Compare and contrast

1 Chronicles 16:23On Christian meditation

Specimen 1:

Sit down. Sit still with your back straight. Close your eyes lightly. Then interiorly, silently begin to recite a single word – a prayer word or mantra. We recommend the ancient Christian prayer-word “Maranatha”. Say it as four equal syllables. Breathe normally and give your full attention to the word as you say it, silently, gently, faithfully and above all – simply. The essence of meditation is simplicity. Stay with the same word during the whole meditation and from day to day. Don’t visualise but listento the word as you say it. Let go of all thoughts (even good thoughts), images and other words. Don’t fight your distractions but let them go by saying your word faithfully, gently and attentively and returning to it immediately that you realise you have stopped saying or it or when your attention is wandering.

Silence means letting go of thoughts. Stillness means letting go of desire. Simplicity means letting go of self-analysis.

Meditate twice a day every day. This daily practice may take you sometime to develop. Be patient. When you give up start again. You will find that a weekly meditation group and a connection with a community may help you develop this discipline and allow the benefits and fruits of meditation to pervade your mind and every aspect of your life in ways that will teach and delight you. John Main said that ‘meditation verifies the truths of your faith in your own experience’

Meditation has the capacity to open up the common ground between all cultures and faiths today. What makes meditation Christian? Firstly the faith with which you meditate – some sense of personal connection with Jesus. Then the historical scriptural and theological tradition in which we meditate.

Also, the sense of community it leads to: ‘when two or three pray together in my name, I am there among them.’ And the other means by which our spiritual life is nourished – the other forms of prayer like scripture, sacraments and worship. Meditation does not replace other forms of prayer. Quite the reverse it revives their meaning. (‘What Is Meditation’ from The World Community for Christian Meditation.)

Specimen 2:

To meditation there belong the diligent and attentive search into Scripture, the study of the languages in which the Old and New Testaments were written, the reading of interpreters, engaging in debates, and other aids listed in their own place. (Johann Gerhard, On the Nature of Theology and on Scripture (CPH: 2009), p. 24.)

Healthy Church Growth

… or how to shrink your church.

This blog post by Tim Suttle on Huffington Post has spread like wildfire amongst my Facebook friends—and quite right, too! I would not phrase everything quite the same way, but the basic point is spot-on:

The church’s task is to be faithful, not to grow—to be, not to do. That’s frequently not a recipe for success in terms we normally recognise: numerical expansion, popularity, wealth. But it comes with far greater rewards: the crown of life!

Here are a couple of extracts:

Success is a slippery subject when it comes to the Church. That our ultimate picture of success is a crucified Messiah means any conversation about success will be incompatible with a “bigger is better” mentality. Yet, bigger and better is exactly what most churches seem to be pursuing these days: a pursuit which typically comes in the form of sentimentality and pragmatism.

The fundamental problem with the one-two punch of sentimentality and pragmatism is, of course, the church’s job is not to affirm people’s lives, but to allow the gospel to continually call our lives into question. The church’s job is not to grow — not even to survive. The church’s job is to die — continually — on behalf of the world, believing that with every death there is a resurrection. God’s part is to grow whatever God wishes to grow. Growing a church isn’t hard … being faithful as the church, that’s a different story.

And the closing prayer:

So, God save us from the successful church. Give us churches who shun sentimentality and pragmatism and aren’t afraid to face the inevitable shrinkage which comes as a result of following Jesus. God save us from church leadership strategies. After all, it takes zero faith to follow a strategy, but incredible faith to pursue the kingdom of God and leave the rest in God’s hands. If I’ve learned anything as a pastor, it is this: faithfulness flies in the face of sentimentality and pragmatism, and if you pursue it you have to expect small numbers.

Amen and amen!

Read the whole thing here.

HT: Juha Santala et al.

A Prayer of the Teacher of a Congregation

Praying HandsLord Jesus Christ, Shepherd of souls, You are highly to be praised! How could I praise you for the inestimable grace and love you have shown me, a poor sinner. You have not only made me a member of Your church and congregation, but You have also installed me in the noble and precious work as Your servant in the wonderful office of the Gospel and as a steward of God’s mysteries. What could be more wonderful than to be saved by pure grace and then proclaim salvation to others—salvation, which You, O Lord Jesus, have purchased for poor sinners?

But though my office is great and wonderful, it also comes with responsibility. It requires a true shepherd’s mind, which is concerned with Your glory and the eternal good of souls purchased at a great price. I do not have such a mind of myself, and no effort of mine will be able to produce it; I need to receive it from You, O Jesus. You need to clothe me with power from on high. You need to equip me with the characteristics required for my calling. Lord Jesus, give me therefore what I need for my noble office.

