The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan part 4

Posted on 14. Dec, 2015 by in Church News

Sabbath Liturgy: Practicing the Sovereignty of God

One thing stops God dead in his tracks. It is paltry and flimsy, but tenacious enough to shatter all God’s advances. Even grace, abounding in our sin, cannot break it.

I speak of pride.

Pride usurps God. Pride inverts the universe’s deepest truth: that we need and serve God. Pride gets this exactly backwards. Pride is the delusion that God, if he exists, is awfully lucky I’ve shown up and should mind his p’s and q’s lest I change my mind.

The twin of pride is despair. It is to collapse into a sense that not even God is good enough or big enough to sort out the mess I’ve made or stumbled upon. In despair, we are consumed by the lie that God, if he exists, is too inept or distracted or apathetic to even notice us, let alone come to our aid.

Judas was a man who went from one to the other, pride to despair, in a blink. His betrayal of Jesus is an act of unmitigated pridefulness, the swaggering assurance that he knew what was best and had every right – even a moral imperative – to go after it. He was cocksure in his actions, driven by a sense of higher wisdom. But that quickly fell to pieces, and then Judas acted out of utmost remorse. No one and nothing, he felt, could salvage his blunder. The only thing left to do was hang himself.

Judas represents an extreme, but the patter itself is commonplace: one minute certain we can do things better than God, the next convinced that not even God can make things better. Peter, who is often contrasted with Judas, was like that. Boastful and bullheaded, given to brags and bullyrags, he promised great feats, committed great blunders, and then slunk away in defeat. He crowed with cocky self-admiration, and then, hearing the cock crow, wept with shameful humiliation.

But eventually he got it right. And his secret, as far as he had one, was that he learned to practice the sovereignty of God.

Acts 3-4, for instance. Peter and John perform a miracle in Jerusalem, and then Peter seizes the opportunity to preach one of his shoot-from-the-hip, come-to-Jesus sermons. This lands them in trouble with the “law,” the Jewish high council known as the Sanhedrin. Peter seizes the opportunity to preach to them. They are astonished at his courage. He is one who speaks with authority.

But they order him and John to shut up about Jesus anyway, “to speak no longer to anyone in this name” (Acts 4:17) – a rather comprehensive prohibition. They threaten Peter and John with dire consequences if they persist.

The Peter we knew before would have folded long before this point. He would have wormed his way out, found some escape hatch, and slipped through it. The Peter we meet now is emboldened by each fresh challenge. The Sanhedrin note this: “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Confidence in ourselves – our educations, our pedigrees, our abilities – is pathetic. But confidence in Jesus Christ, which comes only by walking with him, is astonishing. Peter has quit the one and perfected the other.

It’s what happens next, after the Sanhedrin release John and Peter, that gives us the clearest account of how Peter replenishes his Christ-confidence:

Acts 4:23-31 –

23 On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25 You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:

“‘Why do the nations rage
    and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth rise up
    and the rulers band together
against the Lord
    and against his anointed one.’

27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. 29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

The prayer ends with the trouble these men face. But it doesn’t begin this way. It begins with this: “Sovereign Lord.” And it moves from there into naming and recounting the height and depth and weight of his sovereignty: God made all, rules all, and overrules all that stands in his way.

These men practice the sovereignty of God. They establish, clear and solid, the truth of God’s kingship. They rehearse the reality of God’s overarching, undergirding might. As they grow, God starts to look bigger.

And only then, as a king of addendum or footnote, do they pray about the problem they have: Oh, by the way, God we had some trouble in town today, some blowhards making empty threats. Could you clear that up?

God then sends a fresh infusion of the Spirit. They grow some more. God sends his Spirit, but not to keep the disciples safe: to make them more dangerous.

Are you in the midst of a situation where, as you pray, you find yourself putting the problem first? If so, you’re starting where you should end. You’re rehearsing the problem, making it seem larger than it is, when what you need to do is rehearse God’s greatness and bigness. Then the problem shrinks to its right portions. Oh, by the way…

As a Sabbath Liturgy, I recommend practicing the sovereignty of God. Today when you pray, start with God. Survey what he has made. Recite what he has done. Proclaim who he is.

And after you have been with Jesus long enough, and feel your courage brimming, and he looks bigger, see if there’s still an Oh, by the way…

I often tell new believers or young Christians that there is no wrong way to pray. I encourage them to talk to God like He is their friend sitting right there beside them carrying on a conversation with them. I use this same technique often with my own children as we say our prayers at night. And I really believe that God is right there and that He is listening and that He does want us to talk to Him, but I’m starting to doubt my belief in the idea that there is no wrong way to pray. 

When I read the prayers of the prophets or Peter or Mary they don’t talk to God like He’s their buddy. They don’t enter into a gripe session (well they usually don’t). On the other side of things, they don’t use stilted and fake sounding phrases just because they sound more religious.

When they pray, praise and honor and adoration spill forth from their mouths. Sure, they ask God for things and they question and they plea, but it starts with a big God who does big things. It doesn’t start with small problems. And that’s what they really are. Our problems are small. Not small because they are insignificant. Not small because they are petty. Not small as in something that God doesn’t care about. They are small because our God is big and mighty and sovereign and supreme. Like the author states, if we can start our prayers by getting God in proper perspective then we will have a much easier time seeing our problems in proper perspective as well. 

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