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Monday, June 4, 2012

An Inadequate Gospel Prayer

In the spirit of Nehemiah chapter 9, where the author prays through the mighty acts of God up to that point in history, I offer a prayer from our perspective at this time in history. It is somewhat long and woefully inadequate, but I sense this is the kind of praying I need to be doing to appropriately respond to the gospel in worship. I offer it here for your use if you find it helpful.
Father, in your great mercy and in ways we cannot understand, in eternity past you planned for our salvation, “Jesus was slain before the foundation of the world.” We, having marred your creation and our relationship with you, were without hope and without God in the world. You established a covenant with your people Israel, a system of sacrifices that consistently reminded the people of your holiness and reminded the people of their sins year after year. All of this was a preparation, a pointing toward your great salvation. In the fullness of time, Jesus you came, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those who were under the law. You came the same way we all enter the world, completely vulnerable, totally dependent on a young inexperienced girl without even the support of a family system around her at your birth. The contrast between what you stepped away from in heaven and what you entered on earth is aptly described by the phrase, “you emptied yourself.” You grew up largely invisible to us, we know so little of that time. But then you went public, slowly, quietly, you began to reveal yourself to the world. Your humility, your power, your wisdom is beyond our understanding. You limited yourself to a human body, yet had supernatural power to know and to act according to your plan. You delivered a perfect performance, you hit all the right notes with just the right intonation. You spoke the truth in ways men had never heard. You drew connections from incidents from the past that were brilliant and infuriating to some. You loved, you healed, you taught: you spoke to the elements and they obeyed so that those with you said, “Who is this!” They understandably began to develop visions of grandeur, they imagined themselves getting in on the ground floor of something amazing in their view, in their understanding of the world. But just as their ideas were getting warmed up, you began to speak of another vision altogether. You began to gently warn them that you would suffer and be killed and on the third day rise again. But that vision was so different from what they had begun to imagine they could not absorb it, or would not. I’m sure we would have done the same. Oh, there is so much to see, so much of the mighty works of God displayed in your life that should be noted or spoken to. You set your face like flint to reach the goal that had been set before you. You did this with difficulty beyond our imagining. It would seem that as the cross grew closer that your steps grew heavier. Yet, you never stopped being who you are. You loved your disciples to the end, patiently instructing them, preparing them for what they could not fathom. They were slow to make the connections, as we would have been, only in hindsight would they grasp what you were telling them. You prayed for them, and for us, all these centuries later. That is amazing in and of itself. Then you prayed for yourself, well I don’t know if that’s the right way to say it. But you prayed with such agony in the garden that it boggles our imagination. How unsettling it must have been for the disciples to see you express what appeared almost to be neediness, certainly weakness, if they saw it at all. You collapsed on the ground before the Father, pleading for another way and yet presenting yourself consistently as if to say, here i am, i am ready to do all that you ask. At the end of that time, apparently three hours in length, you were then set, your face determined. I cannot speak of all that is recorded for us in the gospels that you then encountered. Every step was an act of obedience, every moment a new sacrifice on behalf of the sins of the world. Every interaction, every incident an accomplishing of the greatest act in all of history. We don’t get that. We speak of heroic deeds in history. We marvel at the exploits of athletes or the brilliance of the best minds. You, in your suffering accomplished the greatest act in all of history. Please forgive us for thinking that we have somehow exhausted the depths of all that happened there, of thinking that we, because we can recount the outline of the story with reasonable accuracy, have seen all there is to see as if we were tourists who had checked that particular vacation spot off of our list. We worship you for your mighty acts there at the cross, for how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation. There was so much other detail there. May we learn to worship you thinking through, praying through these details over and over. There is so much more to hear, there is so much that we have not grasped. In the end, you cried from the cross with grief we cannot comprehend, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” Soon thereafter you died, accomplishing more than we can fathom or understand. Three days later you rose from the dead. Oh how shallow my prayer seems now as I run out of steam here, though I feel myself to be in decent company, because that seems to have been Steven’s experience as well as he recounted your story (Acts 7). O how foolish and how slow we have been to believe. May our recounting of your mighty acts increase and may this recounting of the gospel message, as we repeat it, and recount it in new and fresh ways bring renewal and revival to our souls, our families, our churches and our land. Praise the Lord.

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