“Making the most of the Psalms”

The Sunday Sample, Episode 49

Do you use the Psalms in your corporate worship settings?

I bring you a quote from Tom Wright from his book on Psalms, “Finding God in the Psalms: Sing, pray, live”:

“By all means write new songs. Each generation must do that. But to neglect the church’s original hymnbook is, to put it bluntly, crazy.”

Thank you for listening to and watching this recording. You can find more Sunday Samples here and on the YouTube playlist.

Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community.

Do you have a question about teaching the Bible? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions. Here’s the email: malcolm@malcolmcox.org.

If you’d like a copy of my free eBook on spiritual disciplines, “How God grows His people”, sign up at my website: www.malcolmcox.org.

“Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” Ps 100:2

God bless,

Malcolm

“Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” (Psalms 100:2 NIV11)

“The benefits of discussing your sermon with other people in advance”

Tuesday Teaching Tips, Episode 122

Do you discuss your sermon with people in advance? At what stage do you draw other people in? I had two experiences of discussing sermons this week and I found it enriching and helpful.

Thank you for watching this recording. You can find more teaching tips here and on the on the YouTube teaching tips playlist.

Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community.

Do you have a question about teaching the Bible? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions. Here’s the email: malcolm@malcolmcox.org.

If you’d like a copy of my free eBook on spiritual disciplines, “How God grows His people”, sign up at my website.

Thanks again for watching. Have a terrific Tuesday, and a wonderful week.

God bless,

Malcolm

“The focussing power of centering silence”

The Sunday Sample: Episode 48

Do you use intentional silence as part of your corporate worship settings?

I bring you a quote from Erickson and an experience from the wartime Navy.

Thank you for listening to and watching this recording. You can find more Sunday Samples here and on the YouTube playlist.

Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community.

Do you have a question about teaching the Bible? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions. Here’s the email: malcolm@malcolmcox.org.

If you’d like a copy of my free eBook on spiritual disciplines, “How God grows His people”, sign up at my website: www.malcolmcox.org.

“Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” Ps 100:2

God bless,

Malcolm

“Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” (Psalms 100:2 NIV11)

Guest blog post by Rolan Monje: “Prayers in the Bible”

Quiet Time Coaching: Episode 51

I’m very happy to bring you a guest blog post by my friend, Rolan Monje. He has the role of a Teacher in our sister congregation in Manila.

Take your time to read it carefully and use it in the way it’s intended – not just for interest, but to stimulate our prayer lives.

Let me know what stands out from this article, and leave a comment as to how it helped you.

God bless, Malcolm

 

Prayers in the Bible

A few months ago, I felt that God was calling me to a deeper prayer life. I decided to meditate on the prayers of the prophets. Also, I found it helpful to study out the prayers of Christ. As I dug deeper, I ended up surveying the whole Bible on the subject of prayer. One thing is certain: the Bible has more than enough references to prayer-commands, records, examples, and allusions to show that God desires to have a prayerful people. It was both a sobering and inspiring study for me.

In the following sections, you will find listed the various prayers mentioned in the different parts of the Bible. I hope that this summary will encourage you to also study out prayer in the Bible. This will surely enrich your walk with God. Here are some helpful study questions when you look at prayers in the Bible:

1. What caused the person to pray?

2. What was the condition of the person’s heart when he/she prayed?

3. Why was the prayer answered (or not answered)?

4. What can I learn here about God’s character?

5. Is there anything I can change in my prayer life based on this example?

A. Prayers in the Pentateuch

The books from Genesis to Deuteronomy mention prayers of many different kinds. Although collectively the first five books comprise what is called “The Law”, it is not just a cold, legal document. Principles and patterns of prayer (non-legal in nature) stand out. Most of the prayers are requests and pleas, but there are also praises and complaints:

1. Cain’s prayer is the first one mentioned in Scripture. In Ge 4:13-15, he cried out to God as he bore the consequence of his sin.

