Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Is "If it be your will" a Valid Prayer, pt. 2

Teaching my Boy to grow in faith, relationship and Christian disciplines has made me question so many area of the way I do life – in action and speech. Not big questions, like ‘is the Bible true?’ or ‘is ‘God the one, true God?’, but other stuff that I give no attention to and I do anyway out of habit. It’s important to know what God says, but it’s equally or more important to understand what he says. As my Boy grows and starts thinking and questioning why we ask him to do ‘such and such’, I’m forced to ask myself, “Why do I do that, and why should I teach my Boy to do it too?”

Ever since I read “Using God’s Favorite Word” by Jon Acuff I’ve been conscious about the language of prayer. (Click on the link and be prepared for prayer to never be the same for you again; plus you’ll laugh because you know you can relate.) Last week I wrote part 1 of a 2-part post questioning the validity of using the common prayer addendum, ‘If it be your will...” In the post I suggested it was either arrogant or ignorant to pray those words.

Jesus taught us to pray by using two teaching methods. Teaching by example is a great way to learn, and we have numerous examples of Jesus’ prayers to model. He also explicitly taught us to pray in Matthew 6:9-13. Modelling is fantastic but I favour the direct approach because I prefer no ambiguity or loose interpretation. In v.10, we are instructed to pray for God’s will to be done on earth, as it was [already] in heaven. It seems easy and straightforward, until you actually try to do it so we like to add one little, two-letter word, ‘if’. As a conjunction, if indicates there is a condition for which the action to be executed and as a noun, if indicates an uncertain possibility. By adding the word ‘if’ we throw all certainty out the window and we demonstrate, by our words, we are simply guessing. In other words, it is ignorant to pray, “if it be your will...”

Jesus instructed us to pray a specific way because he expected it to be possible. Jesus was fully man; when he said and did what he saw the Father saying and doing, he did so as a man and thereby giving us an example, a model, in which to follow. I imagine Jesus to be a ‘man’s man’. His father would have taught him the carpentry trade so he probably had rough, working-man’s hands, he palled around with his buddies and he enjoyed a fermented drink when the occasion called but in all his manly attributes, none of them allowed him to know the Father’s will, except by the Holy Spirit so we are also without excuse.

I used to take comfort in Biblical examples of uncertainty because it validated my lack of knowing and took the onus of responsibility from me until I realized all of my examples were found in the old testament (1 Samuel 14:6, Esther 4:16, Daniel 3:27 to name a few) but the new testament changes it. In Jeremiah 31:34, Jeremiah prophesied the new covenant, and how we would no longer need teachers but everyone could know God personally and individually. We are given the Holy Spirit, the spirit of truth to guide us into all truth (John 16:13). The gift of the Holy Spirit takes away uncertainty, even to the point where Paul could go confidently to Jerusalem even knowing it would end in his capture.

Multiple times Jesus spoke to the disciples saying the mysteries [of heaven] were given to them to know. Paul reiterated it in Ephesians 1:9, saying God made known the mystery of his will. How? In Christ (who is the word of God), and by the Holy Spirit who also testifies and confirms the truth (Hebrews 10:15, 1 John 5:6, John 15:26). Paul also exhorts us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, be transformed in our minds. Why? So we can know the will of God – the good, and acceptable and perfect will of God (Romans 12:1-2).

Is anyone moved by this revelation? I’m excited all by myself, and I’m writing myself happy; the Holy Spirit is witnessing to and I feel the crescendo in my spirit. Truly this is good news. It is fantastical (made up word) to imagine we could know the will of the Creator of the universe.

Let it sink in.

God, the Infinite One, the One who is complete in himself, makes his will known to mankind. And not just broad, all-encompassing knowledge, but his intimate and definable will for our lives. It’s incredible, and if that doesn’t bring you to your knees in worship then I have just one word: repent (change your thinking).

Last week I wrote about the arrogance of prayer; I see and hear it from some Christians but by and large the greatest reason people use the phrase, “If it be your will...” is because we don’t know what God’s will is. If it applies to you (it does to me, in many areas), spend time with God, develop intimacy because intimacy is where secrets and mysteries are shared and may you, and may I never, never use the word ‘if’ where God’s will is concerned because may we always, forever and ever know it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Is "If it be your will," a Valid Prayer? pt. 1

Christians pray. I pray and I’ve heard a lot of others prayer over the years. One phrase I hear often is, “If it be your will...” I used to say it myself, I don’t anymore but I still hear it being spoken wherever prayer is being prayed, especially in prayers over sickness, disease or other dark circumstances. I hear it so often I began to wonder where it’s found in the Bible. Since the beginning of 2014, I’ve read through the entire Bible once and I’m on my 3rd round of reading through the New Testament. Each time I’ve read in different translations and you know what I’ve found? There is only one example of this being spoken...by Jesus, just before the events leading to his crucifixion.

I’m puzzled, and whenever I am puzzled I have questions. Is praying, “If it be your will...,” a valid prayer phrase?

