Archive for March, 2012
Today, I found myself with a particular interest in listening to Shane and Shane. I enjoy their music, especially the songs original to them because the lyrics and music are often so centered on the Christian’s unintelligible desire to . . . uh . . . well, it’s hard to put into words. It is what I imagine that Romans 8:26-30 is talking about when it speaks of the groaning of the Spirit inside the Christian. I’ll do my best to describe it. It is that deep longing to know God in his fullness, to know and love him and his plan, the fear that I won’t or can’t or may be distracted by things – even good things but lesser things – that will somehow replace the good longing for God. It is the desire that accompanies the new birth and the presence of the Spirit and causes a human to become a worshiper of God. It is the testimony of the Spirit that the revelation of God is true, that the gospel really is the hope of the world. It is the hatred of my flesh that limits my ability to experience God and at the same time the thankfulness for the Spirit who has caused me to begin to know God, my Creator and my Redeemer. It is that longing of a pastor who feels the weight of a burden from God but like Peter looks at the waves of the world and fears that he won’t be able to keep his gaze on the Lord let alone lead others in this tumultuous tempest, so in his desperation he cries out to God about his fears and his yearning. It is even the yearning of the scholarly heart that loves God, has been given gifts of knowledge and understanding, but fears being crushed by finite-ness, fears believing error, feels the burden of seeking truth at whatever the cost, and is weighed down by the calling to equip Christ’s Church knowing that suffering precedes glory in such an endeavor.
I love music. It moves and teaches us in ways that other ways of communication simply cannot. It’s able to say things otherwise incommunicable. Listen to this song, and let it minister to you today. Listen to it in a place where it’s just you and God listening in. Cry if you need to. Pray and worship God. There is a particular moment in the video in which I especially connect with the yearning of Shane and Shane (the one on the right, especially). Watch closely from 3:26-3:30 in the video. In that moment, he seems to come to a place where he’s got nothing left. He’s laid it all before God – he’s naked and needy before the Lord. All the emotions, knowledge, fears, burdens, callings, dreams, worries, etc have been exposed and humbly laid at God’s feet. There is nothing left to do but lean on the Lord, depend upon him, and worship.
Introduction: Praying in Light of God’s Story
For me, it only seems fitting to consider prayer—the topic for this month’s Scocaster—in light of God’s story. I am thoroughly enjoying walking with my fellow Scofieldians through the drama of God’s redemption from The Creation to The Fall on to The Rescue and culminating in The Restoration. Not only does The Story serve to orient our unbelieving generation to the biblical meta-narrative and its message of redemption, but also I am discovering that The Story helps me—the Christian—to better understand the whole of God’s revelation to us in the Bible.
If it is true—that God’s story moves with purpose from Creation to Restoration—how then are we to interpret our Christian experience in light of this drama that God is unveiling? Specifically, how do we think about prayer in light of God’s story and our role in it? How do these certain elements of God’s story (i.e., the movement from Creation to Restoration with Jesus’ work at the center) affect our practice of prayer? How does it inform our adoration of God in prayer? How does it inform our confession and repentance before God in prayer? How may it inform our requests which we bring before the God of the biblical meta-narrative? It is my hope that this article may serve as a starting place for the Christian to begin to consider how God’s story shapes our prayer life.
The Apostle Paul in the Epistle to the Romans 8:18–30
In one paragraph, the apostle Paul spans the whole of the redemptive drama of the Triune God. He like an artist presenting a masterpiece that causes you to clutch your chest because of the painful description of reality as we know it and at the very same time because of the grandeur of the unseen hope. The creation groans as if it is ready to give birth. It now exists in a state of great pain and agony. However, the lament of the creation will soon give way to glory and new life. We ourselves—the redeemed—groan too. We have in our possession the first fruits of the restoration—namely, the Holy Spirit. We can taste—even now—the goodness of God that is to come as he brings his story to culmination. Yet, the first fruits are not the fullness; a taste is not a full meal; when in labor, new life has still yet to completely break forth. So, how then are we to live as the people of God as we await the finale of God’s story? While many other texts of Scripture speak to this matter, this text in Romans instructs the Christian Church in two ways: (1) eagerly await the unseen hope—the restoration of all creation, and (2) find the aim of the Spirit in your prayer life. This article focuses primarily on the latter of these two imperatives.
