Petition for Full Presence

Doldrums, Sand Dune in Ocean City, MarylandBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty, Ever-present Father,

I praise you for you continuing presence in my life.

Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from your love through Jesus Christ (Rom 8:38-39).

But I confess that I have trouble being fully present in the lives of the people around–too often I am tired, I am distracted, I am inattentive to reflect your example.

Thankfully, you are patient with me and speak to me gently when I stray.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, teach me once again what I must do and grant me the strength to follow your footsteps. May your grace shine through me and may I experience the peace that passes all understanding (Phil 4:7).

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Petition for Full Presence

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/Hebrew_Heart

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Prayer for Peace

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Twins
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty God,

Grant us shalom, your peace, which is more than just the absence of war.

Save us from ourselves, from greed, from selfishness, from hardened hearts and stopped ears.

May we never pray for peace, but harbor war in our hearts.

May we never pray for peace only when we have gotten our way.

Teach us how to be ashamed; may we learn again to blush.

May your ways again be our guide and your truths a joy to our hearts.

Teach us to order our lives by your word.

May we listen to your watchman and not ignore the trumpet.

Remove your stumbling block from our feet, the blind from our eyes, that we may no longer sin and perish.

Forgive the sins of our fathers and our temptation to repeat them,

That the day of judgment would not be today. (Jer 6:13-23)

In the power of your Holy Spirit, enter our hearts and cleanse them,

that we might be saved through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Prayer for Peace

Also see:

Prayer for Shalom 

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/2vfisNa

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January Prayer

Winter Trees by Sharron Beg (www.threadpaintersart.blogspot.com)
Winter Trees by Sharron Beg (www.threadpaintersart.blogspot.com)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Eternal Father, Prince of Peace, Spirit of Truth:

We give thanks for a month of new possibilities, not looking back, not fearing the future, but focused on the present.

Be especially present, eternally present, in our lives here and now.

May we participate in your shalom, the peace that passes all understanding, and share it with those around us.

In our sense of peace, give us the serenity to examine our thoughts, our emotions, and our responses,

that they may reflect your presence, honor it, and extend it each and every hour of each and every day.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, may your truth guide our path and lead us closer to you.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

January Prayer

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Prayer for Unity

Noah's Ark at RPC
Mural in Riverside Presbyterian Church

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Gracious Lord of Heaven and Earth,

We give thanks for the many blessings that we have received,

blessings that are lightly shared by some and lacking in others,

blessings that may evoke jealousy, envy, and strife.

Give us generous hearts, open minds, and outstretched hands,

that all might be blessed by the blessings that we have received.

We ask for unity, the opportunity of reconciliation, and the ability to accept it.

May we not gloat; may we not reject our neighbors; or cherish too greatly our own blessings.

Open our eyes to the needs around us; open our ears to the voices that we have trouble hearing; give us the patience to listen when others need to speak.

Through the power of your Holy Spirit, bring us together as a nation that we might follow Jesus’ example in all we do–this day and every day.

And grant us peace, in Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Prayer for Unity

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

HPrayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_weboly and Gracious God,
In the power of your Holy Spirit, help us to cast off the works of the flesh by separating ourselves from sexual immorality, impurities, sensuality, idolatry, and sorcery, fleeing from from enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, dissensions, divisions, and envy, refusing to engage in drunkenness and orgies. Through the example of Jesus Christ, bid us to purse the fruits of the spirit by practicing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Crucify the passions of the flesh in us that we may passionately love the fruits of the spirit (Gal 5:19-24). May peace on your terms grow to become our peace on our terms and may we share it with those around us. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

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

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webCompassionate Father,
I give thanks for the walks that we have shared through summer days of my youth.
The forest trails that we journeyed together; the mountain peaks that you showed me;
the sandy beaches that went on and on.
You held my hand; you let me lead; you comforted me without asking.
I worried only about the getting too much sun or avoiding the rain or just how best to have fun—
Thank you. As the years went by you never left me. Thank you.
Teach me now how to take walks again in the autumn of my days.
To travel paths yet untraveled with young hands eager for the journey.
To offer peace and security and comfort and hospitality at odds with my nature but not with yours.
Be ever near through the power of your Holy Spirit and in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Peace on God’s Terms

Life_in_Tension_web“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Gal 5:22-23 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In order to extend shalom, one must find shalom. Shalom starts with God; works in our hearts; and then is extended to others.

The apple does not fall far from the tree: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matt 5:9 ESV) In other words, peacemaking is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). Out of our identity in Christ, we act.

Moving from theory in to practice is especially hard when it comes to peacemaking. Everyone one loves peace—on their own terms. Pax Romana was peace on Rome’s terms; Pax America is peace on Washington’s terms. In order to find shalom, we must seek peace on God’s terms. Shalom is a fruit of the Spirit, but the whole fruit basket is a package deal!

