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Archives for 114 – Prayer

praying_on_bible_redIn sharing some thoughts recently on Luke 10 it dawned on me that Jesus is telling us that there is something we need to be praying and I cannot say that I have heard it prayed more than a few times in my life.

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.

There it is. Not only did Jesus say they needed to “Go!” (the part we emphasize but still do infrequently), Jesus said they need to also ask God to send out workers. That is a very strange request because when I read that my first impression is, aren’t they they ones who are going? The very next word Jesus says is “Go!” so in a very real sense, yes, they are the ones who are going.

But maybe there is more to it than that. God has his hand in more things than we can ever realize. There are times in the Gospels and in Acts where the disciples run into people they had no idea existed who are doing the work of God. Where did those people come from? God humbles us in these stories to reminds us that we aren’t the only game in town. God reminds us that he will accomplish what he has set out to do with us or without us. We don’t know all that God is up to. It is easy to think the scope of his work is limited to what we are able to do ourselves. We know better…but still it holds true.

I want to encourage you to pray this prayer on a regular basis…to “ask the Lord of the harvest…to send out workers into his harvest field.” Maybe that prayer would spark growth in our churches. Maybe it would result in a renewed desire for planting churches. Either way…Jesus told us to pray it and we should pray it.

There are three reasons that come to mind as to why this is such an important prayer to pray regularly:

  1. The more you pray for the lost (preferably by name) the more you realize that it is foolish to keep praying for something to happen and continue to be unwilling to work on it yourself.
  2. God can and will send people in response to this prayer…why else tell us to pray it? Maybe the church across town grows from it…does it matter where the increase happens?
  3. Prayer changes culture. As our churches pray this on a regular basis people will begin to embrace it.

So there it is…the prayer Jesus told us to pray and I am afraid too few Christians are taking him up on it. Will you?

Keller-PrayerLast November, Tim Keller published another book on another much needed topic for Christians – prayer. His book Prayer: Experiencing Intimacy With God bears all the marks of typical Keller…thorough, Reformed and practical. I mean all three in the best possible way.

Sometimes thorough can be a problem where someone spends way too much time on a particular angle on things that you get bored. If you have read Keller’s work you know he has a style that manages to keep your attention while covering all the bases (even a few bases you didn’t know existed). Keller doesn’t just want you talking with God. He wants you encountering God. You can tell from his writing that he has personally experienced the difference. Have you? If not, give this book a read and see how it helps you discover the difference.

Keller operates out of the Reformed movement and leans heavily on Scripture and also on the works of men like Edwards and Calvin. Sometimes that gets to be too much in books like this but this book was different. This time, I felt like the pieces Keller chose to share where extremely helpful and gave insight into the prayer lives of these men that I haven’t spent a lot of time examining. Some of his best suggestions were things gleaned from what he has learned in the study of the spiritual giants of the past.

Keller doesn’t just want you to pray, he wants to encourage you to dive headlong into a vibrant relationship with the God of the universe. Doing so requires much more than reciting wrote scripts. It requires more than just being biblical. It ultimately involves the culmination of all of our being, drawn closer and deeper into relationship with the God of the universe.

All in all, Keller doesn’t just give you a few forms of prayer to try. He helps you understand why prayer is important and then lets the function of prayer flow out of that. In other words, since prayer is relational and transformational prayer must include things like repentance and self-evaluation. So he suggests things like meditating over scripture, say the 10 commandments, and allowing the outflow of that meditation to result in prayer. You would pray over the 10 commandments that you are currently struggling most with. That is just one example of many.

This was more than a how to on prayer. This book provides a why. Why is prayer important? Why does it matter that we pray to a God who already knows everything and whose will is already perfect? What difference can prayer actually make? Keller answers those questions in this book and he does so by pulling together the best scholarship and states it in a way that is accessible to the average Christian. Before you can answer the “how” questions, Keller answers the “why” questions and hones in on our heart’s desires (getting his cue from the work of James K.A. Smith and others).

What is more, he spends considerable time describing how Christians (particularly from the Reformation movement) of the past spent time in prayer and what lessons we can learn from the deeply spiritual people of the past. He also spends plenty of time in the Appendices giving ideas and outlines to help you be more consistent and effective in your every day prayer life.

