The Pastoral Prayer of Paul

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

– Colossians 1:9-14 (ESV)

This is one of the best and most succinct examples in Scripture of the heart of a pastor for his people. How this must have encouraged the Colossians!

Take a moment to look at the attributes of Pauls prayer, as he describes it. The first thing you notice is that it was ceaseless. Do you know what it feels like to be prayed for always? I hope you do; it is a wonderful thing to have another believer lift you up to the Lord ceaselessly. And it’s a wonderful thing to be the one doing the praying too.

And look at the things Paul was asking God to give them. The first request is that they be filled with knowledge of God’s will and spiritual wisdom and understanding. Have you ever watched, helplessly, the life of a Christian who lacks wisdom? It’s either like watching a slow-motion train wreck or it’s just a further testament to God’s amazing grace that the train wreck is averted. How we need wisdom today! So many times you or I will say “I wish I knew what God’s will is”. I like the way Paul puts it: the knowledge of God’s will is something that we can be “filled” with. In other words, spiritual wisdom is not so much a checklist of truths as it is a living, active Presence in our lives, an overflow of the Spirit that guides our steps and deepens our knowledge of the Father’s ways.

The result of wisdom is, of course, not just more brain activity. It is that high calling of every Christian: to walk in a manner worthy of our Lord, fully pleasing to him. A friend of mine once said “the smile of God is the goal of my life.” So well said – the thought of being fully pleasing to God can seem far away from us when we are in the pit of sin, yet it is possible. It flows out of the filling of spiritual wisdom that God offers us, to point us in the way that is most pleasing to him.

The crescendo continues! Paul prays that the Colossians will be fully pleasing to God, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. In other words, as we live and walk in the spiritual wisdom God supplies, and live it out in obedience, the end-result is fruit that is pleasing to him and that results in a yet larger increase in the knowledge of God, and the blessed circle widens. For as we walk in his ways we become more and more like him.

Paul ends his pastoral prayer with a heartfelt blessing for these people that he loved so much. “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.”

Strength, power, endurance, patience, joy, thankfulness. These are the marks of the blessed child of God, one who shares in the unfathomable inheritance of the saints in light.

If you are a redeemed citizen of the kingdom of Jesus, may the blessings Paul prayed for the Colossians also fill your life. Many Christians have gone deep in their relationship with the Lord, others of us have only scratched the surface. Yet none of us can fully comprehend the glories, the riches, and the wisdom, understanding, and incomparable love our Father offers us.

“He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

May wisdom, understanding, obedience, fruit, and ever increasing patience, joy, endurance and thankfulness be yours today.

Thanking God for others

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing–as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

– Colossians 1:1-8 (ESV)

“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you . . .”

Is there anyone in your life that you thank God for every time you pray for them? This is an interesting kind of thankfulness; it is another way to worship God, when you think about it. For who else could turn a fallen human being into a vessel of grace producing thankfulness in others?

Notice the traits of the Colossians that Paul extols: their faith in Jesus and their love for the saints. And both of these springing up from hope. Faith, hope and love – these are the evidences of the Spirit in a person’s life, and are the marks and reflection of Jesus. Do you know someone full of the Spirit and overflowing with faith, hope, and love? When I think of the people I know who are like this I can’t help but worship God for them. Because it is through them that I get just a taste of the deep love God has for me.

I recommend that you often take a moment to think about and pray for those who have demonstrated faith, hope, and love to you, and thank God for them. It is through such as these that the gospel bears fruit throughout the whole world!

A reason why prayer is hard

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

– 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

One thing that always crosses my mind when I read the words of Paul is this: “he knew what he was talking about”.

I can talk all day long about affliction, about having spiritual eyes, about being renewed. But I really only know of these things in small ways. So many miles to go . . .

I was thinking today about how hard prayer is. And I’ll tell you why I think it’s hard: it’s because our physical eyes can’t see the spiritual world. There are people that I care about deeply and pray for every day but who I rarely see; I am “in the dark”, you might say, about what’s really going on with them. So I try not to worry, but to just pray, as God reminds me – I often fall into the doldrums of rote in this spiritual exercise. One of the people I’m thinking of has drifted far from God – it’s hard to believe it happened, but it did – and needs to come back. Desperately. Another has gone through a great struggle, and won, but is now on her own, and I pray she stays strong and finds peace when she’s lonely. Yet another has had a recent terrible heartbreak, and is having trouble hearing from God or feeling him. Two others – I often think of them in the same context – were once guys I saw many times a week. We used to worship together. I’m not sure where either one is spiritually now. Yet another seems OK, but I find myself troubled and multiple times daily lifting this person up to God, for over a year now, and I’m not even sure why.