The Apostle Paul writes:

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Gal 5:19-24 ESV)

To find inner peace, two movements are necessary: throwing off sin (become holy) and taking on godliness (immitate God). Through the atonement of Christ, we are able not to sin. Through the example of the life of Christ, we are able to put on the righteousness of Christ (the fruit of the Spirit) which then spills over into our relationships with other people. This spilling over affects our relationships in the family, community, church, work, and the world (Graham 1955, 92-95).

The seventh beautitude influenced my life at a sensitive age. At age 19 on August 4, 1972, I wrote the following to my draft board:

“I can not fight in a war because as a Christian my highest duty is to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. I believe that life is the sacred gift of God which is to be honored and respected by all men. I believe that every man has a constructive contribution to make to humanity and that each man has the right to fulfill this destiny. I believe there is a beauty in all life and that we should use love, concern, and non-violent methods to solve our conflicts. I believe all men are of one indivisible whole and that each man’s life is important to the life of the whole. I must live in peace to uphold my faith.”

The Vietnam war ended on New Year’s Eve of that year so my draft number (13) was never called. However, my stand against the war spilled over into my family life and strongly influenced later career choices [1]. I predicated my pacifist stand on the belief that Vietnam was an unjust war and therefore Christian participation was not justified.

Choices such as mine divided the generations in the 1960s and 1970s, but did not lead to lasting peace in the world—success is seldom within our control. As Christians, our call is to be faithful and to model faithfulness [2]. We may not institute world peace, but like the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) we can help the needy person who crosses our path [3].

 

[1] Neyrey (1998, 184) notes that it is this family context where Jesus says: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matt. 10:34 ESV)

[2] Mouw (2010, 65) sees moral simplicity accompanied by openness to God’s grace as a path towards sanctification and cites the examples of Corrie ten Boom and Mother Teresa.

[3] Why is the Good Samaritan not called the Great Samaritan? He did what was necessary, not everything possible, to save a man’s life (Cloud and Townsend 1992, 38-39).

REFERENCES

Cloud, Henry and John Townsend. 1992. Boundaries: When to Say YES, When to Say NO, To Take Control of Your Life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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

Mouw, Richard J. 2010. Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.

Neyrey, Jerome H. 1998. Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

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Trinity of Peace

Life_in_Tension_web“On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were
for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, Peace be with you.
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were
glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
(John 20:19-21 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

When we focus on the peace as reconciliation among feuding folks—relief of the tension with our brothers and sisters, we miss the significance of God’s peace breaking out throughout the New Testament. Remember that shalom (שָׁלוֹם) means “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace” (BDB 10002). In other words, it also implies healing, restoration, reconciliation, and salvation—a return to Eden. It is not just hello and goodbye, as it is often used in Hebrew. It is reminder of the covenant and God’s work among us. Shalom implies inner peace, peace with God, and peace between brothers and sisters.

If this interpretation seems far-fetched, remember the beatitudes and Jesus’ call sermon at Nazareth (Luke 4:14-21) start with the words of the Prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion– to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.” (Isa. 61:1-3 ESV)

Notice the inner peace referenced with the phrase: “bind up the brokenhearted”. This sounds a lot like comforting depressed people. Notice the peace with God implied in the phrase: “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me”. God himself has initiated this mission of shalom. Notice the peace with brothers and sisters implied in the phrase: “to proclaim liberty to the captives”. In effect, we are witnessing a trinity of shalom breaking out.

Inner Peace. What could bring peace more quickly than physical and mental healing? Jesus’ first miracle after leaving Nazareth is in the synagogue in Capernaum (Peter’s home town; Luke 4:38) where Jesus drives out a demon out of a man (Luke 4:31-36). This happened repeatedly (Luke 4:41).

Jesus’ ability to heal transformed a person so dramatically that it was obvious just looking at them. For example, after healing the man with the unclean spirit in the Gerasenes, we see:

“And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.” (Mark 5:15 ESV)

Wow. What power in shalom! The man healed was immediately transformed also into an evangelist (Mark 5:20), much like the woman at the well (John 4:28-30).

Peace with God. These days many people take peace with God for granted. This was certainly not a first century view. Jerusalem was destroyed first by the Babylonians for idolatry [1] and later by the Romans, presumably for sin, refusing the listen to the prophets and killing them (Matt 23:34-47). Remembers that Old Testament prophets served to remind the people of their obligations under the Mosaic covenant—in other words, their sin. Consequently, when Paul writes:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” (1 Cor. 15:3-5 ESV)

He is reminding the Corinthian church that Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross and only that sacrifice made peace with God possible. No sacrifice; no peace. If God would not spare Jerusalem because of their sin, why would he spare sinful Corinth? Or, for that matter, Washington or New York?

Nothing but the blood of Jesus can atone for our sin and bring us peace with God.