At the end of the day prayer is transformational. It is redemptive, repentive and relational. In short, it is something we must invest ourselves into and give it enough time for a relationship to form and get all of the clutter out there and then out of the way. This book left me with a desire for a better prayer life through Keller’s teaching and the example of those who have gone before us. It is too easy to coast on autopilot and we often need encouragement to make adjustments in our walk.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is searching for a richer prayer life. It may be a little advanced for a new Christian but not overwhelmingly so with some guidance.

I would imagine that everyone reading this is able to finish that little prayer. I would also imagine, like so many things in our religious world, prayer is a place where we often differ. I have some friends who have used that prayer, as well as others, to teach their children how to pray. I also have other friends who think that you should never teach your children to pray a wrote, dead prayer. It seems to me that we can add prayer to our list of things that we are confused and disagree about.

My favorite gospel is the one written by Luke. I love the way that he includes Jesus’ interaction with women and the outcast. I love the little nuggets that he includes in his gospel, that give us a better insight to Jesus and His disciples. And I love that he included the fact that the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1). It gives me a bit of hope since I have often been confused and struggled with my prayer life.

Back in 2001 we were blessed with our first child, which was a seminal moment in my personal and in my spiritual life. As I struggled to relate to him and then to his brother, I learned an awful lot about God, prayer, and the way we communicate. It was through my kids that God taught me how to pray.

First I learned the power of presence. There is an old joke that preachers are lucky because we only have to work an hour a week (or 4 hours a week if you have to teach Bible class, two services on Sunday, and Wednesday night). Preachers hate that joke. I would not say that we are busier than people who work in other fields, but we have this ability to spiritualize everything we do. Since visiting, going to the hospital, writing, and studying are all considered kingdom work it is easy to sacrifice your family for the kingdom.

When we first found out we were going to have a child, I was approached by an older minister who told me the worst thing he ever did was sacrificed his family for the kingdom. He stressed that I needed to be present, because my child needed a dad more that the church needed a minister. That was sage advice.

The lesson I gleaned in my prayer life is that if I am going to pray I have to show up, be present, and pray. It is far too easy to allow life to get in the way of what really matters. So many of us intend to pray after we (you fill in the blank or blanks) and we never get around to praying. So I have reminders to show up and pray. My phone has alarms to remind me to pray. I have a bracelet with 6 knots that remind me to pray about six specific areas. I have set a habit of praying at specific places, because if I am going to pray I need to be present.

Secondly, I learned that I have to be be still and quiet. My boys are your typical tightly wound spring in a bowl of jello type of boys. When they see me they want to tell me about their latest and greatest accomplishment or victory. Without fail we quickly move from one story to another only to jump back to the original story in mid stream. When they were younger I would try to direct them, finish their stories for them, or tell them to hurry and finish because I had to go do something else. It wasn’t long until I began to notice that all of the information I was getting about the boys was coming from my wife. I asked my younger son why he was telling his mom about his day and not me. He replied, “She lets me sit by her and talk”. I felt like dad of the year.

One of the struggles I have had in my prayer life is that I believed I was supposed to talk to God. I would start and just vomit all of this stuff up say amen and think I had prayed. What I failed to realize is that prayer is a conversation. While God longs to hear my concerns, frustrations, hopes, and joys; He also longs for me to be quiet and just be with Him. He longs for His children to come and sit beside Him, talk, and be still. I love the beauty of Habakkuk 2; after talking about the worthlessness of idols the prophet admonishes his hearers that the Lord is in His temple, let the whole earth be still and quiet in His presence. Prayer is not talking to God but talking with God. And some of the best prayers are the times we choose to be still and quiet.

Lastly I have learned to expect to hear from God. In my house there is no such thing as a rhetorical question. If you ask a question, you are going to get an answer. The back door is left open so I ask the dad question, Where you born in a barn? And they reply, nope a hospital, you were there right? It’s not that the boys are disrespectful, we just don’t do sarcasm very well. Every question has an answer and every statement has a reply.

