Thursday, August 17, 2017

a good word

(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for today: Psalm 20 & 21
There is no denying the power of words. Jesus Christ is the Word of God (1).
By words, God both created and continues to sustain this world (2). But this is not our topic today.
There is also no denying the emphasis that the Bible places on controlling the words we do say.
David gave to us this advice: "Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies (3)." There are scores of similar such commands. But this is not today's topic either.
Instead, we are going to focus on "a good word" instead. We want to talk about benedictions, something that has been neglected by us of the Protestant tradition. (Most likely as an over-reaction to their constant use in the Catholic/Orthodox traditions.)  A benediction is simply a brief prayer of blessing. It comes from the Latin word "to speak well." It often has repeated uses of the word "may." If you attend a more liturgical church, you will find the liturgy full of them.
Psalm 20 starts with a lengthy benediction. May the LORD:
- answer
- protect
- send help
- grant support
- remember
- accept
- give
Now that's a prayer! Benedictions are all over the Bible.
In Genesis, the blessings given by Isaac, and later Jacob, are benedictions (3).
We see them often in the Psalms (4).
They are peppered throughout the writings of the Apostle Paul as well, with prayers such as "May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love or God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (5)."
Benedictions can be an excellent help for your prayer life.
But I also know that for me, and for many others, the last thing we want our prayers to become is formulaic. I know that I am in trouble whenever I can pray by autopilot- without really engaging my heart or mind. When I was 16 years old, I was amazed to know for the first time, that God wanted to hear my honest and heart-felt prayers, not just repeating the Our Father over and over. I was grateful to find out that there were no formulas or certain words that had to be said in a certain way. I learned that prayer was available for even me.
And so at first I rejoiced in this new found spontaneity- I could talk to God any time all the time about anything! For a few years this is how I prayed, and I still look back on those days fondly. But there came a point when I realized that even my best attempts to be spontaneous sounded a lot like the same thing I prayed yesterday. After all, we remain creatures of habit. It became frustrating to me when it seemed like my prayers were not much different than how a 5 year old prays: "bless Timmy and bless Tommy and bless Cindy and bless Sally..."
This tension continued until I came to realize that the tyranny of the "new" was just as crippling as the tyranny of the "same old same old." Neither way was helpful. Take this thought to the world of food. I would soon hate pizza if I had it every single meal, but if I only had pizza once and then had to cross it off my list, never to eat it again would be even worse. We want a mix of variety and regularity. The same applies to prayer, and that's where benedictions come in.
So often, I don't know how to pray for others, I don't know what to pray for my own family or even myself. I've grown weary of giving Almighty God my advice. Somehow sharing with Him two or three ways I think He can best work in a given situation seems ridiculous to me. So how then do I pray?
I can simply go back to the Word of God, and pray what has already been revealed to us. I head towards these classic benedictions, and lift up myself and others through them. This way, you can't go wrong! This way, you can pray for everyone-yourself and others, people you know well & people you don't know well, your best friends and even your enemies. Rather than stifle my prayer life, I have found these benedictions to reinvigorate it.
As I close a blog about benedictions, it is very appropriate to leave you with one, perhaps the best know one:
The LORD Bless you and Keep you
The LORD make His face Shine upon you
and be Gracious to you
The LORD Turn His face toward you
and Give you peace. (6)
(1) John 1:1
(2) 2 Peter 3:5; Hebrews 1:3
(3) see Genesis 27:28 and 48:15
(4) see Psalm 19:14, Psalm 67 & Psalm 90:14-16
(5) 2 Corinthians 13:14
(6) Numbers 6:24-26

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