Praying by Name :: Weekend Reading List

One of the benefits of a Scripture reading plan is that it engages our minds with places of God’s word where we might not regularly venture. This week we arrived at a passage in 1 Timothy instructing believers to pray for political leaders as well as those under their care:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions. — 1 Timothy 2.1–2

As our editorial team and a small group of readers gave insight into the passage I became convicted about my own prayer life, writing:

Where we know victims by name we can bring them before God. Where we know of great needs, pain, or injustice without knowing any of the victims or leaders serving them, by name, we can repent.

Modern reporting offers Christians today an unprecedented opportunity. When we pray for global situations we can begin with specific names—even if we know just one person from an article—and radiate our prayers out to every individual, family, and nation involved.

As we pray for families whose lives have been shattered by the Zika virus we can begin with Zulmarys Molina, a mother from Puerto Rica, who was infected by Zika early in her pregnancy. Though her baby’s head is growing far below average she has decided not to abort her daughter, no matter what. Her most recent ultrasound was earlier this week.

We can also pray for Rossandra Oliveira, the Brazilian government official who manages mosquito control for a city of over 400,000. “In 19 years of working in environmental control I’ve never seen so much disorganization as I’m seeing now,” said Oliveira. The official and her team of 149 health inspectors are tragically under-resourced.

It’s not until we enter into understanding someone’s story that we fully understand how to pray for them. Ghaith, a 22-year-old former law student from Damascus, explains the refugee crisis like this:

I made it, while thousands of others didn’t. Some died on the way, some died in Syria. Every day, you hear about people drowning. Just think about how much every Syrian is suffering inside Syria to endure the suffering of this trip.

In Greece, someone asked me, “Why take the chance?” I said, “In Syria, there’s a hundred-per-cent chance that you’re going to die. If the chance of making it to Europe is even one per cent, then that means there is a one-per-cent chance of your leading an actual life.”

Variations of this story are repeated by over a dozen others in The Washington Post’s photo essay Refuge: 18 Stories from the Syrian Exodus.

Human beings, crafted in God’s image, are at the heart of every crisis in our world today. Christians have the privilege of naming people in our prayers for healing and justice. Their faces and stories reorient how we view even the most remote of events. Take 11-year-old Dasani whose family is crushed under the burden of poverty and homelessness in New York City; “I wanna go somewhere where it’s quiet.” Or Malik Jalal whose first-person account is shockingly titled I’m On The Kill List. This Is What It Feels Like To Be Hunted By Drones.

Our prayers are not limited by the spotlight of media—there are millions in Africa, China, and the Middle East who are persecuted, oppressed, and slaughtered every year—but through the media we have the opportunity to access stories beyond our comfort zone. We have the privilege of carrying the voices of the hurting to the good and faithful father who will one day make all things new, the suffering servant who knows the depth of their pain, the powerful spirit who walks with them each and every step of the way.

Weekend Reading List

Today’s Reading
Ecclesiastes 2 (Listen – 4:03)
1 Timothy 4 (Listen – 2:05)

This Weekend’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 3 (Listen – 3:02) 1 Timothy 5 (Listen – 3:22)
Ecclesiastes 4 (Listen – 2:18) 1 Timothy 6 (Listen – 3:16)

Hearing in Silence :: Throwback Thursday

By A.W. Tozer (1897-1963)

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. — 1 Timothy 3.16

The most profound mystery of human flaw is how the creator could join Himself to the creature. How the “Word,” meaning Christ, could be made “flesh,” meaning the creature, is one of the most amazing mysteries to contemplate.

I often think of the wise words of John Wesley: “Distinguish the act from the method by which the act is performed and do not reject the fact because you do not know how it was done.” In coming to the mystery of that which is Christ incarnate, we reverently bow our heads and confess, “It is so, God, but we don’t know how.” I will not reject the fact because I do not know the operation by which it was brought to pass.

God, who once dwelt only intermittently with men, suddenly came and “the word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us.” He now dwelt with men in person, and they called His name Emmanuel, which means “God with us.”

I want you to take note of three prepositions here. Notice when He appeared as man, He appeared to dwell with men in person and to be united to men, then ultimately to dwell in men forever. So it is “with men” and “to men” and “in men” that He came to dwell.

I think of how easy it might have been for God to keep silent. In fact, there are many who feel that God is doing just that now. I shudder to think of His silent voice, the incommunicable heart of God, His mind inexpressible. This is not the true picture of God, for God is always speaking. His voice rises above the din and clatter of the world around us.

It is not that God is not speaking or communicating to us. Rather, we have allowed ourselves to get back into such a hole that all we hear is the noise around us. Only after all of that noise has spent itself do we begin to hear in the silence of our heart that still, small, most mighty voice of God speaking to us.

*Abridged from A.W. Tozer’s And He Dwelt Among Us, chapter five: The Mystery of The Word Made Flesh.

Today’s Reading
Ecclesiastes 1 (Listen – 2:21)
1 Timothy 3 (Listen – 2:10)

Praying for Political Leaders

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions. — 1 Timothy 2.1–2

“You don’t actually need a regression analysis to see that hate, not love, is driving the changes in American politics,” writes Ezra Klein. The (well documented) deep divides between political parties in the U.S. have grown at alarming rates.