I know folks who say that God has talked to them, they have heard His audible voice. I have never heard God’s voice, although I don’t believe it would be a deep James Earl Jones kind of voice. I believe it would be a regular sounding voice. But I have experienced His answers. Jesus says in Matthew 7 that if we ask God will make sure we receive. I understand that we have to ask in faith, and that we must ask with an understanding of God’s will, and sometimes God says no and sometimes He says slow. But let’s go back to what Jesus said. Ask and you will receive. Plainly Jesus is saying that we need to expect to hear from God.

My favorite way that I hear from God comes from an idea I got from listening to Louie Giglio. He shared this idea he calls the One Word Bible Study. The cliff notes version is that we take a passage and we spend an extended time of meditation on one word at a time. This is how I most often hear from God. I pray with my Bible open. I read through a text and pray and then meditate on His words, one at a time. I expect to hear from God, and in that expectation I hear God talk. As I focus on that one word, my mind opens up to a thousand different words and memories. And while it’s not audible, I can hear the voice of God in those moments one word at a time.

We have been given the opportunity to draw near to the creator of the universe and bend His ear. Prayer is a beautiful gift of God’s grace and mercy. He longs to spend time and dwell with us. Our greatest discovery is when we realize that prayer is not just another check mark on our journey; prayer is actually our destination.

The Book of the Twelve consists of the rudely called “Minor Prophets.” I say rude because these small works contain some of the most challenging and profound things in the Bible. The canonical arrangement of our English Bible has the “Old Testament” ending with these books (Malachi) but the Hebrew Bible arrangement ends with Chronicles. Thus the Book opens with the heartbreaking love story of Hosea/Gomer and ends with the promise that God is turning the hearts of the people and protection of the land from the curse. Each of the Twelve (except Nahum) speaks powerfully of the faithlessness of God’s people. Who can forget Gomer? Amos’ denunciations? Jonah’s folly? Habakkuk’s lament?

But have you noticed that the Book seems to have a progression of thought? Nearly hopelessness as the Book opens in Hosea and Amos to dreams and visions of hope in Haggai through Malachi? Further have you noticed that at the conclusion of ALL the Twelve – regardless of how harsh the previous material of the book has been – end with the message of Exodus 34.6-7? That is the message of Hesed (steadfast love), mercy and grace. The only exception to this is Jonah where Ex 34.6-7 appears explicitly but not as Good News but scandal. I want to actually show you this stunning and overlooked fact. This will take more than 148 characters but I hope it will be worth your time to see this grace structure in the Hebrew Bible.

Hosea opens the Book of the Twelve. There is no shortage of images of Yahweh’s hesed, mercy and grace in the face of the outrageous unfaithfulness of God’s people. Indeed the SUFFERING of God on account of the people comes to the forefront so powerfully that H. Wheeler Robinson years ago could speak of Hosea’s Cross! The pain caused Yahweh by our unfaithfulness is as stunning and gripping as anything in the “New Testament.” Judgment is promised here in Hosea but at great cost to GOD (see Hosea 11.1-11). But the last words for Hosea are not judgment but grace …

I will heal their [the disobedient people of God] disloyalty;
I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them.
I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily,
he shall strike root like the forests of Lebanon …
They shall again live beneath my shadow, they shall
flourish like a garden; they shall blossom like a vine,
their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon

Joel is next in the Twelve. Who can forget the image of the locusts consuming everything like a wild fire as the army of God’s judgment? Like Hosea, however, it has wonderful images of divine hesed, mercy and grace especially in chapter 2 where Yahweh actually promises to pay his people back for having to punish them as they justly deserved (cf. 2.25)! And as frightening as the “day of the Lord” may be the last word from the prophet is not judgment but the spirit of Exodus 34.6-7 (which is quoted explicitly in 2.13). Joel’s last words are …

In that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
the hills shall flow with milk, and the stream beds of Judah
shall flow with water; a fountain shall come forth from the house
of the LORD and water the Wadi Shittim … for the LORD
dwells there

(Joel 3.18-21)