2. Abraham has several times of prayer recorded in his storyline. He prayed for a son in Ge 15:1-9), and for different people as well: for Ishmael in Ge 17:20 and for Abimelech in Ge 20:17. Another time he prayed for the city of Sodom (Ge 18:23-33).

3. Hagar is recorded as praying for deliverance (Ge 16:7-13).

4. Lot bargained with God regarding his escape plan in Ge 19:20.

5. Abraham’s servant (possibly Eliezer) sought specific guidance from God in Ge 24:12-52. This is a great example of specific, pointed prayer.

6. Rebekah cried out to God concerning her pains in pregnancy (Ge 25:22-23).

7. Jacob, finally facing up to his faults, pleaded for deliverance from Esau (Ge 32:9-32; 33:1-17).

8. Moses had a whole lot of prayers lifted up to God. In Exodus, Moses asked for help at the Red Sea (Ex 14:15-16), at the waters of Marah (Ex 15:25), at Horeb (Ex 17:4-6), and in the battle versus the Amalekites (Ex 17:8-14). In Numbers 11, he went to God concerning the grumbling of the Israelites for flesh (Nu 11:11-35) and in the chapter following in behalf of Miriam’s leprosy (Nu 12:13-15).

Questions for reflection:

1. How does our character affect our prayer life?

2. How did God train Israel to be prayerful? Note: Aside from these examples, the Israelites are also mentioned as having “cried unto the Lord” (Nu 20:16; De 26:7). This means that they had prayed although the actual words of their prayer were never recorded. In each case, Israel is presented as helpless without God, and it is He who is ultimately the Saviour of the nation. Without divine intervention, sure ruin would have come to Israel.

Suggested topics for study: How Moses spoke with God, Jacob’s “habit” of altar-building; Abraham’s call and prayer life, How God trained Israel to pray

B. Prayers in the History Books

More detailed prayers are given in the history books. Interwoven within the annals of ancient Israel are the lucid narratives of men who sought a deep relationship God. More pronouncedly than the Pentateuch, the History books portray the connection between a man’s leadership and his prayer life. Also, with David as a chief example, the History books give greater detail into how God’s people made various requests to God. It is clear that those who rely on God receive favour. Some of their prayers are listed below:

1. Joshua prayed a unique, radical prayer for the sun to stand still (Jos 10:12-14). This chapter displays God’s power over creation in behalf of man.

2. Gideon, before his debut as Israel’s leader, asked for a sign of dew (Jdg 6:36-40). The chapter actually records more appeals for proof of God’s approval. Gideon’s confidence in God’s promises needed boosting.

3. Manoah asked for guidance about his child, saying “teach us how to bring up the boy”. This prayer about raising Samson was heard by God (Jdg 13:8-9).

4. Samson begged for strength for one last time, gaining retribution for his demise (Jdg 16:28-30).

5. Hannah asked for a child after many years of being barren (1Sa 1:10-17, 19-20).

6. David has a well-recorded prayer life. His prayers include inquiring whether Keilah would be delivered into his hands (1Sa 23:10-12), inquiring about Ziklag (1Sa 30:8), asking whether he should enter Judah after Saul’s death (2Sa 2:1), and asking whether he should go to war against the Philistines (2Sa 5:19-25). Some of David’s other prayers are found in the Psalms (e.g. Ps 118:5; 138:3).

7. Solomon prayed for wisdom at the start of his reign (1Ki 3:1-13). He also prayed at the dedication of the temple (1Ki 8:23-53; 2Ch 6:14-42).

8. Hezekiah prayed to God for a chance to serve a longer time (2Ki 20:2+). Hezekiah reminded God of his faithfulness, both in his personal conduct and in his righteous deeds, and of his wholehearted devotion to God. Earlier he had prayed for deliverance from Sennacherib (2Ki 19:14-20; 2Ch 32:20-23).

