October 19, 2017

Sundays with Michael Spencer: October 18, 2015

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A Jesus Prayer
by Michael Spencer

Jesus, you don’t build institutions.

You don’t write catechisms. Or Systematic Theologies. Or critiques of someone’s theology or refutations of their catechism.

You don’t have a blog.

You don’t moderate debates.

You are the bread of life who gives himself for the salvation of the world. You are the one mediator between God and man. You are the bridegroom who loves his bride. You’re raising all of us like Lazurus. You’re healing all of us, casting demons out of all of us, calling all of us out of the un-real into the real.

The community that matters to you isn’t sitting behind some church sign. It’s not running around with some ridiculous label.

You aren’t submitting yourself to the teams built by men for their games with one another.

Jesus, you love the world. And you love those who are in fellowship with you. Not more or even in a different way than you love other persons, but only in a way that can be enjoyed and celebrated by all of us who are feasting at the same table.

You don’t have a database of membership. You don’t have 20 questions for me to answer. You are standing there before me, and your love is inviting me inviting me inviting me over and over and enabling me enabling me enabling me over and over. You’re taking me from where I’ve wandered, throwing me on your shoulders and beginning again. And again. And again. With all of us.

Jesus, you’re making crazy demands about trusting the Father. You’re saying ridiculous things about money and forgiveness. Jesus, you’re asking me to do things that are impossible.

You want me to trust you with the people I want to control. You’ve taken my prayers to change things and handed them back to me as the opportunity to let you love persons you love far, far more than I can imagine in ways I could never approach. Trusting you, by the way, is very difficult sometimes, but you never do quit asking, do you?

I’d rather theologize. I’d rather debate and score points.

I’d rather take care of me, do things my way and refer to you as my sponsor. I want you to be the god who makes my life work out; the god who makes my relationships “work.” You are the God who loves me, and loves all the people I pretend to love, with a love that’s overwhelming.

You want me to live my life in you. Not just quote the verse, but jump into the deep end of the pool with you there to catch me. You want me out of the boat, with you on the water. You want me to believe that you will never leave me or forsake me.

You want me. You’re very fond of me.

This kind of simplicity is very frightening. You are taking too much away. You are replacing it all with yourself.

Jesus, I need you a thousand ways. I can’t list them all, but I feel them, one by one by one, taking hold of me and pulling me away from you. I want that to end, and I want to hand all of my life to you, freely, in childlike trust and joy.

My emotions are following my perceptions and my perceptions are following my paradigm. I need you to take over all of it. All of it.

Jesus, you said you are the way, the truth and the life…and I told people I believed it. I didn’t believe it very much. I think I lie about these things a lot. But I want you to be the way, the truth and the life.

I’m afraid for it all to come down to just the two of us, but that’s the way it is, isn’t it? It’s the moment we all hear you, feel your gaze, realize you have singled us out for the Kingdom….but everything else must go: parents, wife, children, family, reputation, houses, lands, applause, security, health, normality. All of it goes, and you want the entire bet placed on you.

Lord Jesus Christ, Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on me.

Comments

  1. Precious words,

  2. Christiane says:

    ‘Deus Meus et Omnia’

  3. Two lines strike me:
    “You’re very fond of me.” He purposely did not say “You love me.” I think that’s because that means something very, very different to our ear. Something wider and more general, part of a grand love which propels everything. To say it the other way is to say you have particular thoughts and feelings specifically in relation to me to the exclusion of every other being which exists. This is important for a number of reasons but in this context I think it is because of the other line which caught my eye:
    “I’m afraid for it all to come down to just the two of us, but that’s the way it is, isn’t it?”
    Someday we will see Him face to face without our mother to hold our hand. Neither will we have our pastor, our denomination, our bible, our creed or even the works we have done in His name. That will all be absent as we stand naked before the living God. A fearful thing, yes. A gift to us here is the opportunity to ‘practice” that moment by consciously engaging that reality through every means at our disposal. In doing that we will bring a dash of familiarity to the moment; some settling tidbit of deja vu. Some small girder of strength to say, “Yes Lord. It’s me.”

    • +1

    • –> “You’re very fond of me.”

      I’ve noticed that the Bible uses the word “delight” a few times in regards to us. Zephaniah 3:17 says, “He will take great delight in you…” Psalm 149:4 says, “For the LORD takes delight in his people…” Psalm 18:19: “…he rescued me because he delighted in me.” (I think there are a few others.)

