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Religious

Maintaining Calm in the Tumult

“Most important, live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel. Do this, whether I come and see you or I’m absent and hear about you. Do this so that you stand firm, united in one spirit and mind as you struggle together to remain faithful to the gospel. That way, you won’t be afraid of anything your enemies do.”

Philippians 1:27, 28a (Common English Bible)

Some years ago, a young man shared with me that years earlier he made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. However, in the time that followed, he never sought to grow in his relationship with Jesus. Now his life was moving through a crisis, and not moving through it very well. This brought uncommon insight for him. He said, “I never did anything with my faith so now my faith is not doing anything for me.”  Apparently, this young man reduced the Christian faith to right beliefs. He confessed before a church that Jesus Christ is his Lord. He believed in Jesus Christ and that was that. Nothing more required. What he was now learning – in the midst of a personal crisis – is that the Christian faith is not merely right beliefs. The Christian faith is something that we do, and optimally, in community with others.     

In his present tumult, what this man desired is calm. Some years ago, William George Jordan wrote, “Calmness is the rarest quality in human life. It is the poise of a great nature, in harmony with itself and its ideals. It is the moral atmosphere of a life self-reliant and self-controlled. Calmness is singleness of purpose, absolute confidence, and conscious power ready to be focused in an instant to meet any crisis.”[i] Simply, the person who is calm identifies a singleness of purpose and pursues that purpose with both a sturdy confidence and an intentional strength of resolve. This is precisely the point Paul makes in his letter to the Church in Philippi: “live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel.” That is our purpose. Further, Paul asks for a steady resolve toward this regardless of external circumstances – whether Paul comes to see them or is absent from them.

A familiar song during the Christmas season has this refrain, “I’ll be home for Christmas, you can count on me. I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.” Initially, the response is a chest that swells with anticipation and joy. A loved one is coming home for Christmas! However, the chest deflates when the refrain continues, “if only in my dreams.” Notice here that joy, or its absence, is dependent on something from outside of the individual – something that is beyond the grasp of the individual to control. Will a loved one be home for Christmas or not? Paul is saying that joy and a life of obedience to Jesus Christ is not dependent upon some external circumstance; not dependent upon whether Paul comes to be with them or is absent from them. Calm is available either way once a mind is focused upon a great purpose.

These few sentences of Paul conclude with the promise that fear and uncertainty will not fill the heart if the mind is set upon the single purpose of living for Christ’s gospel. If we hand authority to external circumstances for our well-being, we confess our inferiority to them. We grant them the power to dominate us. It is then that worries of every measure stir us to unease, wear upon us, and eventually, we wear down to surrender. Calm dissipates. Paul announces it does not have to come to that. “Live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel.” Do that and the natural result is that you will not be afraid of anything your enemies do. Malice and slander, difficulties and hardships, disappointments and failures may assail you. Calmness will remain.

Joy,


[i]Earl Nightingale, “Managing Your Inner World,” Transformational Living: Positivity, Mindset, and Persistence(Shippensburg, PA: Sound Wisdom, 2019) 39.

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Religious

How Can I Find God?

“It’s impossible to please God without faith because the one who draws near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards people who try to find him.”

Hebrews 11:6 (Common English Bible)

The beginning of the matter is faith. Faith does not mean the absence of doubt. As Jesus spoke to his disciples for the last time, the Bible tells us that some of them doubted. Their doubt did not bother Jesus. What Jesus did was to command them how they were to live after he left them. Here, faith is the determination to live “as though it is true.” When two people make marriage vows to remain together “until death do they part,” they are aware of the staggering divorce rates. They are aware of the possibility that their marriage may fail. Yet, they begin their life together on faith, the determination that they will remain together until death. Hebrews instructs that we begin the search for God “as though God does exist.”

Faith is not putting aside all doubt. It is determining to believe that God is there, just as we are present in the world. Faith is not putting aside all arguments against the existence of God but, rather, choosing to “accept as true” that God loves and understands and is interested in the smallest details of our life. A serious quest for God will put away all excuses for not beginning to seek God, excuses such as not having sufficient time to be alone with God each day, and sincerely striving to be in a personal relationship with someone as real and present as a spouse or dear friend. Faith is an acknowledgment that God is someone who is worth our worship, our love, our striving to learn from, and a decision to follow.

