Monday, January 30, 2017

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 77

“Blessed are those who are alone [during the day] in the strength of the community. Blessed are those who preserve community in the strength of solitude [during the day]. But the strength of solitude and the strength of community is the strength of the Word of God alone, which is meant for the individual in the community.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 67.

This is the conclusion of the chapter The Day Alone. We may be by ourselves during the day, but we are not alone. We are to live in the strength of life together, and we are to preserve life together, as we submit to the Word of God throughout the day. The Word of God speaks to us throughout the day, and the community which lives under the Word of God speaks to us. Do we listen?

When I am tempted with disobedience do I hear the Word of God calling me to obedience? When I am tempted do I hear the voice of my brothers and sisters? Do we live in an awareness that we are “one bread and one body” (1 Cor. 10:17)? After the victory at Jericho the people of Israel learned what happens when one person brings disobedience into the camp (Joshua Chapter 7). Paul argues that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Cor. 5:6; Gal. 5:9). These things are not written that we should become a kind of religious police – they are written that we might live in an awareness that what we think and what we say and what we do matters – not just to us, but to the Body of Christ. They are also written that we might have mutual accountability in life together. The ways of the enemy can be subtle, the broader culture can be seductive – we need each other to see what we cannot see, to warn against what we may not readily perceive. Are there Trojan horses in my life? In the life of my local fellowship?

When we gather together there must be more of an “us” than there is at a civic association meeting, a business meeting, a political meeting, a meeting at school. There must be more of an “us” than those who patronize a retail store to take advantage of a sale. And surely there must be more of an “us” than there is a football game. But is there?

We speak of those who follow a sports team as having become a “nation”. The “Red Sox Nation,” the “Atlanta Falcons Nation,” the UVA or VA Tech “nation”. Alumni of colleges have their networks and associations and often strong affinities – they may strongly identify with one another whether they actually know one another or not.

Is the church more of an “us”, more of a “we”, than what many people experience in other collective gatherings and affinities? Does the enthusiasm of God’s people exceed that of a college football homecoming game? If the church falls short are we grieved to the extent that sports fans are who mourn the loss of a key game? Do we build our lives around the living Church of Jesus Christ the way others order their lives around civic, entertainment, or sporting events?

Do we believe that God actually indwells His people? That we are bone of Christ’s bone and flesh of His flesh? That we are one spirit with the Lord? Do we believe that our lives are not our own but that they belong to Jesus Christ and to the Church of the Living God?

If an outsider were looking at my life what would he say about me? About you?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Dead to Sin, Alive to God

“Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus,” Romans 6:11.

I was reminded this week that much of the professing church still lives under a mentality of the Law – focusing on sin, then more sin, then more sin. We measure our relationship to God on the basis of how much sin we’ve identified in our lives and confessed. This is not the Gospel, the Gospel contains a clear statement and assurance of justification and a clear call to death and resurrection with Jesus Christ in and through His Cross – a death that includes death to sin and life in Christ. The Gospel includes that great transition from the First Man to the Second Man, from the First Adam to the Last Adam. We once were in Adam, we are now in Christ.

The Gospel frees us from a perpetual reminder of sin, from an obsession with sin, from a preoccupation with ourselves – it frees us through the Cross to be identified with Jesus Christ and to be crucified to sin, the flesh, and to be free from the Law. The Law brings condemnation, it is the ministry of death – why would we want to perpetually preach death to the negation of life in Christ?

Like the ancient Israelites in the Wilderness, we are more comfortable living as slaves in Egypt than as the children of Abraham. We may preach justification by faith, but then we turn around and negate that message by reinstituting the Law and sin management – and the vicious cycle continues throughout life.

I heard a brother, a pastor for many years, say this week that the more sin he confesses to God the closer he is to God. So much for the Gospel of life in Christ, so much for freedom to live in Christ by the life and power of Christ, so much for considering ourselves dead to sin but alive to God. So much for living based on what Christ has done and on who Jesus Christ is. How is it that we continue to live in bondage to sin and to ourselves?

Our Father and Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit desire intimate relationship with us; they desire that we live in unity with them and with one another. Jesus calls us brothers and sisters and He calls us friends. We are the sons and daughters of the living God. Jesus says that the Trinity lives in those who are in relationship with Him (John chapters 13 – 17).   

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Hebrews Chapter Eleven: 7

“By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not know where he was going.” Hebrews 11:8.

Stephen tells us that, “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia…” Acts 7:2.

When the God of glory appears what do we do? John writes that, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth,” John 1:14. The God of glory has appeared to us in His Son Jesus Christ, what are we doing? There are only two choices – to obey or to disobey.

When Jesus walked by the sea of Galilee and called Andrew and Peter and James and John they had two choices – to obey or to disobey, to follow Jesus or not to follow Jesus. When we devise a third option of response to Jesus Christ, the God of glory, we change the Word of God for we change the call of God – a modified response means that we have changed, edited, the Word of God to make it something that it is not – we have made the Word of God a response to our will and action rather than responding to God in obedience. The serpent taught us this when he was the first to utter the words to man; “Has God said this? Has God really said this? God may have said this but God really meant this other thing.”

The idea of inheritance runs throughout the Scriptures and we see it in Hebrews 11. The men and women of Hebrews 11 look through and beyond the things of earth into an inheritance that is “undefiled and that doesn’t fade away” (1 Peter 1:4). Paul stresses that we are “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8). Coupled with the idea of inheritance is the thought of fulfillment – God’s purpose is fulfilled in us and our destiny is fulfilled in God; we inherit not “things” but rather God and God inherits us; whatever else is associated with this glory flows out from it – God in Christ, the Father and the Lamb, are our destiny – the koinonia of the Trinity is our calling.

This entails a “going out” and a “coming in”. We go out of the present age and into Jesus Christ. We also, if need be, go out of Babylon and into the true Temple of God in Christ. Jesus makes it clear that we are not of the world even as He is not of the world (John 17) and the Apostle John makes it clear that our hope and desire and inheritance are not to be found in the world (1 John 2:15 – 17). (The word “world” in these passages is not focused on the physical world but rather the systems of the world – ways of thinking, values, doing things, objects of worship – these systems are part of the enemy and will be brought to their end, in judgement, in Christ.) The Father has, “…rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:13).

We go out that we may come in.

Consider how the West is distracted by the idea of earthly retirement and provision. We are bombarded by images of relaxed retirement, of financial planning and the accumulation of wealth so that our “golden years” will be ones of leisure and security. Our time and attention is drawn to these images. While to plan is prudent, to allow ourselves to be engulfed in images of earthly retirement in comfort and security is to distract us from our inheritance in Jesus Christ, as well as of our mission to others in our advancing years. Abraham, I think, kept “going out” until that day when he fully “entered in” to the Presence of God.

How are we responding to the call of God? Are we modifying the Word of God?

Are we going out? Are we entering in?

Monday, January 23, 2017

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 76

“Individuals must be aware that even their hours of being alone reverberate through the community. In their solitude they can shatter and tarnish the community, or they can strengthen and sanctify it.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 66.

My obedience to Christ is not just about me and Christ, and my disobedience to Christ is not just about me and Christ. In a sense my response to the Word of God – whether it is a response of obedience or rebellion, is only secondarily about me and Christ – it is first and foremost about us and Christ. Why? Because my response to the Word of God does not just affect me – it affects us. There is no firewall that can contain the poison of my sin within my own life – my sin will infect the Body of Christ. My obedience will also affect the Body of Christ. Hence, my obedience is not simply for me, it is for you; and my disobedience does not just affect me, it affects you.

The above assumes that we believe the Word of God, that we are indeed one body (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12; Ephesians 4). The above assumes that we are being perfected into one just as the Trinity is one (John 17). The statements of the foregoing passages are not illustrations – they are statements of reality. We are one in Christ Jesus, we are His Body, we are members of His Body and members, therefore, of one another.

And so Bonhoeffer writes, “…there is no sin in thought, word, or deed, no matter how personal or secret, that does not harm the whole community. When the cause of an illness gets into one’s body, whether or not anyone knows where it comes from, or in what member it has lodged, the body is made ill,” (page 66).

