will of God

O God, Restore Us!

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By Linda Rex

December 19, 2021, ADVENT | Love— As I put out my nativity set in my living room each year, I hide the baby Jesus away for the miracle of Christmas morning. The shepherd watches from a safe distance, and the wise men with their camel are hidden back on a shelf temporarily until closer to that day. On that sacred evening we celebrate on Christmas Eve, I bring out the baby Jesus and pause with wonder at the miracle of this special event. The shepherd draws near to worship and the wise men on their journey come closer, seeking this chosen One.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be in relationship with this God who would go to such incredible effort to draw every human being to himself in the miracle of the incarnation. I personally know the anguish and struggle that go with giving birth to a firstborn son, and the incredible joy and wonder which result when holding him in my arms for the first time. How could this marvelous bundle of possibilities have ended up in my arms? What does God have in mind for his life? How much more amazing must it have been for Mary to consider the wonder of being chosen to bear the Messiah!

But there is an undercurrent to this marvelous story which I believe is important to understand, and it goes along with this theme of being in relationship with God. And it is this: Jesus came because it was the will of God that he do so. He came because it is the nature of God to love and care for those he has created and brought into relationship with himself. The divine Son came willingly, and obediently, as an expression of God’s covenant love and faithfulness. The Son of God knew the Father in the Spirit, and trusted fully in his love—so he freely offered himself in obedience to the will of his Father.

My heart is heavy right now with all I see going on in my world. We are experiencing the consequences of our continual choices to do things our own way—to decide for ourselves how we will live and how we will treat one another and this world we all live on. I am broken by the way we live and the consequences of our choices. And it breaks my heart to think about what our children and grandchildren will be having to deal with when my generation has passed from the scene. What a price we pay for doing things our own way!

I often hear this time of year that the reason Jesus came was to die on the cross. In one way, I agree with this, but in another, I feel as though it truncates what Jesus actually came to do. The author of Hebrews wrote, “Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, ‘Sacrifice and offering you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in whole burnt offerings and’ sacrifices ‘for sin you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, “Behold, I have come (in the scroll of the book it is written of me) to do your will, O God.” ’ … By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:57, 10 NASB)

I believe the Scriptures teach us that Jesus came to bring us into right relationship with God and subsequently with one another. Doing so required so much more than simply dying on the cross. It also involved being conceived in the womb of a woman, being a babe in her arms, growing up as a child into adulthood, and learning a trade at the feet of his father. Jesus experienced all of the everyday activities of our human life in a human body, being tempted in every point, but without sin. The forging of our true humanity occurred throughout his life, from birth even to death and on into the resurrection and ascension. In his human existence on this earth, Jesus “learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation, … (Heb. 5:8–9 NASB).”

The song “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” comes to mind as I am writing this. In this hymn which expresses our deep longing for our redemption and salvation, I hear echoed our longing for this transformation of our human existence:

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high
And order all things, far and nigh
To us the path of knowledge show
And cause us in her ways to go

O come, Desire of nations bind
All peoples in one heart and mind
Bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel

(Latin Hymn, Translated by John M. Neale and Henry S. Coffin; Adapted from Plainsong by Thomas Helmore)

We also need to attend to the reality that there was a substantial difference between the responses of the two representative females in God’s story: Eve did not believe God, and ate of the tree she was told not to eat of, while Mary believed God’s word to her through the angel Gabriel and told God to do with her as he wished. In Eve, disbelief resulted in disobedience and all of the subsequent result of that as sin and death entered our human existence. In Mary’s belief and obedience, we find the life-giving God enters into our death- and sin-bound human existence in the person of Jesus Christ and restores our true humanity in his life, death, resurrection and ascension—making possible our right relationship with the Triune God now and forever in the gift of his Son and his heavenly Spirit.

What if we willingly surrendered our independence, our preferences, and our expectations to the God who came to us to bring us into right relationship with himself? What if we, like Mary, believed that God was good and loving, that he was faithful and trustworthy, and that he sought what was best for us? What if we actually said to God each day and in each moment, “Do with me as you wish”? What if we indeed brought every thought captive to the will of God in Christ (2 Cor. 10:5)?