When people are caught in a system dominated by hate there is an opportunity for Christians to participate in redemption. The preponderance of brokenness in our world today, both foreign and domestic, should drive us to prayer with extraordinary vigor. Yet we are often reticent to get involved in politics.

N.T. Wright, commenting on why the New Testament needs a command to spur Christians toward praying for political leaders and those under their rule, explains:

For many Christians today, particularly those who (like me) have grown up in the Western world and have never known war or major civil disturbance in our own country, this often seems quite remote…. Yes, we’d like our politicians to use our tax money more effectively, we grumble about some of their policies, but what they do doesn’t drive us to our knees to pray for them, to beseech God to guide them and lead them to create a better world for us all to live in.

Many Christians who are reasonably content with their country are tempted to think that praying for kings and governments is a rather boring, conformist thing to do. It looks like propping up the status quo.

Far from seeing prayer as the easy way out, Scripture challenges us to hold it as the most complex, efficacious, and important thing to which we can give ourselves.

Where we know victims by name we can bring them before God. Where we know of great needs, pain, or injustice without knowing any of the victims or leaders serving them, by name, we can repent. Wright concludes:

In the New Testament, the call to prayer is also the call to think: to think clearly about God and the world, and God’s project for the whole human race. Don’t rest content with the simplistic agendas of the world that suggest you should either idolize your present political system or be working to overthrow it. Try praying for your rulers instead, and watch not only what God will do in your society but also how your own attitudes will grow, change and mature.

Today’s Reading
Proverbs 31 (Listen – 2:50)
1 Timothy 2 (Listen – 1:38)

Grace for the Future

But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. — 1 Timothy 1.16

The grace of God, Søren Kierkegaard explains, “is applied in such a way that one sinks deeper and deeper so as to require continually more and more grace.” This progression from sin to grace, to more grace, is the message of 1 Timothy 1.

Yesterday we read, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” Today our minds focus on, “mercy for this reason,” and “perfect patience.” Kierkegaard explains:

Consider a person who is conscious of his guilt and offense. For a long time he goes about in quiet despair and remorsefully broods over it. Then he learns to flee to grace, and he is forgiven everything; everything is infinitely forgiven.

But, the moment he shuts the door of grace, as it were, and goes out full of holy resolve to begin a new life, alas, blissfully stirred by the thought that now all is forgiven and he will never get into that situation again, that very same minute, that very same second, he is on the way to new guilt—in the form of “the best he can do.”

In that same moment he must return again and knock on the door of grace. He must say: Oh, infinite grace, have mercy on me for being here again so soon and having to plead for grace. Now I understand that in order to have peace and rest, in order not to perish in hopeless despair, in order to be able to breathe, and in order to be able to exist at all, I need grace not only for the past but grace for the future.

God’s grace isn’t the light switch that activates independence, but the very power that lights the house. His grace is made perfect in weakness—his mercy shines brightest in the dark. Christians have seen what lies on the inside, and instead of becoming lost in despair, we find our rest in future grace. Kierkegaard concludes:

The difference between an unbeliever and a Christian is not that the latter is without sin. The difference is how he regards his sin and how he is kept in the striving…. The Christian has a Savior…. Bold confidence is not necessarily irresponsibility, but a trusting in grace.

Today’s Reading
Proverbs 30 (Listen – 3:51)
1 Timothy 1 (Listen – 2:59)

 

Infinite Happiness

1 Timothy 6.17

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.

*Editor’s Note: Today we hear the voice of Robert Murray M’Cheyne. (The Park Forum’s Scripture reading plan is based off his design.) In this sermon from 1848, M’Cheyne affirms our life in Christ as much as he rebukes our love for the world.

By Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-1843)

We know very little of God; but we know that he is infinitely happy. You cannot add to his happiness, nor take from it. The Bible shows that his happiness mainly consists in giving, not in receiving:
  1. His giving food to all creatures is very wonderful — not one sparrow is forgotten before God.
  2. He gives to the wicked: “He makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and unjust.” Just think for a moment how many thousands God feeds every day who blaspheme his name, and profane his Sabbaths.
  3. But, most of all, he gave his own Son. Although he was emptying his own bosom, yet he would not keep back the gift.

Now, some of you pray night and day to be made like God: If you will be like him, be like him in giving. It is God’s chief happiness, be like him in it. [And yet, you will object:]

My money is my own.

Christ might have said, My blood is my own, my life is my own; no man forces it from me: then where should we have been?

Would you have me give to wicked people, who will go and abuse it?

Christ might have said the same, with far greater truth. Christ knew that thousands would trample his blood under their feet; that most would despise it; that many would make it an excuse for sinning more; yet he gave his own blood.

God gives to wicked people, who go and abuse it; yet that does not diminish his happiness. God makes the sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and pours down rain on the just and on the unjust.

Oh, my dear Christians! if you would be like Christ, give much, give often, give freely, to the vile and the poor, the thankless and the undeserving. Christ is glorious and happy, and so will you be. It is not your money I want, but your happiness. Remember his own word: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

*Abridged and language updated from Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s sermon, More Blessed To Give Than To Receive.

Today’s Reading
2 Kings 9 (Listen – 6:32)
1 Timothy 6 (Listen – 3:16)
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