Now my prayers are weak water compared to the hell-shaking, kingdom-shattering prayers of the great heroes of the faith; people such as Paul. There are many reasons why this is, not least of which are my sloth, my thorn-tangled faith, and my immature, distracted mind. But I also think that a large part of my trouble is my eyes.

“. . . as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

I haven’t yet learned to look to the unseen. I haven’t developed, much, the ability to see what is happening in the spiritual world which is by definition hidden to our physical eyes. There is a spiritual sensitivity that develops in a mature Christian; a second sight if you will, that begins to see the “real world”, meaning the world of the eternal, in front of rather than behind this flimsy veil that we call reality. Though this side of heaven no saint sees things completely clearly, I believe there are those stronger in the faith that can almost see the power of God unleashed when they pray.

I’m not there yet, not even close. So I say my weak prayers and I wonder and I worry in the “through the mirror, darkly” world through which I often stumble, because my eyes still need clearing. I need eyes of faith. Then I’ll see.

I pray that sight will come with time. It is a comfort to me, though, to think of these friends and loved ones, and lift them up to God, daily and weakly, alongside my prayers for my own family. I believe that’s what God wants me to do. And I thank him so much for the privilege of prayer. I pray he’ll make me better at it.

My tears in your bottle

You have kept count of my tossings;

put my tears in your bottle.

Are they not in your book?

Then my enemies will turn back

in the day when I call.

This I know, that God is for me.

In God, whose word I praise,

in the LORD, whose word I praise,

in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.

What can man do to me?

– Psalm 56:8-11 (ESV)

Matthew Henry said of this passage, “God has a bottle and a book for his people’s tears, both the tears for their sins, and those for their afflictions. He observes them with tender concern.”

If the tears are flowing freely these days for you, I pray that you know that God counts them, every one, with tender concern. If you are his child, he is for you. In all your fears and trouble, there is hope. And that is real hope, not pablum, not Hallmark Card hope. It is hope that will not disappoint.

A chapter closed. Great memories. A great God

Today I realized that it has been one year exactly since an important chapter in my life closed. One year ago today I said goodbye to a worship band that I had been working with all year, the last of seven year’s worth. It was a great year. Really, every year was, and each had its own set of joys, challenges, struggles and victories.

I can’t really put into words what shepherding the worship bands meant to me. It was wonderful. I don’t regret leaving that ministry, though. When I left, I replaced myself as I always knew I must, and my replacement is doing a great job. Over the years I replaced myself several times (for instance, more than one of the pics below is of a band that was not really led by me, but by former band students who became leaders). Replacing yourself is a good thing to learn how to do, and one of the unexpected joys of doing this thing.

A year and a December ago God let me know that it was time. I finished out the year – and a fabulous blessing of a year it was! – and Jill and I have moved on to another ministry in our church, this one with young singles. Different, but wonderful too. And now our two oldest children are in high school and both of them have become members of the student worship bands. So I’m experiencing this all over again, from a different angle. Wow!

Below are just a few of the hundreds of pictures I have of that seven year period stretching from 1998 to 2005, in rough chronological order. I wish I had pictures available online of every student who ever took part! Some I only have in prints and didn’t have time or the heart to scan them. But all of these, pictured or not, were a blessing to me. You can’t tell from the pictures how hard they worked, how committed they were, how passionately they worshipped, and how musically excellent they became.

I’ll never forget them.

Lord, with a passion

born of your Spirit

We burned.

And with a bond

Of unity and beautiful friendship

We became brothers and sisters

And sons and daughters

Tears we shed

Of laughter sweet

And pain, and prayer

Watering the altar

And in the best of times

Our hearts aligned with Yours

And the worship was an offering

And You were lifted high

And I am filled with wonder and praise

For the enduring blessing

Of Your grace and those days.

A new look

Tonight I created a new theme; one that looks suspiciously like a blog-friend’s theme, but hopefully she doesn’t mind and won’t get her marine-husband to come over here and snap me like a twig for pilfering her excellent site’s look and feel.

I was getting tired of the old look.

I figure this one will scare most of my three readers away, as it features a picture of my homely mug in the banner.

In the meantime, I continue to work on a major refactoring of Bloo in advance of the beta release, continue to do my day job, continue to delay the writing of Molly’s birthday poem (sorry sweetie! It’s coming!), continue – at the moment – to listen to my daughter Bethany’s loud and raucous slumber party – why do they call them slumber parties? There’s very little slumbering going on I tells ye!

