Lenten Prayer 2018

Paining of the crucifixion
The Crucifixion

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Merciful Father,

Have mercy on me, oh Lord, while I observe Lent,

the forty days of preparation for Holy Week and Easter.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, open my eyes as I pray; unstop my ears; may my heart and mind reflect on your infinite mercy.

For mercy, defines who you are and enlivens your other attributes–

“merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” (Exod. 34:6 ESV)

Because your are merciful, you offer us grace.

Because you are merciful, you are slow to anger.

Because you are merciful, you abound in steadfast love.

Because your are merciful, you display your faithfulness.

We especially see your mercy in the death and resurrection of your son and our savior, Jesus Christ.

Bless us now with the strength to abstain from sin and to reflect on Easter.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

 

Lenten Prayer 2018

Also see:

Giving Thanks 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Lent-2018

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Prayer for Protection

Sovereign Lord:

I praise you for raising me up from the deeps that I had fallen

and have not let my detractors have their day.

You remembered me in my hour of affliction and healed my soul and body and mind.

I need not fear the grave or the hell that others have fallen into.

Praise the Lord, Christians, give thanks and bless his name.

His wrath passes quickly, but his love is forever; our weeping is a night’s misery, but

our weeping is a night’s misery, but our joy comes with the new day.

As for me, because of my many blessings, I will remain strong in the Lord.

You have strengthened my footsteps, but when clouds cover your face, I am distressed.

To you alone do I cry for mercy; if I die, will my bones praise you and tell of your faithfulness?

Hear my prayer; come to me quickly!

For in you mourning becomes dancing; black funeral suits are quickly removed and your joy clothes me daily.

I will sing to you and not stay silent; I will rejoice in your name forever! (Psalm 30)

In the power of your Holy Spirit cover me in my weakness.

Shelter me in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Love Prayer

IrisBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Heavenly father,

We praise you for the mercy that you showed us in sending Jesus Christ to die on a cross for us and our salvation.

For in your mercy, we have seen your love—

sacrificial love that carried a price; covenantal love that kept a promise;

divine love that bridged the gaps between the eternal and mortal and between the holy and the unclean.

Have pity on us, a pitiable people—

people who wink at eternity for a night on the town;

people who spurn holiness for a penny’s entertainment.

Thank you for the love of Christ.

In the power of your Holy Spirit,

help us to grow into it and share it with those around us.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Love Prayer

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27. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webHoly and Eternal Father,
We praise you for your mercy and grace through Jesus Christ who died for our sins before we were even born. We confess that you and you alone are holy. From our mother’s womb we have tried your patience and even now come to you with blood stained hands. Forgive us in our rebellion against your covenant and against your son. In the power of your Holy Spirit, cleanse our hearts and minds that we might become fit stewards of your mercy and grace to those among us who have not heard the good news or have rejected it on account of our sin and folly. Draw us to yourself today across the gaps that separate us that we might have new life in you, this day, and forever more. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

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25. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webMerciful Father, Beloved Son, Ever-present Spirit,
We praise you, Lord, for your mercy, grace, patience, love, and faithfulness, for healing us of our afflictions, forgiving our sin, and your presence in our life, for in you is faith, hope, and love that we find nowhere else. We confess that you and you alone are God, yet we have made idols of machines, institutions, and our own pet theories. We have not followed the example of your son, Jesus Christ,
and have set our own desires above our families, friends, and even your church. Forgive our sin; overlook our transgressions; and heal us of our iniquity—that we might be whole again and restored to your presence. We give thanks for the many blessings that you have freely given us: our families, our health, our work, and even life itself. We ask you now to bless us that we might bless others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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24. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webMerciful God,
I praise you for the gift of your law and your provision of grace through Jesus Christ that we might approach you in prayer through the Holy Spirit and know who you are through the revelation of scripture and the life of Jesus Christ. You are the God of mercy and grace, who is slow to anger, abounding in love, and faithful. There is none like you; may I ever model myself on your immutable character remembering your law, ever-mindful of your grace, and with the support of your church. May I be quick to share your mercy, grace, and love with those around me in thought, word, and deed through the power of your Holy Spirit, and in Jesus’s name, Amen.

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23. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webGod of All Compassion and Mercy,
Forgive me, Lord, for the sins of my youth where I fell short of the plans you had for me. When in your great compassion you were kind to me and patient,teaching me your law and demonstrating your grace. Forgive me, Lord, for the transgressions of my youth when I disobeyed your law when in your mercy you looked the other way and disregarded my attitude, teaching me forbearance and gentle persuasion.
Forgive me, Lord, for the iniquity of my youth when I failed to help those around me. When in your everlasting love you sent your son to die to me, atoning for my sin, my transgressions, and my iniquity so that I might grow to be a man mindful of compassion, mercy, and love that were modeled for me all the days of my life through the power of your Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

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Mercy as a Path to Salvation

Life_in_Tension_web“Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.
For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt. 9:13 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

It is no accident that we feel the tension with God over the question of mercy. We do not want to admit to our sins (or our need for forgiveness) because we spend most of our lives trying to hide our sin from other people. We deny our sin from morning to night. And it is painful, in turn, showing mercy to other people —we would much rather have them fulfill their promises and pay their debts.

Our problem with mercy is that it requires action.  We would rather talk about love because it is a squishy sort of emotion.  Easy on the action; easy to redefine; easily to confuse with.  We are always in compliance with a law of love, at least in our own minds.  Mercy requires concrete action.  Billy Graham wrote:  “What are some of the areas in today’s world toward which we can show mercy? First: We can show mercy by caring for the social needs of our fellow men…Second: We can show mercy by doing away with our prejudices…Third: We can show mercy by sharing the gospel of Christ with others.” (Graham 1955, 61-65).  Concrete. Doable. Undeniable.  Highly personal.

God’s priority is showing mercy. Jesus cites the Prophet Hosea twice [1] in Matthew after citing the beatitude:

“For I desire steadfast love [2] and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6 ESV)

The heart of paganism in the church lies in trying to bribe God with sacrifices other than the sacrifice of our own hearts.  We prefer to bribe God with sacrifices (”burnt offerings”) than own up to our own sin.   Arguing that we are basically good (denying original sin), in effect, denies Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross.  That is to say, we don’t need Christ’s mercy and, as a codicil, we do not need to practice mercy with those around us. The echo of Cain’s question still haunts us: “am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9 ESV)

It is interesting that in the Gospel of Luke, the double love command (love God; love neighbor; Matthew 22:36-40) is cited, not by Jesus, but by a lawyer (Luke 10:25-28) who then proceeds to narrow the definition of neighbor [3]. He asks Jesus: “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29 ESV) Jesus responds by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. At the end, Jesus pulls a Jedi mind trick asking: “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” (Luke 10:36 ESV) Notice how Jesus substitutes the question—”who proved to be a neighbor” for the question—”who is my neighbor”. Jesus turns a direct object (neighbor) into a verb (to be a neighbor). To this question, the lawyer responds: “The one who showed him mercy.” (Luke 10:37 ESV)

Notice how in the story of the Good Samaritan we started out talking about love, but ended up talking about mercy? God’s identity—

“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exod. 34:6 ESV)

—includes both mercy and love, but mercy comes first. Jesus’ brother James makes a similar observation saying:

“For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13 ESV)

Judgment requires truth (אֱמֶֽת) which in Exodus 34:6 is translated also as faithfulness. Mercy also comes before truth and judgment. Interestingly, James has in the citation above restated Jesus’ beatitude in the negative—essentially it is now in the form of a curse—it is a curse to be judged without mercy.

The link of mercy and judgment necessarily brings us back to the atoning work of Christ. The Apostle Peter clearly linked these two ideas when he wrote:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5 ESV)

It is the mercy of God to provide us a path of salvation to Himself.

[1] Matthew 9:13 and 12:7.

[2] There is tension in the Greek and Hebrew texts on this word. The Greek reads mercy (ἔλεος) and the Hebrew reads love (חֶ֥סֶד).  The citations in Matthew 9:13 and 12:7 go with the Greek.  The translation of Hosea 6:6 in the English Standard Version (ESV) goes with the Hebrew.

[3] Today, the lawyer would not only try to narrow the definition of neighbor, he would narrow the definition of love.

REFERENCES

Graham, Billy. 1955. The Secret of Happiness. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc.

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God’s Core Values

Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra“The LORD passed before him [Moses] and proclaimed, The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exod. 34:6-7 ESV)

God’s Core Values

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

What exactly are God’s core values?

God’s core values are given in Exodus 34:6 immediately following the giving of the Ten Commandments. We know that these values are fundamental for God because they are repeated all most word for word in Psalm 86:15 and 103:8, Joel 2:13, and Jonah 4:2. Interestingly, in the second giving of the law in Deuteronomy 4:31, only mercy is mentioned.

Focus on Mercy

The emphasis in most of these passages on mercy and the de-emphasis in some passages on faithfulness (or truth) suggests that God is soft-hearted. Exodus 34:6 mentions mercy (רַחוּם), gracious (חַנּ֑וּן), slow to anger (אֶ֥רֶךְ אַפַּ֖יִם) or patient, abounding in love (חֶ֥סֶד) and faithfulness (truth) (אֱמֶֽת). Psalm 86:15 repeats all five words in the Hebrew in the same order. Psalm 103 repeats the first four values [1], but drops faithfulness. Joel 2:13 repeats the first five words, but substitutes “relents over disaster” for faithfulness. Jonah 4:2 likewise substitutes “relents over disaster” for faithfulness and swaps grace and mercy.

Interpreting the Ten Commandments

The giving of the core values right after the giving of the law is not an accident. Core values provide guidance on how to interpret law especially when conflicts arise. Law has the benefit of being concrete and establishes specific principles—this is the field of theology (the study of the nature of God). But in application circumstances are often messy and bring these principles into conflict—this is the field of ethics (the study of right and wrong action). As Christians, because we know God through the Bible and His Holy Spirit, we know the mind of God—we know his character.  Exodus 34:6 speaks directly to this question of God’s character.

Story of Jonah

The classic story of the mind of God is found in the Book of Jonah. God called on Jonah to preach repentance to the people of Nineveh. But Jonah hated the Ninevites and caught the next boat out of town going the opposite direction (Jonah. 1:2-3). Why? Because he knew God’s character. When he finally went to Nineveh and preached as God had called him, the people of Nineveh turned from their sin and begged God to forgive them (Jonah 3:9-10). Jonah responded in anger:

“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” (Jonah 4:1-2 ESV)

What did Jonah say? In prayer he cited God’s core values as a reason for running away from his assignment to preach to the Ninevites. Why? Because he hated the Ninevites so much that he did not want God to forgive them.

Jonah’s Bad Example

God’s mercy is first among his core values. When we refuse to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with our neighbors, we become like Jonah selfishly trying to keep God’s mercy to ourselves. This refusal puts us in tension both with God and with our neighbors. We are in tension with God because, in effect, we deny God’s mercy and our own identity as ones created in the image of God (Gen 1:27). We are in tension with our neighbors because we have denied them God’s mercy and, potentially, their eternal salvation.  Who are the Ninevites in your life?

Jesus reminds us with a promise: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matt. 5:7 ESV)

Aren’t you glad that God’s core values are actually immutable character traits—part of his identity and not of a New Year’s resolution?

 

[1] Slow to anger is expressed with another expression—long nostriled (אֶ֖רֶךְ אַפַּ֣יִם)—implying the same thing—patient.

Also see:

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2vfisNa

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Jesus: Show Mercy, Receive Mercy

Life_in_Tension_web“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matt. 5:7 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Our tension with God is never more obvious than when we need to model ourselves after his mercy. Mercy is mentioned about 30 times in the Old Testament and all but 4 times it is God’s mercy that is in view (Guelich 1982, 88). We understand this point intuitively because Christ died on the cross for our sins (1 Cor. 15:3). Christ’s atonement is a debt that we can never repay. So we will fall short no matter how hard we try and we are certainly not always in the mood even to try.

Mercy appears in many word forms in scripture, but the form used in this beatitude is used nowhere else. Merciful (ἐλεήμων) means “being concerned about people in their need, merciful, sympathetic, compassionate” (BDAG 2487). It has the same root as compassion (ἐλεημοσύνη) and mercy (ἔλεος). The word, forgiveness or to forgive (ἀφίημι), is closely related. In a real sense, mercy and forgiveness are two sides of the same coin [1], as the Psalmist writes:

“Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!” (Ps. 25:6-7)

The importance that Jesus placed on mercy shows up both in his repeated use of the term and the reciprocal form that he uses it in (France 1985,110). Jesus uses the word, mercy, in these verses:

  • “Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice [2]. For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt. 9:13) [3]
  • “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” (Matt. 23:23)
  • And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (Matt. 18:33)

Some of Jesus’ closely related phrases are actually better known:

  • “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 7:12)
  • “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matt. 6:12)

Whether it is the Golden Rule or part of the Lord’s Prayer, clearly mercy is God’s signature character trait [4], as we read during the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai:

“The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exod. 34:4-7 ESV)

The reciprocal form of this beatitude makes it very convicting. We do not earn mercy by being merciful, but if mercy is God’s signature character trait, then we recognize His presence and blessing when we offer it and experience it.

Being created in the image of God, we identify ourselves as Christians when we reflect God’s mercy to those around us.

[1] See: Guelich (1982, 88).

[2] Hosea 6:6.

[3] Also: Matthew 12:7.

[4] “Mercy is a central biblical theme, because in God’s great mercy he does not give humans what they deserve, rather, he gives to them what they do not deserve…” (Wilkins 2004, 208)

REFERENCES

Bauer, Walter (BDAG). 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. ed. de Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <BibleWorks. v.9.>.

France, R.T. 1985. Matthew. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove: IVP Academic.

Guelich, Robert. 1982. The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding. Dallas: Word Publishing.

Wilkins, Michael J. 2004. The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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