Should we pray to the Spirit?
People often ask their pastor – "Is it right to pray to the Spirit?" I wonder – do you have an answer? Do you have a practice in your own prayer life? It is true – there are no prayers to the Spirit in the New Testament; but then, there are relatively few prayers in the New Testament full stop, so this does not necessarily answer the question. Before we are too quick to cut things off, we must always remember that the Holy Spirit is God himself and that as one of the three persons of the glorious God we worship, he is revealed in Scripture as having a certain role. It seems appropriate therefore, that when we are praying about the things that, as it were, are in his domain, it is not wrong to pray to the Spirit. Of course, the Spirit proceeds from the Father, so it is always possible to turn a prayer around from "Spirit, witness with my spirit….." to "Father, let your Spirit witness with my Spirit…." I tend to go for the latter – recognising the unique work of the Spirit, but appreciating that he acts for the Father.
What we want to avoid is our people's prayers (and ours) becoming Unitarian, as though God were just Father, just Jesus, or just Spirit. There's lots of praying like this which begins to cement false teaching if we don't gently correct it – for example, "Father, thank you for coming to die for us" may we a well meaning prayer but it is a confusion of the doctrine of the Trinity. Therefore, I think, it behoves us to pray in a Trinitarian way publically. Here's a good example, from the well-known Valley of Vision.
Three in One, One in Three, God of my salvation, Heavenly Father, blessed Son, eternal Spirit, I adore thee as one Being, one Essence, one God in three distinct Persons, for bringing sinners to thy knowledge and thy kingdom.
O Father, thou hast loved me and sent Jesus to redeem me;
O Jesus, thou hast loved me and assumed my nature, shed thine own blood to wash away my sins, wrought righteousness to cover my unworthiness;
O Holy Spirit, thou hast loved me and entered my heart, implanted there eternal life, revealed to me the glories of Jesus.
Three Persons and one God, I bless and praise thee, for love so unmerited, so unspeakable, so wondrous, so mighty to save the lost and raise them to glory.
O Father, I thank thee that in fullness of grace thou hast given me Jesus, to be his sheep, his jewel, his portion;
O Jesus, I thank thee that in fullness of grace thou hast accepted, espoused, bound me;
O Holy Spirit, I thank thee that in fullness of grace thou has exhibited Jesus as my salvation, implanted faith within me, subdued by stubborn heart, made me one with him forever.
O Father, thou art enthroned to hear my prayers,
O Jesus, thy hand is outstretched to take my petitions,
O Holy Spirit, thou art willing to help my infirmities, to show me my need, to supply my words, to pray within me, to strengthen me that I faint not in supplication.
O Triune God, who commandeth the universe, thou hast commanded me to ask for these things that concern thy kingdom and my soul. Let me pray and live as one baptized into the threefold Name.
Review: am I called?
It's not often you come across a book and think to yourself, 'You know, I'm glad that's been written'. However, Am I Called by Dave Harvey is that kind of book. It's a book about that most difficult of subjects – the call to Christian ministry.
Here's what I like about it:
- the focus is right. It starts with God, the caller and salvation, the calling (in fact, the only way that word is used in the New Testament).
- The context is right. The second chapter is about the context in which ministry takes place, i.e. the local church. This is a much needed and much neglected emphasis.
- The balance is right. Taking the pastorals as the basis, Dave assesses ministry the way the Apostle assesses it.
- The priority is right. "There are a lot of things a pastor should be able to do, but there's clearly one thing he must be able to do to hold the office. He must be able to preach."
It's not a long book so it's digestible and accessible. I've got one or two minor gripes which are worth mentioning:
- the last chapter redeems the book from being very you-centred. Up to that point it seems to have been about self assessment. Dave redeems this by saying it's about local church assessment, but I wanted this clear chapter to come much earlier in the book to avoid it being a kind of "how do you score?" kind of approach. The middle chapters are all good in terms of content, but they are about "you"
- the author (unless I missed it) never really grapples with what Paul means by 'sets his heart upon' in 1 Tim 3.1. This is a key idea, I feel, getting to root of what a call is
- which leads to the other minor criticism. The call language is problematic, we all need to realise that. It's not immediately biblical (as Dave points out it is reserved for salvation in the New Testament). So it does need some exploration and explanation.
However, these are minor niggles in what is otherwise an excellent book to give to prospective young men or even to those already in ministry. I was reading it on a train travelling to Wales with Mr RC Lucas. He looked at it and said "that's a much needed book if it's any good. Is it?"