9. Elijah’s life was built on prayer. Only by asking God was the widow’s son raised (1Ki 17:22). At the famous challenge of Mt. Carmel, God answered his plea for fire on his sacrifice(1Ki 18:36-38). Elijah’s prayers also affected the rain (1Ki 17:1; 18:1, 42-45; Jas 5:17).

10. Elisha is recorded as praying to God to open the eyes of his servant. He later leads the Syrian army to submission (2Ki 6:1, 17-20).

11. Jabez implored for prosperity in 1Ch 4:10.

12. Abijah asked for victory over Jeroboam (2Ch 13:14-18).

13. Asa asked for victory over Zerah (2Ch 14:11-15).

14. Jehoshaphat asked for victory over the Canaanites (2Ch 18:31; 20:6-7)

15. Jehoahaz asked for victory over Hazael (2Ki 13:4)

16. Manasseh asked for deliverance from the king of Babylon (2Ch 33:13, 19)

17. Ezra prayed to God upon hearing of intermarriage among the people (Ezr 9:5-6; 10:1)

18. Nehemiah opened his account with prayer (Ne 1:4-11). The book has several other prayers and references to prayer (e.g. 2:4).

Aside from the individuals mentioned above, several groups are mentioned as lifting up prayers to God. The Reubenites pleaded for deliverance from the Hagrites (1Ch 5:20). The priests also offered prayer in behalf of the people in 2 Chr 30:27. Although not as specific about prayer, the people of Judah are mentioned to have sought God “with their whole desire” (2Ch 15:15). Upon returning from the Captivity, the Jews also offered up prayers to God while fasting (Ezr 8:21, 23).

Suggested topics for study: Joshua’s Radical Prayer, Nehemiah’s prayer life, The Heart of David in prayer, Ezra’s prayer in Ezra 10, Prayer and Faithfulness

C. Prayers in the Prophets & Psalms

The prophets acted as God’s spokesmen for many centuries. For sure it was vital for these men to have a dynamic walk with the Lord. The instances of prayer mentioned in the prophets–books from Isaiah to Malachi–are few but significant. Of course, it would be impossible for these men to remain in their vocation without powerful prayer. I am sure that many prayers of the prophets were left unrecorded. In Isaiah 6 for example, the prophet has a discourse with God in a vision. Elsewhere in the book he does not actually pray to God, but prayer his is mentioned in 2 Ki 20:11. Here are some of the instances of prayer mentioned in the prophets:

1. Jeremiah prayed to God, seeking reassurance for his “risky” purchase of land (Jer 32:16-25). This section records an intense conversation between God and the prophet.

2. Ezekiel bargained for another way to bake bread (Eze 4:12-15). This had a spiritual significance in his life as a prophet.

3. Daniel was known for his consistent prayer life (Da 6:10-11). He prayed for divine revelation and interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Da 2:19-23) and also interceded for the people (Da 9:20-23).

4. Jonah found himself praying from inside a big fish (Jnh 2:1+).

5. Habakkuk questioned God as he complained and lamented (Hab 1:2+).

 

Questions for thought:

1. What was the role of prayer in a prophet’s life?

2. What could have been some of the prophets’ difficulties in prayer?

3. What can I learn from the prayers of the prophets?

All the Psalms could be read as “lifting up hearts before God.” In this way, the Psalms present a valuable treasure trove of prayer. The Psalms represent the whole range of human emotion and teach us how to express ourselves to God at different times. That is why the Psalms are so “relatable” to us. By reading through the Psalms, meditating on them, and reciting them aloud, we learn to communicate with God the way his ancient peoples did.

