Pray for Peace

Where do we find ourselves now? Is this the country you thought you’d be living in? Are you fed up and ready to “burn it all down?” Or do the alternatives we have scare you? Imagine what exiles from their homelands must feel.

We have an example of just such exiles in the book of Jeremiah. The people of Judah and Jerusalem were taken captive to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. The prophet Jeremiah exhorted the exiles to live in obedience to God for seventy years, the term God decreed for their banishment. While in Babylon, to show obedience, they were to build houses, plant gardens, and establish families. And, in their obedience, they were to do one more thing for their captors:

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:7 English Standard Version (ESV)

We find ourselves in a very turbulent time. Those who want to “take a chance” don’t know what they’re in for. Neither do I, really. However, in the midst of this we are called to pray for those we would otherwise oppose. A very hard thing to do, I have to admit. However, lately I’ve been praying:

“Make bad men and women good.”

This is a prayer Calvin had recommended nearly 500 years ago. His commentary on the passage in Jeremiah is challenging:

…By saying that their peace would be in the peace of Babylon, he [suggests] that they could not be considered as a separate people until the time of seventy years was completed. He therefore commanded them to pray for the prosperity of Babylon.

At the first view this may seem hard; for we know how cruelly that miserable people had been treated by the Chaldeans. Then to pray for the most savage enemies, might have appeared unreasonable and by no means suitable. But the Prophet mitigates the hardness of the work by saying, that it would be profitable to them to pray for the happy condition of Babylon, inasmuch as they were the associates of their fortune.

…The Prophet teaches the Jews that they ought not to refuse what was required from them, when God [commanded] them to pray for Babylon, because the prosperity of that kingdom would be for their benefit…They were so connected with Babylon, that they could not expect to be exempt from all trouble and annoyance, if any adversity happened to Babylon, for they were of the same body. We now perceive the meaning of the Prophet.

…Hence [we] deduce a very useful doctrine, — that we ought not only to obey the kings under whose authority we live, but that we ought also to pray for their prosperity, so that God may be a witness of our voluntary subjection.

In our voluntary subjection to God’s appointed ruler’s (even ones we do not like), we must also act for their good:

He not only [entreats] them patiently to endure the punishment laid on them, but also to be faithful subjects of their conqueror; he not only forbids them to be seditious, but he would have them to obey from the heart, so that God might be a witness of their willing subjection and obedience.

He says, Seek the peace of the city; this may be understood of prayers; for דרש, daresh, often means to pray: but it may suitably be taken here, as I think, in reference to the conduct of the people, as though he had said, that the Jews were to do what they could, to exert themselves to the utmost, so that no harm might happen to the Chaldean monarchy…

Of course, this means opposing criminal acts (those would not be for their ultimate good before God,) possibly even to our harm. We are called to “seek their peace.”

So, we have a high bar to meet based on this example from antiquity. Not only must we pray for the prosperity of God’s appointed rulers (even those He uses as scourges,) but, we must act for their good to prove our willing submission to God who rules all.

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For those of us who hope in the Lord Jesus Christ’s atonement for our sins, let us pray what Calvin prayed in his day:

Grant, Almighty God, that we may be more and more [accustomed] to render obedience to [you], and that whenever [you chastise] us with [your] scourges, we may examine our own consciences, and humbly and suppliantly [seek to avert your] wrath, and never doubt but [you will] be [benevolent] to us, after having chastised us with [your fatherly] hand; and may we thus [rest] on [your paternal] kindness, that we may ever look forward with quiet minds, until the end appears, which [you have] promised to us, and that when the warfare of this present life shall be finished, we may reach that blessed rest, which has been prepared for us in heaven, through Christ our Lord. — Amen.

We, who wait for a Savior from heaven, know this world is not our own. We are exiles. We should pray for Kings such that we, and our neighbors, might lead peaceful and quiet lives, and all would be, in His providence, saved.

Fiery Furnace

Self-renunciation

When I first became a Christian many years ago, I heard words like the one in the title. And then I didn’t any longer. The plain meaning is:

Renunciation or formal rejection of one’s own will; self-sacrifice; unselfishness.

The scriptural basis for the concept is:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Matthew 16:24 English Standard Version (ESV)

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Mark 8:34 (ESV)

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23 (ESV)

Of course, you might think of many other verses. What does Calvin comment on Matt 16:24:

If any man will come after me. …The words must be explained in this manner: “If any man would be my disciple, let him follow me by denying himself and taking up his cross, or, let him conform himself to my example.” The meaning is, that none can be reckoned to be the disciples of Christ unless they are true imitators of him, and are willing to pursue the same course.

He lays down a brief rule for our imitation, in order to make us acquainted with the chief points in which he wishes us to resemble him. It consists of two parts, self-denial and a voluntary bearing of the cross.

Let him deny himself. This self-denial is very extensive, and implies that we ought to give up our natural inclinations, and part with all the affections of the flesh, and thus give our consent to be reduced to nothing, provided that God lives and reigns in us.

We know with what blind love men naturally regard themselves, how much they are devoted to themselves, how highly they estimate themselves. But if we desire to enter into the school of Christ, we must begin with that folly to which Paul (1 Corinthians 3:18) exhorts us, becoming fools, that we may be wise; and next we must control and subdue all our affections.

And let him take up his cross. He lays down this injunction, because, though there are common miseries to which the life of men is indiscriminately subjected, yet as God trains his people in a peculiar manner, in order that they may be conformed to the image of his Son, we need not wonder that this rule is strictly addressed to them.

It may be added that, though God lays both on good and bad men the burden of the cross, yet unless they willingly bend their shoulders to it, they are not said to bear the cross; for a wild and refractory horse cannot be said to admit his rider, though he carries him.

The patience of the saints, therefore, consists in bearing willingly the cross which has been laid on them. Luke adds the word daily — let him take up his cross daily — which is very emphatic; for Christ’s meaning is, that there will be no end to our warfare till we leave the world. Let it be the uninterrupted exercise of the godly, that when many afflictions have run their course, they may be prepared to endure fresh afflictions.

John Calvin discusses the reality of self–renunciation in his devotional called An Introduction to the Christian Life, an appendix to his Institutes of the Christian Religion. It is a 44 page tract that begins with a realistic assessment of the difficulties in following Christ and concludes with the very real goals we must aim for if we hope to live the Christian life well. He discusses the middle ground of liberty between asceticism and license (both of which he considers inimical).

So let us:

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. Matthew 7:13-14 (ESV)

Narrow path through pine trees

Meenikunno Landscape Reserve (the trees are Pinus sylvestris), Ruta Badina, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported