Saturday, March 19, 2016

Except for Jesus

‘I can no longer condemn or hate other Christians for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble they cause me. In intercessory prayer the face that may have been strange and intolerable to me is transformed into the face of one for whom Christ died, the face of a pardoned sinner.’
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

This is of course very true, that if and as we pray, intercede, for others, we cannot condemn or hate them. I wish I could say that this is a truth in general practice, but it is not. By and large the Church of today does
not pray, even when it goes through the motions formally in liturgies and litanies, even when it gathers in little clutches of ‘Spirit-filled’ prayer. No matter where you go in Christianity today, real prayer is at a bare minimum, carried on probably more in private, in ones, twos and threes, perhaps a few more, but still pitifully thin. So should it surprise us that the churches are in the state they're in?

Bonhoeffer says, ‘A Christian community either lives by the intercessory prayers of its members for one another, or the community will be destroyed’ (ibid.). This is rather strong language, but is it true? I think it is. What we see around us is in fact destroyed Christian communities. Notice he didn’t say, ‘annihilated’ but ‘destroyed.’ I would be interested to know whether the word he used was zerstört (German, utterly destroyed) or some other expression.

Coming from America's greatest poet, ‘no man has ever yet been half devout enough; none has ever yet adored or worship’d half enough,’ and these words coming from a man who was certainly not a mainstream Christian, if he was a Christian at all. Yet, I agree with him, adding, ‘no man has ever yet prayed enough, interceded enough,’ and I can say that with only one objective piece of evidence—myself.

I don't know what else to say. I try to pray without ceasing. I even pray while I am consciously sinning, if you can call that prayer. Yet, even my standing before God as I am in complete confession of my sinful state, trusting in His mercy and grace alone to save me from myself, I know that the greater sin is my inability or lack of dedication to pray, asking for the needs of the brethren. I hold up the lives of those I love, but rarely those I hate, or am indifferent to. And my prayer to Him, to help me to pray better, to intercede more manfully, seems to me to be pure hypocrisy.

In the end, I can only say, ‘Father, let it be unto me according to Your will, not according to my deeds, for I am pitiful, blind and lost, except for Jesus.’

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