So, yet another book on the Trinity, or something fresh?
Something fresh, by which I don't mean something that is not orthodox, but a book on the Trinity that is both deep and accessible, theologically rich yet pastorally applied. Sam Allberry's new book on the Trinity, Connected, is well worth some of your English pounds (or US dollars). Here's why I really enjoyed it:
- it covers all the theological bases without becoming a theological text book. It would be very easy for an author to think "these are the things that I must cover; one chapter on this, one on that." No, this book works more logically than that. One section leads to another, one chapter leads to another.
- it maintains an awe and wonder at the doctrine of the Trinity. It is easy, in trying to make a book accessible, to dumb down the content. Not so here. Sam covers all the bases whilst avoiding the techno-babble. If this book does not move your heart to worship, then you are one cold fish!
- it makes the doctrine of the Trinity immensely practical, and I mean immensely. I don't know if you've ever stopped to think about this, but a doctrine which is only useful for completing college essays has almost certainly been either misunderstood or over-valued. So often, this is the case with the way the Trinity is presented. Not here. I love the way that page after page works through the truths Sam explains with warm pastoral application. Given the current climate, the section which works through Trinitarian implications for marriage, gender and sexuality is especially helpful.
"Often in Western culture, two people are only considered to be equal if they allowed to do exactly the same things. But this is not so within the Trinity. Equality is not sameness. And the different roles being exercised are how we end up with the God we know and love."
Well said! Possibly this is one of the THE foundational errors undermining today's societies?
This is my highest commendation: Miss R number 1 (not to be confused with Mrs R), aged 17, will get this as a present from me. She has been asking for something to read on the Trinity and so far I have given her Stuart Olyott's excellent little introduction. But she will find this more accessible, more practical, just as thorough (perhaps more so), more uplifting.
I also learnt (and this is key) that the way to spot gap year students is that they wear beads. Now I know….
And to finish – here's the Boss's commendation (not Bruce Springsteen, but Vaughan Roberts):
This is heart-warming, awe-inspiring teaching which will fill the mind and feed the soul. Deep truths are expounded with a light touch and down-to-earth applications. Here is a book that will not only help readers to understand more deeply the mystery of God the Holy Trinity, but also moved us to worship and honour him in daily life.
Sir Terry Leahy and I have previous. I won't bore you with the details but we were both appearing in a court case where each's evidence contradicted the other and I got it in the neck from the judge who told me he was more inclined to believe Sir Terry. Still, despite the past, I was interested to read the reviews of his new book Management in Ten Words in the weekend press (a slight biblical tone in the title?). You can't deny he's been at the forefront of one of the UK's most successful businesses. For the record (hope this doesn't spoil it for you) the words are truth, loyalty, courage, values, act, balance, simple, lean, compete, trust. What interests me though is what he does with some of those words, according to one review.
For example, and here I'm quoting from the review. "Number one is truth. The truth is not something you usually associate with retailing, says Sir Terry, seeking to shock us with his candour. But what does he want us to do with this truth? He wants us to confront it. The skilled manager does not ignore the truth. He sees it and responds to it."
Well, fair enough. But do you see what he is doing? If I told you the management word was truth you would automatically assume he meant telling the truth, not facing up to it. It's subtle but the context of the word has changed. Less subtle is chapter 3. Courage means "being certain that you are right." Now, that's just a new definition, isn't it? I don't think that's what courage means. Most online dictionaries get this right – the ability to confront fear or danger or uncertainty, etc.
I shall leave poor Sir Terry alone. What interests me more is that we are always redefining words. It's one reason that the preacher needs to be both careful with his own words and careful with God's words. Bible words mean what they meant. We must not impose 21st Century meanings onto them. And we must be careful that our own words are not open to the worst kind of misinterpretation. It's also why we should be thankful for modern Bible translations and the men and women who tirelessly work to keep them under revision.
When your to-do list overwhelms you
I'm fastidious about to do lists. That's partly because I cannot remember all the things I have to do and partly because I live in terror of forgetting to do things I've promised. Still, it does have its downsides, like this week when it gets longer than my arm and there is simply not enough time in the week to do everything. I've learnt to see that this arises because:
(1) I take on too much
(2) I procrastinate too much
(3) I don't delegate enough
Or, to be real, a deathly combination of all three. Mrs R had some good advice this morning when I was lamenting my failures and the length of the list. "Don't forget to make time to pray" she said. Right. End of post.
Here we come, Wales
Dick and I are off to Newport tomorrow to work with a small group of pastors in South Wales. We love doing things like this, even though it means crossing the border (only joking!). In fact, it's under two hours on the train from London.
