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The Fortified Palaces

“In her fortified palaces, God is made known to be a place of refuge.”

(Psalm 48:4 [verse 3 in English])

This the city of God…the palace that has been fortified and protected and situated on Zion, she is a place of refuge. While this was meant to be true in the most literal sense of the word — Jerusalem was walled in and protected — it is also clear from the context of this psalm that the sons of Korah have something even greater in mind. God himself is the ultimate place of refuge from those who will seek to destroy us, for indeed, “the sons of Korah did not die” (Numbers 26:11).

We have often reflected on the tendency of the believer to seek to find refuge in human works rather than in trusting God for refuge, but I wonder whether or not part of the problem is that the pattern of life and faith exhibited by the church as an institution in today’s era lends it to communicating that great truth. Allow me to explain. Jerusalem was a shadow of the greater Jerusalem that is to come just as the throne of God over the mercy seat was a shadow of the throne room in heaven. Similarly, Jerusalem was walled in — was referred to as the most fortified city in the Roman empire, though, again, these human walls were only meant to symbolize the greater truth that it was to God that we can run to find refuge.

Our churches, then, as shadows again of the worship in heaven and of the refuge of God’s presence (there is a reason we refer to the heart of the church as a “sanctuary”), what do they communicate? Do they communicate that God is a place of refuge or otherwise? And here I am not so much talking about the walls or the tower, etc…I am talking about the people. Is church a place to which people can fly when the winds of this life buffet them to and fro? Or, is your church a place where people need to hide their hurts lest someone seek to bring further injury. Sadly, I think that churches are often more the latter than the former…yet when that takes place, what are we communicating about the character of God? About his city? About his worship?

Loved ones, this is a principle that we must take very seriously, for what we do in this life and how we worship reflects what we truly believe about the character of God. If we believe that God truly forgives, then we must forgive. If we believe that God is a place of refuge, then our gatherings and gathering places also need to be places where people can find refuge from the ravages of this world. If we believe that God is love, then we must express that love to one another. And if we say that God is one way yet do not live it out, then we become hypocrites and our testimony will be rejected in our community and in this world.

Greatly is Yahweh to be Praised!

“A Song. A Psalm of the Sons of Qorah. 

Great is Yahweh and very much to be praised — 

In the city of our God and on his Holy Mountain.”

(Psalm 48:1-2 [verse 1 in English])

The greatness of the city of God is not found in the construction of human hands; it is not a work of men. We may admire the works of a man’s hands or the designs of his mind, but if such works drive us to worship, we are idolaters indeed. God has erected his city, kept safe from defilement, imperishable and unfading (1 Peter 1:4) until that time and day when our Lord returns again, condemns the wicked to eternal judgment, and reestablishes the heavens and the earth…then the New Jerusalem of God’s making will descend upon the redeemed earth of God’s remaking (2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 21:9-11). Then the Bride — the Church redeemed through the ages — will indeed sing praise to God in the city of our God on his Holy Mountain.

In the meantime, we are given a foretaste. The Sons of Asaph writing praises to God for his redemption even of their own family and indeed, in light of their own service in the Tabernacle and in the Temple. Jerusalem in the days of Solomon was meant as a picture…a foretaste…even a “type” of what this new creation and the New Jerusalem would be like. Yet, like all shadows, they dissolve under the light of day — in this case, under God’s judgment on the people for sin and idolatry.

The sad thing is that many, in their quest to experience the source of the type, fall in love with the type itself, settling for the picture and placing their hope in that which can and will never reveal the glory of God. Indeed, though the city was a special place even to this psalmist, it was not special in and of itself; it was special to him for that is where God dwelt. It is God’s presence that made Jerusalem glorious and that made Mount Zion holy. And when God removed his presence, the glory of the city faded fast.

Where now then does God dwell? Certainly he no longer dwells in temples made of stone or in churches made of brick and mortar — he is the creator of the universe, what house shall we construct to contain him (Isaiah 66:1). No, we are told that the Holy Spirit dwells in believers…indeed, making us even temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19). No longer do we need a physical temple to mark the worship of God and no more do we need to make sacrifices — Jesus has done so once and for all time (Hebrews 10:10). Our sacrifices of praise are not constrained to the locality of a building and our lives lived out as living sacrifices, people consecrated to God’s service, take place in all of the world. Our lives are lives to be lived out in worship because God dwells within us as believers in Jesus Christ.