I asked the Lord about it, I’ve looked at the Scriptural reference, and I’ve researched what other [wise and scholarly] Christians have said about it and this is my conclusion: it is either arrogant or ignorant to pray, “If it be your will.”

It’s arrogant because the underlying thought behind it is, “If I were God, I would do better.” Imagine a scenario where this kind of prayer takes place. A friend or family member is has stage 4 cancer and he or she is in pain. We love our friend and we don’t want to lose them from this world. Every belief or value we have that God is good is questioned and we pray out of desperation, and we put ourselves in the place of God. In essence we are saying, “If it was up to me, I’d heal you. I want to heal you but you know God...sometimes he doesn’t want to heal.” It’s arrogance. Anytime we set ourselves above God it’s arrogance. Period. It’s the worst kind of arrogance too, because we tack on a pious-sounding phrase so no one can argue because if our friend doesn’t get healed, well then, we blame God and it absolves us from any liability. We did what we could.

It’s arrogant and it points to the fact we don’t believe Jesus’ sacrifice was enough. Not really. This prayer is only mentioned once when Jesus was struggling – whether in his humanity or deity, I don’t know. The bible gives us account of his last hours, and we are privy to an exchange Jesus has with the Father. It’s honest, it’s raw, and we know how it ends. The Father turned his face away from the Son, and Jesus died to become the one and final sacrifice that restored humanity [and all creation] of all that was lost (Luke 19:10).

Hebrews 10:14 says, “By his one sacrifice, we are made perfect forever.” Jesus already suffered and died. It’s finished, and there is no more need for sacrifices. When Jesus commanded we pick up our cross and carry it, he meant carry it to Golgotha with him where he was crucified instead of us, for us, as us. It is finished. Finito. Fertig. Fini. There is no need for anyone else to carry the punishment, or hold sickness and disease. It has no hold on us because it had no hold on Jesus.

Without getting too nerdy and technical with linguistic analysis (mostly because I understand it but not enough to explain it) we are healed by his stripes (Isaiah 53:5), and Peter reminds us we have [already] been healed (1 Peter 2:24). An action has taken place at a definite point in time (Jesus was whipped, tortured and crucified), and by that action a different action (healing) is both finished and on-going. To suggest another action must take place (i.e. sickness or disease to be willed by God) is to negate Jesus’ sacrifice.

I fear I’ve only scratched the surface, and perhaps I didn’t even do that well. I’ve been thinking about it, about the things we say, without giving our words any thought. I want my words to communicate and line up with Scripture. I hope it caused someone else to think about it too.

Next post is about the ignorance of saying, “If it be your will.”

Monday, May 12, 2014

And All God's People Said...

I absolutely love it when I’m at church and the speaker is leading the congregation in prayer and instead of finishing the prayer him or herself, he says, “And all God’s people said?” Then, the congregation speaks jointly and says, “Amen.” Not only do I value being included as one of God’s people, but I love the collective agreement to what was spoken to God. Amen means, ‘so be it’, it is an expression of concurrence or assent (dictionary.com).
For years, I misunderstood 2 Corinthians 1:20 to be, “for all God’s promises are yes, and amen in Jesus,” but as the Lord is opening up the mystery of intimacy with him, things that were hidden or unnoticed prior are now seen as if for the first time. I more fully understand the verse. I don’t even have to change the translation I read to see the full meaning. The verse actually says, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.”  
Whatever the Father promises through Jesus is a sure thing, but it requires our assent (our ‘amen’) for the promise to be birthed.
Stop, and think on this revelation with me for a moment. This is an ‘aha’ moment. Agreement (for God’s promises to develop, or be born) is complete in the context of covenantal relationship. In other words, intimacy is required. The dilemma with intimacy in any relationship is that it demands time to develop. Any fulfillment outside of intimacy, an ‘Ishmael’ is birthed.
Did you miss the jump I just did there? Allow me to explain...
When Abram was called by God, he was already an old man from a polytheistic family, but God had plans for Abram and wooed him to a monotheistic covenant relationship and made some spectacular promises, among them that Abram would be the father of many nations. The promise may not have been much of a stretch for Jim Bob Duggar but it was for Abram, who did not have children and his wife Sarai was long past menopause.
The Bible doesn’t mention whether Abram deliberated for long on God’s first instruction to “go to the land, I will show you,” so I can only assume Abram was agreeable. A transnational move might have been a large undertaking but the intimate investment required by Abram was minimal.
God promised Abram his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Abram believed God (gave his ‘amen’).  If I could poll other Christians, I am confident many would be found in the same position as Abram – a promise is given, and we believe it. But also like Abram, I move ahead of God to force the promise into existence, just like he did with Sarai/Hagar relationship triangle.
Several months ago, I wrote a post about forced intimacy. It’s not pleasing to God. He wants us to come into intimacy in a  with him as a freewill offering of ourselves. It can’t be forced, and whatever is birthed in it is born in strife – just like Ishmael. He was born to Abram but he was not the child of promise. It took another 12 or 13 years before Isaac, the child of promise, was born. The Bible doesn’t elaborate further on what took place in those years but let me suggest that’s how long it took to build true intimacy in a covenant relationship.  Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know God.” The word know is the Hebrew word, yada, which has as part of the meaning, a carnal knowledge – the kind of ‘knowing’ in which children are born. How long does it take to know God? It’s relative but from most discussions with friends or reading testimonies in Scripture, a common response is we lack patience and move ahead of God to try to force the promise, ahead of what intimacy will allow.
If we were still with God and just knew him, the natural progression of the relationship is to birth something – a promise. In Christ, it is already yes but it requires our agreement to bring about the glory which God intends. Abram already received the promise; his participation was in learning the practice of stilling himself before God, to know him. And from there, Isaac was born.

