“When we live in a world of violence long enough, it is easy to adopt violent means ourselves, especially when we know that our cause is righteous and the opposition is evil. Religious faith, especially when zealous, is no stranger to the exercise of violent force. And so St. John, having set down his counsel to endure, yokes it with a warning to not defect into violence. That would be just as bad as defecting into cowardly compliance. Had not Jesus, in as violent a scene as any of us will find ourselves, said, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword’? (Matt. 26:52). Killing the opposition is the sea beast’s [Revelation 13:1-10] way of solving its problems. It is not ours. Our is endurance and faith.
“This combination, endurance and faith, is not dumb passivity … The Christ-followers had learned something profound about sacrifice and death: endurance and faith are aggressive forces in the battle raging between God and the devil. It requires high energy to meet the sword with willed suffering, with embraced sacrifice.”
“And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.” (Revelation 8:3-5)
Everyday God’s people are doing mighty things in and for the world: They pray.
God hears and gathers their prayers, fashions these into a thunderbolt, and strikes the earth with it.
The earth shakes. Lives are changed, the sick are healed, blind eyes are opened, lepers are cleansed, the prisoners are set free, the hungry are fed, and the poor are enriched. Storms are stilled, light shines in the darkness, life bursts forth from the tombs, and dead bones now live!
“Prayer reenters history with incalculable effect. Our earth is shaken daily by it.” (Eugene Peterson)
“Following Jesus is not a skill we acquire so that we can be useful to the kingdom (the Essene way). Following Jesus is not a privilege we are let into so that the kingdom can be useful to us (the Caiaphas way). It is obedience (‘my Lord!’). And it is worship (‘my God!’).”
– Eugene Peterson, THE JESUS WAY, p. 242
There are those who follow Christ in order to get blessings from God. Of course, they stop following once tragedy strikes or the blessing doesn’t arrive as expected.
Then there are those who adopt a managerial approach to following Christ. Their goal is to become productive and successful in the Christian life. So they focus on discipleship trainings, various church programs and activities, and formulas and strategies on how to pray so as to get your prayers answered, how to be victorious in this or that area of your life, how to study the Bible for maximum profit, etc. Results are what is important and finding and utilizing the right spiritual techniques is the key to getting results.
Then there’s the Jesus way, which is simply following where Jesus leads without overthinking and over-managing it. Peterson says, “When Jesus says, ‘Follow me’ and we follow, we don’t know where we will go next or what we will do next. That is why we follow the one who does know.”
But Jesus himself says it best:
“The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29)
My conviction is that the pastor must refuse to be shaped by the culture, whether secular or ecclesiastical, and insist on becoming a person of prayer in the community of worship. This is our assigned task; anything less or other is malpractice.
Idols are non-gods and as such are much more congenial to us than God, for we not only have the pleasure of making them, using our wonderful imaginations and skills in creative ways, but also of controlling them. They are gods with all the God taken out so that we can continue to be our own gods… It is no wonder that idol-making and idol-worshiping have always been the most popular religious game in town.
And because it is so satisfying to us, it is difficult to see why there is anything so very wrong with it.
– Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Place, p. 254
A person has to be thoroughly disgusted with the way things are to find the motivation to set out on the Christian way… A person has to get fed up with the ways of the world before he, before she, acquires an appetite for the world of grace.
– Eugene H. Peterson, Living the Message, Reflection for January 13
What are words for? Here’s Eugene Peterson’s take:
The gift of words is for communion… the only words that matter are words of communion. What is distressing is to find out how infrequently they are used… That makes it urgent that the Christian becomes a specialist in words of communion.
– Eugene H. Peterson, Living the Message, meditation for January 9