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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Safely Hemmed In

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. Psalm 91:1

A local church is holding a prayer event. For five days the building is permanently open for anyone to come in and pray.

That in itself is unusual these days and deserves commendation. But Beeches Evangelical Church isn't just opening its doors. It has filled the space with aids to prayer.

There are separate areas laid out to, for example, focus on the holiness of God, write out a testimony, listen to worship songs, pray for the local community, take communion, pray for the persecuted church and more. There is even a "messy table" where children (or adults) can paint and be creative as they think about God.

The church is already a place of prayer but when I walked in on Tuesday morning it felt especially full of the presence of God. But my favourite section, the one where I felt closest to God, was the little room laid out simply for private devotion.

I have written before about Sacred Spaces but it almost seemed as though someone had read my heart. If I could have a room in my home, dedicated solely to prayer, it would look something like this room. It seemed to me like stepping into heaven's throne room.

To describe it in detail would feel like dissecting a loved one. I sat on the floor and wept between a cross on one side of me and a representation of the throne of God on the other and had an overwhelming sense of security.

A realisation grew that we are safely hemmed in between the Cross and the Throne Room. Our destiny is secure and nothing can separate us from the love of God (Rom 8:37-39) or take us from His hand (Jn 10:28-29).

I confess I felt I could have stayed there forever.

Here might I stay and sing, 
No story so divine; 
Never was love, dear King! 
Never was grief like Thine. 
This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise 
I all my days could gladly spend.

Samuel Crossman

Photographs by Tim Watson

Friday, February 15, 2013

Prayer Which Transforms

Psalm 13 
For the director of music. A psalm of David.

1 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?

2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

3 Look on me and answer, O Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes,
or I will sleep in death;
4 my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the Lord,
for he has been good to me.

The Desperate Soul 
I love this Psalm. It is one which any one of us can pray from our heart. All believers, at some point, will have the sense of having been deserted by God in their time of need. Storms surround us, we see no way out and we descend into depression.

The Honest Soul 
David is a smart man. Instead of hiding his feelings inside, he tells the Lord exactly what he thinks. And so he should ... and so should we. It's not as if God doesn't know what's going on inside us.

The Transformed Soul
When David unburdens himself to God a change takes place. He has dumped the rubbish on God (or, in more spiritual language, cast his cares on the Lord) and into the vacated space comes a remembrance of what the Lord has already done. Whatever else may befall him, David knows God has both loved him and saved him.

Our testimony is the same. No matter what we are going through, however we may feel, God is still God and always worthy of our praise for the love which He lavishes on us and the free gift of salvation bestowed upon us.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Did God Hear Jesus Prayer?

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. Heb 5:7-9

When I read this today my first thought was, "did God really hear Jesus' prayer?"

Jesus was praying to be delivered from death and we know that He died on the cross. So how can the writer of Hebrews say that He was heard?

And then, what is this about Jesus being made perfect? Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus was sinless.

Do we have contradictions here or is there an explanation?

We first need to answer the question about perfect before we can understand how the Father answered the heartfelt cries of His Son.

The Perfection of Jesus

Atheists love apparent contradictions in the Bible because they think such anomalies prove it is not accurate.

I love these apparent contradictions because, when considered carefully, they usually bring a deeper truth to light.

So, how could Jesus be sinless but not perfect?

Let's consider a child gifted in mathematics.

There are a series of ten maths tests and in every one that child takes she scores 100%. Each test is a bit harder than the previous one and each time she completes a test she never gets a question wrong. She is faultless in the first nine tests. But she is not yet perfect because she still has the final test to take.

Similarly, Jesus passed every test set before Him, but He was not perfect until He had taken all the tests the Father had for Him.

Of course, this analogy breaks down because the tests the girl took were simply to check that she had gained intellectual understanding. The tests which God gave Jesus, and which He gives us, are more about our character than our ability.

Jesus was faultless in every test and perfected in His final test. He proved that there would never be a test in which He would fail.

The Submission of Jesus
The image of Jesus given in these few verses in Hebrews is that of a man in great distress. Matthew's Gospel gives us more detail:

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane ...  
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’ 
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping ...  
He went away a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.’ When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.

See how Jesus submitted Himself. His prayer was not so much to be delivered from the cross as to be conformed to the will of the Father. He began, "if it is possible," but ended, "if it is not possible."

He was indeed "heard because of his reverent submission" to God's plan. That submission meant that he passed the ultimate test and was perfected.

God heard and answered Jesus' prayer for His Father's will to be done. 

A Lesson
What can we learn from this?

Jesus went into prayer with His desires contrary to the desires of God. But God changed Jesus' heart so that He came out of prayer with His attitude conformed to the will of God.

Are we willing for the same transaction to take place in our own lives? Will we argue with God about what's best for us and rail against Him when things don't change? Or will we come seeking that He transforms us to conform to His will?

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. Rom 8:28-29