WHERE DOES IT HURT?

Recently I listened to a podcast from Renovaré, a great ministry/organization focused on Spiritual Formation. The podcast was a conversation with author Philip Yancey led by Nathan Foster.

Yancey has written a new book titled Fearfully and Wonderfully: ‘The marvel of bearing God’s image’. In the book he draws an analogy between pain in the human body and pain in the Body of Christ, the church community. His writing comes after working many years with Dr. Paul Brand, the late surgeon who specialised in treating leprosy in India. Leprosy is an infectious disease within the skin and peripheral nerves leading to a disastrous consequence for those, who because of this illness, cannot feel pain.

Pain is important because it’s real and it signals that something is wrong with the body. It can be physical or emotional and can include such discomforting feelings as anger, sadness, depression and much more.

Pain causes us to pay attention to our bodies. And for the Body of Christ, as the analogy goes, pain is a sign that something is wrong and needs to be addressed.

These days there seem to be a lot of division and hurt in the church over such issues as exclusivity and inclusivity, liberal and conservative, sexuality and doctrine. Rules, standards, grace and love are in conflict and people on all sides are hurting. I know this personally.

So let me continue the analogy by saying the church needs to know the pain is real and then go to the Great Physician who can diagnose the pain and help each of us to care for those in pain. Jesus told his disciples that the signal of a healthy community is loving one another. He prayed for us to be one even as he and the Father are one.

We are all in some fashion broken, sick, or lost but within the community, the Body, we can recognize and address those circumstances that underlie the pain. We need to stop being against each other and instead be with and for one another. Let’s listen to each other out of love. Let’s be attentive to the pain we often hide beneath a veneer of doctrinal faithfulness, social activism and success (just to name a few methods of denial).

Read the way the Apostle Paul puts it in 1Corinthians 12. ‘If one part of the body suffers then every part suffers with it.’

Maybe the question isn’t ‘What do you believe?’ but rather the one we often ask our children, “Where does it hurt?”

DOES PRAYER MOVE THE HEART AND ACTIONS OF GOD?

There is more to say about prayer but this question begs a response. And here are my initial thoughts.

Perhaps God desires to be moved, to be affected by our prayers, by our communion with God. God’s will includes being in cooperative loving relationship with us. Like a father and mother with their child, waiting to be ‘asked’ so that he or she may be given, is the loving God who waits for us. This is not to say that every prayer uttered to God will bring an affirmative response and when a ‘no’ comes I believe, for myself anyway, that I need to stay in that communion.

See we don’t know what the ultimate will of God is and therefore it might be presumptuous to think we cannot change what we do not know. But according to the Bible God desires us to pray effectively for a ‘good’ response. So I would say that prayer affects God.

I think we read in Scripture how Moses pleaded with God to spare the Israelites and God changed his mind. Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened. (Exodus 32:14.) Or this in Hosea 11:8: My heart is turned within me: my compassion is aroused. There is also the story of King Hezekiah who, when told by God that he was going to die, pleaded for more years to live and God gave him those years. (Isaiah 38) You might say that this was already God’s intention and will but then I think that my own will as a dad with children is somehow affected in real-time by the requests of my children.

I realize there are passages in the Bible where it is said of God that God cannot or does not change but since we find both there in some kind of dialectical tension let’s consider that in some sense, that we may not fully understand, God allows God’s self to be changed in whatever human like attributes we may understand that concept.

God wants us to pray to God as in the parable of the wicked judge and the widow. In Luke 18 Jesus tells that story in order to encourage the disciples to pray and not give up. And he concludes by saying ‘will the son of man find faith when he returns?’ So faith therefore is asking, seeking, knocking for a response.

Recall the parable of the ‘friend at midnight’ from Luke 11. Jesus tells this parable to encourage his followers to keep asking God, seeking God and knocking on the gates of heaven for an answer. He concludes by saying God really wants to give his presence to us and I take it to thereby mean that in some way in prayer God and we are cooperating or relating.

See what Karl Barth has to write concerning our prayers affecting God. This quote comes from Philip Yancey in his book on Prayer.

“[Karl Barth, the 20th-century theologian who pounded home the theme of God’s sovereignty, saw no contradiction at all in a God who chooses to let prayers affect him.] He is a not deaf, he listens; more than that, he acts. He does not act in the same way whether we pray or not. Prayer exerts an influence upon God’s action, even upon his existence. That is what the word ‘answer’ means. … The fact that God yields to man’s petitions, changing his intentions in response to man’s prayer, is not a sign of weakness. He himself, in the glory of his majesty and power, has so willed it.”

Perhaps we might conclude that love always surrenders to the other. Love hears the other and connects with the other through heart and mind. If God is love God knows how best to relate to his people and this involves perhaps altering one’s plans. But first and foremost what I want to change is ME. I want God to change me more and more into his likeness so that what I request from God aligns so well with God’s will. At the very least we can say that prayer changes something and if that is the case the let us boldly approach God as our Sovereign Creator, Provider, and Friend.

Jesus told us that if we see him we see the Father. And in Jesus we see our God whose delight perhaps is to change circumstances in response to the sincere, heartfelt and unceasing prayers of his people. Why all things aren’t changed is in some respects a mystery  I surmise that some of us already know why God says ‘no’.