Paul and Prayer

I’m teaching a class on the Holy Spirit this Fall, and this week the subject was The Holy Spirit and Prayer. These two quotes from Gordon Fee’s Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God caught my attention:

One of the more remarkable inconsistencies in studies on Paul is that thousands of books exist that search every aspect of Paul’s thinking, while only a few seek to come to terms with his life of prayer. Indeed, most people’s understanding of Paul is limited to Paul the missionary or to Paul the theologian. But what is clear from Paul’s letters is that he was a pray-er before he was a missionary or thinker…Paul did not simply believe in prayer or talk about prayer. He prayed, regularly and continuously, and urged his churches to do the same.









It is probably impossible to understand Paul as a theologian, if one does not take this dimension of his “Spirit-uality” with full seriousness. A prayerless life is one of practical atheism. As one who lived in and by the Spirit, Paul understood prayer in particular to be the special prompting of the Spirit, leading him to thanksgiving for others and petition in the Spirit, even when he did not know for what specifically to pray. Whatever else life in the Spirit meant for Paul, it meant a life devoted to prayer, accompanied by joy and thanksgiving.


The Spirit Energizes

In studying for my class on the Holy Spirit, I read Life in the Spirit by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. This paragraph from the 1st Chapter on Ephesians 5:18 has stayed with me. I think it is a valid and needed critique of many churches.

Another striking contrast is this.The Christian life, unlike the life of drunkenness and excess, does not exhaust a man. That is the tragedy of the other life, is it not? The poor fellow thinks he is being stimulated, actually he is being exhausted because of this prodigal use of his energy and everything else. But the Christian life does not produce exhaustion, indeed it does the exact opposite, thank God.

A great principle emerges at this point. It applies not only to drink but to many other agencies that have the same effect exactly as drink. In simple terms, it tells us the difference between the operation of the Spirit upon us, and any other influence that may appear at first sight to be like the influence of the Spirit is this, that all those other agencies exhaust us, whereas the Spirit always puts power into us.

Let me illustrate what I mean. I remember hearing, a few years ago, that a mission had been held under the auspices of a certain Christian organization during one particular term. And then I remember hearing that the following term was one of the worst terms in a spiritual sense in the history of that particular organization. Fewer people went to the prayer meetings and to the various other meetings. People were not only not turning up to prayer meetings or doing their regular Christian work, they were also not reading their Scriptures as they used to do. Someone enquired as to the cause of this strange phenomenon, and the explanation, the answer, that was given was this, that it was due to what they called ‘the post-campaign exhaustion’. Every participant was tired out and exhausted. Does that not cause one to think furiously?

The Holy Spirit, I say, does not exhaust; He puts power into us. Many other agencies exhaust. If a church or Christian organization is exhausted after an evangelistic campaign I would query very much the basis on which the campaign was conducted. The Spirit does not exhaust, but the energy produced and expended by man does. Alcohol, or any artificial stimulus worked up by man, always leaves us exhausted and tired. Not so the Spirit! Drunkenness exhausts; the Holy Spirit does not exhaust, but energizes.

How much of what we call church leaves us exhausted? Then must we ask how much of what we call church is “artificial stimulus worked up by man”?





Making the World Right

In light of the events of this week, a few quotes on God’s making the world right.* I hope this vision captures the church, myself included, and we become God’s people – a people working to make what is wrong right.


In Galatians, the cross is interpreted not primarily as an atoning sacrifice for forgiveness of sins, but as a cataclysmic event that has broken the power of forces that hold humanity captive, brought the old world to an end, and inaugurated a new creation.

Richard Hays


Paul takes his bearings from the good news that in Christ – and thus in the act of new creation – God has invaded the cosmos. Paul does not argue, then, on the basis of a cosmos that remains undisturbed but on the emergence of the new cosmos with its new elements.

J. Louis Martyn


In Christ’s death the whole world has been put to death and a new world of possibilities come to birth.

James D. G. Dunn


God’s gracious will is to create life, to call into existence things that do not exist…Far from repairing the old cosmos, God is in the process of replacing it. 

J. Louis Martyn (partial summary, partial quote)


The new creation is not, however, merely a dream or a vision it takes on empirical reality in the community of God’s people.

Richard Hays


Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10)



*All quotes from commentaries on Galatians.


A Hermeneutic of Trust

I posted a few days ago on the idea of teaching students to read scripture uncritically. Richard Hays, in his article ‘Salvation by Trust? Reading the Bible Faithfully‘, has this say about the work of interpretation.

The real work of interpretation is to hear the text. We must consider how to read and teach scripture in a way that opens up its message and both models and fosters trust in God. So much of the ideological critique that currently dominates the academy fails to foster these qualities. Scripture is critiqued but never interpreted. The critic exposes but never exposits. Thus the word itself recedes into the background, and we are left talking only about the politics of interpretation, having lost the capacity to perform interpretations.

Although Hays’ article is not about reading uncritically, I think his message is applicable to teaching students to read uncritically. Any interpretation that moves move to quickly to critique, whether it is using scripture to critique an opponent or using our experience to critique scripture, is in danger of ignoring the text. And if we ignore the text how will we ever hear its message of grace. To quote Hays’ article one more time,

Left to our own devices we are capable of infinite self-deception, confusion and evil. We therefore must turn to scripture and submit ourselves to it…in order to find our disorders rightly diagnosed and healed.


Is the past real?

Another set of quotes from my PhD research. Last week I looked at Paul’s gospel, this week I’m going a different direction by looking at different views of the past.

Time is one of the key concepts in my thesis. In studying time, I have found just about every concept is debated so for the fun of it here is a sampling of different views of the past.*

Heideggerthe deep unity of time as future, past, and present…the backward move toward the past is retrieved in the anticipation of a present, therefore, in a being’s move toward death retrospection is reconnected to anticipation and anticipation is rooted in retrospection. (Ricoeur speaks of this view of Heidegger as he explains the becoming of being as the extension of life both backward and forward)

Richard Lehan – “…you cannot buy back the past, cannot realize ideals located in the past. The past is not a stable, solid block of meaning to which one can return at will. Present reality transforms the past. Because the past is constantly emptied of meaning – ‘you cannot go home again’…To seek meaning in the past is to seek it in a realm that will never be the same again.”

Aneesha Dharwadker – “The past dictates what we know, the very core of our existence…Menard defines history not as delving into reality but as the very fount of reality…The past changes the present as much as the present changes the past.”

Northrop Frye – “In our ordinary sense of time we have to grapple with 3 dimensions, all of the unreal: a past that is no longer, a future that is not yet, and a present that is never quite…but the centre of all time is ‘now.'”

Udo Schnelle – The past is available to us exclusively through present interpretations. In other words, history is not simply reconstructed but necessarily constructed as interpretation invents the past as we now see it by giving it a structure it did not previously have. Thus, the past exists only when it is brought into meaningful relationship with the present.

Augustine – “No time is wholly present…All past time is driven backwards by the future, all future time is the consequent of the past, and all past and future are created and set on their course by that which is always present.”


*Italics are summaries, “…” are quotes.