D. Prayers of the New Testament

The New Testament chronicles a lesser number of prayers than the Old. Because of the letters however, we are given richer insight into how the apostles prayed: their content and manner. Here are some prayers recorded in the NT, with the prayers of Christ reserved for later:

1. Zechariah prayed for a son (Lk 1:13).

2. Anna served God with fasting and prayer (Lk 2:37).

3. Paul asked to be delivered from death (2Co 1:9-11).

4. Stephen prayed as he neared death (Ac 7:59-60).

5. Paul and Silas were praying in prison, being heard by the other inmates (Ac 16:25).

6. Peter prayed for the dead Tabitha (Ac 9:40). Another time he is went up on the roof to pray (Ac 10:9).

7. Cornelius’ piety was shown by his prayers (Ac 10:30).

In Acts, the disciples are seen praying for Peter’s protection (Ac 12:5-17). This shows that there was an atmosphere of prayer in the church (check out the role of prayer in Acts 1, 6, and 13). After the gospels and Acts, the Epistles hold a vast number of prayers penned by the authors. These give us insight into how the Apostles prayed. See for example Paul’s prayers: for Ephesians (Eph 1:15-19; 3:14-19), for Philippians (Php 1:3-5, 9), for Colossians (Col 1:3, 9), for Thessalonians (1Th 1:2; 3:10, 12-13; 5:23; 2Th 1:11-12; 2:16-17; 3:5, 16), for Onesiphorus (2Ti 1:16, 18), for Philemon (Phm 4).


The prayers of Christ deserve special attention. Not only are they frequent and varied, but they uniquely open a window into the very heart of God. The prayers of Jesus are moving and gripping. They teach us how to approach God humbly yet forcefully.

Here are some passages describing the prayer life of our Lord:

1. Jesus began his day early with prayer (Mk 1:35). This reflects discipline and dependence.

2. Jesus sought to have private times with God, especially in the mountains (Mt 14:23; Mk 1:35; 6:46; Lk 5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 28-29).

3. Jesus’ custom was giving thanksgiving before eating (Mt 14:19; 15:36; 26:26-27; Mk 6:41; 8:6; 1Co 11:24).

4. Jesus depended on God in times of distress (Jn 12:27; Heb 5:7). He showed this at Gethsemane (Mt 26:36-44; Mk 14:32-35; Lk 22:41-44; Heb 5:7) and on the cross (Mt 27:46; Lk 23:34, 46).

5. Jesus blessed children (Mt 19:13, 15; Mk 10:16).

6. Jesus prayed for his disciples, just like he told Peter (Lk 22:31-32). He also prayed for all believers (Jn 17:1-26). This reflects his big heart for people.

7. Jesus had specific requests to God. He presented his desires at the grave of Lazarus (Jn 11:41-42). He also prayed for the Comforter, the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:16).

A study of Jesus’ prayer life shows how mortal man can have a dynamic relationship with God. Jesus’ prayers, whether on a mountain (Mt 14:23; Mk 6:46; Lk 6:12; 9:28) or in the wilderness (Lk 5:16), give us great insight into true personal worship with God. His example of prayer was one-of-a kind. It is evident from the gospels that Jesus believed in prayer, told men to pray, and prayed a lot himself. Jesus’ teachings matched his own superlative example; I would say he was the most “prayed up” man ever. His prayers were frequent, sincere and personal. Jesus understood that the Father sought worshippers and that our worship satisfies His loving heart. That is why his prayers pleased God; they met God’s desire. This was the new spiritual worship that Jesus described to the Samaritan woman. Because God is Spirit, we must worship in spirit. As God is, so His worshippers. Anyone who prays more like Christ is on a good spiritual track.


Closing Thoughts

The Bible has so much about prayer that a whole lifetime would not be enough to exhaust the learning and the experience. Praise God that he has given us every day of our lives to enjoy our relationship with him. I pray that this summary of prayers in the Bible will inspire you to grow in your own prayer life. A close walk with God is a priceless gift.

A growing prayer life is worth the time and effort. Even the chance to approach God is something we don’t deserve. To have a “good talk” with the Lord is better than anything in the world. There is nothing as fulfilling, as enjoyable, or as powerful.

Rolan D. Monje


Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn from one another. We learn best, when we learn in community.