Amos was bitter for religion that reduced faith to form while neglecting how we live. Amos the champion of the poor and powerless (biblical faith is all about faithfulness and justice). Amos who so impolitely calls the the rich, “cows of Bashan” for their excessive lifestyle at the expense of the poor. He receives a series of visions (ch. 7) that the die is cast and judgment will fall. But as sure as judgment will come and God’s people will pass thru the valley of the shadow of death, God will not abandon his people. His grace is greater than their sin! Think of it as a resurrection!! Thus the last word from Amos to the condemned people of God is not judgment but the spirit of Ex 34.6-7 … hesed, mercy and grace are given. In fact the shift is so radical in Amos that many older liberal scholars did not believe these words were actually part of Amos but attached later. The last words are beautiful words of grace …

On that day I will raise up the booth [house] of David that is fallen,
and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the
days of old … The time is coming, says the LORD, when the one who
plows shall overtake the one who reaps, and the treader of of grapes
the one who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip with sweet wine,
and all the hills shall flow with it. I will restore the fortunes of my
people Israel …”

(Amos 9.11-15)

Even little bitty Obadiah, that book that that scarcely takes a page in our Bible and most have to go to the table of contents to even find, follows this “grace pattern.” What a powerful voice against international violence in Obadiah. Edom participates in, and enables, the destruction of Jerusalem. But though Obadiah preaches to the same folks that Hosea and Amos does, he promises the people of God that mercy, grace, hesed and the Lord’s blessed Presence shall be theirs. Obadiah ends with these wonderful words of coming back out of Exile (v. 17).

Those of the Negeb shall possess Mount Esau, and those of the
Shephelah the land of the Philistines; they shall possess the land
of Ephraim … Those who have been saved shall go up to Mount Zion
to rule Mount Esau and the kingdom shall be the LORD’s


Micah extends Amos’ treatment of the northern kingdom to Jerusalem. God’s people find it easier to sing songs of praise than to live mercifully and justly with those created in the divine image. Like Jonah, God’s people often think that faithfulness is determined simply by orthodoxy. So Micah scolds the people for lack of covenantal faithfulness. But Micah’s last words are so unbelievably gracious. They are the words of life. Truly Exodus 34.6-7 (which is echoed in following words) is how biblical preaching should follow the divine pattern …

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing
over transgression {that is our Ex 34 zinger!} of the
remnant of your possession. He does not retain his anger
forever {another Ex 34 zinger} because he DELIGHTS
in showing mercy {and another zinger!}. He will again
have compassion upon us; he will tread our iniquities
under foot, You will cast our sins into the depths of the sea

(Micah 7.18-20)

Poor Nahum, next in the Twelve, is nearly as neglected as Obadiah. If there ever was a case of not having “ears to hear” among modern Restorationist Christians then Nahum is it. Near the midpoint of the Book of the Twelve, Nahum is in its entirety the Good News of hesed, mercy and grace TO the people of God.

The message of Nahum is two fold: 1) God is Slow to Anger 2) but Evil will not win out over God’s creation and his people. The book opens with a quotation from … Exodus 34.6-7!! (1.2-3). Yahweh is not flying off the handle here in Nahum even against the most heinous of evil. Because Ex 34 is true God will DELIVER his people from the Evil or Evil One. Yahweh is “good, a stronghold in a day of trouble; he protects those who take refuge in him” (1.7). We have the beautiful image of shalom proclaimed in 1.15. Because Assyria will be brought low God’s people shall be able to worship because “peace” has been proclaimed (you may want to compare the words of 1.15 with Romans 10.15, just saying). Nahum as a whole is Good News to the oppressed. Nahum reminds us, powerfully so, of the words stated in Zechariah 4.6, “not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit” that deliverance comes. Israel never lifts a hand against Assyria and this is no personal vendetta … it is the Exodus happening all over again but instead of Pharaoh as the enemy it is the “Shatterer” of Assyria.

Habakkuk follows Nahum, and a more profound work is hard to find in the Bible. The same text, 2.4, is quoted three times in the “New Testament.” In the tradition of Hosea, Amos and Micah this prophet laments the injustice of the people of God. In fact the book is unique in that it takes the form of a dialogue between Yahweh and his prophet. Habakkuk laments in prayer TO God about the decay of equity among our ancestors. He wants to know what God is going to do about it. The answer is the Babylonians!! This does not sit well with Habakkuk and in the tradition of Job he challenges God. Now Habakkuk finally receives a vision that God will destroy evil (as just happened in Nahum btw). But Judah will have to pass thru that valley of the shadow of death. God has not and will not cast off his people. BUT we must have faith and trust even when we do not quite understand his ways. So Habakkuk ends with our response to Exodus 34.6-7 with one of the most amazing statements of faith recorded anywhere in Scripture …

