Praying for the Church – “turn Your steps toward these everlasting ruins”

Lately I’ve been thinking and praying a lot about the brokenness and weakness and seeming fragility of the Church.  I left a comment on the blog Stand Firm yesterday which sums up some of my frustration and grief over the Church’s failure on this side of Heaven to be the radiant Bride, pure and victorious, which Christ died to redeem for Himself.  Here’s part of what I wrote:

I’ve been mostly off the blogs in recent weeks and very much hesitating to jump into this discussion [about the AMiA break from the Province of Rwanda], but I was struck by [a previous commenter’s] heart cry:

I know it sounds trite and simplistic, but I only want the church Jesus is building.  Can someone please tell me where it might be today?

It echos a cry raised in Africa as well in circumstances and a context about as far removed from the Anglican Communion, TEC and AMiA messes as you can get.

The context I’m thinking of a 1st generation church in what has been an unreached people group, where the nascent “church” is very much a network of local cell groups, underground, about as close to the Pauline 1st century context as it’s probably possible to find today.  There is much to rejoice in.   Twenty-five years ago there were no known believers in this people group.  So the fact that there are believers and a nascent church is a wonderful miracle.  And yet at times it’s tempting to despair at the pride and sin and immaturity and divisions in the lives of these new believers and their leaders.  Our cry is for a pure, spotless, radiant church that reflects the fullness and perfect measure of Jesus, where believers speak the truth in love, where they serve out of love for God, not for personal gain, etc. etc.  We see so little maturity and so little transformation “from glory into glory.”

This morning, I read Psalm 74 as part of my devotional reading, and I was struck by how it could be used as a cry for the Church, a cry for God’s rescue & care and deliverance for His people from the enemies that seek to ruin Her and make Her an object of scorn and mockery instead of a display of His glory and splendor.

These verses particularly resonated with me and I poured them out to the Lord in prayer as a cry for the Church – the Church and believers in the nascent church described above, the AMiA, ACNA, TEC and the Anglican Communion – and also as a prayer for my own life and heart, as one of the sinful broken people who is part of the Church Christ died for.

Ps 74:2-3, 18-19, 22a (NIV)
Remember the people you purchased of old, the tribe of your inheritance, whom you redeemed– Mount Zion, where you dwelt.    Turn your steps toward these everlasting ruins,all this destruction the enemy has brought on the sanctuary.

Remember how the enemy has mocked you, O LORD, how foolish people have reviled your name.  Do not hand over the life of your dove to wild beasts; do not forget the lives of your afflicted people forever.

Rise up, O God, and defend your cause …

“Turn Your steps toward these everlasting ruins.”  Yes, the Church oftentimes seems to be very aptly described as everlasting ruins, in need of God’s restoration, rebuilding, renewing.  O Lord come near.  Defend Your cause, do not forsake us!

Psalm 74 reminds us of the Lord’s power and sovereignty, that nothing is impossible for Him, giving us hope to trust that He can (and WILL) build, keep, protect, defend, restore and redeem His Church, His people:

But you, O God, are my king from of old; you bring salvation upon the earth. It was you who split open the sea by your power; … It was you who opened up springs and streams; you dried up the ever flowing rivers.  The day is yours, and yours also the night; … It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth…

The rest of my comment at Stand Firm yesterday tried to focus on our Hope in Christ and His promises:

And yet if we believe God’s promises we WILL see it [that transformation from glory into glory].

I keep coming back to over and over again the wonderful truth and promise in Eph 3:10-11

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God’s purposes never fail, they are ALWAYS perfectly fulfilled, and God has willed and designed through this awful fragile fallible sin-ridden Body called the Church to display His wisdom and greatness and glory to the powers of hell.  He will have the victory!  He will complete the work He has begun in His people.

One of my hopes and prayers in this AMiA mess, thus, is that God would somehow get greater glory. As the utter weakness of all church structures and leaders, and the ugliness of sin is once again visibly on display for all to see, may God shine forth out of these cracked clay pots and astound the world at the beauty He is able to bring forth out of what looks to be an unredeemable mess.  He is the God of redemption, He Himself is our redeemer.

Come Lord Jesus.  May our redemption not only be a confession of words, but a reality demonstrated in transformed lives.

So Yes Lord, we cry “turn Your steps toward these everlasting ruins!”  May they, may we, may I be a display for Your glory, built on the foundation of Christ, exalting Him, even in our weakness.

—-

By the way, for those who want to reflect further on God’s eternal purpose for the Church and the passage I’ve quoted above from Eph. 3, I highly recommend listening to John Piper’s exegesis of Ephesians 3 from the Lausanne Conference in South Africa last year, which I had the awesome joy and privilege of attending.  That exegesis, along with the amazing experience of being gathered together and worshipping with 4000+ other believers from virtually all the countries of the world did so much to expand my vision for the Church and to help me catch a glimpse of its beauty, stirring up my passion to pray for the fulfillment of God’s promises to complete His work and fulfill His purposes in us.

The links to John Piper’s talk (broken into two videos) are here:

Part1Part2

A blessed Advent to all.