We simply do not think or live like this, at least in the West. What passes for Christianity is focused on the self, just as society exalts the self. What we do with our minds is our choice and no one has a right to question it. We can sin with our minds and hearts in the entertainment we watch – and that is our personal life, it belongs to the self and not the community. We can sin with our bodies and that also is our right, our personal life – and who dares to question it. We can sin with our money – after all it is ours too. Life belongs to the individual and when we gather as “Christians” we gather for support and encouragement and worship and then we go our separate ways with the freedom to do as we please…life is to be lived as we please – not to please God, not to serve others, not to bring life and heath to the Body of Christ…but it is to be lived as we please. God understands, surely He understands, He must understand…well, at least if He doesn’t He should and we’ll speak to Him about that one day and convince Him.

“Every member serves the whole body, contributing either to its health or to its ruin, for we are members of one body not only when we want to be, but in our whole existence,” (page 66).

We cannot adequately explain the fullness of the above Biblical passages, but we can touch their fullness and we can learn to live in a consciousness of their reality. Call these passages “mystical” if that helps, but do not call them “mystical” in the sense that they are not part of the flesh and blood and marrow and sinew of everyday life – call the wind “mystical” if you must, we cannot see it and yet we can feel it, hear it, and see its effects.

When we functionally deny the statements of the Bible that we are Christ’s Body we give ourselves license to live as we want and to place ourselves at the center of the universe. We need not submit ourselves one to another. We need not be obedient for the sake of others. We can excuse our sin on the basis that “it only hurts me”…if indeed we think it hurts at all.

The very essence of life together is koinonia, communion; shared life – not shared external life, not living in proximity – though it is that too; but rather shared eternal life in Christ, sharing the very life of God, breathing the very Spirit of God; being the very Temple of God.

We are called to live in this knowledge and consciousness – and we ought to rejoice in obedience to God’s Word as we live in this consciousness; we ought to also fear sin, knowing the damage it will do to others.

This is one reason why a Biblical theology and liturgy of the Eucharist is critical – for whether it is celebrated in a house church or a cathedral, we ought to know what we are doing and why we are doing it and we ought to do it together – for it is not about “me” it is about “us”. However we negotiate our understanding of the Lord’s Table, we must not relegate it to anything less that the transcendent for we are touching the invisible.

This is a reason why Christian “leaders” who fall into sin must not quickly be placed back into positions of leadership (if at all). A leader who commits adultery has taken advantage of another person, just as if a physician had taken advantage of the vulnerability of a patient. Beyond that, a leader who commits adultery, to use but one example of sin, has violated the Body of Christ, has introduced cancer into the Body of Christ, has not protected the Body of Christ, has allowed the poison of sin and of the enemy to enter the Body. It is as if the general of an army had opened the gates of a fortress for an enemy to enter because he was seduced by a beautiful woman or was given a fortune in gold – would such a person be given command of another fortress?

Obedience and sin is not simply about the individual – it is about the Body of Christ – it is about the blessing and the harm that we introduce into the Body, and especially into the lives of those with whom we are most closely connected.

This is not a game, it is not some esoteric flight of imagination – it is life and death.

Sadly, it is antithetical to the way the professing church in America thinks and lives.

But…obedience and awareness can start with us, with me, and with you. Will you be faithful to the Body of Christ and live as if your thoughts and actions do indeed matter…even if you are the only person to do so?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Cross and Bleach

When everything is reduced to the therapeutic, then sin is denied, and when sin is denied the Cross of Christ is relegated to a quaint symbol of…what? When we are bent on saving the “psychological man” we deny the Cross and become purveyors of…what?

We have taken bleach and scoured the Cross, steel wool and removed its stains; we have pressured washed it so that it does not offend – we have called a Hazmat team in to ensure there are no blood-borne pathogens – we will contain the offense of the Cross. Then we have decorated it, prettied it up, and invited others to come feel good…and then do we wonder why lives are not changed? No we don’t, we just come up with better sociological and psychological approaches for what passes for church.

We are more interested in how we think about ourselves than in how we think about the suffering Christ. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Hebrews Chapter Eleven: 6

“By faith Noah, being warned By God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.” Hebrews 11:7.

Faith is palpable in our realm because it sees and senses the realm of the unseen (see also 2 Corinthians 4:17 – 18; 5:7). Can we imagine the evil in the world in Noah’s day, evil so pervasive that it led to the judgement of the world? “Then Yahweh saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” (Genesis 6:5). What is it like to live in a society in which the intent, the motive, of every thought is evil? And yet Noah was righteous; he heard God in the midst of evil, and he was a preacher of righteousness in the midst of evil (2 Peter 2:5), and he built an ark for the saving of his household. Where we put our trust matters, our words matter, and our actions matter. “But Noah found favor in the eyes of Yahweh,” (Genesis 6:8).

