Essentials

Prayer: its foundations

Don West reflects on the essentials of prayer as established for us in the gospel of Christ. Don is the Principal of Trinity Theological College, Perth

To draw near to God in prayer, to express our wonder and to bring our concerns to him, is a joy and privilege. I know this. What’s more, Holy Scripture is filled with examples and teaching on prayer in all its facets and applications. I know this too. But it is not the knowing about prayer that is my challenge, it is the doing of it. In preparing and writing up this article, I have prayed that I will be moved to pray more regularly and more freely. I have come to see that this prayer will be answered by God the Father as his Spirit moves my heart before the meekness and majesty of Jesus Christ as he is presented to me in the gospel.

Prayer is Grounded in the Gospel

Prayer is the means by which we turn to Christ at our conversion:

9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13)

Note the outer and inner aspects of prayer involved in receiving the salvation offered by God in Christ: declaring (or confessing) with the mouth that ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believing in him with the heart. Note too that ‘calling’ upon the name of the Lord (Jesus) implies both confessing his status (i.e., praising him) and crying out for his salvation (i.e., petitioning him; asking for help).

Faith in Jesus Christ as Lord—the faith that is expressed through prayer and that saves us from God’s just condemnation—arises from the proclamation of the gospel:

14How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-16)

In short, from the beginning of the Christian life until its end, prayer is a work of the Spirit whereby we ‘dig up by prayer the treasures that were pointed out by the Lord’s gospel, and which our faith has gazed upon’ (John Calvin, Institutes 3.20.2).

Do you remember the day you turned to Christ? Do you remember when you prayed for the first time and knew that God was listening to you? Have you been with another person when they ‘prayed the prayer’? Do you remember the wonder, the relief, the joy of knowing that your sins were completely wiped away at the cross, that you had been transferred from darkness to light, from being condemned to being justified? True prayer never leaves this spot.

<

The Spirit Enables Us to Call God ‘Father’

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:14-16)

Here Paul draws upon the imagery of the redemption of God’s ‘son’ Israel out of Egypt. The psalmists apply the same image when they ‘cry out’ to God to rescue them from the hands of his enemies. When we cry out to God the Spirit moves us to call him ‘Father,’ following the pattern of his one and only Son (see Mark 14:36). Moreover, when we call upon God as our Father, the Spirit of adoption moves us to do so from the deepest part of our person. In prayer we express our new identity as God’s children.

Our understanding and expectation of intimacy is heavily influenced by our experience of relationships as broken, flawed people in a world that seeks things that do not last. We find it hard to imagine what real closeness should be like. To be able to address God as our Father is to be given the privilege of coming before him with boldness, knowing his readiness to hear us and grant our requests out of his lavish generosity.

The Son Gives Us Permanent Access to the Father

In prayer we bring our concerns into God’s very presence.

14Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

In the Old Testament, God’s presence or glory was associated with the tabernacle and temple—this is where his ‘name’ dwelt. Access was available to ordinary Israelites only by sacrifices offered by appointed priests. It is here that Moses talked with God ‘face to face’ (Exodus 33:11) and David sought God’s ‘face’ in prayer (e.g., Psalm 27). In 1 Kings 8, Solomon asks God that the temple be the place towards which the Israelites could pray with confidence of being heard when in distress. Although God could be approached in prayer at the place where he dwelt, distance had to be maintained.

According to the writer of Hebrews, because Jesus has ‘ascended into heaven’—and so ‘always lives to make intercession for us’ (Hebrews 7:27), and because he is fully able to ‘empathize with our weaknesses,’ we don’t have to hold back before God. Moses’ ‘face to face’ conversation with God at the tabernacle in the wilderness was a mere shadow of what we may enjoy.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus promises his disciples repeatedly that whatever they ask in his ‘name’ will be granted to them (John 14:13, 14; 15:16; 16:23, 24, 26). His name guarantees our being heard by the Father because it stands for his complete obedience to the Father, ultimately seen on the cross.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling [tabernacled] among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Where to from here?

In this brief article I have been laying down the main foundations of Christian prayer. When I teach these truths to myself, or am reminded of them, God often moves my mouth and heart toward himself. I begin to thank and praise him for who he is and all that he has provided for me in the Lord Jesus; I become more confident to bring my concerns and fears to him, knowing again his tremendous love for me. The only remedy I know of for a lack of prayer is to start to pray.