2 Responses to Praying for the Church – “turn Your steps toward these everlasting ruins”

  1. Carol says:

    A BODY OF BROKEN BONES

    You and I and all men were made to find our identity in the One Mystical Christ, in Whom we all complete one another “unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ.”
    When we all reach that perfection of love which is the contemplation of God in His glory, our inalienable personalities, while remaining eternally distinct, will nevertheless combine into One so that each one of us will find himself in all the others, and God will be the life and reality of all. Omnia in omnibus Deus.
    God is a consuming Fire. He alone can refine us like gold, and separate us from the slag and dross of our selfish individualities to fuse us into this wholeness of perfect unity that will reflect His own Triune Life forever.
    As long as we do not permit His love to consume us entirely and to unite us in Himself, the gold that is in us will be hidden by the rock and dirt which keep us separate from one another.
    As long as we are not purified by the love of God and transformed into Him in the union of pure sanctity, we will remain apart from one another, opposed to one another, and union among us will be a precious and painful thing, full of labor and sorrow and without lasting cohesion.

    In the whole world, throughout the whole of history, even among religious men and among saints, Christ suffers dismemberment.
    His physical Body was crucified by Pilate and the Pharisees; His mystical Body is drawn and quartered from age to age by the devils in the agony of that disunion which is bred and vegetates in our souls, prone to selfishness and to sin.
    All over the face of the earth the avarice and lust of men breed unceasing divisions among them, and the wounds that tear men from union with one another widen and open out into huge wars. Murder, massacres, revolution, hatred, the slaughter and torture of the bodies and souls of men, the destruction of cities by fire, the starvation of millions, the annihilation of populations and finally the cosmic inhumanity of atomic war: Christ is massacred in His members, torn limb from limb; God is murdered in men.
    The history of the world, with the material destruction of cities and nations and people, expressed the interior division that tyrannizes the souls of all men, and even of the saints.
    Even the innocent, even those in whom Christ lives by charity, even those who want with their whole heart to love one another, remain divided and separate. Although they are already one in Him, their union is hidden from them, because it still only possesses the secret substance of their souls.
    But their minds and their judgments and their desires, their human characters and faculties, their appetites and their ideals are all imprisoned in the slag an inescapable egotism which pure love has not yet been able to refine.
    As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is the resetting of a Body of broken bones. Even saints cannot live with saints on this earth without some anguish, without some pain at the differences that come between them.
    There are two things which men can do about the pain of disunion with other men. They can love or they can hate.
    Hatred recoils from the sacrifice and the sorrow that are the price of this resetting of bones. It refuses the pain of reunion.
    There is in every weak, lost and isolated member of the human race an agony of hatred born of his own helplessness, his own isolation. Hatred is the sign and the expression of loneliness, of unworthiness, of insufficiency. And in so far as each one of us is lonely, is unworthy, each one hates himself. Some of us are aware of this self-hatred, and because of it we reproach ourselves and punish ourselves needlessly. Punishment cannot cure the feeling that we are unworthy. There is nothing we can do about it as long as we feel that we are isolated, insufficient, helpless, alone. Others, who are less conscious of their own self-hatred, realize it in a different form by projecting it on to others. There is a proud and self-confident hate, strong and cruel, which enjoys the pleasure of hating, for it is directed outward to the unworthiness of another. But this strong and happy hatred does not realize that like all hate, it destroys and consumes the self that hates, and not the object that is hated. Hate in any form is self-destructive, and even when it triumphs physically it triumphs in its own spiritual ruin.
    Strong hate, the hate that takes joy in hating, is strong because it does not believe itself to be unworthy and alone. It feels the support of a justifying God, of an idol of war, an avenging and destroying spirit. From such blood-drinking gods the human race was once liberated, with great toil and terrible sorrow, by the death of a God who delivered Himself to the Cross and suffered the pathological cruelty of His own creatures out of pity for them. In conquering death He opened their eyes to the reality of a love which asks no questions about worthiness, a love which overcomes hatred and destroys death. But men have now come to reject this divine revelation of pardon, and they are consequently returning to the old war gods, the gods that insatiably drink blood and eat the flesh of men. It is easier to serve the hate-gods because they thrive on the worship of collective fanaticism. To serve the hate-gods, one has only to be blinded by collective passion. To serve the God of Love one must be free, one must face the terrible responsibility of the decision to love in spite of all unworthiness whether in oneself or in one’s neighbor.
    It is the rankling, tormenting sense of unworthiness that lies at the root of all hate. The man who is able to hate strongly and with a quiet conscience is one who is complacently blind to all unworthiness in himself and serenely capable of seeing all his own wrongs in someone else. But the man who is aware of his own unworthiness and the unworthiness of his brother is tempted with a subtler and more tormenting kind of hate: the general, searing, nauseating hate of everything and everyone, because everything is tainted with unworthiness, everything is unclean, everything is foul with sin. What this weak hate really is, is weak love. He who cannot love feels unworthy, and at the same time feels that somehow no one is worthy. Perhaps he cannot feel love because he thinks he is unworthy of love, and because of that he also thinks no one else is worthy.
    The beginning of the fight against hatred, the basic Christian answer to hatred, is not the commandment to love, but what must necessarily come before in order to make the commandment bearable and comprehensible. It is a prior commandment, to believe. The root of Christian love is not the will to love, but the faith that one is loved. The faith that one is loved by God. That faith that one is loved by God although unworthy—or, rather, irrespective of one’s worth!
    In the true Christian vision of God’s love, the idea of worthiness loses its significance. Revelation of the mercy of God makes the whole problem of worthiness something almost laughable: the discovery that worthiness is of no special consequence (since no one could ever, by himself, be strictly worthy to be loved with such a love) is a true liberation of the spirit. And until this discovery is made, until this liberation has been brought about by the divine mercy, man is imprisoned in hate.
    Humanistic love will not serve. As long as we believe that we hate no one, that we are merciful, that we are kind by our very nature, we deceive ourselves; our hatred is merely smoldering under the gray ashes of complacent optimism. We are apparently at peace with everyone because we think we are worthy. That is to say we have lost the capacity to face the question of unworthiness at all. But when we are delivered by the mercy of God the question no longer has a meaning.
    Hatred tries to cure disunion by annihilating those who are not united with us. It seeks peace by the elimination of everybody else but ourselves.
    But love, by its acceptance of the pain of reunion, begins to heal all wounds.

    If you want to know what is meant by “God’s will” in man’s life, this is one way to get a good idea of it. “God’s will” is certainly found in anything that is required of us in order that we may be united with one another in love. You can call this, if you like, the basic tenet of the Natural Law, which is that we should treat others as we would like them to treat us, that we should not do to another what we would not want another to do to us. In other words, the natural law is simply that we should recognize in every other human being the same nature, the same needs, the same rights, the same destiny as in ourselves. The plainest summary of all the natural law is: to treat other men as if they were men. Not to act as if I alone were a man, and every other human were an animal or a piece of furniture.
    Everything that is demanded of me, in order that I may treat every other man effectively as a human being, “is willed for me by God under the natural law.” Whether or not I find the formula satisfactory, it is obvious that I cannot live a truly human life if I consistently disobey this fundamental principle.
    But I cannot treat other men as men unless I have compassion for them. I must have at least enough compassion to realize that when they suffer they feel somewhat as I do when I suffer. And if for some reason I do not spontaneously feel this kind of sympathy for others, then it is God’s will that I do what I can to learn how. I must learn to share with others their joys, their sufferings, their ideas, their needs, their desires. I must learn to do this not only in the cases of those who are of the same class, the same profession, the same race, the same nation as myself, but when men who suffer belong to other groups, even to groups that are regarded as hostile. If I do this, I obey God. If I refuse to do it, I disobey Him. It is not therefore a matter left open to subjective caprice.
    Since this is God’s will for every man, and since contemplation is a gift not granted to anyone who does not consent to God’s will, contemplation is out of the question for anyone who does not try to cultivate compassion for other men.
    For Christianity is not merely a doctrine or a system of beliefs, it is Christ living in us and uniting men to one another in His own Life and unity. “I in them, and Thou, Father, in Me, that they may be made perfect in One….And the glory which Thou has given me I have given them, that they may be One as we also are One.” In hoc cognoscent omnes quia mei estis discipuli, si dilectionem habueritis ad invicem. “In this shall all men know that you are my disciples—if you have love one for another.”
    “He that loveth not abideth in death.”

    If you regard contemplation principally as a means to escape from the miseries of human life, as a withdrawal from the anguish and the suffering of this struggle for reunion with other men in the charity of Christ, you do not know what contemplation is and you will never find God in your contemplation. For it is precisely in the recovery of our union with our brothers in Christ that we discover God and know Him, for then His life begins to penetrate our souls and His love possesses our faculties and we are able to find out Who He is from the experience of His mercy, liberating us from the prison of self-concern.

    There is only one true flight from the world; it is not an escape from conflict, anguish and suffering, but the flight from disunity and separation, to unity and peace in the love of other men.
    What is the “world” that Christ would not pray for, and of which He said that His disciples were in it but not of it? The world is the unquiet city of those who live for themselves and are therefore divided against one another in a struggle that cannot end, for it will go on eternally in hell. It is the city of those who are fighting for possession of limited things and for the monopoly of goods and pleasures that cannot be shared by all.
    But if you try to escape from this world merely by leaving the city and hiding yourself in solitude, you will only take the city with you into solitude; and yet you can be entirely out of the world while remaining in the midst of it, if you let God set you free from your own selfishness and if you live for love alone.
    For the flight from the world is nothing else but the flight from self-concern. And the man who locks himself up in private with his own selfishness has put himself into a position where the evil within him will either possess him like a devil or drive him out of his head.
    That is why it is dangerous to go into solitude merely because you like to be alone.

    Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, pp. 70-79.

  2. […] Turn Your Steps toward these everlasting ruins (Praying Psalm 74 for the church in crisis) […]

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