Would you like some coaching in the spiritual disciplines? You can find me by clicking the button below.

I hope you have a wonderful week of fulfilling quiet times.

God bless, Malcolm

Get coached on Coach.me

“How to use songs in your presentation”

Tuesday Teaching Tips: Episode 121

Songs can be a powerful part of your presentation, but they can be used well, or less well. What will make the difference?

1. Relevant to your point

2. Lyrics on screen

3. Right length

4. Check lyrics

Thank you for watching this recording. You can find more teaching tips here and on the on the YouTube teaching tips playlist.

Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community.

Do you have a question about teaching the Bible? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions. Here’s the email: malcolm@malcolmcox.org.

If you’d like a copy of my free eBook on spiritual disciplines, “How God grows His people”, sign up at my website: http://www.malcolmcox.org/.

Thanks again for watching. Have a terrific Tuesday, and a wonderful week.

God bless,

Malcolm

“The value of a good hum”

The Sunday Sample: Episode 47

Do you use congregational humming as part of your corporate worship?

I share something we tried this last Sunday in Watford and Thames Valley.

“God is so good”

“For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favour and honour. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Psa. 84:11 ESVi)

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus. 3:4–7 ESVi)

Thank you for listening to and watching this recording. You can find more Sunday Samples here and on the YouTube playlist.

Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community.

Do you have a question about teaching the Bible? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions. Here’s the email: malcolm@malcolmcox.org.

If you’d like a copy of my free eBook on spiritual disciplines, “How God grows His people”, sign up at my website: www.malcolmcox.org.

“Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” Ps 100:2

God bless,

Malcolmn

“Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” (Psalms 100:2 NIV11)

“How to pray for people”

Quiet Time Coaching: Episode 50

“With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.” (2 Thessalonians 1:11 NIV11)

1. A prompt, not a to do list

  • Review every Saturday
  • Put in diary, so don’t forget
  • Pray for people at least once a week
  • Helps me keep my promises to pray for people

2. Pause before each person

3. Picture, bring them to mind, picture them in your imagination

Please leave a comment, pass the link on and subscribe.

What question would you like to see answered?

God bless, Malcolm

“How to get off the launch pad”

Tuesday Teaching Tips: Episode 120

I got stuck too long in my introduction last Friday. Here are three resolutions for my next lesson. What do you do to make sure you don’t get stuck on the launch pad?

Thank you for watching this recording. You can find more teaching tips here and on the on the YouTube teaching tips playlist.

Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community.

Do you have a question about teaching the Bible? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions. Here’s the email: malcolm@malcolmcox.org.

If you’d like a copy of my free eBook on spiritual disciplines, “How God grows His people”, sign up at my website: http://www.malcolmcox.org/.

Thanks again for watching. Have a terrific Tuesday, and a wonderful week.

God bless,

Malcolm

“Savour the Silence”

The Sunday Sample: Episode 46

I give a report on the intentional use of silence in our services this last Sunday in Watford and Thames Valley.

Thank you for listening to and watching this recording. You can find more Sunday Samples here and on the YouTube playlist.
Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community.
Do you have a question about teaching the Bible? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions. Here’s the email: malcolm@malcolmcox.org.
If you’d like a copy of my free eBook on spiritual disciplines, “How God grows His people”, sign up at my website: www.malcolmcox.org.
“Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” Ps 100:2
God bless,
Malcolm

“Making the most of resources”

Quiet Time Coaching: Episode 49

Something different today – an article (click here for the pdf: Resources) – on making the most of resources in helping us to have enriching quiet times. I hope you enjoy it as much as me.

MAKING THE MOST OUT OF RESOURCES

Open my eyes, so that I may behold
wondrous things out of your law (Psalm 119:18)….