Outside of intimacy in a covenant relationship, you get Ishmael, but inside covenant relationship you get Isaac, the child of promise. God has already pre-ordained us to receive his promises and blessings. The question is will we say ‘Amen’?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

An Invitation

This week I returned from a leadership conference, and I could have left before it begun. There is nowhere I could park my disappointment; nor would I even say I was disappointed. Before I went to register and sign-in, I spent some time with one of my favourite men in the whole world. He’s like a father to me but because we live in different countries, I see him two or three times a year. While he was speaking, he said something which made my world stop. He said,

“The Presence [of God] is the invitation to intimacy.”


I spent 12 hours driving and had been in Redding for less than 24 hours but I knew I could have driven home at that moment because I had just received everything I needed to hear. Do you have seasons where God is teaching you something but you don’t have language to express what it is, and then when you finally hear the language, the idea becomes fully formed in you? That’s what happened for me in that moment.

I am in a culture where I hear speakers, preachers, and others talk about the Presence – needing the Presence, developing the Presence, staying in the Presence, hosting the Presence. I’ve also been writing, and speaking about it. It’s ‘all Presence, all the time’ but as of late, I’ve been feeling like there’s something more but I didn’t know what it was, or how to get it.

The Presence [of God] is the best thing I’ve ever known. (Can I even call such a wonderful experiential awareness a thing?) I didn’t grow up in a church culture where the presence of God could be tangibly felt or experienced but I’ve learned a better way. I love everything about the Presence because when God is present, then all He is, is present also – Healer, Comforter, Peacemaker, Provider, Father; the impossible becomes possible.
In that season a few short years ago, I was learning something new about God which was (and still is) revolutionary. It wasn’t for a few years before I started to think being in the same room with Jesus isn’t good enough. I want more. The Presence is not the goal; it’s an invitation to true intimacy.
Simply being in the Presence doesn’t change you; it may change your circumstances (sick to healed, mourning to joy, hunger to filled) but we’re changed in the context of relationship. When Jesus walked the earth, many gathered to be in his presence and he healed everyone who came to him but where were the 5,000 and 4,000 people he fed when the crowd was calling for his crucifixion? At the time of his greatest sacrifice, only a handful remained (and even they didn’t do a great job of staying close). The ones who remained were the ones who were in true relationship with him.
If Christianity is a relationship and not a religion then I want intimacy. I want to be vulnerable and transparent but true intimacy flows both ways. It requires for my God to be intimate with me as well. Could anyone deny there are intimacy problems if a one half of a married couple refuses to get naked? Or if one person is sharing her secrets, and the other one only listens but doesn’t contribute his own secrets?
Intimacy with God is still a mystery to me. It’s hard for me to understand how God, the one who is complete in himself, can be vulnerable. He does [be vulnerable] otherwise what is his invitation for? Is it for us to pour out our body, soul and spirit to a counsellor and not to expect we will be called upon to reciprocate? God gave us the model of a marital relationship. Marriage isn’t just a nice idea for humans who are too needy to do life on their own. Marriage is a heavenly concept, not an earthly one. The Father is looking for a bride for his Son.

There is an increased understanding of the concept of sonship but there is a whole other level of intimacy and relationship that can only be found between a bride and a bridegroom. My Boy may have a key to our house and can eat what he wants from the fridge; he will inherit everything we’ve built and acquired but I share way more with my Man than I do with my Boy.

For two and a half days, I was immersed in an environment where his Presence saturates everything and everyone but I was wrecked, not by his Presence but because it was an invitation to greater intimacy. I was part of a crowd of 800+ and still I was intensely lonely for Jesus and my heart [literally] ached for him. Finally, during the last session I excused myself from the crowd and went to be with Jesus on my own. I took my journal, anticipating a conversation worth remembering, but I didn’t even crack it open. I met with Jesus and he met with me, and we just were. And it was the best session of the whole conference.

Being in the same room isn’t enough; we need to grab hold of the opportunity to enter into relationship with him. When Jesus came to the disciples, walking on the water, he would have passed them by if they hadn’t called out to him. How often has Jesus been by, and we haven’t responded? I’m resolved never to pass an opportunity for intimacy.

I’m saying yes. Are you?
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