Thursday, August 5, 2010

Prayer and the New Creation: An Eschatological Event

For those who were not able to attend the prayer service last night, I am including the homily I gave on prayer and the breakdown of the service itself. The homily is based on Psalm 104 and Colossians 3.1-4; 4.2.

In his primer on prayer titled A Method for Prayer, Matthew Henry states that, "Prayer is a principal branch of religious worship, which we are moved to by the very light of nature, and obliged to by some of its fundamental laws," (p. 11). By this, Henry means that by the very fact of our being created by God, there is a natural obligation for mankind to acknowledge the creator. For when we do not, we live as though God is not real. Since we have been created, we are the lesser creature, and therefore, we should acknowledge the one who is greater than we. Prayer, then, would seem to have its starting point grounded upon creation—God as the creator and man as the creature.

Although Henry refers to the Greek philosopher Pythagoras for this understanding of prayer, it is certainly true that the Bible teaches it as well. The Bible is replete with calls to pray unto God because he is the Creator and because of his grand work of creation. One psalm in particular, Psalm 104, is an entire psalm built on this theme to render blessing unto Yahweh because of his majesty, which is demonstrated in his work of creation. To "bless" Yahweh as the creator is to praise or salute him. This verb in the Hebrew is also associated with kneeling. In essence, the word in its action of verbal declaration, as well as, through the mental picture of kneeling, speaks in its most basic meaning of prayer. We are to pray unto God as an expression of our recognition of and dependence upon him as our majestic creator.

And yet, as you read through the psalm, one comes across a most interesting expression of the "creative" power of God, and that is his power to bring to an end what he has begun. In verse 29 we are told, after 28 verses describing God's constructive creative activity that God, that when God turns away his face his creation is dismayed, alarmed terrified. Why? Because when God turns away from his creation, life is lost and returns to the dust. The point: we stand or fall according to the will of God—creation only continues as long as God sustains it by his power. Part of God's creative power rests in his power to bring death.

And yet, this death that God can bring is not the final note of this melancholic turn in psalm, for as soon as death is said to reside in his power, so also is life! Only this time in verse 30 it is renewed life that is the result of God sending forth his Spirit! Creation that dies is a creation that can be renewed! Old creation can become New Creation through the sovereign, creative power of God working through his Spirit. Death leading to life through the Spirit!

The old creation, then points us ahead to a new creation. God's work of creation in the first points us ahead to a second work of creation. The covenant Lord will create again and anew in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ who is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation. He is before all things and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of his church, the firstborn from the dead that in everything—in the old creation or the new creation—he might be preeminent. For through the one in whom all the fullness of God dwelled, he has been pleased to reconcile all things to himself, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

In Christ, death becomes life! It is in Jesus Christ that God accomplishes this drama of redemption. For in him, you who were once alienated and hostile in your minds, doing evil deeds, have been saved in order that he might present you holy and blameless. In Christ, you go from death (old creation) to life (new creation).

In Jesus Christ, our lives are now defined by his life as we enter in to his life by faith. By his resurrection, He is the firstborn of the new creation. As he is the firstborn of the new creation, He is the exalted one who has ascended to the right hand of God to ever dwell in his presence and enjoy his eternal fellowship. And he is the head of his church—he is not the only one exalted to God's right hand and God's fellowship—he is the first one and the preeminent one—but he is not the only one. For those who rest upon and receive Jesus as he is offered to us in this grand story of redemption also share in his resurrection and ascension!

This is what we just heard moments ago when we read from Colossians 3. This participation in Christ's death, resurrection and ascension is the conclusion of all that Paul has been saying in Colossians up to this point. You who are of faith have been (already accomplished) raised with Christ! And raised where? To where Christ is seated, which is at the right hand of God in the heavenly places!

This participation with Christ in his resurrection from the dead and ascension to God's right hand in glory is what now defines you who have trusted in Christ, so much so, so utterly so, that Paul's says your life is now hidden with Christ in God. His life is your life—his story is your story.

And so, Paul calls us to understand our lives in light of sharing in Christ's life so that we might know how to live out our new creation lives. Notice that Paul commands us in light of our new identities to seek the things above—to understand ourselves and the world from the perspective of heaven. We are to have heavenly glasses through which we see God, Christ, ourselves and the world, rather than viewing these things through the lenses of earth.

And one of the specific applications by which we live our new creation lives looking at things through our new heavenly glasses is prayer. Chapter four verse two opens with this command: "Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving." As the commands of scripture are always grounded first in what God has accomplished for us in Christ, it is important to note that this command in 4.2 is grounded in what was said back in 3.1-4. As our prayers are certainly to be offered unto God because he is our Creator Lord, we learn here that our prayers are also to be offered in light of the new creation in our Lord Jesus Christ. Praying, then, is an eschatological act that is an expression of our new eschatological lives. Praying is a function of the new creation, and therefore, it is to be perfumed with the aroma of heaven as we pray. And though we pray about the cares and concerns of our lives and our faith in this world—the prayers we are to offer are certainly not of this world. Rather, our prayers are to be shaped by the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth, for you have died and now are one who lives in the new creation with your life hidden with Christ in God. You have been raised with Christ and seated with him in the heavenly places at the right hand of God. So pray with the joy and thanksgiving of one who has entered into heaven—who is there and not here. Do you realize that as Christ is there praying as one who possess all the blessings of the heavenly places, and as those in the heavenly places with him, when you pray according to God's will, you are praying for things that are already yours in Christ?!

Prayer, then, as it is now grounded upon the new creation, is not only an expression of our recognition of and dependence upon him as our majestic creator who has the power of life and death; it is a participation in his majestic resurrection life, a participation in his glorious power and might that he used in raising Jesus from the dead; prayer is a participation in his heavenly prayers. So, as those raised with Christ to the new creation, seek the things that are above as you continue steadfastly in prayer in the power of and from the perspective of the new creation.

For the prayer service:

Adoration                                          Psalm 104A
Confession                                         Psalm 102A
Thanksgiving                                      Psalm 116A
Supplication                                       Psalm 90C
Concluding Doxological Praise           Psalm 106.47-48 (tune: All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name)
Save us, O LORD, our gracious God,
From heathen lands reclaim,
That we may glory in Thy praise
And thank Thy holy name.
That we may glory in Thy praise
And thank Thy holy name.

The LORD be blessed, yes, Isr'el's God, through all eternity.
Let all the people say, "Amen."
Praise to the LORD give ye.
Let all the people say, "Amen."
Praise to the LORD give ye.

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