Two Prayers of Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667)

O Lord, you have called me to open my hand,
that you might fill it:
but I would not open it;
I held the world fast,
and kept my hand shut,
and would not let it go.
But you alone can open it for me;
not my hand only, but my mouth;
not my mouth, but my heart also.
Grant that I may know nothing but you,
account all things a loss compared with you,
and endeavor to be transformed
to be like you.

Guide us, Lord,
in all the changes and varieties of the world;
that we may have evenness and tranquility of spirit:
that we may not grumble in adversity
nor  grow proud in prosperity,
but in serene faith surrender our souls
to your most divine will;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

<The two are “translated” into a more recent form of English. Source is from www.acollectionofprayers.com>

A Prayer Worth Praying

“Prayer is often thought of as begging God for gifts or confessing to God that which we ourselves have already decided upon to be sin. These concepts of prayer, however valid they may be, tend to seal off its function as a means of insight or inner revelation.  … However, when we evaluate clearly the movements of the spirit in the prayers of the Bible, we see that the persons who prayed them expressed their truest and frankest feelings to God in prayer. … With the modern loss of this kind of frankness in prayer illustrated in the Bible, people have tended to look upon their prayers as a means of communication between God and their ideal selves, and not their real selves.   … Particularly meaningful to parishioners is the privilege of honest expression in prayer when they are involved in acute frustration, incessant pain, and approaching death.”

                            -Wayne Oates, “The Bible in Pastoral Care” (1953), pp. 113-117

The Bible is full of pastoral or practical theology. The Bible is is not a work of systematic theology, biblical theology, philosophical theology, or historical theology. But many parts of it involve Practical Theology… including whole books of the Bible (Ecclesiastes, and Habakkuk).

The Psalmist is taking God’s revelation, history, and personal experience and reflecting on them and integrating them to gain personal theological insight. While we may call this a Psalm or a Song, it is more like a corporate prayer.

Psalm 44

Reflection on History

1 We have heard it with our ears, O God;
our ancestors have told us
what you did in their days,
in days long ago.
2 With your hand you drove out the nations
and planted our ancestors;
you crushed the peoples
and made our ancestors flourish.
3 It was not by their sword that they won the land,
nor did their arm bring them victory;
it was your right hand, your arm,
and the light of your face, for you loved them.

This is very God centered. By God’s hand, they drove out nations, crushed people… made the Israelites to flourish. This is because of God’s love.

PERSONAL RESPONSE

4 You are my King and my God,
who decrees victories for Jacob.
5 Through you we push back our enemies;
through your name we trample our foes.

6 I put no trust in my bow,
my sword does not bring me victory;
7 but you give us victory over our enemies,
you put our adversaries to shame.
8 In God we make our boast all day long,
and we will praise your name forever.

As a response, the Israelites claim God’s past care, and they push back enemies, trample foes. And like the past, they recognize it is God’s work, not their own. Because of this, they boast in the Lord and praise His name forever.

NEW PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

9 But now you have rejected and humbled us;
you no longer go out with our armies.
10 You made us retreat before the enemy,
and our adversaries have plundered us.
11 You gave us up to be devoured like sheep
and have scattered us among the nations.
12 You sold your people for a pittance,
gaining nothing from their sale.

13 You have made us a reproach to our neighbors,
the scorn and derision of those around us.
14 You have made us a byword among the nations;
the peoples shake their heads at us.
15 I live in disgrace all day long,
and my face is covered with shame
16 at the taunts of those who reproach and revile me,
because of the enemy, who is bent on revenge.

Something has changed. Before, it was victory after victory. Success after success. In verse 8, the people praise God and boast in the Lord. It is easy to do so, when things are going well. But it is not so easy when comes defeat after defeat. Failure after failure.

PERSONAL REFLECTION

17 All this came upon us,
though we had not forgotten you;
we had not been false to your covenant.
18 Our hearts had not turned back;
our feet had not strayed from your path.
19 But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals;
you covered us over with deep darkness.

20 If we had forgotten the name of our God
or spread out our hands to a foreign god,
21 would not God have discovered it,
since he knows the secrets of the heart?
22 Yet for your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.

This is a part that the Psalmist struggles with. The Psalmist says… the defeat after defeat is NOT due to sin, idolatry, or rejection of God. Israel has been faithful… but God has turned His back on us. Theological reflection is so important when things are going bad… often more so than when things are going well. Because when things are going well… going as expected we think it is because we do the right things and we think the right things. But when things start going wrong… it is a time for reflection and prayer… a time to learn and to grow.

The Psalmist, after reflecting, comes to action. The action is to call out to God.

RESPONSE

23  Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
24 Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?

25 We are brought down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.
26 Rise up and help us;
rescue us because of your unfailing love.

