in Prayer

On Written Prayers

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 The practice of offering up written prayers has fallen on hard times. In our present age of authenticity, there is a tendency to equate spontaneity with the truest version of our selves. When viewed through that lens, written prayers feel forced and awkward – something that stands in the way of us genuinely opening our hearts to God. We think, better leave behind the stuffiness of formality and pray, "from the heart". Of course, what we mean is, “It’s better to improvise and say whatever comes to mind than follow a formula.” To be sure, spontaneous prayers and praises are found throughout the pages of scripture. But, alongside them are also ordered prayers and songs with defined words. The Psalms were not meant as lyrical suggestions. Mary's prayerful response to the news of Jesus birth is modeled and shaped after Hannah's song in the Old Testament (Luke 1:46-55). Even the Lord's prayer has long been seen as more than a helpful offering; it is a model to follow (Matthew 6:9-13).

I recently had a conversation with a friend in which we were excitedly talking about a book we had both found beneficial in our Christian lives. We agreed that while the book hadn’t introduced any new ideas to us, it had given us words to articulate what we both had been feeling for months. In the same way, though they are not inspired and infallible, the prayers of Godly men and women of the past can give form to our longings and distil our thoughts into a cogent arrangement. They can put in our hands the words which we have been grasping for, but found just beyond our reach. At College + Career, we encourage those who lead prayer to incorporate written and spontaneous prayers, knowing that the Spirit blesses and honors both when offered in faith and conviction. With all that said, I'd like to post a prayer that was offered this week during our service in the hopes you might find it useful in your personal communion with God.

Eternal Father,

We are a woeful people. We know where to find truth. But we look not. We know where to go when we’re oppressed. But we go not. We start our days in debt to our schedules and priorities but forget the schedule and priorities you have set before us. Even if we make time to read Your everlasting Word we often neglect to feed our souls with it.

King David, a man after Your own heart, meditated on your word day and night. He delighted in Your Word. In Psalm 130, it reads that David waited for the Lord, indeed his whole being waited, and in Your Word put his hope. Jeremiah said that when he read of Your Word that he ate the words and they were his joy and his heart's delight. How far we are from being like David and Jeremiah! Forgive us God for our neglect. If only we honestly believed Your Word was active, then surely, we would turn to it in every endeavor.

How often we merely assent to the truth of Your Word but never press beyond belief. We have failed to apprehend Your Word, to make it a deep-abiding, all-satisfying, permanent residing place of worship in our hearts. Incline us to Your Word Father! Help us to cherish it above our own idols. Help us to open our being to Your Word and have it change us and sanctify us. Give us the ambition to wrestle with Your Word and not depart from its truth just as Jacob wrestled with You in the desert until You blessed him. Father, we are sorry, accept our confession, give us repentance, and help us to walk as a redeemed people.

 

The Destroyer of Our Gods

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In the last few weeks of getting ready for our Foundations Semester – Church History course, I ran across a statement that gave me pause. One of the earliest accounts of martyrdom, outside of the New Testament, relays the death of a bishop named Polycarp; an elderly man who led the church in Smyrna. In one account, Polycarp was presented before a crowd which angrily condemned him as, “…The teacher of Asia…the father of Christians, the destroyer of our gods.” Those last few words are something that I’ve turned over in my mind for awhile now; they capture a reality which is profound, namely the way in which Christianity addresses our personal idolatry.

Of course, when most of us consider idolatry, it has an Indiana Jones “Raiders of the Lost Ark” flavor. We conceive of idols as statues worshiped by people who think they represent beings with some spiritual existence. But the Bible sees something deeper at work than sculpture making, something that stands just out of sight of that impulse. The whole business of carving images to be worshiped is an expression of our fallen desire to find transcendent meaning in created things (Romans 1:19-21). It’s one of many ways of seeking glory from the creation that is only found in the Creator (Romans 1:21-23).

Christopher Wright gets to the heart of idolatry, stating that in making idols, “Creation is then credited with a potency which belongs only to God… God, who should be worshiped becomes an object to be used; creation, which is for our use and blessing, becomes the object of our worship.” In some way, each of us takes bits of the created world and fashions it into an idol to enthrone in our hearts. Wright again offers some helpful insight here, noting that literal statues and the idols of our hearts tend to be shaped by three particular concerns: What entices us, what terrifies us, and the things we need.

Ancient peoples often made gods out of the starry hosts of heaven precisely because they were enticing and inspired awe. We follow suit, making idols out of the people who dazzle us: celebrities, actors, artists, and preachers. In the midst of this, the author of Hebrews holds out Christ as, “The radiance of God’s glory” far more worthy of our delight and awe than the created things which He sustains by His powerful word (Hebrews 1:3). People of old worshiped the gods of the sea, fearful of the ocean's unpredictability. We go and do likewise as we lay awake at night, terrified of losing control over our lives and our possessions. Samuel cries out to us, with all of our misplaced terror, “Fear the Lord and serve him faithfully!” (1 Samuel 12:24). In Israel’s idolatry, she began to serve gods of rain and harvest believing that they would meet her material needs (Hosea 2:5). For us, in the west, there is no idol that promises greater comfort than materialism, and we frequently offer up our very lives and families on her altar. To our fretful concern over possessions, the Son of God declares in triumph, “Do not be anxious about your life… the Lord knows what you need!” (Matthew 6:25).

The crowd at Polycarp's execution laid hold of something true. The Triune Lord is the destroyer of the gods. He is relentless in his pursuit of his people. Yahweh will not allow us to be dazzled by created things and neglect the One who created them. The Holy One of Israel refuses to see us tremble in fear before anything less than His glorious majesty. The Giver of every good and perfect gift will not allow us to accept the mud pie of materialism when He offers to meet our needs and satisfy in abundance. But in each case, He does not leave us empty handed. He will destroy our idols, to be sure, but in the end, He gives us something better: Himself.

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