And, thus, when we gather to celebrate as a holy convocation on Sundays, we exalt like the psalmist here not because of the beauty or location of our building, but we exalt because God is with us and in our midst…little mobile Tabernacles and Temples gathering to give praise to God’s holy name and to remember the mighty works of our God. Indeed, Great is Yahweh and greatly is his name to be praised…but no longer just in the holy temple, but whenever God’s people gather in his name and especially when we mark that great and glorious day when our Lord and Savior raised from the dead as a promise and as a downpayment, that we too will also one day emerge victorious from the grave to the praise of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Introducing Barabbas

“During the feast, it was the tradition of the governor to release one prisoner to the crowd which they desired.”

(Matthew 27:15)

“During the feast, he would release to them one prisoner for whom they asked. And there was one called Barabbas with the rebels in prison who had committed murder in the rebellion.”

(Mark 15:6-7)

 

There is record of a Roman custom of releasing a captive to the people on certain festival days. It does not seem to be something that was widely practiced, but there are certainly documented cases of this taking place in other parts of the Roman empire. Reasonably, it ought not be too surprising that in Judah, Pilate would have practiced this as a way of placating the people. In this case, Mark and Luke both refer to an insurrection that had taken place in the city of Jerusalem in which Barabbas was a participant (and likely a leader). In the chaos that comes along with such a rebellion, Barabbas had murdered a man and was in prison for that action.

As we introduce this man, it is important to note that there is an irony found in names — another sign of God’s providential superintendence of these events. In Aramaic, Barabbas means, “Son of the Father.” Jesus was the true Son of the Father — the divine Father — yet the people will choose one whose father is a fallen man, not one whose Father is God himself — embracing the world and not God.

And how often we choose to do the same. We embrace the things that this world offers us and tempts us with, but when it comes to God’s call on our lives we struggle. The world says, “hold a grudge;” Jesus says, “forgive others.” Which do you do? The world says that money exists and blessings are there so that you can live comfortably. Jesus says that these good things ought to turn your heart toward the Father’s grace and then be used by you to turn the hearts of others toward the Father as well — blessed to be a blessing. Which characterizes your life?

Oh, beloved, God offers us salvation by his mighty and abundant grace and by grace alone — no works of ours can merit this gift. But as children who have received this gift, shall we not live thankfully? It is the spoiled child, miserable to be around, that is not grateful for the gifts he receives — may we not be like that child in the Master’s house, but be thankful people who have been ushered in by grace and who communicate that grace to all who we encounter.

Jeremiah or Zechariah?

“Then was fulfilled the word of Jeremiah the prophet saying, ‘And they took the thirty silver pieces, the payment paid for the one on whom the Sons of Israel had set such a payment, and they gave it for the field of a potter just as the Lord instructed me.’”

(Matthew 27:9-10)

 

Oceans of ink have been spilled in wrestling with these words…not so much because the words themselves are overly difficult nor because this being a fulfillment of prophesy should surprise us, but because it seems, at least on the surface, that Matthew is citing a prophesy made in Zechariah, not in Jeremiah. And that becomes troublesome if you are going to hold to an inerrant view of the scriptures. So, did Matthew just make an honest mistake? Likely not, he is being inspired by the Holy Spirit who is God — not one to make a mistake. Is there some passage in Jeremiah that is being overlooked — some textual variant perhaps — that would rectify this difficulty? Not so much. We must remember that Matthew’s original audience was intimately familiar with the writings of the prophets and would have balked were an erroneous rendering to have been made. Matthew clearly intends this, but the question we are then left with is, why?

The passage in Zechariah that is pointed to is this:

“And I said to them, ‘If it is good in your eyes, give me my wages, if not then refrain from doing so.’ And they weighed out my wages: thirty pieces of silver. And Yahweh said to me, ‘Throw it to the potter!‘ — the splendid price which I was prized by them. So, I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter in the House of Yahweh.’

(Zechariah 11:12-13)

Certainly it is easy to see the connections: there are 30 pieces of silver, a Potter, and the “throwing” of the money in the direction of the potter who is in the temple. One might be tempted to stop there and draw the conclusion that Zechariah is really who Matthew had in mind when he cited this text, but doing so would miss some of the importance of how this citation is made. Interestingly, in the context of Zechariah, one might argue that the parallel is not so much with Judas dying in a Potter’s Field as it is with Judas returning the money to the priests. In fact, in Zechariah’s account, nothing is purchased, the money is simply returned.

