This week is a call to gathering with others in Church to pray regularly - why praying with others is essential to our full devotion to Jesus.
Once I became a Christian, I learnt to pray in various ways. But two formational places continue to stand out as of particular note to me. These were:
Regular prayer gatherings with other mature Christian believers, including our monthly prayer gathering of that time.
Joining with an intercessory prayer group to pray over our congregations transition from being one of three locations, to becoming a church in our own right. What would become C3 Church Carlingford, our sending church.
I learnt to pray through observing the prayers of others. Through catching the passion for God that others around me exuded. Through experiencing the real and tangible presence of the Holy Spirit who joined with our gatherings of prayer.
I would say that gathering with other believers to pray regularly actually formed my confidence in experiencing the reality of God in my prayer life. I had crucial and multiple tangible experiences of the living presence of God, and learnt to discern the move of God's Spirit upon my own heart and mind in the place of prayer.
Even more than simply experiencing the reality of God in my prayer life, I learnt what it sounded like, and looked like, to be led by God in prayer. And what it sounded like and looked like to engage with God in a variety of forms and styles.
I can honestly say, and conclude, that there is nothing more confidence building, more enriching, and more important for our walk with God than practicing prayer with others in the presence of our Living God. But it's more than that. Our Christian faith is most fundamentally a gathered faith.
Don't neglect meeting together
In various ways and places, the bible calls us to be a people that gathers together.
Jesus made a foundational declaration in the Gospel of Matthew in a personal interaction with the Apostle Peter. In affirming Peter's recognition of Jesus true identity as the Son of God, Jesus replies:
"Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." [Mt 16:17-18]
The word He uses here, "church", was a term used in His day to mean:
A body of citizens "gathered" to discuss the affairs of state. They were called out to gather on behalf of the state.
The "gathering" of Israel summoned for any definite purpose. They were called out to gather for decision making or other purposes.
Applied to what Jesus says in Matthews gospel, Jesus came to establish throughout the Earth a gathering of believers called together for His special purposes in and for the world. And this is exactly what you see happening in Acts, early on:
"They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." [Acts 2:42]
"They" - the group of believers who gathered together because of their faith in Jesus - were together for special purpose. And notice that one of the key purposes Christians gathered for was for prayer.
It becomes clear from other letters in the New Testament that this quickly became a challenge for Christian believers. Whether due to persecution, social pressures, or just lack of a deep Christian faith, the writer to the Hebrews calls believers to:
"...let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." [Hebrews 10:24–25]
It seems that what Jesus designed us to be - a gathering of believers for special purpose in His world - is hard to maintain. Why is that?
Note a keyword in the Acts 2:42 description of Jesus' church. The early Christian believers devoted themselves to Christian teaching, to gathering together to build strong friendships, to share in communion ("breaking of bread") and to prayer.
I want you to stop and ask yourself this challenging question (I'm challenged in the asking for myself):
If I were to look at my life right now, what demonstrates my devotion to Jesus?
Take the short Acts 2:42 description, and ask:
What shows my devotion to the teachings of Jesus?
What shows my devotion to building great relationships with other Christians at our church?
What shows my devotion to practicing communion together with others at our church?
What shows my devotion to gathering for prayer with others at our church?
I am sure there will be areas we can all point to in order to demonstrate our commitments. And commitment is most certainly an ingredient that goes into devotion. But devotion is more than commitment. If it were not so, surely the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the writing of Acts would have used the word commitment. But the Holy Spirit chose the word "devoted."
Committed or devoted?
What is the difference between these two words? Is it not along these lines:
Devotion is a passionate commitment, not merely a commitment.
Devotion is a sacred commitment, kept because the focus of one's commitment is of immense value.
Devotion is a deeply motivated, deeply felt, deeply sourced, commitment - it's more than mere obligation.
Are we more than obligated to Jesus' teaching, to gathering with other Christians, to sharing in communion together, and to prayer together? Are we devoted?
I would think that commitments can be maintained in many areas of our lives that are important, but may not be particularly personal to us. May not be so crucial that we could not imagine life without them.
But I don't think that activities or relationships that we are devoted to can be in this same category. I would think that things and practices and people that I am devoted to, I find so crucial I could not imagine doing life without them. And so I passionately determine to do life with these things, practices and people.
What gets between us and devoted?
Sometimes, we are simply not that interested in God, if we're honest. Our lives are pretty comfortable and stable without God having much to do with anything. So devotion is not a necessary or interesting pursuit for us.
Other times, we are under forms of oppression and attack from evil forces that are arrayed against us in order to push us out of being devoted. I can heartily recommend a book I have recently finished on this reality, this warfare, that genuine and devoted Christians will face in life. It is called "Live No Lies" by John Mark Comer, and it is written with care, biblical wisdom and insight, and much relevance to our times (more HERE).
And sometimes, it is because of harm in our history. What do I mean? Harmful experiences in our lives lead us to developing fears and self-protections which result in us staying at safe or respectable levels of engagement with God and His people rather than pressing into the fullness of devotion. This is, in part, for the simple reason that full devotion to God is associated with too much risk to us.
How do we get to devoted?
If our lack of devotion is due to lack of care on our part - then I can only suggest we realise what this life is really about, and get serious about repenting of our lack of interest in God. As the writer of Hebrews says:
"See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?...Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” [Hebrews 12:25; 28-29]
If our devotion is under threat or pressure, and this is oppressive, then we need to engage in spiritual warfare. This may or may not be a familiar term to us. If is is, get engaged, and engage others with you in the fight. If it is not, again, I recommend the book "Live No Lies" by John Mark Comer already mentioned above.
And If our devotion is due to harm in our history, then let us here the precious invitation of Jesus afresh and draw near to Him to be healed and restored. And part of this, most certainly, is drawing near to Jesus with safe people that are His followers with us. Jesus calls out to us:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” [Matthew 11:28–30]
I feel it is important to especially note, in these words of Jesus, that the invitation is incredibly personal. Come to me. To the living Jesus, who desires to be with us, who is for us, and who wants to be some intimately at work in our lives as to take up residence within us (John 14:23; Romans 8:10).
No matter where we are at in this spectrum, there is one action we can all take to get devoted. And that is to join together with God's people through the opportunities that are already available to us. As a Church, we have three running regularly in our community:
Church Services - every Sunday, 10:30am, online and on-site at Toongabbie-East Public School.
Life Groups - running in homes at various times of the week, weekly or fortnightly.
Prayer Gatherings - of which our next is tomorrow night, 8pm. These are otherwise normally the first Tuesday night of the month throughout the year.
So let's gather together and build each other up in a most holy devotion to Jesus - especially in prayer as we launch the vision for the year together as God's people.
Leaning into full devotion together with you all this week ahead!
Written by Ps. Rob