I hear, and I tremble within; my lips quiver at the sound.
Rottenness enters into my bones and my steps tremble beneath me. I wait
Quietly for the day of calamity to come upon the people who attack us.
Though the fig tree does no blossom, and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the
stalls, YET I will rejoice in the LORD; I will exult in the God of my
Salvation. God the LORD is my strength …
(Hab 3.16-19)

Zephaniah, the great great great grandson of Hezekiah. Like Amos and Micah he knows the decadent selfishness that continues to plague God’s people. Living alongside Habakkuk, Jeremiah and the great Huldah, he knows doom judgment is coming. But like Joel he tell the people that hope remains! “Seek the LORD … Seek righteousness, seek humility” (2.3, cf. Joel 2.12-14). It is in seeking Yahweh that we find shalom. But Zephaniah’s last words are not judgment but Exodus that 34.6-7 applied not only to the people of God but to the nations! So Zephaniah promises the nations will come worship Yahweh and serve him alongside Israel “with one accord” (3.9-10). Indeed nearly half of chapter 3 (the last chapter) is taken up with not a word of judgment but of God’s incredible hesed, mercy and grace that is breathtaking …

“Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away the judgements against you,
he has turned away your enemies [echoes of both Hosea 11 and Nahum].
The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall fear no disaster …

The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival
(Zephaniah 3.14-20)

Haggai ministers after the return from Exile. But once again the people of God are less than faithful. But just as Zephaniah ends on that note of grace of God being in the midst of the people we have a now impoverished people building a rather plain Jane kind of temple. But no matter for “I am with you” ” My Spirit abides among you” (Hag 1.13; 2.4; 2.5). The little book ends with “from this day on I will bless you” (2.19) and the promises of grace to Zerubbabel.

Zechariah is next among the Twelve. He too knows, like Hosea, that God’s people are perpetually unfaithful. If we are going to be God’s “bride” then it will not be because we deserve that honor any more than the pagans do (maybe Jonah reminds us of this). It is not because we are worshiping by the book that our worship is acceptable to the Holy One of Israel. The High Priest that would minister in that puny temple built under Haggai’s direction are as “dirty” as the people they represent. Nothing makes this clearer than Zechariah’s vision of Satan charging Joshua before Yahweh himself (see chapter 3). But Yahweh, the God of Ex 34.6-7, refuses to reject Joshua (and thus the people) even though guilty as charged!

So we see the wonderful words “I will strengthen the house of Judah and I will save the house of Joseph. I will bring them back because I have compassion on them and they shall be as though I had not rejected them; for I am the LORD their God” (echoes of Hosea!!) Zech 10.6. Zechariah warns the people that idolatry will be judged. But his final words are like Zephaniah’s, the promise of the nations coming to Jerusalem to worship and grace to the people of God. Echoing the Exodus narrative we hear the promises hesed, mercy and grace …

“Then all who survive of the nations that have come up against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the festival of booths.

(Zechariah 14.16-21)

Malachi brings the Book of the Twelve to a close. The faithlessness of the people of God is never lost from sight in this book. Yahweh’s faithfulness, however, is proclaimed on every page. Malachi knows that the people and the priests are far from perfection – precision obedience is something they never once even come close to. In Malachi we learn that the people have even “spoken harsh words against me” (3.13). God’s people are not God’s people because they do the right things, say the right things, obey precisely or even believe the right things. God’s people are God’s people because of his hesed, his mercy and his grace. Yahweh declares baldly “I have loved you” (1.2) but the people say “how?” Not only is the book of Malachi an answer to that question but so is the previous eleven books! God reminds the people “I the LORD do not change, THEREFORE you, O Children of Jacob have not perished” (3.6). They have not only lived but been blessed because of the truth of Ex 34.6-7.  So the Book of the Twelve closes with the full knowledge that God’s people are pretty much in the same place – even thought traveling thru exile and return – as we found them in centuries before with Hosea. We are Gomer!! If God’s people are going to love him as he loves us then divine intervention must happen. This is in fact the messianic consciousness of the Hebrew Bible! And that is what Malachi promises. God, the speaker of Exodus 34.6-7, will act and turn the “hearts” of his people, just as promised in Hosea, back to him …

He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, SO that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.