I'm the lead out man with Ezekiel 1, and then Dick is leading two sessions on 2 Timothy. Dick's teaching on 2 Timothy includes this assessment of the reasons why Timothy and his ministry might go astray:
- satanic deception (2 Tim 2.26)
- widespread moral breakdown (2 Tim 3.1-5)
- poor Bible handling (2 Tim 2.15)
- sinfulness (2 Tim 2.19)
Isn't point 3 arresting. We all know that we must present ourselves as "one approved" but it is not just for our own sake. God forgive that we should ever think of ministry in this way. This injunction is not just so that I would do my best, like my dad might have said to me before I went into an exam. No, it is for the sake of the church, for the sake of God's people, that we must carry on working hard at Bible ministry.
Autumn ministers conference
Before the summer kicks in (I wish!) why not take a moment and book a place at our Autumn Ministers Conference. This year we're excited to be joined by Doug Moo, the NT scholar and church elder/preacher. It's worth coming just to see how tall he is…. But seriously, these times away together and precious and important in keeping us going in ministry. The dates are Monday 12 – Thursday 15 November. I look forward to seeing you there. Book online here.
Numbers 11-12 and a prayer for purification
Preaching to the wives this morning on Numbers 11-12. It's pretty numbing stuff. I finished this wonderful prayer from Valley of Vision:
Lord Jesus, I sin. Grant that I may never cease grieving because of it, never be content with myself, never think I can reach a point of perfection. Kill my envy, command my tongue, trample down self. Give me grace to be holy, kind, gentle, pure, peaceable, to live for Thee and not for self, to copy Thy words, acts, spirit, to be transformed into Thy likeness, to be consecrated wholly to Thee, to live entirely to Thy glory.
Deliver me from attachment to things unclean, from wrong associations, from the predominance of evil passions, from the sugar of sin as well as its gap; that with self-loathing, deep contrition, earnest heart searching I may come to Thee, cast myself on Thee, trust in Thee, cry to Thee, be delivered by Thee.O God, the Eternal All, help me to know that all things are shadows, but Thou art substance, all things are quicksands, but Thou art mountain, all things are shifting, but Thou art anchor, all things are ignorance, but Thou art wisdom.
If my life is to be a crucible amid burning heat, so be it, but do Thou sit at the furnace mouth to watch the ore that nothing be lost. If I sin wilfully, grievously, tormentedly, in grace take away my mourning and give me music; remove my sackcloth and clothe me with beauty; still my sighs and fill my mouth with song, then give me summer weather as a Christian.
Where do ministers get their fellowship?
Several of us are away at our Summer Wives conference and having, I trust, a happy time: Carolyn Ash preaching from the psalms, I'm doing Numbers. Rachel is doing the organising and, wonder of wonders, Mrs R is here too, part of the leadership team. Conferences like this are an important part of the pastoral care of a ministers wife; likewise our ministers conference serve a similar purpose for men. Here is a chance to spend time with those who are also in the unique ministry position that those who are not find very hard to understand. I suggested in my talk today, for example, that ministers and their wives are quite possibly most at risk of neglecting the gospel in the church. That will surprise many church members.
But it also needs to be said that the ministers primary fellowship, and that of his wife, needs to be in the church itself. The church is the thing in God's purposes and the minister or wife who seeks all his/her fellowship outside the church is cutting against the grain of God's economy. It requires wisdom and careful thinking of course, to make it work, but it must be the THE place where we find our solace and help. That's how God's made things. Roll with it.
An important pastoral reality
We heard sad news this weekend from the family of one man who attended the EMA and a good friend to us – his youngest daughter was killed in a car accident aged just 18. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family. It also is a timely reminder of an important pastoral reality – you can't pastor your people through a tragedy unless you have pastored them before it. I don't mean that you need to know someone in your church in order to be able to minister to them when crises hit. I mean, rather, that the unshakeable attributes of God which provide our ultimate comfort in the darkest days need to be learnt beforehand. Then, when the darkness hits, they are laid hold of by faith. But you cannot say to a grieving family, say, 'let me tell you about God's sovereignty' or 'let me tell you about God's goodness.' These are truths we need to teach our people so that they are prepared for the dark days. The crises may reinforce, cement, secure the truths – but I don't think it is pastorally possible to start talking about them and applying them in the midst of the tragedy if you have not done so before. If our preaching in the good times does not prepare people for the rocky path ahead then we are no sort of pastor.