Tuesday, 27 January 2015

PAPA Prayer and Letters from John to the Church

In chapter 2 of Dr. Larry Crabb's book The PAPA Prayer, we're given an introduction to what the PAPA prayer is and how it changes your prayer life.

We pray so many prayers, asking God for so many things (even good things like restored relationships or healing from sickness/disease), and they don't get answered so we wonder where God is and if He even cares. But could the problem be with how we're praying, not with what or to whom we're praying? Could it be that we're focussing on petitionary prayer, rather than relational? That we're just looking for God to give us what we want and need (or what we think we need) and are not looking for relationship with Him?

There are many good ways to pray and many people have published effective "formulas" of prayer but this (the PAPA prayer) is a fresh way to look at prayer. We can't manipulate God. "He's not open to input on how to best run my life" (p. 9). (I really liked that quote. God knows us better than we know ourselves and we need to let go of control of our lives and trust Him that He knows best how to run it. This prayer is "a way to relate to God that lets us hear Him speak" (p. 9). Isn't that beautiful? Doesn't that sound like the best way to speak? We can speak to God and hear His response, knowing it is Him responding to us? Don't you long for that too??  We can find union with God in this prayer. Here's another awesome quote from this chapter: "It's a way to know God so well that the deepest desire of His heart actually becomes the deepest desire of ours, and that frees us to ask God for what we really want with confidence that He'll move heaven and earth to grant our request, because what we want now matches what He wants" (p. 9).

Dr. Crabb gives us a brief outline (promising to go into more detail in future chapters) of what the PAPA prayer looks like. You have probably guessed, by my capitalization of the entire word PAPA, that it is an acronym! :) The letters represent the following:

"P - Present yourself to God without pretense...
A - Attend to how you're thinking of God...
P - Purge yourself of anything blocking your relationship with God. [Verbalize it to God.]...
A - Approach God as the 'first thing' in your life..." (p. 10).

It's, first and foremost, relational prayer. This kind of prayer needs to be at the very centre of our lives, above any other form of prayer. "Relational prayer must always come before petitionary prayer. Relate and then request. Enjoy God and then enjoy His provisions, whatever they are" (p. 10). Hmm, sounds like something similar to what John Piper would say in his talks on Christian hedonism - along the lines of the chief end of man being to glorify God and enjoy Him forever! :) We can only be fully satisfied if our souls rest in Him.

So, relational prayer has to come first but we can't make the mistake of having the goal of this prayer to have all our petitions answered. Then we're still coming at it the wrong way, with the wrong mindset/attitude. The goal of this prayer is, quite simply, intimate relationship with God, our Father. "Coming to God in this way creates space in me that the Spirit always fills. Always. I may not know its happening, but it is" (p. 11). This prayer leads to change in our attitudes, in how we see ourselves and others.

Now on to Letters from John to the church. So, this year I've been working on my goal to read through the Bible (because, as I mentioned in my first post in this series on relational prayer, part of relationship with God is spending time in His word, getting to know Him) and I've promised to include my thoughts on what I've read as well. Also, following the advise in the article I linked in that introductory post (and article from The Gospel Coalition), I am reading each book 20 times before moving on to the next book. I'm not reading the Bible in chronological order, not from the front to the back. Instead I'm starting with the shortest book and moving on from there so I will be ending with the longest book. The shortest book is the Third Letter of John followed by the Second Letter of John. So, those are the books I've read so far (and yes, I know it's almost the end of January and I've only, technically, read 2 pages of the Bible BUT, I'm reading each 20 times each and I'm taking my time so that I can think on what I've read, ponder the Word). :)

Thoughts on the Third Letter of John:

John calls himself "the Elder" and is writing this letter to a man named Gaius. We aren't told who this man is but we can assume he has an important role in his own church (possibly also an elder?). This letter encourages Gaius (and us) to walk in truth. We are to welcome strangers who are brothers and sister in Christ and also welcome those who we know who are brothers and sisters in Christ. Basically, be welcoming! :) He encourages Gaius (and the church) to not imitate evil and he defines evil as those who put themselves first, who don't acknowledge the authority of the elders, who don't welcome bothers/sisters in Christ and who prevent others from doing the same. He also includes a plea to support missionaries/ministers and this seems to be a plea for financial support, not just support through prayer!  In regards to walking in truth he says, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth." I have often heard this verse quoted as parents speaking to their children (like if my parents said "I find great joy in hearing that Jennifer is walking in truth.") But, when read in the context of this book/chapter, it seems to refer, not so much to biological/adopted children as in a child/parent relationship, but seems to refer more to a minister/pastor relating to his congregation. And I imagine there could be no greater joy to a pastor than to see that the people under his care are walking in truth!  In this letter (verse 7), there is a reference to "the Gentiles" and I wonder, who are the gentiles in this context? are they simply non-Jews (as the term traditionally refers to) or does it mean unbelievers?  Something to think about...

Thoughts on the Second Letter of John:

This letter is again written from "the elder" but, instead of being written to one particular person, it is written "to the elect lady and her children". This tells me it is written to a specific church and the members of that congregation. He describes this church as one "whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth, because of the truth that abides in us..." What does this mean? If you love God, you will love the church. In fact, you must love the church because it is His church and He dwells in us and in His church.  John says to the church, "... love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments; ..." Interesting! Love/loving each other, is not so much how we relate to each other as it is how we relate to God! Love is, as defined in this verse, obedience to God and this is also, apparently how we show love to each other! But then, part of that love also has to include holding each other accountable to "walk according to his commandments." Then when someone holds us accountable, we can't respond with a "how dare you judge me and think yourself better than me" but we need to respond with an understanding that the person genuinely loves us and cares for us and is calling us to live in the manner according to our confession that we are children of God!  I also wonder about these verses: "Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works." Now, what does that refer to? It almost sounds like the Amish practice of shunning. BUT, when I look at who this letter is addressed to (the church), perhaps it means more that we, as a church, are not to welcome or greet (or allow to preach in our churches), false teachers, teachers who speak words that are contrary to the word of God? I'd love to hear others thoughts on this! :)

I also find that I get frustrated with John in these two letters. Both of them end in a similar manner: "Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. ..." and then he goes on to say he'd rather talk to them in person. Why does he leave his letters so seemingly incomplete like this? What was so important that it had to be communicated face-to-face rather than in letter? I'd like to know more of what he taught the churches in this matter of love, deceiver/antichrist (2nd letter) and also what he spoke of in his third letter (walking in truth, welcoming, etc.).

You can view my other posts on this series on The PAPA Prayer here.

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