Further, in the context of Zechariah 11, Zechariah the prophet has been commanded for a season to shepherd a flock that is doomed for slaughter. Remember, Zechariah is writing after the return of the people to Jerusalem, so he is speaking (in an immediate sense) of the fall of Judah to the Macedonians and then to the Romans — that which will anticipate the eventual coming of Jesus. At the end of that passage (verse 16), God says that he is about to raise up another shepherd who will not care for the people — this condemnation is arguably directed toward the priests of the people. So, Zechariah guards the sheep for a season, there is an account with breaking staffs, and then he quits his job and asks for his payment. They pay him well and God then commands Zechariah to throw the money to the potter in the temple. Again, this is a condemnation of the shepherds over God’s people: the priests.

You should be starting to notice some differences, though, that should be highlighted. We have already mentioned that there is no mention of purchasing a field in the Zechariah account, furthermore, there is a different term employed to refer to this potter. In the Hebrew, the term Zechariah used is rEoØwy (yo’er). When this term was translated into the Greek Septuagint, the word cwneuth/rion (choneuterion) was chosen. These words can be used to refer to a potter, but are also used of those who smelt metals. In fact, in the other two spots in the Old Testament (as well as in the one use of this term in the Jewish Apocrypha) it is translated as having to do with a smelter’s fire.

In Matthew’s account, he uses the term kerameu/ß (kerameus), which is always used of a potter and his clay both in the New Testament (see also Romans 9:21) and the Greek translation of rEoØwy (yo’er) in the Hebrew Old Testament (see Isaiah 41:25 and Jeremiah 18:6). If we follow the use of the term kerameu/ß (kerameus) to Jeremiah, as Matthew suggests, we find ourselves closer to unraveling our mystery.

In Jeremiah 18-19 we have an account that also ties in very closely with what Matthew is recording. The prophet is sent to the house of a potter — kerameu/ß (kerameus) is used — and told to observe the potter making a clay vessel. Part of the way through the process, the potter is unhappy with the developing design, so smashes the vessel down and starts from scratch. God instructs Jeremiah that like this vessel, God is going to smash down Jerusalem and rebuild because of the wickedness of the people. Later, Jeremiah is commanded to buy a flask from the Potter and smash it by the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom — the source of the word, “Gehenna” in the New Testament — to be renamed as “The Valley of Slaughter.”

One might be tempted to say, where does the Potter’s Field play into this account. Potters’ Fields historically were grounds that had such a high clay content that growing crops would be difficult, but as a source of clay for the potter, they were excellent. Furthermore, Jeremiah is told to relate that God is going to make the city of Jerusalem a place like a Valley of Slaughter — a place of death. And here, it seems, our connection with the potter’s field becoming a place for Judas’ death is made. While Jerusalem is thrown down in Jeremiah’s lifetime, it would be rebuilt. Judas’ death is a foreshadowing of another destruction of Israel that would take place during the lifetime of at least some of the Apostles…and this destruction in AD 70 would be permanent.

It is true that there is a modern city of Jerusalem that exists, but it is located just to the west of the original Jewish city, which now lies more or less in ruins and has a Muslim Mosque sitting on the temple mount (preventing another temple from being built — why? Jesus is the Greater temple, why settle for a lesser one?). Judas’ death and spilling of his blood is a fulfillment, then, of what Jeremiah promised. For Jerusalem’s apostasy in the death of Jesus Christ, they would be destroyed and the place would be left a horror for all to see. One need not read much of Josephus’ account of the fall of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans in AD 70 to see elements of this fulfillment taking place — even to the point of the adults eating the flesh of their children. The testimony is heart-wrenching, but the potter’s vessel (representing the people of Israel) was broken on that day and its pieces scattered. Just as the Jews would flee and be sent into exile in Jeremiah’s day, so too, believers were scattered to the far ends of the earth, but this time with the hope of the Gospel to accompany them. How easily we get attached to a location; God says, “Go!”

No Basis for a Charge…

“And Pilate said to the chief priests and to the crowds, ‘I find no basis for a charge in this man.’”