You may notice something here… the mystery remains unsolved. God appears to have rejected us. We have done nothing wrong. Why? No answer answer is give… Now you and I might easily come up with an answer.

  • We could be like Job’s friends and pull some Prosperity Theology. We could say… “Oh sure, you THINK that you have not sinned… but obviously you have. That is why God has turned His back on you.”
  • Or one could pull some from an Existential Theology. Life and growth comes from enduring suffering. “God is teaching humility. Victory and success can lead to pride. You need humility.” Of course it is easy to tell someone else that they need humility. It is not so easy to be the one who is humbled.
  • Or one could draw from a more Missional Theology. “According to the Abrahamic Covenant, You called to be a blessing to all nations… not a conquerer of all nations.”

The Psalmist does not give an answer… He cries out to God for help. He believes that God will ultimately vindicate and rescue… because God is a God of unfailing love.

But as far as reasons go, He leaves the reader or the singer to ponder the question. That is not such a bad idea. When Typhoon Yolanda came along, there were so-called prophets around the world who were stating that it was God’s punishment for sins… for not being an effective witness to the world… or for government corruption… or for homosexuality… or whatever. But these so-called prophets don’t know anything more than we do. I believe they just like to talk more.

The Psalmist, I believe, took the sound theological response. He left the WHY for each to ponder… but then responded as in a real way.  The song/prayer was an honest cry out to God from a position of frustration, desperation, and pain— emotional honest built on a foundation of faith and hope.

Quoting Morgan Freeman (portraying God) in Bruce Almighty– “Now THAT’S a prayer!”

Serving in Jesus’ Name

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...
Image via Wikipedia

The longer article is HERE The article looks at the use of the term “In My name” or “In Jesus’ name” or similar constructions. What does the expression mean? In Evangelical Christian circles, there is a tendency to use the expression as an incantation. That is, we pray whatever we feel like and then tack on “In Jesus’ name, Amen”. It seems to be a thought that the use of such an ending, means that our prayer will be answered in the affirmative regardless of how short-sighted, selfish, and basically ill-advised it may be. While most of us as Christians know that incantations are not part of the Christian faith, it is easy to fall into that trap. After all… John 14:13-14 says, “Whatever you ask in My name, I will do it so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” (CSB) Some use this to justify asking for the most silly things because as long as we add the tagline “in Jesus’ name” Jesus promised to do it.

I recall a friend of mine who worked for CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network). The person worked on the prayer hotline. One day a woman called in asking that the “prayer warrior” would pray that God would raise her cat from the dead. My friend did that prayer because it was the policy of CBN to pray for whatever is the request regardless. This rule, of course, may not have been due to theology as much as keeping potential donors happy. Don’t know if the cat was resurrected… sorry.

The problem is that we have never bothered to look at what the term “in My name” or “in Jesus’ name” actually means. In the Bible, the term, with its many variants is used many times. Most of the time, it expresses a concept of being an ambassador, one who speaks for another. Sometimes, it expresses a relationship, and on a few number of occasions, it expresses faith. The Ambassadorial role is the key point. It is driven home in places like Deuteronomy 18:15-22 and Jeremiah 14:14-15. In these verses, the warning is given against those who say they speak “In My (God’s) name” and yet were telling lies. It is clear that to speak or ask “in My name” means that we are speaking God’s word and will, not our own. To do otherwise risks our healthy relationship with God. Asking in Jesus’ name is dependent on our:

  •  Relationship with Jesus (the sons of Sceva in Acts 19, lacked that relationship, so they could not ask or serve in His name).
  • Our Role under Jesus. If we are ambassadors of Christ, then what we ask must be His will, not our own selfish desires.
  • Our Faith in Jesus. We need to trust Jesus will do what He says.

It is pretty clear that there is a progression here. Our role as an ambassador of Christ is dependent on our relationship with Him. Our faith is only justified by our role in Him. To suggest that our asking is limited only by our faith, is foolish and places God as subservient to fools.  It be limited by our role under Christ. If an ambassador speaks incorrectly words of his government or makes promises that his government does not support, he is a bad ambassador and is likely to lose His job. No amount of “faith in his country” will overcome the fact that he has violated the trust of his country.

It is interesting, and I believe relevant, that the term missionary (one who is sent out) and the other missionary term apostolos (holding the same) are related to the idea of an ambassador. All Christians are called to be ambassadors of Christ and to ask in Jesus’ name as His ambassador. But Christian missionaries hold an even greater responsibility to act, speak, and serve “In His Name”. This responsibility should never be misunderstood or considered lightly. The power of God is based on our relationship with, role under, and faith in Jesus. To seek to throw that power around selfishly or carelessly is to risk being put aside (as any bad ambassador would). Indeed as Stan Lee wrote, “With great power, there must also come great responsibility.”