The Word of God at work: lessons in evangelism

David Ould went from nervous misgivings to astonished joy when a seemingly unlikely scriptural text brought an old man to new birth. David is Senior Associate Minister at St John's Anglican Cathedral, Parramatta, NSW

'And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.’  1 Thess 2:13

In May 2013 I took up a new ministry position. I went from one of the most affluent suburbs of my city to a place whose name was synonymous with crime and unrest; we switched from an area of tertiary-educated white-collar professionals to equally hard-working tradies. I soon learned it was a place where no-one else used words like ‘synonymous’.

After a while I set my mind to giving evangelism some structure. I grew up on Christianity Explored, leading tables in the enormous basement hall of All Souls’ Langham Place in London where the course itself was developed. It was very clear to me early on that one white upper-middle class man introducing DVDs featuring another white upper-middle class man was probably not the best way forward.

So I looked around at a variety of different options and finally settled on a different course out of England; the Good Book Company’s Jesus and You. The course has lots going for it—it’s only four weeks and so in a low-commitment culture the ask is minimal. Even better, each week can stand alone as a gospel presentation so there’s not the same gap in understanding that can happen in other structures. The presenters come from a similar blue-collar background; a nice contrast to the posh Englishman pressing play on the DVD. Finally, there was more than one rotation of the course—Tales of the Unexpected, Close Encounters and The King and I—so people who were still interested could come back for another round of new material to engage with.

We ran the course over four weeks, morning and evening. There were still some aspects I was uncomfortable with, most particularly the choice of texts. The local stockist only had Close Encounters on hand when we began but when I looked over the material I had my doubts. Week 1 was great—Luke’s account of the paralytic lowered through the roof. I could work with that! But week 2 I wasn’t so sure about—we were being asked to work our way through the complicated Parable of the Strong Man. It wasn’t even the simpler version recorded in Matthew and Mark but the full-blown Lukan retelling (Luke 11:14-26). The course booklet included a chart for participants to work through comparing the demon-possessed man, Jesus and Beelzebub with the various characters in the parable. It was a chart that I wish I’d had the first time I tried to work out this intriguing teaching of Jesus. It’s fair to say that I wasn’t confident going into that week. I thought the text was too complicated, I had no confidence that it would be understood and I wondered what on earth had possessed (no pun intended) the authors to include this Close Encounter when there were so many better options.

My quiet despondency was only increased when at 10am on Tuesday morning there was just one person there. Robert (not his real name) had been in church all his life. He sat in the same place every Sunday morning and was friendly without ever fully engaging in things. But he wanted to come along and here he was with his booklet and a quiet anticipation. I was the opposite. Frankly, because of my misgivings over that week’s text I was glad that only one person was there.

Over the next hour we read the Bible together. We saw Jesus cast out a demon and then declare that he was master over even the great Beelzebub, prince of demons. Then we turned the page to our chart and mapped out how Satan might be a strong man but that Jesus was far stronger. We discovered that it isn’t enough to have the house of our life cleaned out once; we need Jesus to stand permanent guard at the door.

And then, a few minutes after 11 o’clock in the morning, Robert had gentle tears running down his cheek. Well into his 70s, he quietly declared that he had spent his whole life unsuccessfully trying to keep his own house in order and it was time to ask the stronger man Jesus to do the job instead. He moved from darkness to light and I was both ecstatic and deeply ashamed in equal measure. It’s not the text that I would have chosen to declare the gospel but it was, in God’s good timing, exactly what Robert needed and so we prayed right there and then that he would stop trying to clean up his own life and let someone far better and greater do it for him.

And because God is so good (not least in humbling us) he did it again that evening. We had 6 people there and began with me asking what people had made of the previous week with the story of the paralytic lowered through the roof. As we worked our way around the small group there were various comments about how interesting it was, how they were surprised and so on. And then we got to the last person, a young lady whose life had already been complicated enough to prepare her to understand how good grace is when she stumbled across it. She looked up and gently said, ‘I went home last week and prayed the prayer’.

A few months later she and Robert and a number of others stood in front of a packed church building and publicly declared their faith as we held baptisms and confirmations. All because of the powerful word of God. And all despite my lack of confidence.

The Windowless Room

Peter Corney points out the cramped and impoverished world that the modern materialist lives in. Peter writes, speaks, mentors and consults on leadership for various organisations

Materialism as a philosophy or world view is now the dominant framework of the Western mind, the lens through which most people view and understand reality. Materialism is the idea that the only reality is a material or physical one, there is nothing beyond the physical, no supernatural or spiritual, nothing that transcends the material: only particles, spaces and energy. At the biological level everything is explicable by the process of natural selection and the physical neurological activity of the brain.

