Monday, 28 May 2012

Fancy a biscuit, in the name of Jesus?

How about a cup of tea, in the name of Jesus? Do take a seat, in Jesus' name. Now, tell me about your problem, in Jesus' name.

No, I haven't gone completely nuts. Please bear with me. Years ago I heard one of those comments that has stuck with me ever since. Some people were discussing the prayer meeting at a church and the topic moved on to the pastor and how he prayed in public. Then, someone said something along the lines of:

"Do you know, I don't think that the pastor believes in praying in Jesus' name."
"Oh? why not?"
"Well, he never says it after his prayers. Surely he should know the power of praying in Jesus' name? Doesn't the Bible tell us to do so?"

This bothered me somewhat. Does saying the words "in Jesus' name" at the end of a prayer suddenly transform that prayer into a better one? Does the Bible really insist that we do this? Well, according to Paul in Colosians 3:17,  "whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus." So, does that mean everything a Christian does should be followed by the words "in Jesus' name"? No. Yet, on occasion it might do us good to think it, even if all we are doing is offering some tea and biscuits.

Asking for things in Jesus' name (e.g. John 14:14; 16:23-24) or doing things in his name (Colossians 3:17) is not about a formula, a special set of words we have to use to make things happen. God will not ignore your prayer because you don't say "in Jesus' name", nor will he always do what we want just because we have said the "right" words. There is much more to it than this. As Tim Chester writes in "The Message of Prayer" (Bible Speaks Today, IVP, p.178), "when we pray in Jesus' name we pray as Jesus' representative in accordance with the revelation of Jesus' purposes." It is as if the prayer were one that Jesus himself would happily say or put his own name to. This includes, amongst other things, the motive behind the prayer. We would not expect Jesus to pray selfishly, with an ulterior motive. Yet, how often might we have done so and stuck those "easy" words "in Jesus' name" on the end? Similarly, we can clearly pray in his name without having to say those words. If our thoughts and intentions match up with what we might expect of Jesus then we can be praying "in his name" without saying so. Also, if we know that we can only pray this way because Jesus has made it possible, then we do not need to feel guilty for omitting the words to express this. Words can be useful reminders of truth, but the words themselves are not a guarantee that we are acting in line with that truth.

This can be extended to Paul's words, too. How can we do everything in the name of Jesus? We can do it in such a way that Jesus would be happy that we are representing him well, that we are acting in a way and out of a motive that he would willingly share. So many tasks we do without love or care. Maybe if we were to pause and think to ourselves that I am offering this meal, this listening ear, this money, this cup of tea in the name of Jesus, then perhaps we might do it differently.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

What a difference a day makes

Just one day - be it a lousy one or a great one - can make so much difference. It can affect not only our mood for those few hours, but leave its mark for days, weeks, months or even years. Only weeks ago, Christians all around the world celebrated one day that is still influencing lives 2000 years later: Easter, the resurrection of Christ. One day changed not only the mood of a few Jews from despair and disappointment to hope and rejoicing, but the whole course of history. Overnight, Jesus went from being dead to fully alive again. In the space of 24 hours, the power of death was undermined and Jesus' claims were vindicated. It is a day whose full significance is still not fully understood - scholars, people of faith and those who dismiss Christianity have all been wrestling to understand, explain and come to terms with the stories that day has generated.

This coming weekend sees the celebration of another momentous day. At Pentecost we remember the day that the Spirit was sent in a special way to empower, guide and be present with the followers of Jesus. This day transformed a timid bunch into powerful characters who would carry the story of Jesus to thousands. Understanding, clarity and the ability to carry out tasks they couldn't have imagined themselves doing before suddenly broke through in an unforgettable day.

But, life isn't really made up of one day of incredible life-changing experiences after another, is it? Aren't such days the exception? What difference can a day, an apparently boring old run-of-the-mill day, possibly make to you or others? Perhaps we underestimate the significance of the passing of another 24 hours and what we have done. Maybe, this leads us to expect little and attempt little the next day and the day after that. But, as this simple repeating pattern itself shows, each day can have an impact on the next, whether for good or ill.

Each day is made up of a variety of choices - what to eat, whether to watch TV, which person to talk to, whether to tell the truth, and many others. Today, for example, you might have the choice whether to encourage someone or not. What does it matter? Someone else might do it, you might think that your "constructive criticism" is enough or it may just feel like one task too many. But, what if that person is depressed or losing self-confidence? One nice word from you might be enough to save them from days of a downward spiral into sadness and despair. Also, suppose you decide each day for a week not to bother with encouraging others deliberately, for whatever reason. Each day that you make that choice (no matter how thought-through) you are developing a deeper habit. The choices we make have the power to shape who we will become and the lives of others. One choice pattern, embedded through one "normal", apparently insignificant day after another has power to affect you, others and the world we live in. What about the many hundreds of decisions made on a "normal" day, then? Over years, what might they achieve?

Each day, we exert an influence on ourselves and others through what we say and do or through what we chose not to say or do. This influence can make us more like Christ, or less. It can help others see God, or it can obscure Him from view. There is no such thing as an insignificant day. Your presence, the fact that you are still alive, means that you are caught up in this web of influence. Every day also has the potential to be truly incredible. God is with us and at work in us, so we never know what might happen. Perhaps one day - maybe even today or tomorrow - you'll be involved in something that shapes people's lives on a scale you had never imagined.

© Joe Lenton, May 2012