14-4 Passionate Preaching And Prayer
In his time of dying, Stephen saw the Lord Jesus standing at
the right hand of God (Acts 7:55). But about 13 times in the New Testament,
the point is made that the Lord sits there, unlike the Mosaic
priests who stood (Heb. 10:12). Jesus was passionately
feeling for Stephen; and He just as emotionally and passionately feels
for us in our struggles. This alone should lift us out of the mire of
mediocrity. Prayer will have meaning and power. It won’t just be the repetitious
conscience-salver it can descend into.
A window on what communication can be with our creator is provided by
considering the ‘imprecatory Psalms’; those where the writer wishes
terrible judgments upon his enemies. It is possible to understand these
Psalms in terms of the promises to Abraham- that God will curse those
who curse the true seed of Abraham. They can therefore be seen to be merely
asking for the promises to Abraham to be fulfilled against God’s enemies.
But another angle on this problem is to consider how the Psalmists talk
to God in a far ‘rougher’ way than we do. They pour out their feelings,
their anger and frustration with their enemies, their inability to understand
how God is working…and they let it all hang down. They seem to have no
reserve with God; they talk to Him as if He is their friend and acquaintance.
David pleads with God to ‘avenge my cause’ (Ps. 35:23), he protests how
he is in the right and how he longs for God to judge him. And so do the
prophets, in the interjections they sometimes make in commentary on the
prophecy they have just uttered. The emotion which David often seems to
have felt was “Damn these people!”, but he pours this out to God and asks
Him to damn them. When we like David feel our enemies are unjust,
1. Seek revenge. But this isn’t a response we can make, Biblically.
2. Deny the feelings of hurt and anger. And yet, they surface somehow.
And we join the ranks of the millions of hurt people in this world,
who ‘take it out’ in some way on others.
3. Or we can do as David seems to have done. Take these feelings, absolutely
as they are, with no rough edges smoothed off them…to God Himself. Pour
them all out in prayer and leave Him to resolve the matter. In passing,
this fits in with the conclusions of modern psychiatry- that we can’t
eliminate our feelings, so we must express them in an appropriate way.
This latter option is how I understand the imprecatory Psalms. Those
outpourings of human emotion were read by God as prayers. The writer of
Psalm 137, sitting angry and frustrated by a Babylonian riverside, with
his guitar hanging on a willow branch, being jeered (“tormented” Ps. 137:3
RVmg.) by the victorious Babylonian soldiers who had led him away
captive…he felt so angry with them. Especially when they tried
to make him sing one of the temple songs (“sing us one of the songs of
Zion”). And, as a bitter man does, his mind went from one hurt to another.
He remembered how when Babylon had invaded, the Edomites hadn’t helped
their Hebrew brethren (Obadiah 11,12). They had egged on the Babylonian
soldiers in ripping down the temple, shouting [in a chorus?] “Rase it,
rase it, even to the foundation”. And so in anger and bitterness this
Jew prays with tears, as he remembered Zion, “O daughter of Babylon…happy
shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he
be that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the rock” (:8,9 RV).
God read those angry words as a prayer, and in some sense they will have
their fulfilment. For these words are picked up in Rev. 18:8,21
and applied to what will finally happen to Babylon. Her spiritual children
will be dashed against the rock of Christ, the stone of Daniel 2:44, at
His return. He will dash in pieces the Babylon-led people that oppose
This makes these Psalms a challenge to us, in that they show how
our earlier brethren poured out their souls, their anger, their
doubts and fears, their joy and exuberance too…to the God who hears
prayer, to the God who feels passionately for us, who feels for
our feelings, even moreso through our Lord Jesus Christ.
And we must ask whether our prayers are of this quality, or whether
we have slipped into the mire of mediocrity, the same standard phrases,
the same old words and themes… and even worse, could it be that
we perceive that God only sees and hears the words we say to Him
in formal prayer, and disregards our other feelings and thoughts?
Seeing He sees and knows all things, let us therefore pour out all
that is within us before Him. And we will find it wonderfully therapeutic
when struggling against anger and hurt.
Phil. 1:7 speaks of the "defence and confirmation of the gospel".