One of the wonders of the times in which we live is that every day, it seems, we are discovering more and more of how all this material world works. We sit fascinated as the Professor Brian Coxes of this world explain it all to us via brilliant BBC documentaries and expand our minds and knowledge. We gasp amazed as some new and marvellous medical breakthrough is announced on the news.

But at another level our understanding is impoverished, limited and entirely enclosed in this immanent world of the material. It’s as if, with the threat of rain, the roof of the Tennis Centre has slowly closed to the heavens as the game proceeded and we didn’t notice. Now we are shut off from the transcendent and enclosed in this immanent mental framework. Indeed if you listen carefully, that is the view of reality that the charming and erudite Professor Cox assumes. Charles Taylor in his writing on secularism claims that this closure to the transcendent is what is at the heart of contemporary secularism.

To change the metaphor, it’s as if we are locked in a windowless room which is brilliantly lit by the scientific method that enables us to see and explain more and more of our physical world but is paradoxically a profoundly reductionist space. It reduces and limits all explanations and descriptions to the material and physical. It has no windows onto wider and bigger explanations of reality. It provides no answers to our deepest and most important questions, like what the meaning and purpose of our lives is, how to understand right and wrong, the nature of justice, beauty, love, shame, guilt, honour, duty, evil and good, why we desire social and personal accountability. The list of enduring human questions it fails to deal with goes on!

The present prosperity of consumer Western culture and the distractions created by our technological mastery temporarily shield us from these deeper questions but they cannot be repressed for ever. The present crisis in the mental health of our young people—one in four in Australia are suffering some serious mental health issue—is a warning sign. The list of global problems grows daily and our present politics seems unable to solve them. It may be that the other wisdom that modernity has put aside for too long may be sought again. Let’s hope and pray that it may be so!

Editorial Winter 2018

In this issue we really do touch on evangelical essentials: evangelism, prayer and meditation on God’s Word. If evangelicals are to be about anything, and known for anything, let us hope it is that we are known for being thoughtful and active in sharing the gospel from the Scriptures and trusting in God’s power to save—even despite our hesitancy and doubt! Let us hope that we are prayerful, confidently, intentionally and habitually prayerful. Let us hope that we are engaged with the Scriptures, seeking in them to hear from and be made wise, made strong, made holy as we read, mark learn and inwardly digest them. So, in this spirit, David Ould shares a story of God’s unexpected power to save, bringing people to understanding, faith and repentance even from seemingly unpromising texts; Don West lays the theological foundations of prayer to the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and Allan Chapple makes the case for meditation—reflection of the works and words of God—as a healthful and essential activity for the faithful Christian. It is always good to return again to ponder the basics of the life of growing and enduring faith.
We do not neglect to consider the world around us, and our own communal church life either. Essentials returns to the so-hot-right-now world of gender issues with Ben Smart’s exhortation to understand gender dysphoria sympathetically and properly, so that we can get our response to it right—so that we can properly love and properly speak truth in love when we encounter people affected by distress over their experience of incongruence between their bodily gender and their sense of their inner gender. Tony Nichols tells the wonderful story of the fruitful and persevering life of an Indonesian Christian friend of his, converted from a Muslim background as a university student in Sydney. And in the Caboose, Stephen Hale send us off with a call to think about our theology of church buildings. Why are we slow to renew our church facilities compared to how readily we might renovate homes or renew school facilities? What will help and what will hinder our mission and ministry when it comes to investment and re-investment in church buildings?
Before that, James Macbeth leads us to reflect on the world of risk and venture that God has made in his Bible Study on Ecclesiastes 11, and we have book reviews on books about rural ministry, pastoral care of traumatised people, transgender issues and Jordan Peterson’s best-selling and widely talked about 12 Rules for Life. I hope you find it all an edifying and encoraging read. Do write and let me know your thoughts.
Ben Underwood, Editor
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Book Review: Liturgy of the Ordinary

Liturgy of the Ordinary:
Sacred Practices in Everyday Life
Tish Harrison Warren, IVP, 2016

Liturgy of the Ordinary could become a contemporary classic. It was the Christianity Today Book of the Year in 2018. As a staff team we look over this annual listing and pick one book each as a summer read. This was my pick and it was surprising, refreshing and renewing. I’d go so far as to say it was the best book I’ve read in years. The concept of the book is unique and the writing is beautiful, honest and theologically rich. Being on holidays I read a chapter a day and it was a rich experience. None of that getting the book out with good intentions and finding oneself asleep an hour later!