BIG IDEA: Prayer and Bible reading is an act of being immersed in a story – try not to think of the Bible as a compendium of ‘truths’ or as a guidebook of rules for life, but rather as the great story of God and man:

All across the spectrum today experts are also saying we need to read the Bible as Story. Robert Webber, a wonderfully influential and now deceased Wheaton professor, offers us an invitation: “So I invite you to read the Bible,” he said, “not for bits and pieces of dry information [pieces in a puzzle], but as the story of God’s embrace of the world told in poetic images and types.” I add another voice, namely, the excellent Old Testament scholar John Goldingay: “The biblical gospel is not a collection of timeless statements such as God is love. It is a narrative about things God has done.”2 For a third voice, consider a Jewish scholar, Abraham Joshua Heschel: “The God of the philosopher is a concept derived from abstract ideas; the God of the prophets is derived from acts and events. The root of Jewish faith is, therefore, not a comprehension of abstract principles but an inner attachment to those events.” (Scott McKnight, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 59.)

I see this in two stages – exegetical and emotional – where these two things meet, I personally have the most naturally intuitive God-experience.

EXEGETICAL:

To break down a passage, think in terms of the following:

  • Text – the passage you are studying
  • Co-text – the verbiage around (before and after) the passage you are studying
  • Context – what the chapter/book is about (here’s where commentaries come in)
  • Intertext – other texts which embody the same ideas
  • Keywords – repeated phrases or ideas in the target text
  • Conjunctive words/phrases – ‘therefore’, ‘in order that’, ‘because’ – all those words and phrases that tell you direct the movement of a discourse.

Example:

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” 

Text: John 1:43-51

Co-text: John 1:35-42 – This passage gives us both a distinctive picture of Jesus and a description of the first disciples’ initial experiences of Jesus, providing further reflections on the nature of discipleship. This material is divided in two parts. In the first (vv. 35–42) the disciples take the initiative to follow Jesus, and in the second (vv. 43–51) Jesus takes the initiative. We learn that the apostles were former students of John the Baptist – this in itself ought to be a whole other study session! He points them to Jesus, the Lamb. Andrew takes Simon to the Messiah.

Context: From the outset, John has thrown down a rather dangerous gauntlet – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being…14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth (John 1:1-3a, 14).

The rest of the Gospel is an attempt to make sense of this! The term “high” Christology refers to the virtual equation of Jesus and God, which is at the heart of the 4th Gospel. This is set in tension with the notion of Jewish monotheism in the Gospel of John. For example, the Jewish leaders accuse Jesus of “making himself equal to God” (5:18), accuse him of making himself God (10:33), or understand certain of his claims as blasphemous claims to divine identity (8:58–59; 10:30–31, 38–39). “These debates in John’s Gospel are often thought to reflect debates that were going on in the Gospel’s context between Christians and non-Christian Jews, who found the Christian claims for Jesus incompatible with Jewish monotheism” (Richard Bauckham). This is how I (and many commentators) would see the context of John – a foray into the divine identity of the Messiah. How could the one true God of Israel (Deut. 6:4) be manifest in a crucified Jew?

Intertext: 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”  [John 1:50-51]

This ought to remind you of:

10 Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. 11 He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. 12 And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it (Gen. 28:10-12).

Is Jesus ‘Jacob’s ladder’? Perhaps Jesus is the bridge between heaven and earth; perhaps true divinity is perfect humanity – perhaps Jacob’s dream is the true dream of all people, to find that place where God and man meet, where the divine and the human are one? Maybe the passage draws a parallel between the disciples and Jacob, indicating that they, like Jacob, will see a heavenly vision which is realized in the vision of faith of the community which confessed Jesus as the divine Son of Man, equal to God. 

Keywords: ‘come and see’ (v. 46 – cf. 1:39); ‘I saw you under the fig tree’ (v. 49; cf. v. 50); ‘You will see greater things than these’ (v. 50); ‘you will see heaven opened…’ (v. 51). Compare this with what is in the co-textLook, here is the Lamb of God!” (1:36); When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” (1:38); “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day (1:39); He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (1:41);  He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (1:42).

