Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.” But You, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. Psalm 3:1-3
The subtitle of Psalm 3 sets the stage for the psalm: “A psalm of David, when he fled from his son Absalom.” David is, literally, running for his life. His handsome and charismatic son Absalom ran a successful political campaign to oust David and installed himself as the new king, his father’s replacement. Unfortunately for David, Absalom’s plan was not for his father to retire and write his memoirs. David had to be dealt with: he had to be eliminated. Political intrigue in leadership, corporate and otherwise, is nothing new.
So, what does David do in these extremely difficult circumstances? David prays. Learning to develop an integrated life of prayer and work (Ora et Labora, Latin) often begins in this way. Desperation turns us to-ward God. What we’ve learned about God in moments of quiet reflection become “flesh and blood” as we risk both “flesh and blood” in our work.
Psalm 3 reminds us that prayer is not merely a private spiritual discipline but an integral part of our public life and work. It also reminds us that prayer in life and work is complicated. David is not merely an innocent victim in his present circumstances. It is interesting that David quotes people around him as saying, “There is no help for him (David) in God.” Translation: David had it coming. Think of the backstory of David’s adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband. David’s own failure and sin contributed to the circumstance in which he found him-self. Likewise, we often find ourselves in difficult circumstances which we helped shape. When we realize that, our hearts sink and our heads drop. However, the psalm provides hope. God is always present and ready to pick us up to reengage our life and work. In David’s words, God “is the One who lifts up my head high.” (v. 3)
Finally, we are reminded that prayer is not an escape. Prayer is integral to our work precisely because we need to deal with and face the world as it really is. Prayer is not something for nice, Christian people to do as they retreat from real life. Prayer is not something that is out of touch with and irrelevant to work in the real world. Instead, as David reminds us, it is a battle-hardened discipline that equips us to engage the messy and difficult world of work with genuine hope, faith, and love. David teaches us how to pray by giving us words to pray. The Book of Psalms helps us as we learn to pray in just such a way: an integrated life of prayer and work: Ora et Labora.
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the
calling you have received. Ephesians 4:1
Sadly, Christians today are a divided people, and it should not be so. The history of Protestantism, especially, is the story of dispute, disagreement, and division. We are Catholic and Protestant and Orthodox, pre- and post-millennial, Armenians and Calvinists, traditional and contemporary, conservative and liberal, and the list goes on. It's okay to have differences. That's part of being human. It's the way God made us. Husbands and wives have differences, but work hard at building on common ground, talking through differences, and maintaining a marriage, a unity, in the face of all sorts of situations and obstacles. Differences aren't the problem. It's how we handle the differences. This week's passage is the Apostle Paul's appeal to the church to be united, unified, and whole.
ONE CALLING – Eph. 4:1
Paul begins with a strong appeal. Paul appeals, he begs, not just as an apostle but as a prisoner for the Lord. He is appealing to his readers' sympathies. The idea here is that Paul is strongly urging, he is appealing to, he is urging them. He appeals to them to act with integrity, to live out their faith in everyday practice. He is asking the Ephesians to conduct themselves in a way that is worthy of their high calling as Christians. Often times, we use the term "calling" as a special calling to full-time Christian ministry. Here, however, it is the calling or invitation of Christ to follow Him. Paul reinforces here the idea of God's calling. It is God who calls us. We participate in God’s story, not as passive characters, but as active contributors to the narrative. We are to act so as to enhance the unity of God’s people, a unity based in the very identity of God.
I am still growing in my understanding of the unity the Spirit brings. God is gradually overcoming my prejudices. As I've grown older, I've had to change some of my previously-held positions because I found that the Bible didn't teach them. My religious upbringing taught them, but not the Bible. We can be trained to look only at a certain set of scripture verses that support our position and to underemphasize others. Sometimes, I can be an expert at finding fault with other groups -- and so perhaps are you. Read John 17:20-23 and listen again to Jesus’ high priestly prayer and realize that He was praying for you and me.
How can I be an answer to Jesus’ prayer as I “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”? (Eph. 4:3)
For this reason I kneel before the Father. (Ephesians 3:14)
What is significant about bowing your knees? It does not mean that you are any more or less spiritual than somebody else if you are standing and they are kneeling. There are several places in Scripture where they stood with their hands raised to heaven, just as humble in their hearts as anyone is who kneels or bows down before the Father. But when we down, it signifies the attitude of our heart as we approach the Father.