These are legal terms- the Greek word translated "defence"
means a plea entered in a court of law; and "confirmation"
refers to supporting evidence offered to a judge. Paul's idea is
that in our preaching, our audiences are the judge; and we are entering
a plea for the case of none other than God Himself, and His Son.
We have to ask whether our witness to the world is indeed a plea-
or whether it's a case of merely getting people in our own social
group to just drop by at our church rather than their usual
one. The fact we are speaking on God's behalf, pleading for His
case to be accepted in the hard hearts of men, should impart an
urgency, a desire to penetrate minds, and persistence in our witness.
The Power Of Basics
The Lord said that a scribe (one who knows well the Old Testament scriptures)
who also knows the Gospel of the Kingdom is like a man who brings out
of “his treasure” things new and old (Mt. 13:52). But Jesus had just defined
the “treasure” as the Gospel of the Kingdom (Mt. 13:44). If we make that
‘treasure’ our personal treasure, the most valuable thing in
our whole being, then out of the basic Gospel that is in our hearts we
will bring forth things “new and old”. Our treasure is where our heart
is (Mt. 6:21). Yet the treasure is the basic Gospel, i.e., that Gospel
lodged in our deepest hearts. The old things of basic certainties; and
the new things relating to our increasing appreciation of what they really
mean, these will come out of us in our lives and feeling and being. The
word of reconcilliation has been placed within our hearts, and “we are
ambassadors therefore on behalf of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:19,20 RV).
A from the heart witness is inspired by having that message within our
hearts, as our deepest treasure. The treasure of “the light of the knowledge
of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” is in our earthen vessels,
and it is the basic message which we preach (2 Cor. 4:5-7). So, one source
of “new things” comes from sustained meditation upon the fundamentals
of our faith, making the treasure we found in a field our personal
treasure, our pride and joy.
So the power of our basic doctrines should never cease to inspire
us. I can testify to this, as can so many who have been baptized
even a few years. That Christ really will come, soon; that now is
my salvation nearer than when I first believed. That the feet of
Jesus of Nazareth will surely stand on this earth again, and His
Kingdom be eternally here; that He truly was a man of my passions
and nature, and yet overcame. That I and my innate selfishness are
the real ‘satan’, not someone or something else. That death is death,
that this brief and fragile life is the time to serve the Lord,
with no fiery hell beneath us, but instead the sure hope of God’s
grace. That through baptism, I truly am part of the seed of Abraham
and a partaker in Israel’s Hope. And that by the grace of God’s
calling, I am delivered from the fog of error which dogs so many
about these things. And that there is, in the end, one body of true
believers world-wide believing as I do; that the sun that bids me
rest is waking my brethren ‘neath the Western sky, so that the voice
of praise is never silent. There are times of total desperation
and disappointment with myself, with my nature, with this world,
with humanity, with my brethren. In my hard moments, in the hours
and days of such utter and essential loneliness, that only the Lord
Himself knows… through all these, the power of our basic Christian
doctrines has revived me, sparked again a light in the black, bringing
me to know again the personal presence and power of Jesus my Lord.
And it can and will do for you, too. Not for us ‘the same old scene’.
Working on the highway, drilling through the hardtop, hour after
mindless hour; changing those nappies, preparing the same food at
the same times, day after endless day…as we take the same route
to work each day…walking to the textile mill, across the railroad
tracks…boarding the same bus…coming off at exit 42…in all these
things we can be more than conquerors. Into our otherwise wasted
and pointless lives, His life breaks through. His life
of unending passion and urgent, feeling concern for the lost; of
daily ‘knowing the Father’, of pouring out our unshareable self,
our very soul, before Him; of realising time and again the gripping
wonder of His grace, and serving therefore and thereby in newness
of spirit. Not only are we to perceive the value of others, but
of ourselves too. Gal. 5:26; 6:4 RV make the point that we shouldn’t
be desirous of vainglory, but of “his glorying in regard
of himself alone”. Secured in Christ, justified in Him, we can even
glory in who we are in His eyes. We can be so sure of His acceptance
of us that there is such a thing as “the glorying of our hope” (Heb.
3:6)- all ours to explore and experience.