So much of what we see in the professing church is anchored in what we can see. It is anchored in sociology, in entertainment, in (at times) academic respectability to the exclusion of Biblical truth, in proximity to the seats of worldly power and wealth and government. We often guide our congregations and families according to the values and rationales of this age, rather than the age to come. We say we believe in the Ark of Jesus Christ, we say that we have come into the Ark of Christ, but functionally we live outside the Ark – we run in and out, out and in – scurrying out to get what we want, to be acceptable to the world, to indulge in pleasure and to satisfy our egos; then we run back into the Ark before (we think) anything too terrible happens.

If we look like we are living according to the ways of the world it is because we are living according to the ways of the world. The people of Hebrews Chapter 11 didn’t look like the people around them – they didn’t live as the people around them lived – they couldn’t live like everyone else because they weren’t seeing the same things that the people around them were seeing – they were seeing the invisible God and the invisible things of God.

Their clothes may have been the same (or they may have not been!), but their actions were not the same, their words were not the same, and certainly their trust was not put in the same objects as the world around them. Jesus tells us that the world would see Him no longer, but that we will see Him (John 14:16ff) and that because He lives that we will live also. In the midst of a world of death we are to be living lives of life – eternal life.

Noah was first and foremost fearing God, he was being moved by Divine warning – the veil had been pulled back to some degree and Noah was seeing things coming, things on their way – and when God said, “Build an ark” we read that, “Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did,” (Genesis 6:22).

I think that Noah might also have been fearing the evil around him, fearing it in the sense that he knew its destruction, he saw what it was doing to the people around him – its tentacles were embedded in the hearts and minds and souls and bodies of men and women and children. Evil is a fearful thing when it is let loose – we are fools if we do not fear its destructive power in the lives of others, and we are fools if we do not know that if we allow it into our lives that it will work havoc with its poison. Thank God that we have an Ark into which we can enter and live and breathe – our Lord Jesus Christ, and that in Him we need not ultimately fear evil, for greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).

Are we building an ark today? Are we building an ark within the Ark for those around us? Are we out in our lifeboats rescuing people from the sea of evil that is engulfing our world, bringing them back to the Ark of Jesus Christ, and then launching back out into the world to pull more souls from the putrid waters of death?

What are our eyes fixed upon? Our lives will give us the answer to the question. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 75

Bonhoeffer calls the time between our gatherings as believers “times of testing” (italics his). He writes that our time away from the Christian community is “the proving ground” of our personal time of meditation as well as of our community. He then asks what he terms “serious questions”:

“Has the community served to make individuals free, strong, and mature, or has it made them insecure and dependent? Has it taken them by the hand for a while so that they would learn again to walk by themselves, or has it made them anxious and unsure?” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), pages 65 - 66.

Bonhoeffer is asking whether our Christian gatherings and meditations are more flights of fancy than substance, and whether or not they prepare us for the world around us, the world in which most people live and the world in which most of us practice our vocations.

“Has it transported them for a few moments into a spiritual ecstasy that vanishes when everyday life returns, or has it planted the Word of God so soberly and so deeply in their heart that it holds and sustains them all day long, leading them to active love, to obedience, to good works? (page 66).”

If the measure of our gatherings, of our Sunday worship services, of our Bible studies, of our small groups – if the measure of these things is the way we live in the world then what does the yardstick tell us? Is the invisible presence of the Christian community with us? Are we with the community? Do we live with an awareness of the Body of Christ? Does the Word of God pulsate in our hearts and minds and souls throughout the day? Are our decisions and actions and ponderings animated by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God?

Do we live in insecurity when we are physically away from the Body of Christ? Are we displaying a “free, strong, and secure” witness to the world?

Bonhoeffer is not interested in us gathering together so that we can all feel good and then go out into the world incognito; he insists that we encounter the Word of God in our gatherings and in our personal meditations, and that we then take that Word into the world in the form of our lives. If the Word is not forming our lives in the world then we must ask whether it is forming our lives when we gather – and the answer must be a frank “no” – the Word does not form us one minute and then dissipate within us the next. To “taste” the powers of the age to come (Hebrews 6:5) is not the same as living in the powers of the age to come. Just as there can be a cheap confession that does not lead to salvation because it is devoid of repentance and the Cross of Christ, so can there be a cheap religious experience that does not entail the Cross of Christ and submission to the Word of God.

