Sunday, 23 March 2014

BCP Commentary 2 - 'the prayers' Part 2

Let's continue looking at the 'prayers' section of the BCP - a section full of good teaching and Biblical prayers which offer us a fantastic model for our own.

Prayer in the time of war and tumults

O ALMIGHTY God, King of all kings, and Governor of all things, whose power no creature is able to resist, to whom it belongeth justly to punish sinners, and to be merciful to them that truly repent: Save and deliver us, we humbly beseech thee, from the hands of our enemies; abate their pride, asswage their malice, and confound their devices; that we, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore from all perils, to glorify thee, who art the only giver of all victory; through the merits of thy only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

War is a terrible thing, as are times of civil unrest.  From the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, to the civil wars in Syria and the Central African Republic, for many people war is simply the reality in which they live.  Even here in the UK war is not so distant, our troops are abroad and the risk of war is ever present.  But what do we learn from this prayer?

1)  Firstly God is the "King of all Kings, and Governor of all things".  God is in charge, He is the ultimate ruler, this is not a democracy it is a benevolent theocratic dictatorship.  All earthly kings and governors are only in power because God allows them to be.

2)  "Whose power no creature is able to resist" is an important line.  God is so powerful that no living thing, including ourselves, can resist Him and His will.  If God wants to change a sinners heart that it might turn to Him that is not a problem.  There is nothing - no thing - that God in His mighty power cannot make happen.  Free will is not inviolable, that is one of the simple Biblical truths that foolishly we love to deny.  If God cannot 'override' human free will then what is the point in praying that God would bring our friends and family to Himself? - if He can't act against their 'free will' then there is no point in such prayers.

3)  God is perfectly just in punishing sinners, indeed it is His 'job.'  The role of judge of the universe belongs to God alone.  Yet in His mercy He always accepts true repentance.  The word true is very important because God is not impressed by window dressing and crocodile tears.

"God is in charge, He is the ultimate ruler, this is not a democracy it is a benevolent theocratic dictatorship"

4)  In calling on God to deliver us from our enemies we pray that He would, above all else, change their hearts and minds. We pray that He would humble their pride and lessen their malice.  This is a prayer for God to send His Holy Spirit to regenerate our enemies and give them new birth that they might become not enemies but family through faith in Jesus.

5)  Our greatest defence is war and trouble is not tanks and big guns, body armour or numbers, but God - we are armed with His defence not our own.  This is important because if we try to win the war on our own strength we will find that we are too weak, if we try to win it by our own cleverness we will find that we are too stupid.  In Christ alone is victory found.

6)  All of this we can confidently pray because Jesus Christ lived the perfect life of holiness and righteousness, He merits the Father's love and action.  We don't, but when we pray in Jesus name we are given His holiness and righteousness, we have these 'imputed' or placed on us by someone else, and thus God hears and acts.

Prayer in the time of any common plague of sickness.

ALMIGHTY God, who in thy wrath didst send a plague upon thine own people in the wilderness, for their obstinate rebellion against Moses and Aaron; and also, in the time of king David, didst slay with the plague of pestilence threescore and ten thousand, and yet remembering thy mercy didst save the rest: Have pity upon us miserable sinners, who now are visited with great sickness and mortality; that like as thou didst then accept of an atonement, and didst command the destroying Angel to cease from punishing, so it may now please thee to withdraw from us this plague and grievous sickness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

1) Once again this prayer speaks Scripture back to God - it looks to the plagues brought upon the Hebrews during their Exodus and during the time of David.  Why is this relevant?  Because in these instances God remembered His mercy and saved Himself a remnant. God is merciful and will always save for Himself a remnant of the faithful who are elected to eternal life.

 "Free will is not inviolable, that is one of the simple Biblical truths that foolishly we love to deny."

2)  When God sends 'punishment' upon nations and people, or disciplines His children, it is not a dispassionate affair.  Like us God gets angry, His wrath burns when He acts in such a way.  But His anger and wrath are always perfectly just and right whilst ours are nearly always not.  It simply will not do to try and pretend that the God of the Bible - Old and New Testaments - is not at times a very angry God.

3)  The right response to God is to recognise that we are "miserable sinners" who need pity not a slap on the back or a fist bump.  

