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Benchmarks | Prayer

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.
— Ephesians 6:18

I have never been content with my prayer life. 

Please note, I say content. I do pray, and often too – as I hope you might as well. It's a sense of not being satisfied with this simple-yet-complex devotional discipline that I am writing about here though. There's something about it that just always leaves me feeling like I haven't got there yet.

When I read what Paul writes here to the Ephesian church in this Benchmark, it can seem like a big ask, but for Paul it's meant to be the most normal thing in the whole world. Let me explain:

Paul has grown up in a culture where the presence of God was found in a special room within a temple. This temple was the temple found in Jerusalem, and in the temple was a room called the Holy of Holies – a room behind a curtain, where access was strictly forbidden to only the cleanest-of-clean, the highest priest on the Day of Atonement.

Now, if you've read the story of Jesus before, you might remember that the moment he died on his cross, a curtain in the temple was torn – that curtain was this curtain. It's tearing symbolised that the presence of God was now no longer stuck in just this place, but was now bursting forth to be found with the new priests, in the new temples: God's Church, His people. (Read: Us.)

And so Paul, because this is what he thinks of when he thinks of this new place of God's Spirit, says that we are what that room in the temple used to be used for all the time: a place of God's presence.

The story of the scriptures tell us that we are the new royal priesthood, the people who are on the cutting edge of the Kingdom of God breaking into the world. ... Looking at that job-profile, I realise that we always have something to do and unfortunately we will never be fully satisfied this side of heaven. Prayer becomes one of the roads we live all of this out on.

Which brings me back to that feeling of being discontent. Being discontent about prayer is actually all about being discontent about something far bigger - our entire relationship with God and our place in His story. The story of the scriptures tell us that we are the new royal priesthood, the people who are on the cutting edge of the Kingdom of God breaking into the world. In this new thing God is doing, we are to be the people who are to intercede for others, to worship and glorify God, to do acts of justice in the world and to live holy and blameless lives. Looking at that job-profile, I realise that we always have something to do and unfortunately we will never be fully satisfied this side of heaven. Prayer becomes one of the roads we live all of this out on.

So how could you walk this road another step?

Well, there's something very simple you could do next time you notice something spring up around you. Maybe a friend reports to you a sickness, or another looks really tired. Maybe someone has a big decision to make, or someone else might be struggling with something. Another friend may have great news to celebrate. No matter what the scenario, here's seven words you could say that would sum up Paul's challenge in Ephesians 6:18:

"Can I pray for you, right now?"



Benchmarks | Joy

There are a bunch of moments in the Scriptures where authors are writing to new communities of faith, giving them some benchmarks to aim for as they live out following Jesus together. For this blog series we are taking some of these benchmarks and seeing what we can learn from them in our own journey.

Always be joyful.
— 1 Thes 5:16

A couple of nights ago, my sister-in-law and I teamed up to out-vote my health-conscious wife to have fish and chips for dinner. We walked to the takeaways shop to pick them up, and on the way back decided that we needed a bottle of soft drink to accompany the meal. It is tradition after all. I nipped into a convenience store to grab a bottle of Coca-Cola, and while I was waiting to pay for it I amused myself by reading the label:

“Open Happiness."

Sure. Like happiness is really a black fizzy drink, that if you over-consume, can have you at the dentist getting costly work done.

But, a few minutes later as we sat in the last of the summer sun on our deck, with the hot chips and a cool drink of that black-fizzy-happiness-juice, we were laughing and talking together. We were full of joy. Maybe it was because we had opened some happiness – or maybe it was because there was joy in each of us all along, and it took getting together around that table to bring it out.

Do you open happiness, or is happiness the opening of something bigger?

Here, in this letter to the Thessalonian followers of Jesus, Paul is telling them that to live in this new life is to be one of being full of joy. Read enough of Paul and you’ll see why he would say this. His message is continually the Good News that God's activity is near and is restoring the brokenness found in the world through Christ. Everyone is welcome to join in on this, entering what he calls “the new life". It’s a message of grace drenched hope, one that should make us content, and as a result, joyful.

Joy is different to happiness in so many ways and on so many levels; it's much harder to find than happiness, but once found, it’s a generous treasure that is hard to forget. The author Henri Nouwen put it this way: 

Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.

It seems joy – like so many of the fruits of the Spirit – is made in us by daily choosing it, making a thousand small Spirit-led choices to be joyful in what ever circumstance may show up. 

So what would a church that has chosen to make “joy” one of it’s benchmarks look like? I think it could change everything – if joy was the fuel, I could see a big fire. When we get together, joy would make us sing loud and serve gladly. It would make us celebrate treasured moments, and help us be content with the mundane ones. There would be a healthy motive for us to live out the hope that we could be to our city, with more zeal and self-sacrfice. We’d feel alive because we are completely aware that we are living a new life gift from Christ himself.

And so we choose to aim for this benchmark, and by God’s grace may we make it so that we can bring out the joy to be found in everything we put our hand to, opening happiness along the way.