Perhaps we have come to the place where the church is either an amusement park or a group therapy session.

Bonhoeffer writes to a church in the midst of political, social, and military upheaval. He writes to a church which is selling its soul to the enemy amid pragmatic justifications. Today we live in political, social, and military upheaval – but we think we are different. Such thinking is a mistake. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Nothing of Ourselves

“Teach me that there is no greater truth than this, that I can do nothing of myself.” The Valley of Vision, Arthur Bennett editor, The Banner of Truth Trust, page 305.

Jesus says that, “I can do nothing of myself.” He says to us, “Without me you can do nothing.” Paul writes, “…nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me.”

And yet we gorge ourselves on self-help programs, we devise ways to improve ourselves and do better today than we did yesterday, to achieve our goals and objectives – forgetting the counsel of Proverbs to “lean not on your own understanding.”

The Trinity invites us into relationship, in which the goal and purpose of life is to know the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “This is the work of God, that you believe on him whom he has sent.”

The Great Commandment is to love God with all that we are, and the second commandment is to love others as ourselves. The mark of the church is that we love one another as Jesus Christ loves us, laying down our lives for one another.

What we produce of ourselves is of no consequence; the fruit of the Trinity in and through the people of God has roots from and through and into eternity. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 74

“Because consideration of the Scriptures, prayer, and intercession involve a service that is our duty, and because the grace of God can be found in this service, we should train ourselves to set a regular time during the day for them, just as we do for every other service we perform. That is not “legalism,” but discipline and faithfulness.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 65.

Paul writes in Romans Chapter 12 that we should offer ourselves as living sacrifices because it is our “reasonable” or “logical” service, response to God, or…we might say…in light of His marvelous love and redemption…that it is our duty. Romans 12 begins thusly and then proceeds to show how the offering of ourselves to God results in the offering of ourselves to one another in Christ. Elsewhere Paul writes to the effect that he has a duty to preach the Gospel. We are called by God and we have a duty to respond to Him and to respond in service to one another.

We are to be disciples – ones who are taught, ones who are disciplined and molded into the image of our Teacher, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. A potter does not place a lump of clay on a wheel and say, “Be what you want to be. Take whatever form suits you.” Yet we seem to think that being a Christian is less about “following Christ” than it is achieving whatever “potential” and “fulfillment” we have chosen for ourselves. Has “following Christ” become a code word for “living the good life in religious guise”?

Christians have duties, we have duties to God and duties to fellow Christians and duties to our neighbors. The wise believer in Jesus Christ knows that these duties are interwoven – in Christ, as we love God we love others and as we love others we love God.

It is my duty to ponder the Scriptures, to read them, to know them, to submit to them, and in my submission to meet God in them. It is my duty to commune with God in prayer. It is my duty to intercede for those with whom I share life together, as well as to intercede for others, within and without the Kingdom. This is no more legalism than it is legalism for Queen Elizabeth II to fulfill her duties as the Queen – she lives as who she is, we are to live as who we are in Christ.

Was it legalism when Jesus prayed, “Nevertheless, not my will by your will be done?” Was it legalism when Paul wrote, “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship (1 Cor. 9:16 – 17). We can say much the same thing about meditating on the Bible, prayer, and intercession.

When we gather around the Word and prayer and intercession our individual lives are strengthened; when our individual (and familial) lives are engaged in the Word and prayer and intercession then our gatherings are strengthened. This is the fabric of our calling, the fabric of our duty in Christ and toward one another, this is the fabric of life together.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

O Aleppo

They said they didn’t know,
Didn’t know that you were there,
400,000 perished, but they said they didn’t care.
As long as they deny, they didn’t care to know,
They left you to perish, to perish O Aleppo.

The Holocaust, what Holocaust?
We give lip service to “Never Again”.
Just look at Cambodia or Rwanda,
Or the Balkans…really Never Again?

Your graves are beneath the rubble,
Your hopes and dreams buried deep,
If you looked to the West for deliverance or salvation,
You looked to the West in vain.