I also continuously wonder why God blesses me so much.

I’m going to eat a bowl of cereal. G’night blogosphere. God loves you!

“I miss your faces. They remind me of God.”

Jill and I went on a date tonight and saw Lady In The Water for the second time. I know a lot of people didn’t like this movie, but I just love it.

Without giving spoilers, there is one scene that is both wonderful and difficult to watch. In it one of the characters, big-hearted yet agonized, remembers his dead children:

“I miss your faces. They remind me of God.”

It is a moment of redemption, of public remembrance for one who has only been able to write down his agony in a private notebook before. And it is a moment of healing, not just for him, but for the one he is embracing.

I don’t know. I’m not trying to over-spiritualize this, because it is, after all, only a movie. But there is an elusive principle demonstrated. Even our regrets, and our deep sorrows, and our hurts can be a part of the healing of another.

There’s nothing that God can’t redeem.

“And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends.”

– Job 42:10

“. . . with ah! bright wings.”

I like this poem.

God’s Grandeur

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;

It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs–

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

– Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844—89)

I think it’s that last line especially that does it for me.

In some ways it reminds me of that early verse in Genesis:

“And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” – Genesis 1:2b

Oh the creativity, the attention to detail, the mighty, thoughtful, brooding, exquisite genius of our Lord! It is overwhelming to think of it, this vast creation: from the subatomic particle to the mighty wheeling galaxies. This poem, somehow, made me think of that, and of the created order, now bent and broken but one day made complete. And it made me think of my place in it, broken and incomplete as I am, ridiculous of body and of shaky mental constitution, but destined for complete redemption. The morning will spring forth in the east.

These small and perishable bodies we now have were given to us as ponies are given to schoolboys. We must learn to manage; not that we may someday be free of horses altogether but that someday we may ride bare-back, confident and rejoicing, those greater mounts, those winged, shining and world-shaking horses which perhaps even now expect us with impatience, pawing and snorting in the King’s stables. Not that the gallop would be of any value unless it were a gallop with the King; but how else – since He has retained His own charger – should we accompany Him?

– C.S. Lewis

[hat tip: Theology of the Body]

Some thoughts on Lewis’ The Great Divorce

It’s nice to see that Mark of GospelDrivenLife is back home from his “fishing” vacation.

He read C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce several times while he was gone, and provides some excellent insight, excerpted below:

Lewis says up front that this book is a fantasy, a dream. It is not theology, per se. No, there are no bus rides from hell to heaven. No, the damned are not met by the saved as they get off the bus and they are not persuaded to remain in heaven by them. But the imaginative dialogue serves more purposes than can be served by mere prose. Art and poetry have a place in the teaching of truth — and this book is art and poetic as well. He develops a few things so very well.

First, Lewis unmasks the dismal pettiness of sin. Whether in the bickering folk in line for the bus, or the image of hell ever expanding as people fight with each other, or the portrayal of pride, or apostasy, or self-righteousness, or manipulation, or lust — Lewis manages to make real that sin is a perversion of who we were made to be. There is nothing pretty about sin. It deforms and ultimately shrivels the soul that it owns, turns the grumbler into a mere grumble. There is nothing beautiful about sin.

Second, Lewis shows the abounding joy of heaven. At every point in the book, even when offering correction, the “bright people” are full of delight. The theme of the delights of drinking truth, seeing God, forgetting the past in a massive awareness of grace, ending all past feuds at the feet of the Savior, and the transformation of earthly appetites into glorious desires leading to God — these are developed in the succession of events in a way that makes me thirst for that great day.

Third, Lewis sees heaven as the sanctification of our full humanity, not a denial of it. The characters in the presence of God, sinless and free, are not less human for their purity but more so – and the damned are feeble beings, unable to walk across the grass because it pains the soles of their feet. They are mere shadows. Some, as they refuse to heed the embracing call of glory, actually disappear. A man captured by lust yields to the killing of this red lizard upon his shoulder — and the lust, now dead, is raised as a fierce and beautiful stallion. The guide later comments that if lust redeemed becomes a stallion, what would the purified love of a parent for a child become?

Well said. As Mark later states: “If the joys of heaven are at all what Lewis describes, it certainly brings to life the glory of God, the greatness of our salvation, and the promise of Jude ‘faultless in his presence with exceeding joy.'”

I recommend you go read the whole thing. Actually, go read The Great Divorce first, if you haven’t already. Then go read the whole thing. 🙂