Something powerful emerges from this over view of the Book of the Twelve regarding preaching and the identity of the people of God. Preaching, to be biblical preaching, must in the final analysis be true to the nature and character of God. When we enter into the pulpit or other means of proclaiming God’s word we do it as ONE of the people (i.e. Hosea, Amos, Habakkuk and Joshua). We share their failures precisely because theirs are ours. We preach grace out of an awareness of our own utter dependency upon grace. Preaching, even to the worst of congregation in the world, is not truly preaching “the truth” if it ends with the condemnation of God’s people. We must call sin sin, as long as we remember that we share in that sin. But all the preachers in Book of the Twelve end in hope, not doom. They end with the promise of astonishing resurrecting Grace. They are fully aware that we deserve condemnation but they understand Exodus 34 and that our relationship with God is based in HIS GRACE and not our obedience no matter how good or bad. When we preach we need to remember that the folks we address are God’s people and if we do not love them as Hosea did we may not be fit to preach anything much less a word of judgment.

The Book of the Twelve, which spans centuries in time, reminds us both by its content and its structure that God is slooooooooooooooooooooooooooooow to anger and he is infinite in hesed, mercy and grace. When we preach our final word must be the same as the Hebrew Bible … Grace! Even if we are so bad that we are good as dead, God will find a way to raise us from the dead! His grace, his mercy, his HESED will never give up. Indeed it occurred to me around 2 am that the “thought flow” of the Book of the Twelve is basically like reading Psalm 105, 106 and 107 together at the same time: God’s faithfulness; Israel’s sin; God’s Hesed! Go read. That is the message of the Book of the Twelve. I hope you have noticed deeply embedded God’s grace is as the final word of the “Old Testament.” No wonder Jesus loved and preached the Hebrew Bible.

Gen1.27I should start by saying that I dislike the term “egalitarian.” I’d rather refer to myself as a “complementarian” because I believe God made Eve to be a complement to Adam — to make up what was lacking. But “spiritual leadership” or “hierarchicalist” teachers have adopted “complementarian” as their own self-description, leaving me with an inexact term. After all, I don’t believe men and women are the same. But I do believe that anyone, male or female, who is gifted by God to lead should be allowed to lead.

I’m writing in response to Tim Archer’s recent article teaching that God only allows men to serve as spiritual leaders of men in the family and in the church. I have great respect for Tim both personally and as a student of scripture. But I have to disagree on this one point. Here’s why —

* Tim concludes that the NT’s teachings on the place of women in the family and the church is based on the relationship established by God between Adam and Eve before they sinned, that is, before the Fall of Man. I entirely agree. Read more »

Gen1.27“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

Gender goes back to the beginning. Male. Female. That’s how God made the human race.

But what about the relationship between those genders? As we read through the first few chapters of Genesis, we find a shift in that relationship. After Adam and Eve eat of the forbidden fruit, God says to the woman:

“Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16)

How we view God’s statement to Eve greatly affects how we view the relationship between the sexes. Our understanding of this pronouncement can even shape how we approach the roles available to each sex within the church.

There have traditionally been two views regarding Genesis 3:16. I want to look at each, then propose what I see as a better understanding of the dynamics of this passage:

“It was the woman who was deceived…”

A very traditional view sees the principle of male leadership as being a mandate of God based on Eve’s sin, sort of a safeguard to keep Eve (and women in general) from messing up again. Those who hold to this view find some support in Paul’s words to Timothy:

“I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.” (1 Timothy 2:12–14)

Male authority, according to some, was established in response to the deception of Eve; men were given the lead to keep such things from happening again. (Apparently, Adam is relatively blameless for what went on)

“There is neither male nor female”

Proponents of a more egalitarian relationship between the sexes tend to see in Genesis 3:16 a curse that Christians are to work to overcome. Before the Fall, they say, men and women were completely equal. It was only when men and women sinned that God cursed humankind by making women subordinate to men.