4)  The prayer again turns to stories it first mentioned and how God accepted an atonement for the sins of the people and  thus stopped the "destroying Angel"  (who biblically may actually be the pre-incarnate Jesus!).  The only way for God's just and holy wrath to be sated is by atonement, by sacrifice.  Thankfully God paid for and made that sacrifice Himself upon the Cross for us.  When we are facing difficult times we should always first go back to Calvary and remember for ourselves that the price has been paid.

Prayers for in the Ember Weeks, to be said every day, for those that are to be admitted into Holy Orders. 

Once again there are two different prayers for the people to be made by officially recognised ministers in the Church.  We will look at them together and mine their deep and plentiful riches in terms of teaching and doctrine.

ALMIGHTY God, our heavenly Father, who hast purchased to thyself an universal Church by the precious blood of thy dear Son: Mercifully look upon the same, and at this time so guide and govern the minds of thy servants the Bishops and Pastors of thy flock, that they may lay hands suddenly on no man, but faithfully and wisely make choice of fit persons to serve in the sacred Ministry of thy Church. And to those which shall be ordained to any holy function give thy grace and heavenly benediction; that both by their life and doctrine they may set forth thy glory, and set forward the salvation of all men; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

ALMIGHTY God, the giver of all good gifts, who of thy divine providence hast appointed divers Orders in thy Church: Give thy grace, we humbly beseech thee, to all those who are to be called to any office and administration in the same; and so replenish them with the truth of thy doctrine, and endue them with innocency of life, that they may faithfully serve before thee, to the glory of thy great Name, and the benefit of thy holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

1)  The universal Church, God's people, the Body of Christ, was purchased from sin and error and darkness by God.  The price of this ransom was paid in the currency of the drops of blood of Jesus Christ.  The buying of our salvation from sin, the ransoming of us from our deserved fate in hell, was a costly, costly, thing - we should rejoice in the love of God to pay this price for us.

2) Bishops are not just people in pointy hats (not that they should be wearing mitres in the first place - mitre as well go to Rome if you want to wear such things!).  In this prayer we see their vital role in safeguarding the Church from error by only bringing into the Ministry - a 'sacred' and holy thing - those who are fit to serve in it under Christ.  Bishops, and these days by extension their "Bishops Advisory Panels" desperately need the mind of Christ that they might not only wisely choose those God is calling but do so faithfully by abiding to the Gospel and the truth of the Scriptures.  

4) God has in His wisdom given us different kinds of Ministers or "divers Orders" for the organising and building up of His Church just as He has given different gifts.  The Bible only seems to give two: Presbyters/Elders or Bishops/Overseers and Deacons.  However, even in Scripture it seem apparent that certain Presbyters and/or Overseers led and had the greatest authority.  Paul clearly left the likes of Timothy and Titus in charge of congregations and told them to oversee the ordaining of new Ministers.  By 90AD we know from Bishop Ignatius of Antioch that the 'threefold order' of Bishop-Presbyter-Deacon was in place in many areas but not universal.  It seems to have caught on completely till the Reformation shortly after.  Whilst I do not believe the three-fold order is the only acceptable one, it is certainly eminently Biblical and to my mind the best for order and discipline in the Church.

3)  Your ministers really, really, need your prayers!  We need God's grace each and everyday and His blessing upon us.  Recently being a Minister was ranked by Forbes Magazine as the 5th most demanding  kind of job in the world.  We are sinners just like you and need prayer and support just like you.

4)  Ministers are to display, show, and proclaim the glory of God - His majesty, His Holiness, His love, His power, by not only preaching the Bible but by their life and doctrine.  Whilst still sinners like everyone else Ministers are called to be in the words of St. Paul to Timothy

"Above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, not addicted to wine, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy... have a good reputation among outsiders"  1 Timothy 3.1-3, 7

So no pressure!  

But not only must our lives be above reproach, our doctrine must be too.  This is perhaps the single most important issue facing the Church today - bad doctrine.  In Anglican terms this means that Ministers should adhere to the teaching of the Scriptures without question, to the Creeds of the ancient church, to the 39 Articles, the BCP, and the Ordinal.  This is the depository of correct and true doctrine, the faith revealed in the Scriptures.  Without acceptance of these things no one should be ordained into the Church of England.