      I love the word “delight,” and it seems to fit with the word “fond.” Delight brings a sense that we can bring HIM joy, that He cherishes the relationship. Fondness, too, seems to be at a level different than “love,” that goes to an enjoyment of the relationship.

      Which seems to support your second point, maybe from a slightly different angle: “Someday we will see Him face to face…” My pastor’s sermon a few weeks back talked about how heaven isn’t so much a place as it is being in a forever face-to-face relationship with Him. Boiling it down in simplistic terms, the place doesn’t matter as much as the relationship.

      If He’s fond of us and delights in us, heaven will be a joy!

    • What does it mean to stand before God alone, when the only ground left to “stand” on is God? What will it mean to “stand”? If at that encounter we will not have our mothers, pastors, creeds, denominations, Bibles, why do we still think that we will have ourselves? What will distinctions between “alone” and “with” mean or matter in the face of that reality? Is our identity so bound up with everything and everyone else that we cannot be ourselves before him without everything else there with us? Who am “I”? Are we to right to think that we can exist alone, apart, separate?

      • Good questions and points. And while I won’t defend or criticize Michael’s point, I will offer this thought: When a shepherd saves the one lost sheep, does he take it to an empty field to be left alone? No, he restores it to the flock. So on the one hand, as lost sheep we are restored individually, but when we are restored we’ll be back in communion with the flock.

        • I definitely think there is a dimension of this that involves the experience of being alone; death is the final manifestation of that experience of being alone. But I don’t think we are actually alone in any of it; a host is with us in all of it, and Jesus is there for us and with us. And the encounter with the Father on the other side of the passage that leads through death is not alone, but with Jesus, and in the communion of saints. One may be damned alone, but we can only be saved together.

    • As human beings, don’t our identities exist inextricably within a web of relationships? As Christians, don’t our identities exist forever and everywhere inside the Communion of Saints? As those redeemed by Christ, can we not expect Jesus himself to stand with us, and for us, in our encounter with the Father?

      • My image has long been one of being escorted to the ‘throne’ by the others and presented alone. Of course it’s all images and I can’t possibly know but I would say that while there is always a way in which we are joined to one another there is simultaneously a way in which we spend this life completely alone with the Lord. No one knows my thoughts, feelings or intentions as I sit here now. No one. It is that hidden me that knows God and only that me that can offer myself freely to Him without aide or support from anyone or anything. It is that essence that came from God and will return to Him. Nonetheless, after the formalities I’ll look you up and we can discuss in more depth!

        • I understand your perspective. I’ve shared it. But at this point I have come to think that the realest me, the deepest me, is the one that is formed and expressed in his relationships and interactions with others. I don’t think that my identity is found in interiority. My essence is a function of my bodily reality, and the web of relationships that it was born into and is part of. My true self, my soul, my essence is not a ghost in the machine of my body.

  4. This sums it up for me, in so many ways.

    The last two lines say it all.

    “All of it goes, and you want the entire bet placed on you.”

    “Lord Jesus Christ, Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on me.”

    I have to say, thank God that it doesn’t depend on anyone else, but Him. It’s scarier to think what that would look like, than simply trusting in the God who made me, knows me, and loves me as His very own child.

  5. Wow. This would make for awesome spoke word poetry

  6. “It’s the moment we all hear you, feel your gaze, realize you have singled us out for the Kingdom….but everything else must go: parents, wife, children, family, reputation, houses, lands, applause, security, health, normality. All of it goes, and you want the entire bet placed on you.”

    This idea, these words, are very profound and powerful. I think they were true for Michael, for the apostles (“Lord, we have left everything…”) and for the saints. They are not true for me, though maybe they should be.

    If “everything else must go,” including all relationships, all possessions, and everything of individual meaning to us such as health and normality, then I am about as far outside the Kingdom as anyone. If “everything must go,” is it not better not to have them in the first place? The monks and nuns are right; it is better to have no possessions, form no ties, and give up the right to or desire for any physical or psychological comfort.

    Did God make the world beautiful so we could despise and reject it? Did he make human love — husband/wife, mother/child etc. — so we could resist it and trample it under our feet to show our love for Jesus? Did he make us individuals so we could work all our lives to annihilate our own individuality?