Bowing our knees before the Father signifies, first of all, a submission to a higher authority. Paul called himself a prisoner, a bondservant of Jesus Christ. It shows that the one who bows down and prays is in the presence of the ultimate authority. Psalm 95:1-6 shows us the attitude of someone who comes before the Father and realizes who He is. V. 3-5 says, “For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. In His hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to Him. The sea is His, for He made it, and His hands formed the dry land.” Since God is all of these things and since He is absolutely sovereign and absolute authority, v. 6 concludes, "Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker." It is an attitude of the heart. When we bow our knee before God, we are bowing in submission to the highest authority. We are saying, "God, whatever You want is what I want." That is what bowing the knee means: our heart is overwhelmed with Who it is we are talking to.
Secondly, it signifies an intense passion, an intense emotion in prayer. When-ever Paul prays, he is very specific, and he is very passionately, very emotionally involved in his prayers. When a person falls down on their knees, it is always a picture of that intensity, of that passion and of that emotion (see Ezra 9:5-6, Daniel 6:6-10, Acts 20:36-38). So the whole posture of prayer is not in what your body is doing. It is in what your heart is doing before God. You may not be kneeling. You may be in a crowded subway, on a plane, in your office cubicle, or on your bed. Wherever you are, if your attitude is filled with awe and submission and you are intensely concerned with what God has burdened your heart, that is bowing your knees before the Father. For Paul, this is not some trite prayer he prays while in prison. This is something that is deeply, intensely burned into his heart. He wants the believers in Ephesus to be able to live it out in front of the people. There is passion and submission. There is awe, and emotion. Paul’s prayer posture then is very clear. It is an attitude of his heart.
Finally, notice the person to whom Paul was praying. He says, "I kneel before the Father." In Eph. 3:15, Paul says that he prays to the Father, “from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.” There is a sense that God is Father of all creation. Nothing was created except that He created it. God is not only the Creator, He is also our Father. This is family talk. Paul is interested in the family. Paul knows God’s will for the family of believer at Ephesus, the faithful saints, is not only to know their riches in Christ, but for them to live in those riches and to experience the riches of their salvation every single day.
“The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” (Luke 6:40)
The Pastoral staff has adopted the theme of “Discipleship: Be like Jesus” for 2020. We would want to focus ourselves on learning, imitating, and following our Lord closely. Disciples literally means learners or students. Oftentimes, we are so proud of ourselves thinking that we are above the teacher who teaches us. Jesus warned his disciples with this parable, “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? On the other hand, when we are humble enough, we may after a period of being trained, become like our teacher; a true follower who thinks like Jesus, feels like Jesus and acts like Jesus.
The night before Jesus chose and called his disciples, he went up to the mountain to pray, spending the night praying to God. Then when morning came, He chose twelve apostles from among the many disciples: Simon, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. Jesus did not pick the cream of the crop like Nicodemus the scholar, or Joseph of Arimethea, the wealthy patron. He recruited a strange mixture of people, Simon the zealot belongs to the party violently opposing Rome, while Matthew the tax collector has recently been employed by Rome’s puppet ruler. In your mind, you may wonder whether Jesus could have done better.
Why did Jesus choose these disciples? Their most obvious trait seems to be their bone headedness. Jesus asks, “Are you so dull?” “Are you still so dull?” Much of the time, a fog of incomprehension separates them from Jesus. When Jesus was teaching them servant leadership, they were fighting and arguing about who deserves the premium position. After Jesus performed miracle after miracle, they fret anxiously about the next; Jesus restores the demon-possessed, raises the dead, heals the sick, feeds the 5,000, they asks how about 4,000?
Why does Jesus invest so much in these apparent losers? Mark mentions Jesus’ motives were “that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach.” (Mk 3:14) Jesus wants to train them to become more like Him and to carry on His mission after He had left. Because Jesus did not choose His disciples on the basis of talent, perfectibility or potential for greatness but rather on their ordinariness, it gives us tremendous hope. Praise God, all but one would become prominent leaders of their time. From such a ragtag team, Jesus founded a living church. Are you willing to follow their footsteps, and be trained?