(Luke 23:4)

As I read this, I can almost envision Pilate in his frustration kind of thinking to himself, “What now? Here I am, woken up early, trying to get some breakfast, and I have to deal with this. It’s bad enough having Jerusalem so swollen with people due to their Passover celebration, but now I have to deal with this? Can’t these people give me even a little peace?” Perhaps I am reading a bit too much into Pilate’s thought here, but as a pastor, I know that I have had this kind of thought at times… “You guys are angry at each other over what? Did you listen to any of my sermon last week on Philippians 2?” When grown adults who know what the Word of God teaches on matters of dispute can’t seem to act upon the Scripture’s teaching and choose to behave more like Kindergarteners…well, you get the picture.

This is a little different as Pilate is a pagan and much more interested in pragmatic solutions that will preserve the peace in this very turbulent region of the world. Though the Jews were not a mighty military force, their region of the world was historically a difficult one to hold for long periods of time and the Jewish people were notorious for overthrowing larger and more highly trained armies through the use of guerrilla tactics. Pilate had no intention of having such happen on his watch. Even so, he begins at least, with integrity.

Some of our Bibles will render the term ai¡tioß (aitios) as “guilt.” Yet, the term is better translated as “basis for a charge.” Pilate has not examined the man, Jesus, as of yet, so he could not know anything of actual guilt. What he is doing, based on the ramblings of the priests and the shouts of the crowds, is making a kind of preliminary ruling — “you don’t have a basis for a capital case against him” — is essentially what Pilate is saying here. More will develop as the dialogue continues, but for now, Pilate is still insisting that this is a local case to be decided according to local laws. The bottom line is that this is an answer that the Priests could not accept because they wanted to put Jesus to death. If last night was a height of wickedness; this day would see new peaks by its end.

Were you there when they falsely tried my Lord?

Were you there when they falsely tried my Lord?

Oh, Oh, Oh, Sometimes it makes me want to Tremble

Tremble, Tremble…

Were you there when they falsely tried my Lord?

 

Jerusalem Built as a City Joined to Itself

“Jerusalem, which has been built—as a city;

one which has been joined together to itself.”

(Psalm 122:3)

The actual city of Jerusalem is interesting in its layout.  The city walls enclose multiple inter-connected hills and mountain peaks, which were joined as a single layout.  Literally, it is a city that has been “joined together to itself.” And because of its geography, multiple walls, and internal access to fresh water, the Romans considered this city to be the most defensible city in their empire.  Were it not for intense in-fighting and squabbling amongst rival factions, some have suggested that it would have been difficult for Rome to have sacked the city in 70 AD.

Once again I am going to make an intentional jump in comparison, connecting the city of Jerusalem to the institutional church—both being the place of meeting for the worship of the people of God.  Assuming we can grant this connection, it is remarkable how similar the two can be.  Churches are made up of people who come from various backgrounds of life: different economic strata; different levels of education; different experiences; different age groups; different cultural backgrounds, etc…  People who might never socialize together were they left outside of the church are brought together within the church for the worship and glory of Jesus Christ.  Jesus, himself, describes the church using the analogy of a body with all of its many parts—all joined together and interconnected for a single purpose.  Like Jerusalem, the church has been “joined together to itself” in Jesus Christ.

Yet, to take the analogy further, how often we find ourselves divided within the body due to petty disagreements and differences.  How often we find ourselves warring against the bonds that bind us together.  How often the secular world is able to conquer the church because the church has broken down its own defenses and destroyed its own unity.  Beloved, how sad it is that we are often guilty of doing the enemies work for them!

With all of the varied gifts and strengths that God has given to the church, the church should never find itself overcome by the world—her spiritual walls are too thick and her natural territory is too defensible.  We should be able to stand strong against any onslaught that the enemy might bring in our direction.  How often we fail.  Loved ones, be reminded by the words of the psalmist—we are a church that has been joined together with itself; may we work to strengthen and encourage that unity, not to undo the strength we have been afforded.

Blest be the tie that binds

Our hearts in Christian love;

The fellowship of kindred minds

Is like that to that above.

Before our Father’s throne

We pour our ardent prayers;

Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one

Our comforts and our cares.

-John Fawcett

“I am no longer in the world, yet they are in the world, and so I come to you.  Holy Father, guard them in your name which you have given to me in order that they may be one just as you and I.”

(John 17:11)

Let us Go to the House of the Lord

“A Psalm of Ascents; of David.

I rejoiced when ones said to me,

‘Let us go to the house of Yahweh!’”