Let the one looking for God then turn each day into a quiet place, a place free of the possibility of interruption and distraction. In silence, think of God as present. Perhaps make a mental picture of God standing directly in front of you or seated right beside you. If it helps, picture God as Jesus groomed as your favorite picture of Jesus, wearing the traditional dress of the Hebrew people of Jesus’ day. Some find sitting in a church before a stained-glass window of Jesus helpful, as do I. Imaginatively, look into tender eyes and see arms outstretched to embrace you. At that moment, confess how you have wronged others and God. Pour out your hurts, disappointments, and longings. Share with God your unmet needs.

Then, after the silence, accept the forgiveness of God, the forgiveness you have heard proclaimed from the pulpit, read in the Bible, or shared with you by those who believe in Jesus. Accept the forgiveness even if you find it difficult to believe that anyone can forgive you, even God. By faith, trust the promise that you are forgiven. Trust that God has taken all that you are ashamed of and removed it from you. As God has placed all of it behind you, now make a mental picture that your back is turned to it, and you face forward with no guilt. In that new freedom—and in gratitude—resolve to learn from Jesus and to live as Jesus teaches us to live. Hebrews promises that God will reward you—promises that you will find God.

Joy,

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Religious

A Life Trained by Christ

Train yourself for a holy life!”

1 Timothy 4:7b

A physician once taught me an important lesson about spiritual growth—there is simply no substitute for regularly paying attention to God. He shared this story with me. In the midst of a successful practice as a doctor, he had little time for his wife, and for his children. Seventy and eighty-hour workweeks were customary. He loved his patients. He loved his work. Time at home was for rest and renewal for the next day. Dinners with his family were rare. Hard work seemed to pay dividends. His salary rose steadily each year. Admiration for him and his exceptional work held a privileged position in the community. Everything seemed right until it did not. Both his wife and his children had found a way to get on in life without him. “The day I realized that was the most painful day of my life,” the doctor said.

The doctor held a stethoscope in his hand. “Perhaps, this is the most important tool for a physician’s work,” he shared. Doctors study and train to know how to listen to a patient with this tool. What is supremely important is to know what “regular” sounds like when we hold the stethoscope to a patient’s chest or back. If the doctor does not know what “regular” sounds like, then the doctor simply does not know what they are listening to with a patient seated in front of them. Doctors must learn well what “regular” sounds like so when using a stethoscope, they can recognize immediately what sounds “irregular.” Once an “irregular” comes through the stethoscope, a decision, with the patient, is required. This one part of practicing medicine is all about listening carefully, listening correctly.

“I was failing at listening carefully to my life, to my family,” said the doctor. “Then, I almost lost them.” “That terrified me.” The difficulty was that I did not know what “regular” was, or what “regular” sounded like as a part of a family. Here is a man who is an excellent doctor but is a poor husband and father. Training was required. Good training is about consistent, regular effort over time. Good training demands the proper tools. “I went back to school,” said the doctor. The textbook was the Bible. The classroom was a chair in his backyard for one hour at the close of every day. Reading the Bible every evening, the doctor learned what “regular” sounded like. Then he listened carefully to his own life, his daily practices, and his priorities. What the doctor heard was irregular.

It is remarkable what listening to God will do for a life. A “regular” life, a healthy life, is a lived experience of faith in God. Practices change, and as practices change, a reshaping occurs. Each life that listens carefully to God, in regular time reading the Bible and prayer, redevelops from the inside out. Such a life embodies more and more the way of Jesus. Trust in God increases, persistent hope in the coming of God’s reign expands, and love overcomes hatred and selfishness. Life moves from unhealthy “instinctual reactions” to learned behaviors—behaviors that enter the heart from habitual practice in the way of Christ. This is a trained life. A life trained by Christ.