For you see you have no oil, and your deaths are
No threat to us. Let the tyrants and their minions
Have you, give them the rubble and the dust.
Let them scrape your lifeless bodies from your streets,
We don’t care no we don’t –
for when we say “Never Again” what we mean
Is “Never Again” if there is something in it for us.

 You see you have no oil or other rich resource,
The fact that you are people, that matters not a bit –
That is your misfortune.
Children, women, men, whether young or old or sick,
It is simply your misfortune, and besides we didn’t know.

Did our churches cry out in protest?
Did we pray for you at all? Did our hearts break with compassion?
Did we cry out? No not at all.
For you see we didn’t know, because we didn’t want to know.
What is 400,000 people that are now buried in the dust?

“Never Again! O Aleppo! “Never Again”, we didn’t know!
Please take this as our apology, we really didn’t know!

Oh hide the mirrors in our houses, in our churches,
In our halls of government.

For if we look into those mirrors what shall we see?

An Empire of Desire – A Sobering Thought

Carl R. Trueman’s reflections on First Things for December 26, 2016, in which he uses the term, An Empire of Desire, has deeply resonated with me and challenged me. I have for long thought that we are slaves to pleasure, on a quest not only to consume all that we can, but to avoid pain, suffering, and inconvenience at the expense of righteousness and truth – and for the Christian and the church, at the expense of obedience to Jesus Christ and the Gospel mission. I have become increasingly convinced that the North American church lives in its own ghetto of virtual reality in which the things it talks about, sings about, and teaches about revolve around its fragmented church world which is no threat to the Empire of Desire because, heaven forbid, that we should actually challenge anyone with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and lives of obedience to Him.

Are we living in the Empire of Desire as aliens and pilgrims – or are we its subjects? Are we passing through this culture of lies and deception and spin as sons and daughters of the True and Living God, repudiating the culture’s thinking and worship and toxicity – or are we its slaves? Are we prisoners of hedonism, or are we prisoners of Jesus Christ? 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 73

“Offering intercessory prayer means nothing other than Christians bringing one another into the presence of God, seeing each other under the cross of Jesus as poor human beings and sinners in need of grace.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 64.

Intercessory living, and with it intercessory prayer, is, in Christ, the life of the church, it is the life of life together. When we awake in the morning we awake not only in the presence of God, but we awake with our brothers and sisters in the presence of God. Our brothers and sisters are in our hearts and minds, they are in our souls, they are bound to our lives and we are bound to their lives. The prayer of our Lord Jesus that we may all be one as the Trinity is one (John Chapter 17) is fulfilled in our life together. As Paul writes, our hearts are “knit together in love”. The Christian life goes beyond “me” and becomes “we” – this “we” is found in intercessory prayer.

In intercessory prayer there is no comparison between brothers, there is rather compassion. We are all in need of grace and mercy; we all stand, or kneel, or lie prostrate before the Cross of Christ. The needs and afflictions and trials and sins of my brothers become my burden, enveloped in my intercession, in my cry to God for His mercy and grace in the lives of my brothers.

When there are times in which we do not know how to pray for others as we ought (Romans 8) we can trust the Holy Spirit to pray through us in ways that we do not understand. Often these prayers will be brought into focus as we persevere and we will gain some understanding or sense of the specifics of our brother’s need.

As a rule intercessory prayer is specific prayer, as Bonhoeffer writes: “Furthermore, it is clear that intercessory prayer is not something general and vague, but something very concrete. It is interested in specific persons and specific difficulties and therefore specific requests. The more concrete my intercessory prayer becomes, the more promising it is (pages 64 – 65).”

We are to live for others and we are to intercede for others – this is a service in the Temple of God to which we are all called. Intercessory prayer is a service of the priesthood of all believers. Bonhoeffer calls intercessory prayer “a gift of God’s grace for every Christian community and for every Christian (page 65).”

Some of us may use written lists; lists that we maintain, or lists printed or emailed within our fellowship. Others of us may use memory devices. The important thing is that our lists of people on whose behalf we intercede be etched in our hearts – we go beyond lists to hearts knit together, we go beyond lists to souls bound to one another in Christ – we become identified with our brothers and sisters in their needs and burdens and pilgrimage – the need becomes not simply “his need” but rather “our need”. I will carry the burden of my brother, I will carry my brother…in intercession. Just as Jesus carries us in intercession, even so we carry one another.