Many take Galatians 3:28 as a rallying verse:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

Where the Old Law and old traditions made a difference between the genders, these have been wiped out in Christ, the argument goes. That’s why Peter said what he did at Pentecost:

“‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” (Acts 2:17–18)

Because God’s Spirit was poured out on both men and women, both sexes receive the same gifts and perform the same roles. Male-only leadership is eliminated in the age of the Spirit.

Most who hold to this view admit that this age of full equality was not fully realized in New Testament times. (This is the point in the conversation where many would insert a discussion about slavery) The idea is that Christians were growing in their understanding of how Spiritual giftedness would affect the church. In addition, we do see some women in prominent positions in the church in the New Testament; it would merely take time for people to stop resisting the Spirit’s leading.

“Whoever wants to be first must be slave of all”

It seems to me that neither of these views deal rightly with God’s words to Eve and to Adam. The first view seems to ignore the fact that the things that God was announcing were negative. While some over the years, have argued that labor pains are the will of God and should not be alleviated, few hold to that today. I’ve never heard people argue that thorns and thistles are the will of God and should be allowed to grow freely. We understand that those consequence of the couple’s sin were negative; why should we see the part about man ruling over women as something positive?

In the same way, the second view fails to note that the curses affected things Adam and Eve were already doing. Reproduction wasn’t new; God had already told men and women to multiply. But now childbirth would involved pain. Agriculture was already a part of their lives. But after the Fall, the earth would no longer work with them; food would be produced only through intense labor. It would only make sense that male leadership also existed before the Fall.

A better understanding of Genesis 3:16 recognizes that man was already supposed to be leading his wife; after the Fall, he would do so through domination. Servant leadership would be replaced by a dictatorial approach.

This view looks to Ephesians 5 to see how the relationship should be:

“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Ephesians 5:22–26)

The example is Christ. Men are to lead, not through chest pounding and intimidation, but through service and sacrifice. The Fall transformed this benevolent headship into rulership. Leaders in general ignored God’s will as to how to lead:

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25–28)

Leadership and rulership are not the same. After the Fall, men would act as rulers instead of the leaders they were supposed to be.

For we see in Genesis that God had already given man a responsibility for taking care of his wife. In Genesis 3, after the couple have eaten the forbidden fruit, they hide from God. The text tells us:

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”” (Genesis 3:8–9)

Both had sinned. Both were hidden. But God calls to the man. Why? Because the man had failed his family. He had not provided spiritual leadership. Instead, he allowed his wife to be deceived. (It’s worth noting that Genesis 2 only tells us that the man received God’s instructions regarding the forbidden fruit. Was he responsible for teaching his wife? Had he failed in that area? Is that why she misquotes in Genesis 3:3 what God had said? It’s possible.)

So just as mankind’s previous responsibilities of working the land and reproducing were made more difficult by the Fall, so this relationship was also transformed. Where man was supposed to lead through service and sacrifice, he would now do so by “lording it over” his wife.

I would suggest that male leadership was part of God’s plan from the beginning. I think we see that throughout the Bible, though that leadership is expressed in different ways at different times. From the Patriarchs to the Kings to the Twelve to the elders who are “husband of one wife,” the leaders of God’s people are assumed to be males. This leadership has often been abused and misapplied, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist. It’s up to God’s people to recover the practice of servant leadership, resisting the effects of the Fall and following the example of Christ.

praying_on_bible_redAs we kick off 2015 we are going to spend the month in prayer. There is so much going on in the world, in churches and in our personal lives that need prayed over that we are devoting this month’s theme to prayer. We will be writing about prayer and helping equip you in your prayer life but more than that…this month’s issue is a call to pray.

One of the things that draws me to the Restorative Movement is our affinity for the Bible. I am an information junkie. Raw data thrills me as does the desire to know things as completely as possible. We are such a cognitive movement…we want the facts…and so we should. But we cannot be satisfied with information for information’s sake. Often our greatest strength is also our greatest weakness. As we lean into our greatest characteristics imbalance often occurs leaving us lopsided and incomplete.