Joy,

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Religious

A Fresh Approach to Prayer

“Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’”

Luke 11:1 (Common English Bible)

The Newlywed Game was a popular television show in the late sixties and early seventies. The show would place newly married couples against each other in a series of revealing question rounds that determined how well the spouses knew or did not know each other. There would be two rounds; the wives were taken off stage first, while the husbands were asked three questions. The wives were then brought back into the studio and asked for their answers to the same three questions. Once the wife gave her answer, the husband revealed the answer he gave—written on a blue card—in her absence. Five points would be awarded to the couple that shared the same answer. The roles were reversed in round two, and the wives were asked to answer questions about their husbands. The couple with the highest score at the show’s end won.

Imagine a similar game that puts to the test how well we know God and how well we understand God’s purpose for our lives. I suspect many of us would be embarrassed. Here, in Luke’s Gospel, the disciples came upon Jesus when he was praying. Tremendously moved by what they saw, the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. There is no hint in this passage that the disciples witnessed answers to Jesus’ prayers. Results weren’t what caught their imagination. There was something else: something that went much deeper.

If we dispense with the notion that prayer is only about answers, that prayer is simply presenting pleas when we are in need, in danger, or in a crisis; our eyes are cleared to see what the disciples saw when they came upon Jesus at prayer. In Jesus’ prayer, the disciples saw a concentration and absorption into a relationship with God they had no experience with. Jesus’ prayers demonstrated a deliberate and sustained cultivation of a relationship with God that would put Jesus in the winner’s seat of The Newlywed Game. What is clear in this passage is that the disciples wanted the same.

Perhaps the greatest difficulty with prayer today is that many are simply out of touch with God. Prayer is reduced to instinct rather than habit, to approaching God out of need rather than a regular cultivation of a personal relationship with our creator. And that is our deepest need—to renew our acquaintance with God. Prayers that flow from instinct tend to be self-centered. The prayer of Jesus is God-centered. It is prayer that takes time to cultivate and requires extraordinary perseverance. But once this fresh approach to prayer is mastered, don’t be surprised if another approaches you and asks, “Teach me to pray like that.”

Joy,

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Religious

When God Seems Distant

“I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:38a (Common English Bible)

Tommy Lasorda, former manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, tells about an experience he had in church. One Sunday he was in Cincinnati for a ball game against the Reds. That morning he went to early morning Mass and happened to see the Red’s manger there. They were old friends and sat beside each other during Mass. Afterward, the Red’s manager said, “Tommy, I’ll see you at the ballpark. I’m going to hang around a little.” Lasorda said that when he reached the door, he glanced back over his shoulder. He noticed that his friend was praying at the altar and lighting a candle. He said, “I thought about that for a few moments. Then, since we needed a win very badly, I doubled back and blew out his candle.”i Though misguided, what a powerful demonstration of faith in God’s presence and activity!

Countless people today long for that deep confidence in God’s presence and activity in their lives. God seems distant to them. They plod through each day, fearful, anxious, and burdened with uncertainty. Some may remember once having a close relationship with God but that was a long time ago. Prayers seem to never rise higher than the ceiling—and that is when we even feel like praying! The good news is that this is not an uncommon experience in the Christian faith. Just as people can grow apart in relationships with one another, so we can drift away from God. As Thomas Tewell once said to me, the difference is that in human relationships, both parties contribute to the distance. But, in a relationship with God, the reality is that we drift away from God. God never drifts away from us.

In those moments when God seems distant, what are we to do? Perhaps an experience I had will help. My daughter, Rachael, was in Norway—a studio photographer for the Holland America Cruise Lines. It’s was not uncommon for Rachael to work twelve and fourteen hour days. Wi-Fi is limited and with her long hours it was difficult to “connect” with her by telephone or by other means in real time. Rachael reached-out to me via Facebook Messenger. She said that for a limited time she was available to receive a phone call from me and that she really would like me to call. Immediately, I moved something that was already on my calendar to another time and placed the call. Do you see what happened? Suddenly, my greatest desire was to speak with my daughter. To do so, I had to make the time.

