June 26, 2018
Exodus 3:7-8; 16-17
7 The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.
16 “Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. 17 And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—a land flowing with milk and honey.’
The Israelites faced in ancient Egypt, what we would today call a full blown humanitarian crisis. God heard their cries. He chose Moses as his spokesperson. Notice however, what God does not do in the face of a humanitarian crisis. God does not provide humanitarian aid. Instead, he provides divine deliverance.
It may sound wrong to say this, and to be sure it feels challenging to write it, but the answer to a humanitarian crisis is not humanitarian aid to alleviate suffering. The answer is divine deliverance from suffering into flourishing. O.K., before anyone picks up something to throw at me, hear me out. Am I saying humanitarian aid is out of order? Absolutely not. It is a thoroughgoingly good, essential, biblical, Christian human response. Humanitarian aid, however, is not a solution to a problem brought on by sin, darkness, death and evil. It is a mercy but not a solution.
Notice the way God re-asserts his vision for human flourishing.
So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey . . .
And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land . . . a land flowing with milk and honey.’
The vision is Eden, but not a nostalgic pining for the good old days and the way things used to be. This is about the New Eden, also known as the New Creation. The will of God is not to make human suffering more tolerable. It is to deliver all of Creation from evil into the Kingdom of God, on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Somewhere along the way over the last few complicated centuries the focus of the Christian faith shifted from “on Earth as it is in Heaven” to “leaving Earth in order to get to Heaven.” It behooves us to ask, “What on Earth is Heaven?” Heaven is the unabated, unadulterated, presence of God the place where human flourishing displaces human suffering. This is why God created the Earth as . . . a land flowing with milk and honey.’
So what does any of this have to do with prayer? As long as we think of prayer as a tactical practice or worse, a religious exercise, prayer will continue to be the thing we turn to when nothing else works. It will be our way of literally throwing up our hands and delegating the problem to God.
The answer is not more and more expressions of prayer or more singing. Neither is the answer more humanitarian aid. The answer is Divine deliverance via human agency. God willed to deliver the Israelites out of bondge and into flourishing, and he determined to do it through Moses. God did not choose Moses because Moses was praying. He came to Moses because Israel was praying, and he came to Moses because Moses was uniquely situated and divinely prepared to walk with God, as a co-regent and viceroy, and participate in the Spirit’s power to deliver God’s people from evil and suffering.
Clearly Moses wanted to delegate the problem. He would have been happy to lead a prayer campaign back at the ranch. I am the same way. I see prayer primarily as reverse delegation; a way of asking God to solve problems I either can’t solve or in which i don’t want to get overly involved. I say I’ll pray for you when I can’t really help you.
I’m coming to believe God’s response to this vision of prayer is, “Don’t bother. If you don’t want to get involved at the ground level of the Divine Deliverance movement called, ‘my Church,’ stop fooling yourself. Just get back to your Netflix.”
Prayer must take on a far more comprehensive structure in our lives and communities. Prayer, as vision, opens a way of participation in the supernatural vision of God for human flourishing. Prayer, as mission, unites us into a place of unified agreement, together with God, around his mission in the world. Prayer, as strategy, coalesces all manner of grace gifts and spiritual discernment to bind evil, spy out the giants in the land, move mountains, and reclaim territory. And prayer, as tactical engagement, becomes a way of walking around in the work-a-day world as bearers of the presence of Jesus, doing both mighty and mundane things in his name, every single day.
I have always been drawn to this mystical yet practical thought about prayer by the late Thomas Merton. Let’s give him the last word today:
If our prayer is the expression of a deep and grace-inspired desire for newness of life–and not the mere blind attachment to what has always been familiar and “safe”–God will act in us and through us to renew the Church by preparing, in prayer, what we cannot yet imagine or understand. —Thomas Merton
Lord Jesus, you are right here, right now. Open my heart, mind, spirit and my physical body to be stretched beyond my very limited understanding of what I think prayer is. I can be so attached to what is predictable and safe. I’m tired of that. I am ready for a new and living way. That way is you. I just know it. Right here, Jesus. Right now, Jesus. Amen.
- Are you willing to tolerate the frustration brought on by this series on prayer or are you ready to quit? Be honest.
- Where might you have a “blind attachment to what has always been familiar and “safe” as it relates to prayer? Honestly ask yourself, “Am I willing to broken out of that way?” Be honest.
- Are you willing to dig in at a deeper level into what the Holy Spirit may want to teach you in the coming days? It’s ok, if not; it may not be the time right now. Just be honest.
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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. firstname.lastname@example.org.