    It’s a beautiful fall day outside here in southern Ohio. I love the blue sky, the gold leaves, the beauty of the earth. I love my two little dogs, and take pleasure in watching their joy at the dog park. I love the people of my church, and rely on them not only spiritually but emotionally. I love my daughter and my two grandsons. Is all this wrong?

    I’m probably missing some important level of meaning here.

    • I think that our faith affirms that we will stand with Jesus, inside the web of all our relationships and inside the Communion of Saints, in our encounter with the Father. Alone, we are unable to stand; with Jesus, and in the community he has called to himself, we are held up. The idea that we must stand alone before the Alone seems to me to be a neo-Platonic one straight out Plotinus; this is not the Christian hope, as I understand it. It’s not my hope.

    • “Lord, we have left everything….”

      They said it, but it wasn’t so; Jesus knew that. Nobody left everything for Jesus’ sake; it’s Jesus who left everything, the prerogatives of God, for the sake of bringing redemption to the world of people. Jesus promises the apostles that whatever they lose will be returned to them many times over; it’s appropriate to understand this to include that the very things and people they lose in following him are returned, but in a new context, in a new community, in a renewed and transformed life. Death may be a lonely affair; but when we are reborn, when we see God, it will be within the community, renewed and transformed, that Jesus has called to himself. There is no seeing God, there is no being ourselves, outside this community. This is what it means to have a high view of the Church, despite all the imperfections we see it to have in this world.

    • Good, heartfelt ponderings, H. Lee. I tend to view things as “what’s the purpose of calling the gospel ‘Good News’ if it’s not really good news?” Enjoy the beauty of the world; the reason for Jesus is salvation from the ugliness and brokenness, and restoration with the Father.

      • Amen!

      • Amen, Rick and Robert. Jesus Himself spoke lovingly of the lilies of the field, and the sparrows being sold as sacrificial offerings. ISTM that it can’t be that the earth was made just as a temptation to be rejected.

    • Christiane says:

      Hi, H. LEE
      be reassured

      ” . . . let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”
      1 John 4: 8

      . . . ” Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love . . . ” 1 John 4:8

      ” . . . God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. . . . ” 1 John 4:16

  7. Is there a middle ground – between the neo-Calvinist opinion that God is only concerned about his glory and the seeker-sensitive opinion that God is all googly-eyed over us? I approached “The Shack” with hope for a fresh view of God, and I couldn’t finish it after reaching the conclusion that it is more of the same. I’m not looking for cosmic “sloppy wet kisses”.

    • Christiane says:

      Hi DUMB OX,
      is this really true about the neo-Calvinists: ” the neo-Calvinist opinion that God is ONLY concerned about his glory”?

      if it is, it’s a pretty strange opinion . . . it doesn’t line up with what we know about God from Jesus the Christ, no . . . and in ways, it’s almost insulting God, rather than acknowledging Him . . . it sounds pretty sick to me

      • That refers to the subject of a post here a few months ago; I’ll have to dig to find it.

      • Steve Truesdale says:

        Coming out of a neo-Calvanist church, most sermons mentioned again and again that God was mainly concerned with his own glory – and warnings against making ourselves out to be His concern. There is a difference between MAINLY concerned and ONLY concerned – but the net effect of pounding away at this point was to leave the impression that it truly was an ONLY. At lease from my perspective.

  8. Steve Truesdale says:

    Regarding being presented to God alone or with community. As an introvert that has left church and many relationships twice in the past 4 years, community is a challenging concept right now.

    Returning to a strong relationship with God (alone) is a sweet byproduct of this process, but I am missing the community of relationships and the lack of these now is showing me how much I need community – yet at the same time I have very little desire to go through the effort of building new relationships in a world where so many relationships turn out to be temporary. Being alone with the God who is not temporary seems like a much more feasible and stable alternative.

  9. AMEN! 😀

  10. Amen. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

  11. In the context of when this was first written (2007), Michael had been through some theological range wars, and had even named his barking dog after Cornelius Van Til. Then he read the book “The Shack”. His original preface said:
    “After I finished reading The Shack, I wrote out some prayers, and this is part of one. -MS”
    http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/a-jesus-prayer

    The phase “I’m afraid for it all to come down to just the two of us”, taken in context of that book, probably didn’t mean “I don’t need anybody else in my life”. The Shack was all about communion / community and healing in relationships.

    I think what Michael was saying was that he wasn’t going to look any longer to a religious institutions and systematic theology to mediate or replace the relationship between him and God.