We reconnect with God the same way. We move beyond our desire to be close with God and carve out time from our busy lives to simply be still in God’s presence. We open the Bible and read expectantly, asking God to speak powerfully through the words that we read on the page. We learn from our reading more about God, about God’s good desires for us, and we learn what God requires of us. We spend time together with God. And we listen; we listen deeply in the silence following our reading to the hunches, the promptings, and the direction we sense from God. As we respond positively, the distance we once felt from God begins to close.  

Joy,

____________________

i William R. Bouknight, The Authoritative Word: Preaching Truth In A Skeptical Age. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001) 30.

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Religious

The Vengeful Prophet

The following meditation was written by Nathanael Hood,

a senior student at Princeton Theological Seminary

“God said to Jonah, ‘Is your anger about the shrub a good thing?’ Jonah said, ‘Yes, my anger is good—even to the point of death!’ But the Lord said, ‘You “pitied” the shrub, for which you didn’t work and which you didn’t raise; it grew in a night and perished in a night. Yet for my part, can’t I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than one hundred twenty thousand people who can’t tell their right hand from their left, and also many animals?’”

Jonah 4: 9-11 (Common English Bible)

The Book of Jonah is one of the most unusual in the Bible. Tucked away among the Minor Prophets at the tail end of the Hebrew Bible, it’s radically different from its neighbors. Unlike the other prophetic books, Jonah primarily tells the story of what its prophet did, not necessarily what its prophet said. And what a story! A reluctant, cowardly prophet! A man eaten by a giant fish somehow surviving in its belly for three days! Desperate eleventh-hour appeals to God and dramatic reversals of fortune! The unanimous repentance before God of an entire pagan city! Field animals donning mourning clothes alongside their masters! Even its spatial dimensions stretch beyond credulity: the doomed city of Nineveh is described as requiring three days to cross on foot. For reference, according to Google Maps, it only takes eight hours to traverse New York City from the bottom of Brooklyn to the tip of the Bronx. The Book of Jonah is an outlandish, dramatic tale that scratches the very human itch for the strange and fantastic. Is it any wonder it’s a favorite of storytellers, scribes, and Sunday school teachers?

However, the Book of Jonah also bears a more unfortunate distinction: it’s one of the most abridged, misunderstood stories in the Bible. We Christians have a nasty habit of neglecting the last chapter of the book, which brings the rest of the story into sharp, uncomfortable focus. After Jonah begrudgingly obeys God’s command to preach repentance to the Assyrian capital of Nineveh, he becomes infuriated when God honors the city dwellers’ repentance and doesn’t destroy them. An incensed Jonah rages against the Almighty’s mercy and reveals his true character: he didn’t flee from God’s command to travel to Nineveh because he feared the Assyrians; he fled because he knew God would spare them if they repented! It was his hatred of Nineveh that spurred him to Tarshish.

When God challenges Jonah for questioning God’s mercy, Jonah responds like an indignant toddler, storming to the outskirts of the city. Once there, he builds a hut, sits down, and faces the city, almost like he’s trying to will God to change God’s mind and smite Nineveh with the sheer force of his will. Like a patient parent, God causes a tree to grow over him so he might sit in the shade. But after a day of Jonah not getting the hint, God smites the tree with a terrible worm. When Jonah yells at God for destroying his shade, God challenges him once again, asking if his anger is justified. Once more, like a child stamping its foot, Jonah whines and wishes he might die. To which God responds with a simple question: why are you more upset about the life of a tree than the lives of thousands of people and animals in Nineveh?

Contrary to how the Book of Jonah is commonly understood, it’s not a story celebrating the faithfulness and power of God to save God’s faithful. It’s not a story meant to complement Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the furnace or Daniel in the lion’s den. The book generously mixes satire, humor, and folklore to challenge its reader to self-examine their obedience to God’s command of loving their neighbor. If Jonah truly loved the Lord his God, he would have rejoiced at the salvation of the Assyrians, the hated enemies of the Jews who sacked their cities and murdered their people. But it offers a second, just as potent challenge to its reader: what kind of God do we truly want to believe in? Jonah’s idealized God of vengeance and wrath, slayer of the weak and repentant? Or the Bible’s revealed God of mercy and justice, forgiver of sins, and bringer of salvation? May we choose better than this spiteful prophet.