Tish Harrison Warren is an Anglican priest (in the ACNA), a writer, a wife and the mother of two girls. When she wakes up each morning she faces a formidable to-do list. How does one find time to pursue holiness amid the rush of responsibilities?

The answer comes in this, her first book. Chapter by chapter, she explains how the most routine tasks, if done with an eye on the eternal, become extraordinary. ‘We are shaped every day, whether we know it or not, by practices—rituals and liturgies that make us who we are’, she writes. And that makes the ‘small bits of our day . . . profoundly meaningful because they are the site of our worship. The crucible of our formation is in the anonymous monotony of our daily routines.’

The opening chapter begins with getting out of bed and then proceeds to look at the seemingly ordinary things that make up our lives. The chapter headings could make it all seem very mundane, covering topics like ‘Losing keys’ or ‘Fighting with my husband’. But this is what makes it so refreshing. Each day we see that everything in life is touched with holiness. Warren’s writing is very personal, honest and fresh, and each chapter takes you to surprising places. Some might be tempted to think this is a woman’s book. Presumably many women will find this especially refreshing, seeing she is a young mum. However it shouldn’t be boxed. It helped me to see my daily chores with fresh eyes and lifted my mind and spirit into new places in order to reflect on the extraordinary in the ordinary. I can’t recommend this book more highly.

Stephen Hale, Vic

Book Review: All Things Made New

All Things Made New
Writings on the Reformation
Diarmaid MacCulloch, Penguin, 2017 

Alongside his larger works on various aspects of the Reformation, MacCulloch has also written smaller pieces, book reviews, and occasional lectures. Some of these are gathered together in this volume. He has a few themes which run through the collection. His common sub-theme of sexuality is a very minor part of this book. One of the bigger ones is his crusade against the rewriting of Reformation history by the Oxford Movement

The first part concerns the Reformation in Europe. He has excellent chapters on Calvin, the Virgin Mary, Angels, the Spanish Inquisition and a very thoughtful book review of John O’Malley’s Trent: What happened at the Council. He regards this as the best history of the Council yet written.

The English Reformation is the second part and includes chapters on Tudor image making, Henry VIII, Tolerant Cranmer, the Prayer Book, the two Tudor Queens, and the King James Bible. A lot of helpful and new insights in all of this.

The third part is a look back at the English Reformation. It includes a number of chapters critical of modern studies on the Reformation. He critiques what he calls the “hegemonic narrative” of the twentieth century. The hegemony was Anglican – but specifically High Church Anglican. There had once been another narrative, the Evangelical Anglican Narrative but this had been lost in the Victorian era. So the “adherents of the Oxford Movement, or the wider world of Anglo-Catholicism, were dominant in the practise of religious history at university level ...” (240). This first chapter provides an excellent overview of the progress of historiography in the last century. McCulloch gives an example of the mythology of some history by recounting research into the removal of rood screens in certain parts of England. 30 – 40% disappeared in Norfolk churches in the nineteenth century, and 40-50% in Dorset, the work of High Churchmen who wanted the congregation to be able to see the consecration on the High Altar.

He has a similar critique of Thomas Cranmer’s biographers. Perhaps the best chapter is the 42 page essay on Richard Hooker, and the various people who hijacked him for their own purposes, not least John Keble. This chapter I think is worth buying the book for.

MacCulloch’s penultimate chapter concerns two reformation myths. He calls it a cautionary tale. One concerns the sermon Cranmer preached at Edward VI’s coronation where he referred to the King as like King Josiah. The other is the story of Queen Elizabeth berating the dean of St Paul’s for giving her a copy of the Book of Common Prayer adorned with devotional pictures. MacCulloch, says neither of these things happened although they have become part of the legend of the Reformation.

His last chapter is a potted summary of the history of Anglicanism underlining that it is really a Reformation church, but that in the face of too much dogmatism, it should be recognised as a “trial-and-error form of Christianity”. And we should keep on debating in public and allow ourselves to change.

One doesn’t need to agree with everything MacCulloch says to benefit from his many helpful insights and research. One of the great benefits of his writing is that he has challenged the narrative that the Reformation in England didn’t really happen. And has provided lots of new evidence not just that it did, but what actually went on between 1533 and now.

This is a fascinating book and worth reading. It also contains eight pages of colour plates with important images to go with the text.

Dale Appleby, WA

 

Subcategories