Give Yourself to Others …

Posts Tagged ‘spirit

I’m prone to asking questions that sometimes make others a little uncomfortable.  Which this post may do:

Why does God teach us to pray?  Want us to pray?

After all, if we acknowledge that he knows everything already, what is it that we can say that he doesn’t already know about?

And then again, the Text tells us that what we pray for can be messed up, so Jesus, in a sense, re-interprets our prayers before they are presented to God.

I know many people expect the miraculous intervention by God into the lives and, often, health of those we pray for.  I’ve certainly prayed for that … but am bewildered why he would seem to intervene sometimes and not others.  Is his intervention a commentary on the faithfulness of those doing the praying?  Or, on the life of the person being prayed for?  We certainly cannot know the answer to that!

So, why pray?

This is my answer … it may or may not resonate with you, but it makes sense to me and seems consistent with everything I read in the Text about prayer.

Prayer is an act of submission.  It is evidence of our willingness to prostrate ourselves before the Lord and conform our will to His.  It is a sign of our willingness to follow the Lord in the face of any event in our lives.

If we are sick … submit to the Lord.

If we are well … submit to the Lord.

If we fail … submit to the Lord

If we succeed … submit to the Lord.

Prayer is also an act of awareness.  It is an acknowledgement by us that the Spirit of God is always present in our lives.  He is with us.  Every day … every hour … every moment.

Here is how Max Lucado put it:

Change your definition of prayer. Think of it less as an activity for God and more as an awareness of God.  Acknowledge His presence everywhere you go.

That’s why it is so valuable … important … beneficial to pray incessantly.  Not because it’s a “command” but because it reminds us that God is with us.


This past week I learned about a thoughtful little book written in the late 1600’s by a French monk, named Brother Nicholas. You can download a copy of the book here.

It’s only 20 pages or so, and includes a little bit Brother Nicholas’ history.

But the power of the book is the story, from a series of conversations with, and letters from, Brother Nicholas.

How do you live with God?

Let Brother Nicolas give some examples …

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There are two basic approaches to view, understand and interpret the Text of the Bible, and even more specifically, the New Testament:  Legally and Spiritually.

Many people see the New Testament Text as first, the story of Jesus (which primarily encompasses the core gospel message), following by a brief history the movement of Christianity across the Roman empire and finally an lengthy exposition of the gospel into a set of commands, which we must follow literally, if we are to succeed in living a Christian life.

I have always believed that the message of the Text, as God would have us hear it, at the very least must be consistent.  That is, there is somewhere a principle, which, when applied properly, allow us to read what sometimes appears to be conflicts within the written text of the New Testament.

For example, Paul and others write that the law has been done away with.  The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love. And yet, we can also delineate within the NT Text, numerous examples of where Paul or other epistle writers give what seem to be very specific instructions on what we should or should not do.  Many see these instructions as commands, or laws, to be followed. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

So, is the New Testament a rule book?  Or, not?

Here’s my answer:  If all you do is keep the rules, you may miss the point of Jesus’ message.

I provide two points to support this conclusion:

First is a combination of Jeremiah 31 and Hebrews 10.  Hebrews 10:16 actually quotes Jeremiah 31:33.  Here is the critical piece of text:

Hebrews 10:16 (New International Version)

16 This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord.  I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.

Hebrews 10:16 (The Message)

This new plan I’m making with Israel isn’t going to be written on paper, isn’t going to be chiseled in stone; This time “I’m writing out the plan in them, carving it on the lining of their hearts.

Hebrews 10:16 (English Standard Version)

16 This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,

Under the law, which God gave to Moses, it was in writing.  You didn’t have to doubt it, interpret it, it was written.  And if you have any doubt, just read Deuteronomy, Leviticus and Numbers, where you will find pages of explicit instructions, often followed by a “thus saith the Lord” in the KJV.

But now, Jeremiah comes along and quote God as saying he will eventually make a new deal with us.  And in contrast with the tablets of stone, he says he will write it on our hearts and minds.

Maybe my reading of this passage is too simplistic, but it says to me there is a major contrast between the old covenant and the new covenant.  The implications of this contrast are laid out most simply in Paul’s quote above: But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

Seems pretty clear.

Second is the Parable of the Good Samaritan, taken in full text, especially as presented in Luke 10:25-37.

Luke 10:25-37 (English Standard Version)

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 Jesus replied, “A man(I) was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’

36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

The first part of this passage presents the well known Q and A about the Greatest Commands, which Matthew also reported.  Equally known is that the first command is a quote from Deuteronomy 6:5 and the second a quote from Leviticus 19:18.

Let’s examine the fuller context of Leviticus.  Almost the entire chapter 19 is a litany of individual commands of the law.  And verse 18 reads as follows:

Leviticus 19:18 (New International Version)

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

Leviticus 19:18 (The Message)

Don’t seek revenge or carry a grudge against any of your people.  Love your neighbor as yourself. I am God.

Leviticus 19:18 (English Standard Version)

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

What jumps out to me is that in this context, it is clear, that God was telling the Jews that the definition of neighbor is limited by the scope of the Jewish people.  That is, Samaritans (and other Gentiles) are not our neighbors.

How does this affect our view of the parable Jesus then relates?

Could it be that Jesus is not trying to condemn the Levite and the Priest?  After all, might it be that the Levite and the Priest were actually following the law?  I think they were.

No, the point Jesus was making was that the definition of neighbor is much broader than the law said it was.  If you just keep the rules, you miss the larger point and the more important command.

When the Jews heard the parable of the Good Samaritan, they did not hear a condemnation of the Priest and Levite — they heard a completely new view of God’s message.  We are not bound to love just other Jews, but to love anyone and everyone.

That’s a much more important message, than the message of condemnation.

It is the contrast of law verses spirit.  The spirit takes us farther than the law.  The law limits our responsibilities to just keeping the rules (although, I grant that we can’t even do that).  The spirit requires that we remove those limits, and follow Jesus to the unlimited scope of unconditional love — which goes way beyond anything the law would ever demand.

Does the law demand that we give up our lives?  No.

Does the law demand that we forgive all the bad things people do to us and treat them with love?  No.

Does the law demand that we ignore our heritage and the differences between us and treat others better than ourselves?  No.

That is the central flaw of turning the New Testament into a rule book.  It places limits on our obligation to God — and there are none.  It places limits on what we must do on God’s behalf — and there are none.

If all I must do is keep the rules, then I don’t have to think.  I don’t have to struggle with the hard questions of how I give my life to the people around me.

If all I have to do is keep the rules, I miss the point Jesus was trying to make.

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