Joy,

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Religious

A High Resolution Faith

“The truly happy person doesn’t follow wicked advice, doesn’t stand on the road of sinners, and doesn’t sit with the disrespectful. Instead of doing those things, these persons love the Lord’s Instruction, and they recite God’s Instruction day and night! They are like a tree replanted by streams of water, which bears fruit at just the right time and those leaves don’t fade. Whatever they do succeeds.”

Psalm 1:1-3 (Common English Bible)

Many, many people are frustrated in their prayer lives. Told over and over again that whatever they need, whatever they want, simply bring those requests to God in prayer, and God will not disappoint. Anticipate miracles, we are told by the faithful. All things are possible if only we believe. We pray. And there is silence. Prayer is attempted again, with greater mental effort to “believe more” or “have more faith” as though either was possible with greater effort. The silence remains. We are told to blame ourselves. Discouragement settles into our souls, and we drop out on faith—or at the minimum, on the exercise of prayer. Prayer has failed us; we know that somehow we are not getting through to God, so we give up. Worse, without a positive experience of prayer, the energy for a life of faith runs down.

Lowell Russell Ditzen suggests that the problem may, in fact, be with us. Ditzen writes, “We become what we think! Our spiritual health is the result of our spiritual diet.”[i] Naturally, that begs the question, “What are we feeding on?” Psalm 1 advances this notion with three quick declarations: “The truly happy person doesn’t follow wicked advice, doesn’t stand on the road of sinners, and doesn’t sit with the disrespectful.” This spiritual guidance is immediately followed by two imperatives, the happy person loves the Lord’s Instruction, and they recite God’s Instruction day and night. Apparently, our spiritual diet – our day-to-day behavior and thoughts – becomes the filter through which we see the world. How is the resolution by which we view the world? Have we drawn near to God or moved far away?

Ellen F. Davis moves this thought forward, “The psalm makes only one point, and makes it really clear: you’re not going to get anywhere in the life of prayer unless you’re reading scripture, God’s Torah, all the time.”[ii] A genuine, vital, and effective experience of prayer emerges out of the midst of reading the Bible regularly – even daily – and focusing our thoughts on the question, “What does God require of me?” As we become better readers of the Bible, our prayers are deepened and transformed. We remove ourselves from the company of those who ignore God’s purposes and, thus, disrupt God’s order for the world. Steeped in scripture and disciplined in prayer, we are able to see what God is doing in the ordinary moments of life.

Life consists of choices – we choose either a constant attentiveness to God’s instruction or a self-centered life that largely ignores God until we believe God might be useful to us. One is a high-resolution faith, the consciousness of God here and now, and the other is a low-resolution faith that sees little beyond the self. Strength rises up in the person who both learns of God and approaches prayer as fellowship with God. Courage is rekindled, insight is broadened, and the power to endure and move forward is heightened. Such prayer pries the “me” out of our consciousness and provokes us to see life all around us in fresh new ways. Such a high-resolution faith leads to a lifestyle that experiences great power in prayer. A people who mastered prayer wrote the Psalms, and it is well that they instruct us.


.[i] Lowell Russell Ditzen, Secrets of Self-Mastery: An Inspirational Guide to The Mastery of Life (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1958) 22.

[ii] Ellen F. Davis, Wondrous Depth: Preaching The Old Testament (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005) 147.

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Religious

Throwing Away Self-Pity

“Awake, awake, put on your strength, Zion!”

Isaiah 52:1a (Common English Bible)

Captivity for Israel has ended. God has defeated the powers of Babylon and has authorized Israel to depart and head for home to Jerusalem. A new day, with a strong future, now rises for God’s people. “Awake, awake!” is God’s double imperative to Israel. “Put on your strength, Zion!” The call sounds strangely familiar. “Up and Adam! Let’s get going!” is the more common usage today. These, or similar, words have been uttered by most parents summoning their children awake from their sleep. The image of sleepy children, resisting the call to leave the comfort of a warm bed, is sharp and crisp. The parent can wake the child with a shout, can summon the child from the bed, but it must be the child’s own strength that moves them from slumber to a fresh engagement with a new day.

