So, I’m reading “Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire” (Jim Cymbala) for a Bible study. (Why it’s called a Bible study when it’s really a book group is beyond me. The thought of reading a book that talks about scripture or that has scripture references in it somehow stirs people to read the Bible more than going through a book of the Bible leaves me quite confused, and wanting to shout, “What!?! Are you serious?!?”… but I digress).
In chapter five, Cymbala is making an observation about Mark’s account of Jesus opening a can of righteous wrath in the temple. The thing that Cymbala lands (and harps, in my opinion) on is Jesus’ quote from Isaiah: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” He brings up the point that the temple was being used for purposes other than what was intended and moves on to the logical conclusion that “Jesus is not terribly impressed with religious commercialism. He is concerned not only whether we’re doing God’s work, but also how and why we’re doing it.” (pg 69, paperback) I’m in total agreement, and had this been a sermon I was listening to I would have given an “Amen” (all be it silently, but still… it’s the thought that counts).
A few paragraphs later, however, I would raise my hand, and politely say, “Um, I think you’re off on this one buddy.” Cymbala says,
“God no longer centers His presence in one particular building. In fact, the new Testament teaches that we are now his dwelling place; he lives in his people. How much more important then is Jesus’ message about the primacy of prayer?… Preaching, music, the reading of the Word- these things are fine; I believe in and practice all of them. But they must never override prayer as the defining mark of God’s dwelling.” (pg 71, paperback, emphasis mine)
In all fairness, I have never heard Pastor Cymballa preach, nor have I had any real contact with his ministry apart from this book and its sequel, “Fresh Faith“. But, this statement bothers me to no end.
I live in a state that is dominated by Latter Day Saint’s ( LDS or Mormons) and their culture, and one aspect of their religion is prayer. They pray, but does that mark them as God’s dwelling? Or what about Muslims? They pray five times a day, and their discipline and devotion puts most of us Christians to shame. But does their practice of prayer mark them as God’s people?
Prayer is one strand of a three braided rope that binds us to God in orthodoxy and devotion. Study, prayer, and worship: these are the necessary disciplines of the Christian life. These do not mark us as belonging to Christ (that is what our love for each other does) but they do give us the defining mark of God’s dwelling. Each of these three depend on the other two, and without any one of the three, our faith becomes either religious habit or esoteric experience and thus ceases to be faith.
Study: I am not advocating that everyone should be an intellectual and surround themselves with language resources, commentaries, multiple versions of the Bible, and all the rest that so seems to mark the scholarly class. Let’s call it biblical intake for the sake of clarity. We need to have the written Word of God hidden in our hearts. We need to hear what God has always said, to discover the truth of scripture, and to be brought to a place of understanding the person of God.
Prayer: I like to define prayer as conversing with the Word. It is our talking and listening to God in the midst of our broken lives. It is petitioning and pleading for change, and then rejoicing over the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob working in our lives – the same as He worked in theirs. It is talking with Jesus about the scripture we have ingested, learning from the true rabbi, and having our perspective changed.
Worship: Don’t ever insult such a heavenly affair as this by reducing it to some simple chords and crappy lyrics! Worship is God revealing who he is, our responding to this revelation, and God responding to our response. Worship is birthed out of scripture, and is expressed in prayer. It is the doxology that erupts as your perspective is changed in the heat of prayer, and the resulting hunger for the Word that results.
These three are indispensable and interdependent. To exalt one over the others is to throw your relationship with the Almighty into chaos. To ignore one strand is to be shipwrecked on the rocks of experience or the sandbar of pride.
This truth can be seen in any realm of ministry. Take preaching: it cannot be done without in-taking the word; how will you understand and be empowered to speak what you have seen in scripture if you are not at the feet of the Almighty? And if your sermon does not drive people to doxology, adoration, and changed lives in light of the truth, what then have you spoken for? Or what about our times of corporate worship? Singing songs is a ritual that any sub-culture is well adept at (just look at any punk rock show or country concert for proof). What makes us different is that our songs are rooted in the truth of the Living Word as revealed in the written word, and thus they become the cry of our heart as we seek to bring our hearts to a place of worship and express our praise.
Study, prayer, and worship often overlap… and when they don’t it may be proper to question why they are not. These are the three necessities for growing up in Christ. Let us embrace all these things and find ourselves at a place of harmony, brilliance, and joy as we live life in the full truth and experience of The Word of God.