Prayer and Fasting

Tomorrow is our annual day of prayer and fasting. Here at the beginning of a new year in the history of our congregation, we ask God for the continuing privilege of being a local expression of the body of Christ: “May we, Father, in this new year be guided by you and filled with your Spirit such that we will be fully pleasing to you in our corporate worship, in our love for one another, and in our making Christ known to those around us.”

Prayer
Here’s Paul A. Miller (A Praying Life, 2009) about how child-like faith (Mark 10:14-15) prays:

Jesus wants us to be without pretense when we come to him in prayer. The only way to come to God is by taking off any spiritual mask. The real you has to meet the real God. He is a person. Instead of being frozen by your self-preoccupation, talk with God about your worries. Tell him where you are weary. If you don’t begin with where you are, then where you are will sneak in the back door. Your mind will wander to where you are weary. We are often so busy and overwhelmed that when we slow down to pray, we don’t know where our hearts are. We don’t know what troubles us. So, oddly enough, we might have to worry before we pray. Then our prayers will make sense. They will be about our real lives. Your heart could be, and often is, askew. That’s okay. You have to begin with what is real. Jesus didn’t come for the righteous. He came for sinners. All of us qualify. The very things we try to get rid of — our weariness, our distractedness, our messiness — are what gets us in the front door! That’s how the gospel works. That’s how prayer works. In bringing your real self to Jesus, you give him the opportunity to work on the real you, and you will slowly change. The kingdom will come. You’ll end up less selfish.

Fasting
Here’s Donald S. Whitney (Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 1991) about how fasting strengthens prayer:

There’s something about fasting that sharpens the edge of our intercessions and gives passion to our supplications. So it has frequently been used by the people of God when there is a special urgency about the concerns they lift before the Father. When Ezra was about to lead a group of exiles back to Jerusalem, he proclaimed a fast in order for the people to seek the Lord earnestly for safe passage (Ezra 8:23). They were to face many dangers without military protection during their nine-hundred mile journey. This was no ordinary matter to be brought to God in prayer. The Bible does not teach that fasting is  kind of spiritual hunger strike that compels God to do our bidding. If we ask for something outside of God’s will, fasting does not cause him to reconsider. Fasting does not change God’s hearing so much as it changes our praying. God is always pleased to hear the prayers of his people. But he is also pleased when we choose to strengthen our prayers in a way he has ordained.

So tomorrow, with joy, let us thank God for past blessings and seek his initiatives through us for the future.

Originally posted on January 15, 2013.

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Annual Day of Prayer and Fasting and Psalm 127:1

Most years, on the occasion of our Annual Day of Prayer and Fasting, I find myself thinking about Psalm 127:1: “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain; unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.”

Apply the verse to our context, and you get something like this: Unless the LORD builds Trinity Fellowship, we serve in our church in vain. But, in fact, will the Lord build up Trinity Fellowship? Yes, he is a God who promises to give good gifts to those who ask. And so we implore the Lord that he would cause growth throughout the congregation, and that he would guide our church in this new year. May he deepen our faith, fill our worship with his Spirit and his truth, energize our mutual love, and make our witness compelling. Then our labors, as acts of cooperation with God, will not prove to be futile. When I speak of our labors, I’m thinking of all the various activities and relationships throughout the congregation, carried out by all of us, in accord with the energies and gifts he gives us.

Read on, and various commentators will aid your contemplation of Psalm 127:1.

Work and family were the two constitutive dimensions of ordinary life in Israel. Life was set in the social unit of the family and supported by work. But both involved a mysterious uncertainty: work and family were human endeavors, but human action was not ultimately determinative in them. Work did not always come to fruition; marriage did not always produce children. The psalm is grounded in fundamental trust in the providence of God as the decisive factor in all of human life. —James Luther Mays, 1994.

The poet proves that everything depends upon the blessing of God. His examples are taken from the God-ordained life of the family and of the state. These are things which depend upon the blessing of God, without natural preliminary conditions being able to guarantee them, well-devised arrangements to ensure them, unwearied labors to obtain them by force, or impatient care and murmuring to get them by defiance. —Franz Delitzsch, 1867 (translated by Francis Bolton).

Unless the good hand of God be upon us we cannot prosperously build a place of worship for his name. –Adam Clarke, early nineteenth century.

The two human activities of verse 1 are samples of a great area of life: its enterprises and its conflicts, the work of creating and of conserving. For each of them this verse sees only two possibilities: either it will be the Lord’s doing or it will be pointless; there is no third option. –Derek Kidner, 1973.

He is far from thinking that human care and labor, which are employed in the building of houses and keeping of cities, are to be regarded as useless. These are more especially useful and effective when the Lord himself is the builder and keeper. The Holy Spirit is not the patron of lazy and inert men. –Wolfgang Musculus, sixteenth century.

Theologically the psalm anticipates a Pauline emphasis upon “good works” within a context of faith over against mere “works” (Eph. 2:9-10). Labor is to be a matter of collaboration with God (1 Cor. 15:10, 58). Under the new covenant there is an even closer intertwining of the believer’s fortunes with his Lord, as Jesus reaffirmed, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). –Leslie C. Allen, 1983.

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The Structure of Luke 2:22-40

A. (2:22-24): Joseph and Mary go to Jerusalem in order to obey the Law of the Lord.

B. (2:25-27): Simeon, a devout man who was “waiting for the consolation of Israel” (v. 25). He comes “into the temple” (v. 27) at the time when the baby Jesus arrives.

C. (2:28-32): Simeon’s First Speech: A joyful prayer.

X. (2:33): And his father and mother were marveling….

C′. (2:34-35): Simeon’s Second Speech: A sober warning.

B′. (2:36-38): Anna, a devout woman who never departs “from the temple” (v. 37). She sees the baby Jesus and speaks of him to others who are “waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (v. 38).

A′. (2:39-40): Having obeyed the Law of the Lord, Joseph and Mary leave Jerusalem.

Why Luke 1:51-55 Should Be Translated With Future Tense Verbs

In his highly-regarded 1994 commentary, Darrell Bock argues that the verbs in Luke 1:51-55 should be translated with the English future tense. Although almost all English translations use the past tense in these verses, Bock references six other commentators who see a future reference here, and I find this position makes best sense of the passage.

The Greek grammar in these verses does not tell us whether the described events take place in the past or future (from Mary’s position in time, that is). The verb forms (aorist indicative) can be translated with either the English past tense or the English future tense (Wallace 1996, pp. 554-55, 563-64).*

Context is what tells us how to translate an aorist verb. Mary’s song responds to what the angel just told her about her coming baby — thus, Gabriel’s announcement is the key context. Gabriel spoke to Mary about the present and the future. He spoke to Mary about her present state of favor with God and about the future high status of her yet-to-be-born baby. Mary responds to each of these in turn. Thus, verses 46-50 correspond to verses 28-30 (Mary’s present favor), and verses 51-55 correspond to verses 31-35 (the baby’s future reign). Furthermore, note the following future-orientated phrases: “from now on” (v. 48), “from generation to generation” (v. 50), and “to Abraham and his offspring forever” (v. 55). Finally, Mary’s song parallels Zechariah’s prophecy in verses 67-79, a prediction of the future accomplishments of the Messiah. Here then is how I translate Luke 1:46-55:

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,  for he has looked upon the humble state of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One does great things for me – holy is his name.  His covenantal mercy extends from generation to generation to those who fear him.

He will most assuredly work powerfully with his arm; he will scatter those who are proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he will bring down the mighty from their thrones, and he will exalt those in a humble state; the hungry he will fill with good things, and the rich he will send away empty.  He will help Israel his servant, remembering his covenantal mercy ( just as he spoke to our fathers) to Abraham and to his offspring forever.

Mary speaks prophetically. She is joyfully certain that her promised son will bring about a perfect reign of justice and righteousness in Israel. Though she may not yet understand that “the offspring of Abraham” (v. 55) will include Gentiles, she does know that the essential characteristic of those who will experience this promised reign of righteousness are “those who fear the Lord” (v. 50). We today who are God-fearers and children of Abraham by faith experience the righteous reign of Mary’s son inside the church and we await its consummation when the Messiah returns. More on this in Sunday’s sermon!

Sources:
Darrell L. Bock, Luke 1:1 – 9:50. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, pages 154-156.
Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. Zondervan, 1996.

*The Greek aorist verb presents an occurrence in summary, viewed as a whole from the outside, without regard for the internal make-up of the occurrence (as opposed to a Greek present-tense verb, which presents an occurrence as an ongoing process). The aorist often corresponds to the English simple past tense, but not always. One use of the aorist verb is “the futuristic aorist.” The futuristic aorist describes an event that has not yet occurred, but it describes the event as though it were already completed, thus stressing the certainty of the event (as opposed to the Greek future tense which in itself does not indicate anything about completion one way or the other).

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One-Anothering On Sunday Morning

From Matt Merker’s excellent blog post this morning:

The New Testament describes singing as a corporate activity. A hallmark of those who are filled with the Holy Spirit is that they address “one another” in song (Ephesians 5:19). Why? Because singing is an avenue for Christian love.

You can read the whole thing here.

Merker mentions this post, which is also good on this theme.