O grant me both love and faithfulness, humility and strength, wisdom and understanding, endurance and patience. Pour out your love into my empty and cold heart in order that I may be able to love You again and to show Your love by caring for Your sheep and lambs, which You, Lord Jesus, have preciously ransomed. Grant that I show faithfulness in this task by feeding Your flock according to Your will with the word of eternal life and by looking
after it, not for shameful gain but out of love for You. And when danger approaches in the form of false and misleading doctrines, grant that I be alert and gird Your congregation with the protective belt of godly truth.

But in all this, preserve in me a humble mind, which seeks in all things only Your glory and the advance of Your kingdom. Always remind me that without You I am “an unworthy servant”, who know and understands nothing. Give me a deeper sense of my spiritual poverty and the great misery of my sin. Help me also to show humility in my outward relations with my neighbours, not taking the part of a lord but that of a servant. But grant that there is also strength in my humility, that I am always mindful that I am in Your presence and about Your business. If, therefore, I need to present truths which are not so pleasant to speak or to hear, let not embarrassment or the fear of people tie my tongue. Rather, give me the grace in Christian humility to speak as Your servant what You want to be spoken through me, so that I wouldn’t be “a mute dog on the walls of Zion” (Isa. 56:10), but a fearless witness of the truth who  proclaims all your truths without regard for persons, be those truths punishing or comforting. Grant that I always remember that I am a watchman on the walls of Zion and that, therefore, my responsibility is to proclaim equally publicly that the godless must die on account of his sins and that the repentant may live on account of your merit. In short: give me grace to preach in accordance with Your will repentance towards God and faith in You, O highly praised Lord Jesus Christ. Grant me also wisdom and understanding to present your truths in the right manner in love, that I would not diminish their good effects and power with foolish zeal. Lord Jesus, allow the Christian “innocence of the dove” be united in the most excellent way with the Christian “wisdom of the serpent” (Matt. 10:16), so that I would not harm but advance the matter that I want to defend. Besides which, give me endurance and patience, that I do not become downcast by opposition, angered by persecution, or worn out by sorrow. If I do not get to see the fruit of my work immediately, grant that I nevertheless endure; the time of fruits,too, will come for me. Even if I am to sow the precious seed in tears, I will one day reap with joy (Ps. 126:5). Help me. Lord Jesus, to be diligent and tireless until then, because in You my work is never in vain. Grant me grace that I take up every opportunities in which to sow the seed of Your holy word. And if I sometimes tire, which happens easily enough, then come and give strength to the weary and sufficient power to the powerless. When I am sorrowful, gladden me, O Jesus, with Your love. When the world gives me angry looks, refresh me with Your friendly countenance. Spare me, O Jesus, from the wearisome burden of livelihood. “give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is  needful for me” (Prov. 30:8). Protect me from the spirit of greed and all other sins, and grant that by your grace I may bring my life and conversation to perfect harmony with the doctrine I preach. And at the last, O Jesus, grant to Your wearied servant at the end of his life a place in heaven among Your elect ones. Crown me at Your coming with the imperishable crown of glory for Your own sake. Hear, Lord Jesus, the prayer of your unworthy servant for the sake of Your grace and Your promise. Amen.

From Johannes Bäck, A Sojourner’s Home Life. Translated from the 1947 Finnish edition.

Translation: Creative Commons License
This work by Tapani Simojoki is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Beauty, not relevance

Cary, Good News for Anxious Christians

“Relevant” is another word to put in scare quotes when talking about sermons. For just as I think “practical” sermons do little practical good, I think the attempt to make the gospel “relevant” is irrelevant to someone who knows Christ. It’s boring, because it’s about an imaginary Christ designed for those who define themselves in consumerist terms. It doesn’t make much of an impression on those who are learning to understand themselves in light of the gospel’s account of who Christ really is.

The alternative to demanding “relevance” is the willingness to learn. It’s like when you really start to get a new kind of music, maybe classical or jazz, that at first seemed boring or intimidating or irrelevant. When you begin to see the beauty and power in it, you stop asking how it’s relevant to your life. Instead, you acquire a new ability to hear, new powers of perception, as you begin to understand more clearly what’s really there. Learning to perceive this reality enhances your life, makes you a richer person with a deeper understanding of the world. Similarly, the Holy Spirit teaches us to understand the gospel like a kind of divine music, not making Christ relevant to our lives, but reshaping our lives so taht we perceive the beauty of Christ, which captivates our hearts.

The underlying concept here is not relevance but beauty. If you’re a preacher or teacher, you don’t need to do anything to make beautiful things relevant to us. They wouldn’t be beautiful unless they already had the power to move our hearts, stirring us up to love. And from love comes eagerness and diligence in the works of love —all the things that sermons telling us what to do can’t give us.

Phillip Cary, Good News for Anxious Christians: 10 Pracitcal Things You Don’t Have to Do (Brazos, 2010), p. 164.

If you’re a young Christian, read this book. If you deal with young Christians, read this book. If you live and work in contact with any form of modern evangelicalism, read this book.