God’s present difficulty is that Israel doesn’t want to get out of bed. During their captivity in Babylon, Israel has become dulled, inattentive, hopeless, and grief-stricken.i Israel has been humiliated by Babylon and has spiraled into such despair and self-pity that they no longer want to live. No longer did life offer a driving purpose, only a memory of brighter days. Absent was a radiant hope, only a fading dream. A captivating vision has fled from their sight. What remained was a history. “Awake, awake!” is God’s response to Israel’s self-pity. “Put on your strength, Zion!” God is reminding Israel that there is still strength in the people and is here urging them to summon that strength and toss-off that negative attitude that has consumed them.

Psychotherapist and author, Amy Morin writes that feeling sorry for yourself is self-destructive.ii Though we all experience pain and sorrow in life, dwelling on your sorrow and misfortune can consume you until it eventually changes your thoughts and behaviors. Morin contends that any of us can choose to take control. “Even when you can’t alter your circumstances, you can alter your attitude.”iii This is the clear declaration of God to Israel; the clear call to shake off their indulgence in self-pity, claim the strength that remains in them, and move positively forward toward the future God has prepared for them. God’s strength comes alongside our own. It does not do for us what we can do for ourselves.

After Victor Hugo was exiled from his beloved France, he spent 18 years in the Channel Islands. Hugo once described this exile from the nation he loved as worse than death. Each afternoon, at sunset, Victor Hugo would climb to a cliff overlooking a small harbor and look longingly out over the water toward France. Legend tells us that each day, following his meditations, Hugo would pick up a pebble and throw it into the sea. One day the children who developed an affection for him asked why he threw a stone in the sea each day. “Not stones, children, not stones. I am throwing my self-pity into the sea.” Little wonder that during those 18 years of struggle, Victor Hugo gave the world his best and most profound work of literature.

Joy,

_________________________

i Walter Brueggemann, Isaiah 40-66. (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998) 136.

ii Amy Morin, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. (New York: William Morrow, 2014) 20.

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Religious

The Allure of a Defeated Life

“I was given a thorn in my body.”

2 Corinthians 12:7 (Common English Bible)

Few things are as unfortunate as to see a woman or man losing heart and all sense of hope, drifting into apathy, and finally despair. When a sense of defeat is permitted to take residence in a life, frustration and inaction are too frequently the result. The face becomes sullen, the head is held low, and the shoulders sag. Bitterness grows, the result of an erroneous belief that life has dealt a raw deal or that others have received better opportunities. Left unchecked, the self-pity sentences them to low levels of achievement. A strange comfort is found in simply giving-up – experiencing a certain allure of being defeated.

History is replete with men and women who have experienced hardship, anguished over setbacks, and struggled with handicaps – physical, mental and emotional. Anyone of them may have been resentful and rebellious – and many have – with bad behavior the consequence. Yet, there are others who rise above the circumstances of their lives, press forward with unbelievable determination and consecrate their lives to the service of others. The apostle Paul stands among them. Paul moved through life hindered by “a thorn in the body” but produced nearly two-thirds of our New Testament.

Rather than giving-up and accepting defeat, Paul labored under his handicap. Naturally, Paul – like any of us – preferred that the handicap be corrected, the difficulty removed. On three occasions Paul asked the Lord for this. But the handicap remained; the thorn wasn’t removed. But Paul’s prayers were answered. “My grace is enough for you,” answered God. With God’s answer, Paul committed himself to do the very best he could do with what he had. His life and ministry was a vessel of hope for everyone he encountered. To his children, Theodore Roosevelt continually cultivated a hopeful disposition – and in doing so charged the atmosphere of his home with hope.

Paul sought to demonstrate in his life that there is no limitation, no misfortune, no burden of sorrow, suffering or loss that the human spirit cannot rise above. He endured much of each. But Paul went deeper than self-discipline and self-determination. Paul triumphed over it all because he sought God. Perhaps this was the finest message that Paul left the church – that when the allure of defeat tempts the heart Paul calls us to that deeper place where our life is open to the grace and power of Almighty God.