Find the Aim of the Spirit in Your Prayer Life
As we wait, we are to be people of prayer. I don’t know about you, but it is a bit intimidating to me to enter into prayer before the God of the redemptive story on behalf of the world, the Church, my friends and family, and even myself. It is intimidating to me to come before him hoping that I have a proper mind and heart with regard to worshiping the great Trinity and with regard to confessing my personal sin in light of who God is and in light of all that God has done.
How can I possibly do justice to your greatness, O God, and your grand story when I bow before you in prayer?!
I think Romans 8:26–30 is an incredibly insightful and kind revelation to us from God when it comes to prayer. Here’s why:
- It affirms the weakness and inadequacy that we feel in prayer as we await the completion of God’s story (8:26a). There is no room for pride or arrogance in prayer. Don’t bring your degrees and your achievements. God knows. You don’t know how to pray as you ought to pray. He knows that you are weak. He knows that your comprehension of him and his great plan is inadequate—both as it relates to your personal life and as it relates to the cosmos. Find humility in your weakness. Find your strength in God, which leads to the next point.
- It affirms the adequacy and the good aim of the Spirit of God whose intercession we experience in prayer as we wait for the completion of God’s story (8:26b–30). The Spirit of God is present with the people of God when we pray. The Spirit of God understands the lament of the creation and the lament of the redeemed as we await the finale of God’s story. It is God who searches the heart in prayer, and if we were left to ourselves in light of such searching, this may be a terrifying thought. However, the Spirit of God intercedes for the saints, and God knows the mind of the Spirit. For the mind of the Triune God is the same—they share the desire to accomplish the will of God. This aim of the Spirit’s intercession, which is also the will of the Triune God, is disclosed in 8:28–30. We quote this passage frequently, oftentimes with the security of salvation in mind rather than the direct context of the intercession of the Spirit. In sum, God is completing his good salvation among his people until it is finished; they are glorified; and they are found fully conformed to the image of his Son, Jesus Christ! This is the aim of the intercession of the Spirit of God—the completion of our salvation.
Prayer As a Place Where God’s Story Is Sanctified in Our Hearts
In conclusion, I want to propose to you that prayer is a place for us to experience the work of sanctification. This sanctification looks like this: (1) When we come to adore the Triune God in prayer, the Spirit is interceding so that we may properly worship him as God the Creator, as God the Redeemer, and as God the Restorer. Only the God of the Bible possesses such grand titles. Further, the persons of the Trinity are praised because of their distinct participation in the redemptive story as they share the common will of God to make all things new. (2) When we come to confess our sins before the Triune God, the Spirit is there, interceding for us so that we see our sin in light of the story of God and the centrality of God to his story. We confess our idolatrous tendencies to the Creator; we confess the corrupt reasoning that led Adam and Eve to take and eat—namely, that we know what’s best; we confess our ungratefulness toward the Redeemer; we confess our resistance to the Spirit of God who is seeking to complete redemption in us personally, in the Church, and in the world. (3) When we come to make our requests known to the triune God, the Spirit intercedes for us. This is perhaps the main thrust of the text for the term used in 8:26 that is translated “to pray” conveys the idea of petition toward God. Let me ask you, “For what are you petitioning God?” Are your requests in line with the aim of the Spirit; that is, do you make your requests in light of the completion of redemption? In light of the movement of God’s story from Creation to Restoration?
The God to whom we pray has a will, an aim. He aims to make all things new. His Spirit is with the Christian in prayer to intercede and assist him or her with this aim in mind. What is at the center of your prayer life? Is it you? Is it your convenience? Is it a grocery list of things that you think will make your life better and more convenient? Or is the story of God at the center of your prayer life? I assure you that this is indeed the aim of the Spirit.
May my feet be dressed in the gospel of peace until the Righteous Branch returns.
The Irrelevance of the Gospel: A Quote from John Dickson in his TGC article “The Myths of Progress and Relevance”
The true relevance of the gospel is found in its studied irrelevance to any particular culture, whether ancient Corinthians or modern New Yorker. We do not need another message that affirms what we already think in all our foibles and cultural particularities. We surely need one that is free to challenge, rebuke, frighten, and enlighten us, as well as comfort and affirm us when appropriate. That message is the gospel. It is precisely because the gospel was not crafted to endorse ancient Athenians or modern Americans that it is wonderfully relevant to both.