(Psalm 122:1)

This psalm begins with a wonderful statement that is alien to the experience of many American Christians: “I rejoiced” when it came time to go to the house of the Lord.  Now, your temptation might be to argue with me and say that every Christian is now a temple of the Holy Spirit, so there is no longer any “going up” to the temple in Jerusalem (or elsewhere) and thus one cannot make a parallel between the Temple and the Church building.  All of that may be true on a surface level, but let’s hear the heart of the psalmist.  Why is he glad to go to God’s house?  Not only is it the place where he can enter into God’s presence, but it is also the place where he can gather with other believers in fellowship and in common worship and it is a place where he can go and sit under the instruction of the priests of God’s Word.  Though there are some theological nuances that we must be careful with, there really are a number of similarities in sentiment as to why the psalmist is rejoicing—this gathering is something that he has been looking forward to for a long time.  Hmmm…can we say the same thing about our gatherings on Sunday morning with the other believers?  Do we look forward to Sunday all week long, or is Sunday worship just something we do?

This is an important question to ask in a culture where the mindset that many take is that they can worship on the golf course just as well as they can worship in the pew.  It is also an important question to ask in a culture where the institutional church is being rejected and being replaced by the “emergent” church—a group that rejects the institutional church altogether.  So how do we answer this question?  Is it a good thing for us to gather with other believers in the Christian age or must this psalm be relegated to the Jewish church?

To begin with, we must never forget that Christian fellowship was given to the church for her edification.  The church is described as a “body with many parts” in 1 Corinthians 12 as well as a building made up of many stones in 1 Peter 2.  This idea sets before us the initial reality that if we are going to be believers in Jesus Christ, we are going to have to do so in community and in relationship with other believers.  In addition, this community and fellowship is not something that we are to dread, but instead is something that “makes our joy complete” (1 John 1:4).  Indeed, the hymnist is correct when he refers to the church as a “happy throng.”

Yet the joy of the church does not come from fellowship with other Christians; one can find that at a variety of social gatherings.  The joy comes from Jesus Christ.  Not only is Christ in our midst, he is binding us together as one body of Christ to his own glory and honor and to our joy and satisfaction.  Indeed, we ought rejoice when our brother or sister in the faith says, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”  For that is an invitation not only for joyful fellowship, but for joyful fellowship before Jesus Christ’s throne of grace as one body—united in faith before a living God.  Let us rejoice and be glad!

Villages without Walls: Zechariah 2

“Jerusalem shall be inhabited as villages without walls, because of the multitude of people and livestock in it.  And I will be to her a wall of fire all around, declares the Lord, and I will be glory in her midst.”  -Zechariah 2: 4b-5, ESV

 

The promises of God for his church are a delight to find, are they not?  The fulfillment of this prophesy is not in the post-exilic period as some would suggest, but no, it is in Christ, where God has drawn peoples of all nations to himself.  Through the preaching of the gospel, the boarders of Jerusalem have been expanded to cover the corners of the globe.  And while the people of God do face the fires of persecution, those fires sanctify, and God has promised to hold us fast, that not one of the elect would slip through the fingers of Christ.  The new wall cannot be breached by powers or principalities; no force on earth of around it can breach these new walls; and God’s glory, as revealed in his Son and through his Holy Spirit, is in our midst!  There is great hope and encouragement for the Christian within the words of this text.

The question that we need to ask is whether we are living like it.  You see, while the full number of elect are coming into the kingdom, we still are looking toward the future, when God’s glory would be fully revealed to every tribe and nation and that this world will be remade without the curse of sin.  While we are in the “already” but are still looking for the “not yet,” Satan takes aim on our lives.  Do we live like we are heirs to the promise, with confidence in the wall that God has placed around his church?  Or do we whimper with fear when trials and tribulations arise?  Brethren, let us face them head on.  The promises of God have been decreed before creation and while may not have been realized temporally, are as sure as if they have already happened.  We can trust and rely on them.

As we go about our day, let us turn our thoughts to heavenly things, trusting in the promises as God has revealed them to us within the words of his great love letter to us, the Bible.

Zechariah’s Night Visions: Introduction

            To understand the prophet Zechariah, one must have an understanding of the historical context in which that prophet was writing.  In 539 BC, King Cyrus of Persia overthrew the Babylonian Empire and a year later, sent a group of about 50,000 exiles home to Jerusalem with wealth, supplies, and a mandate.  The mandate was that they rebuilt the temple of God so that they could worship.