Joy,

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Religious

Hindered Prayers

“Husbands, likewise, submit by living with your wife in ways that honor her, knowing that she is the weaker partner. Honor her all the more, as she is also a coheir of the gracious care of life. Do this so that your prayers won’t be hindered.”

1 Peter 3:7 (Common English Bible)

During a semester of study in Coventry, England, I was told that a prominent cathedral hosted a guest pastor one particular Sunday. Anticipation of this guest was created by his reputation as a preacher of considerable excellence. The cathedral that morning was packed with worshipers, all eager to hear from a preacher of an unusual caliber. At the beginning of the service, he stepped into the pulpit, looked confidently at the congregation, and spoke the familiar words of the liturgy, “The Lord be with you.” The usual response that followed would be, “And also with you.” However, there seemed to be a glitch with the sound system. No one worshiping could hear the pastor. He grabbed the microphone and adjusted it upward—closer to his voice—and repeated the liturgy. Again, the sound system failed to capture his words. With that second failure, the pastor looked back to the sound technicians, slammed his hand down on the pulpit, and shouted, “There is a problem with the sound system!” The glitch was now corrected, and everyone heard the pastor. They responded, “And also with you!”

In this passage of scripture, Peter turns his attention to the relationship between wife and husband. It is unfortunate that some interpreters of the Bible reflect more on the misogyny of ancient times than the primary thrust of these words. The primary argument here is that one’s conduct must be informed by a new life in Christ for a vital experience of prayer. Peter uses marriage as an interpretive tool. In the ancient time of Peter’s writing, only the husband had privileges. Women had few. William Barclay writes, “If you were to catch your wife in the act of infidelity, you could kill her with impunity without a trial; but, if she were to catch you, she would not venture to touch you with her finger and, indeed, she has no right.”[i] The operative moral code of that day placed all responsibility on the wife and all the privilege on the husband. Peter objects to this view and provides a new relationship dynamic shaped by the Gospel of Jesus. Prayers, therefore, must be made from one no longer captive to the old world order. Unless we approach prayer with a Gospel-shaped life, we experience a hindrance in our communion with God.

The privilege of prayer always demands a corresponding obligation. Anyone who prays for recovery from illness must match that prayer with a responsible diet, exercise, and rest. An actor or actress who prays for an opportunity to perform on a Broadway stage must match that prayer with hard work in acting lessons and rehearsal for auditions. Anyone who aspires to publish begins by writing the first sentence. Ernest Hemingway once commented, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”[ii] Effort must accompany prayer. Prayer without personal effort is merely wishful thinking or a belief in magic. That person remains captive to a sense of privilege without responsibility. It is a mindset that limits their access to God. Christian growth involves, among other things, getting rid of those attitudes, ways of speaking, and behavior patterns that elevate self above concern for others. Forbid yourself from indulging in thoughts that you deserve better. Those thoughts are self-destructive. Exchange such thoughts with gratitude and begin to affirm that God is active in your life, seeking to bless you.

The Gospel of Jesus has changed the moral code of relationships; the relationship of men to slaves and wives. For wives, this submission is one where men are to live with their wives “in ways that honor her.” More, the wife is now “a coheir of the gracious care of life.” The marriage is now hallowed and enriched, an equality of both the husband and wife established as sons and daughters of God. No longer are women inferior to men. This new relationship dynamic will be lived in a world that holds a very different view of the matter. This mutual relationship of honor creates a channel for God’s blessing to flow. Living as God intends, clothing one’s behavior in conduct that is in concert with God’s desire for us reshapes prayers that are made. Alignment of conduct with God’s values results in higher aspirations which experience fulfillment. If there is little room in one’s life for attention to Jesus, there is little room for the participation of God in such a life. If we feel that our prayers are hindered—are ineffective—the trouble may be that there is something wrong with us.

Joy,


[i] William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: The Letters of James and Peter (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976) 223.

[ii] Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition (New York, London, Toronto, & Sydney: Scribner, 1964) 12.