The good news is that this is the very reason Jesus came. Jesus took our stubborn willfulness and turned us back toward obedience to the Father—even to the point of death on the cross. Jesus bore the suffering and agony of our rejection and resistance to God upon himself, took it to the grave, and emerged offering us new life in himself. As the apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come (2 Cor. 5:16–17 NASB).”

What a lovely reason for the season! All that is left for us is to respond to Christ’s gift in faith, being filled with the Spirit and pouring out our gratitude in praise like Elizabeth, Mary, and Zacharias—all participants in this miraculous event. What we could not and would not do, Jesus did in our place and on our behalf. Such great love expressed to us by God above! We humbly receive with open hands and hearts, and respond with gratitude, saying, “Lord, let it be to me according to your word.” Your life, Jesus, for my life. Thank you, Lord!

“O God of hosts, restore us and cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved.”      Psalm 80:7 NASB

“Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice and said, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.’”     Luke 1:39–45 NASB

Prayer as Participation

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By Linda Rex

Last night I watched one of the episodes of “A.D.” in which the disciples were gathered together praying on Pentecost. The movie showed them repeating over and over the words of the prayer Jesus gave them.

I found this quite disturbing because I have a really hard time believing after walking and talking with Jesus for three years they had nothing else to say to God other than this. Surely they witnessed many conversations between Jesus and his heavenly Father. And the intimacy in that relationship could not have been hidden from them, especially when Jesus spoke about how the Father was in him and he was in the Father.

Inherent within this prayer though is the one lesson Jesus taught his disciples over and over: The kingdom of God was not going to be the kingdom they expected it to be. In other words, the kingdom to come would not be a restoration of the human kingdom of Israel, but rather a kingdom formed without hands—God’s kingdom of heaven established on earth through the Messiah Jesus, an eternal kingdom of divine rule, of God’s will being done, in every part of our human existence.

Sometimes when it is hard to find anything to say to God, it is helpful to be able to recite a prayer from memory. This is why these written prayers, or the prayers given to us in the Bible, are helpful. They provide a way for us to reach out to God in some way, even when our hearts are resisting the relationship.

In truth, prayer is an integral part of our relationship with God. Praying, in whatever form it may take, is our conversation with God. It can be as natural as breathing, as we go through our day and include God in every moment. It can be a spiritual discipline, being expressed in many forms both privately and publically, in which we take our concerns to God and intercede on behalf of others.

But in prayer, we must always remember the direction Jesus gave us—it is God’s kingdom and God’s will we seek to be done here on earth. In other words, we release our personal expectations and desires and allow God to do whatever he believes is best in the situation we are praying about.

God has a lot of unique ways in which he deals with problems. We tend to take a pretty direct approach, asking God to fix things and fix people. But often instead of changing the thing we think needs to be changed in a situation, God opts to change something completely different. And in doing so, he succeeds in bringing about what really matters—the transformation of human hearts and the restoration of relationships.

God’s heart is expressed through and in loving relationships. It is his nature to build, heal and restore. Sometimes God will tear something down so he can build it up again in a new way, or so he can build something entirely different. His wisdom surpasses us so much—we need to trust him to do the right and loving thing in every situation. We need to believe that he is indeed good and that his heart is full of everlasting love and grace for us.

The main thing that the disciples were doing that day of Pentecost was waiting. They were waiting on God, on Jesus to send the Holy Spirit from the Father. Their participation in what God was doing through Jesus was prayer. They prayed and they waited. When the Holy Spirit came and Jesus began to give them direction, then they acted.

Because they were living and walking in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the empowering, transforming Holy Spirit was made evident in a dramatic way whenever the disciples prayed. Their prayers were effective as they were prayed in accordance with the will and purposes of God. They prayed as Jesus directed them to pray and as they were led by the Holy Spirit to pray. So when they prayed, awesome things happened.

When we pray today in agreement with God through Jesus and in the Spirit, things happen—God works in new ways. Through prayer, we participate in God’s work in the world. We are included in his missionary work of bringing his kingdom to earth and accomplishing his will in the world. May we each be diligent in prayer, participating by the Spirit in Jesus’ perfect relationship with the Father, and seeking God’s will to be done in all things through Jesus our Lord and by his Spirit. Amen.

“Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.]’” Mt 6:9–13 NASB