            These exiles returned to find Jerusalem in ruins and the land overrun by pagans.  While they began work on the temple, they soon decided to put their own houses in order before putting the house of God in order.  In about 515 BC, God sent two prophets to light a fire under these exiles to put them back to work.  The first was Haggai, whose message was given to chastise the people and to get them back to work.  The second was Zachariah, whose message looked toward a future kingdom and Messiah, reminding the people that God is faithful and that He is still at work, bringing about his promises.

            In the beginning of Zechariah, then are a series of visions.  These visions form the context of this series of devotions.  The visions are highly messianic and apocalyptic at the same time.  There is a good bit of the book of Revelation that draws upon these images that we are given here in Zechariah.

            In the short term, they would finish the temple as a result of the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah, though the temple would be a poor copy of Solomon’s, which had been destroyed.  Later, God would send another servant, this time a leader of men and not a prophet, to lead the people in rebuilding the wall around the city of Jerusalem.  This man would be named Nehemiah.  You can read the historical accounts of these events in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

The Walls of Jerusalem: Psalm 51 (part 19)

“Do well, by your grace, in Zion,

you shall build the walls of Jerusalem.”

(Psalm 51:20 {Psalm 51:18 in English Bibles})

 

As David begins to close this prayer, the focus shifts from his personal guilt and needs to the needs of God’s people.  While David, as king of Israel, does have a responsibility toward the people of Israel, it is important that we not see this part of his prayer as flowing only out of his kingly obligation.  Believers in Jesus Christ are bound together in Christ as one body, and thus, ought to have a mindset that is focused on the whole of that body—something that many people call a “Kingdom mentality.”  When one member of your physical body is hurting, not only is that pain felt in other parts of the body, but also you find that other parts of the body will work to compensate for the weakness of the injured member.  So, too it should be with the body of Christ.  We are to rejoice when other members receive great blessing and our hearts should ache when a member of the body experiences great loss.  Sadly, this is an area in which the church often stumbles and falls.

Secondly, look at what David asks God to be the factor that determines such blessing.  David is not saying, do well to Zion because of your great wisdom or justice, nor is he asking blessings on the basis of Israel’s status as God’s people, their heritage, or good works—he pleads God’s good blessings on the basis of God’s good grace.  In many of our English Bible’s this is translated as “favor,” but the word that David employs, !Acr” (ratson), carries with it the connotation of blessing that can only come from the hand of God, often given in connection with faith.  Thus, the English term “grace” is probably a better translation in this context.  Israel certainly has not earned this blessing from God, yet David asks it for God’s people on the basis of God’s gracious character.

The last clause of this verse has caused some people to stumble, for they ask the question, how could this have been written during David’s time, for the walls of Israel were already built?  Thus, some are quick to attribute this to a much later era in history, after the wall had been destroyed.  Yet, there are two things that should be understood.  The first is the practical observation that during ancient times, city walls were always being added to, either in the area that they encompassed or in height.  The strengthening of the city’s walls was a sign of a city’s productivity and power.  In turn, the Hebrew word hn:b” (banah) is flexible enough to carry the connotations of “building up” in addition to “building from scratch.”  Yet, the best way to translate this is in the recognition that Israel’s safety did not come from stones and mortar but came from the very hand of God.  And with this in mind, particularly in the context of David’s request for blessing in the first part of this verse, we should see this language as a metaphor for peace in Israel and security from her enemies.

I wonder sometimes whether we sincerely long to see Christ’s church blessed and at peace.  We might have a yearning to see our local congregation grow or even our denomination, but what about Christ’s church?  Do you pray for the growth of Christ’s church as a whole?  Do you pray for God’s blessing on the other local churches in your neighborhood?  Do you plead with God that these churches would prosper for the gospel even if your own congregation is facing great trials?  So often jealousy shapes our prayers, and that is a sin we must repent of.  Though we have many divisions in the church as an institution, all true believers are bound together in Christ as a united and unified body—how good it would be if we could learn to let our prayers and actions reflect just that.

I love thy church, O God:  her walls before thee stand,

Dear as the apple of thine eye, and graven on thy hand.

For her my tears shall fall, for her my prayers ascend;

To her my cares and toils be given, till toils and cares shall end.

-Timothy Dwight