We must seek God. We must know, not just who God is, but actually know God. Stated more directly, we need both knowledge and experience with God just as we would with a spouse or a child. If you are anything like me, the trap that we can too easily find ourselves is that the search for information can become an end unto itself. It becomes our heart’s desire rather than the God behind the information. It is like knowing your spouse solely based on their facebook profile…it doesn’t make for a happy or healthy marriage. Living with your spouse day in and day out…sacrificing for them, loving them and being present with them is essential for a meaningful relationship. The same is true with God…facts alone won’t cut it. The all out pursuit of information often results in people discounting experience and elevating rationality and cerebrality to the point of being the end all, be all of faith. Our prayers can become just as impersonal as our study and our spiritual lives ultimately run dry. We must know God, through His word, and we must know God on a personal (even experiential) level.

That is where prayer comes in. Prayer is by its very nature experiential. It is something that must be done and it must be done in concert with a God who listens. That means prayer is not just experiential in the sense of someone experiencing something apart from any and everyone else. Prayer is experiential and relational because we pray to a God who hears us.

In Tim Keller’s new book on prayer he addresses the need for balancing truth from scripture with a real by pointing us to the writing of John Owen,

“Where light leaves the affections behind, it ends in formality and or atheism; where affections outrun light they sink into the bog of superstition, doting on images and pictures or the like.” – John Owen

By ‘light’ Owen means our knowledge of right teaching or doctrine. Our doctrinal and biblical knowledge cannot ‘leave the affections behind.’ If we believe with our minds that God is holy, we must also come to find his holiness enjoyable and satisfying just to praise it. If we believe the great God of the universe really loves us, it should make us emotionally unshakable in the face of criticism, suffering and death. In short, we must be able to existentially access our doctrinal convictions. If doctrinal soundness is not accompanied by heart experience, it will lead eventually to nominal Christianity-that is, in name only-and eventually to non-belief. The irony is that many conservative Christians, most concerned about conserving true and sound doctrine, neglect the importance of prayer and make no effort to experience God, and this can lead to the eventual loss of sound doctrine. Owen believes that Christianity without real experience of God will eventually be no Christianity at all.

Still, there is a danger in the other direction. ‘Affections can outrun light,’…It is possible to use techniques of meditation and imagination to create changes in consciousness that are not tied at all to the reality of who God is…you can imagine [Jesus] coming into some past incident in your life, intervening, defending you, and embracing you. In such an exercise it would be easy to put words in Jesus’ mouth that directly contradict his teaching in the Bible.”

Keller’s point is that ignoring scripture for the sake of experience has big problems as does ignoring experience and clinging solely to mastering the facts. Experience cannot be put on the same truth level as scripture and neither can scripture be put in a vaccuum so that experience is never able to intersect with the truths found in it. Extreme progressivism and extreme conservatism can both result in leaving God behind. We must find balance.

Prayer is an essential component of meaningful experience with God. It must be a priority in the life of the child of God. It is essential to maintaining our relationship with God. Don’t just study the Word…pray over the Word and let the Word speak over your prayers and be spoken in your prayers.

Prayer is essential to repentance and to character formation. Later in Keller’s book he states, “if the affections of the heart are not engaged in prayer, real character change and growth in Christ-likeness is impossible. We cannot settle for less.” If you asked around to find out Christians’ opinion on what it takes to bring about real change and growth in our lives I suspect many people would put Bible reading ahead of prayer but maybe we missed something in giving 90% of our attention to the text and 10% to most everything else (or however you think those numbers should be). Again, the call is for balance.

Last, a word about prayer in social media and personal conversations. As we engage in theological discussions both online and in person and I often wonder how many of us take a moment to pray things over before we talk things over. Prayer forces us to slow down. Prayer requires us to focus beyond ourselves and consider what it is God has in mind. Prayer should be at the core of our relationship with God and others because prayer centers us and founds us in the reality that we are not the ultimate authority but we know the One who is and he is freely approached by every last one of us when we take the time to pray.

So let us set our minds and our thoughts on God and let the result of that focus lead us to pray. Let us pray for each other…for those we agree with and those we do not. Let us pray for our own inner transformation and growth, that God might transform us more and more into the likeness of Christ. Let us pray for wisdom and understanding. Let us pray for unity and for peace.

I want to close praying over all of you who are reading this article the prayer Paul prayed over the Ephesian Christians in Ephesians 1:15-23,

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit[f] of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

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