There are other key words/ideas – let’s just think about one – seeing, seeking and finding. The disciples seek the Messiah, only to find out that Jesus had ‘seen’ them even before – Jesus’ prophesies – ‘I saw you before you knew I’d seen you’. Jesus sees beyond what is right in front of his face, as all his followers will need to. They will eventually need to see well beyond the cruel and violent death of their Lord in order to see that therein lay the very inner workings of the divine plan to rescue humankind from its own self-destructive ways!

Conjunctive phrases: Truly, truly, I say to you…

See how this term works in John 3:5; 5:19, 24; 6:32, etc (it appears a lot!!!!). It clearly introduces profound moments in John. How does it function in John 1:51?

Piecing the above together, ask yourself – what is John trying to convey to his readers? Hold those thoughts!

EMOTIONAL

These are the key questions one ought to ask when thinking of the Bible as story:

  1. What does this passage tell me about God?
  2. What does the passage tell me about my world/the world?
  3. What does the passage tell me about me?
  4. What questions would you add to the above?

Those ideas, you need to reflect and meditate on! The answers to the above will be different for every believer (or indeed non-believer). You may conclude that there is something you need to do, someone you need to speak to, a place you need to go to mentally, a fear you need to address, a memory you need to resurrect, a book you need to read, a song you need to listen to (for me this is currently “Backseat” by Carina Round – don’t ask me why!!!) – whatever it is, let these thoughts and emotions bring you prayer. This might involve you screaming to/at God or sitting in complete silence for an hour.

Ultimately, we are to be caught up in the great story – again, let me cite McKnight, who is hard to improve upon:

God chose to give us a collection of books, what I call wiki-stories of the Story, and together these books form into God’s story with us and God’s story for us. Acts 7 is a good example of how to read the Bible as Story even though Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 is only one wiki-story of the Story. Again, each author in the Bible is a wiki-storyteller and each book is then a wiki-story, one story in the ongoing development of the big story. These are the major elements of that story:

1. God and creation

2. Adam and Eve as Eikons (images) who crack the Eikon

3. God’s covenant community, where humans are restored to God, self, others, and the world

4. Jesus Christ, who is the Story and in whose story we are to live

5. The church as Jesus’ covenant community

6. The consummation, when all the designs of our Creator God will finally be realized forever and ever

What we discover in reading the Bible is that each telling of the Story, each wiki-story, was a Spirit-inspired telling of the Story in each person’s day in each person’s way. God spoke through Moses in Moses’ ways for Moses’ days, through David in David’s ways for David’s days, through Jesus in Jesus’ ways for Jesus’ days, and through John in John’s ways for John’s days. God always speaks a “contemporary” word. The genius of the Bible is the continuity of the Story as each generation learns to speak it afresh in its days and in its ways. (McKnight, Parakeet, 210.)

Finally, a few mechanical pointers:

  1. Have a go to commentary – I’d suggest The New International Bible Commentary: With the New International Version (F F Bruce, Zondervan Understand the Bible Reference) or New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition (Carson, Motyer, France, Wenham), for a blend of faith and accessible scholarship.
  2. Take time over specialist commentaries on particular books of the Bible by believing scholars – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED – Tom Wright ‘For Everyone’ Series (all books of the NT covered).
  3. Find your connection media – music, landscapes, lectures, songs, poetry – whatever opens you up emotionally, and use it to pray. Not all prayer is a recital of words – sometimes all you are trying to say is help me and thank you! Other times you are trying to say I’ve had enough or I need you; whatever you need to say in prayer, try to open yourself up in an emotional sense – whatever makes you feel an inner beauty, sadness, joy, fear, or desire to dance – place yourself there and reflect on the passage and the grand story!

Andy Boakye

August 2018

 

You can purchase Andy’s book, “Death and Life: Resurrection, restoration and rectification in Paul’s letter to the Galatians”, here.

Please leave a comment, and pass the link on to anyone you think might be interested.

God bless, Malcolm