Peace among Brothers and Sisters. We normally think of peace in terms of reconciliation, in part, because peace on earth is so hard to obtain. Often cited in this context is Paul’s admonition:

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Rom 12:18 ESV)

The shalom of Christ is, however, more generous than simply offering the absence of conflict. Jesus’ first miracle recorded in John’s Gospel shows Jesus rescuing the wedding of an impoverished couple of newlyweds from social embarassment. Notice that Jesus’ generosity has two dimensions—quantity and quality:

“Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast. So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” (John 2:6-10 ESV)

Notice the math here—six times twenty is one hundred and twenty gallons of wine. You might say Jesus gave them a truck loaded with wine! If that were not enough, the wine stewart—a local critic hired to maintain community standards—praises the wine’s quality! You might say Jesus offered them a named French estate wine when a mixed store brand was expected.

Shalom implies inner peace, peace with God, and peace between brothers and sisters. Jesus delivers so much more peace than we expect or deserve.

 

[1] “You took up the tent of Moloch and the star of your god Rephan, the images that you made to worship; and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.” (Acts 7:43 ESV)

REFERENCES

BibleWorks. 2011. Norfolk, VA: BibleWorks, LLC. <BibleWorks v.9>.

Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius (BDB). 1905. Hebrew-English Lexicon, unabridged.

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Make Peace—Embody Shalom

Life_in_Tension_web“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matt. 5:9 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The seventh beatitude focuses on peacemaking. Here we move from tension with ourselves and tension with God to tension with others.  Peacemaking embodies them all.

What does it mean to be a peacemaker?

The absence of peace on earth begins with sin and its consequences. In response to Satan’s temptation of Adam and Eve, God curses him with these words:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen 3:15 ESV)

The first example of peacemaking in scripture follows shortly thereafter and demonstrates God at work. We read:

“So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Gen 4:5-7 ESV)

God sees Cain angry at his brother, Abel, and intervenes to reconcile them. God cautions Cain to get a handle on his own desires. In other words, Abel is not the problem. Cain ignores God; projects his anger on his brother; and kills him. Cain becomes an object of pity because he can neither control his emotions nor his behavior. Jesus himself uses this illustration later in the Sermon on the Mount where he links anger and murder (Matt 5:21-26).

Through this example in Genesis, we see God himself modeling peacemaking through self-control, advising how to avoid sin, and being available to help others. Notice how God’s intervention deals with the three sources of tension here: within ourselves, with God, and with other people! Peacemaking is according seen as a divine attribute and messianic title (Isaiah 9:6-7) which utilizes each of the three dimensions of spirituality. Peacemaking clearly embodies the Hebrew concept of shalom which encompasses each of these dimensions [1].

Shalom (שָׁלוֹם) means “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace” (BDB 10002). The Greek word for shalom (εἰρήνη) has similar scope, but focuses more often on “concord, peace, harmony” (BDAG 2285). The English word, peace, is almost exclusively focused on the absence of war and needs to be modified to encompass shalom [2].

The Apostle Matthew understands the different aspects of shalom in Jesus’ teaching. Two are found in chapter 10 of his Gospel:

“And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.” (Matt. 10:13 ESV)

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matt. 10:34 ESV)

Verse 13 builds on the Hebrew custom of saying both hello and goodbye with the word, shalom—if your hello does not stick, then take it with you when you leave! Verse 34 clearly focuses on the more political interpretation of shalom—peace. Peacemaking can be a positive or a negative attribute depending on the object [3]. Both were important in the Roman-occupied Palestine of the first century. Still, it is the Apostle John that most clearly captures the tension in shalom when he writes:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27 ESV)

World peace in the first century meant Pax Romana which promised tranquility but delivered a brutal occupation.

Clearly, Jesus sees shalom and its embodiment, peacemaking, as transformative. In spite of the brutality of Roman occupation, Jesus commands them:

“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:44-48 ESV)

Here we see the parallel between enemy love and peacemaking through the link to the promise—”so that you may be sons [and daughters] of your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:45) which reads almost the same as: “sons [and daughters] of God” (Matt 5:9). The word, love (ἀγαπᾶτε), appears here in the imperative form. In order to treat an enemy as a brother, one needs to settle one’s heart, be faithful to God’s command, and practice shalom. Then and only then, will you be like your father in heaven and be able to transform your enemy into your friend.

Make peace—embody shalom.

 

[1] I am not the first to notice these three dimensions of peacemaking and relationship with shalom: “Peacemaking, therefore, is much more than a passive suffering to maintain peach or even ‘bridge-building’ or reconciling alienated parties. It is a demonstration of God’s love through Christ in all its profundity (John 3:16’ Rom 5:1 and 6-11). The peacemakers of 5:9 refers to those who, experiencing the shalom of God, become his agents establishing his peace in the world (Shcniewind, Matthaus 48).” Guelich (1982, 92).

[2] For example, we might talk about inner peace or peace and well-being, but peace itself is too narrow to compare with shalom.

[3] What is the object of the peace? Justice, wholeness, or maintenance of privilege? (Neyrey 1998, 184)

REFERENCES

BibleWorks. 2011. Norfolk, VA: BibleWorks, LLC. <BibleWorks v.9>.

Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius (BDB). 1905. Hebrew-English Lexicon, unabridged. (BibleWorks)

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

Neyrey, Jerome H. 1998. Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

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