset about how terrible things were, but decided to concentrate on corporate prayer together (Acts 4:23-31).
 
            God is going to do what God is going to do.  No government, no nation, no group of people, and no one person can ever thwart God’s agenda for his world and his church.  Since it is true that God is sovereign over everything, our place is to decide whether we will participate in that agenda through the ministry of prayer and speaking the word of God or whether we will let God use other people’s prayers and other people’s speech.  There is nothing on earth or in heaven that is quite like letting God use usto accomplish his purposes.
 
            Just as God has acted in the past, so God is still in the business of transforming lives for his glory and forming faithful disciples of Jesus.  If it can happen in ancient Jerusalem; if it can happen throughout the history of the church; if it can happen in other places around the word, it can happen today with me and you.
 
            Prayer is to be like the oxygen we breathe – more of God, less of me.  Prayer in Scripture often takes the form of first remembering what God has done in the past.  Then, it moves on to praying specifically for current situations that connect to the larger purposes of what God is doing.  All the while we are to be anticipating that God will hear and act, just like he has done throughout history.
 
            Remembrance is an important dimension to biblical prayer.  Remembering is necessary because we have a tendency toward forgetfulness.  The older we get the more we tend to forget, probably because we have so much to remember!  So, continually rehearsing what God has done keeps us grounded in Scripture and tethered to what God can do now and in the future.  Remembering God’s saving actions and finding our own personal stories and circumstances in his grand story helps us to pray rightly and pray in ways that are according to God’s will.
 
            God will work out his plans and his purposes, even using people whom have no acknowledgment of God.  Since God is sovereign and rules over everything and everyone, he is never surprised by our troubles and our tough situations.  And God is never frustrated by people acting badly, because his divine providence and guiding hand is in control, even if we cannot always perceive it or cannot see it in the moment.
 
            It is interesting that believers of Jesus in the New Testament did not pray for relief from oppression or for God to judge their persecutors.  Instead, they prayed for boldness to speak the word of God in the middle of their trouble.  They rightly discerned from remembering about who God is and what he is about that they needed to pray for courage to speak about Jesus.  They prayed for God to act in power, not to deliver them from harm, but for God’s Word to go forth, and Christ’s Name to be glorified.
 
            Do our prayers sound like that?  When, in the face of trouble and problems, do we ask for boldness so that God’s saving plan would continue unabated?  We need to have prayers that all believers, including me, would have Spirit-filled speech that will impact and persuade others with Jesus.  First century believers prayed to see God stretch out his hand and perform miracles, and that those acts of healing in Jesus’ name would confirm the message that Jesus is real, that through his death on a cross and his rising from death would transform sinfulness and misuse of power into the same mercy and grace that were displayed by our Lord himself. 
 
            If you are at all normal, you will yearn for the same kind of boldness that was displayed by the early church, and, at the very same time, totally fear getting that kind of prayer answered!  It is scary because this is more than just trying to overcome some feeling of awkwardness or shyness.  There was, for ancient believers praying a prayer for boldness, a very real and immediate danger to speaking up about Jesus.  I’m sure it did not feel good for Peter and John to be silenced by the authorities and told that they had better not talk about this matter of Jesus again (Acts 4:16-18).
 
            What we need more of today are people who know how to ask good questions and have the patience and attention to listen well and respond thoughtfully, rather than just giving out answers to questions that people aren’t asking.  Speaking about Jesus does not mean that we have to go and knock on doors and make spiritual cold calls.  Instead, it mostly means speaking casually, one-on-one, with a friend, co-worker, neighbor, or family member that you already know.  Too often we might try to fly under the radar and avoid people because we think that speaking of Jesus is going to be too difficult, too hard, or just out of our league.
 
            Speaking with confidence and courage about Jesus is not so much telling people what they ought to believe; it is rather like sharing a precious gift with someone.  It begins in relationships with people we care about, and extends to a relationship with God.  It is more about discovering God together, and helping lead another to a life transforming relationship with Jesus, instead of only trying to bring them to church.  If we are Christians, we all have a personal story about what God means to us, and what he has done for us that we can share with another.
 

 

            When we link our prayers to what God has done in the past with what he is doing in the present, this is worship.  When we pray for boldness and courageously make ourselves available to God then we are offering our lives to God as living sacrifices which is our spiritual act of worship.  Who knows?  After praying we might find our meeting place shaken, lives transformed, and everyone filled with God’s Holy Spirit.  May it be so.