"The right response to God is to recognise that we are 'miserable sinners' who need pity not a slap on the back or a fist bump. "

5) Ministers are to "set forward the salvation of all men" that is to say that we are to preach the Gospel all day and all night, in season and out of season.  As Bishop J.C. Ryle said

"[nothing] will ever do so much good to souls as the powerful, fiery, fervent, preaching of God's Word.  Daily services without sermons may gratify and edify a few handfuls of believers, but they will never reach, draw, attract, or arrest the great mass of mankind.  If men want to do good to the multitude, if they want to reach their hearts and consciences, they must walk in the steps of Wyclif, Latimer, Luther, Chrysostom, and St. Paul.  They must attack them through their ears; they must blow the trumpet of the everlasting Gospel loud and long; they must preach the Word."

Oomph - nothing like a bit of Ryle to stir up a fire down in your soul!

A Prayer for the High Court of Parliament, to be read during their session.

We turn now to the prayer for the government which lays down many Biblical principles.

MOST gracious God, we humbly beseech thee, as for this Kingdom in general, so especially for the High Court of Parliament, under our most religious and gracious Queen at this time assembled: That thou wouldest be pleased to direct and prosper all their consultations to the advancement of thy glory, the good of thy Church, the safety, honour, and welfare of our Sovereign and her Dominions; that all things may be so ordered and settled by their endeavours, upon the best and surest foundations, that peace and happiness, truth and justice, religion and piety, may be established among us for all generations. These and all other necessaries, for them, for us, and thy whole Church, we humbly beg in the Name and Mediation of Jesus Christ our most blessed Lord and Saviour. Amen.

1) This should be obvious from this prayer: we should pray for our government - whether we like them or not!  St. Paul calls on us to "pray for all those in authority so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity" 1 Timothy 2.2  We pray that we may have peace and happiness, truth. justice etc.  For this to happen our leaders need to be directed by God and for God to bless and prosper all their decisions.  

"At a time when gay 'marriage' has been pushed through parliament, when people are facing prison for denouncing such sinful things, when street preachers are arrested and Christian freedoms hypocritically quashed we really must pray for our government"

2)  The main reason why we should want our governments to rule and govern justly and rightly is not so we don't have to pay so much tax or so we get looked after but that everything may be "to the advancement of thy glory" when the Reformers spoke of everything being 'to the glory of God alone' they meant it to be taken literally.

3) We should pray in particular for the government to look after and promote the good of the Church that for both now and for our children there may be true religion and piety in our land.  Great Britain has a noble and glorious history when it comes to Christianity - the greatest church of the Reformation, the forefront of world missionary activity, the birth place of the likes of Whitfield and Wesley, the home of Wycliffe and Cranmer, the land of Spurgeon and Ryle, the country of Lloyd-Jones and Stott.  Yet today our legacy is in tatters, our once shining shields of gold are now in the bottom of a ditch covered in the cow dung and sewerage of liberalism, sin, bad doctrine, ritualism, and cowardice.  We should pray that not only our leaders be emboldened in the Gospel but that the government should not hinder this happening - indeed they should promote it.  

At a time when gay 'marriage' has been pushed through parliament, when people are facing prison for denouncing such sinful things, when street preachers are arrested and Christian freedoms hypocritically quashed we really must pray for our government - prayer is powerful and can move mighty empires (or little islands!)

A Collect or Prayer for all Conditions of men, to be used at such times when the Litany is not appointed to be said.

And so we turn to our final two prayers in this section of the BCP - both of a more general nature.  This first one covers just about everything, it is the 'Lord's Prayer' of the Anglican Church in its all-encompassing scope  (though Jesus' one was better.)

O GOD, the Creator and Preserver of all mankind, we humbly beseech thee for all sorts and conditions of men; that thou wouldest be pleased to make thy ways known unto them, thy saving health unto all nations. More especially we pray for the good estate of the Catholick Church; that it may be so guided and governed by thy good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life. Finally we commend to thy fatherly goodness all those, who are any ways afflicted or distressed in mind, body, or estate; [*especially those for whom our prayers are desired;] that it may please thee to comfort and relieve them, according to their several necessities, giving them patience under their sufferings, and a happy issue out of all their afflictions. And this we beg for Jesus Christ his sake. Amen.

1) God not only created us but preserves us, each and every second we are alive, each and every breath we take and beat of our heart only happens because God preserves us and the universe.  For this we should never cease to be in awe and give mighty thanks.

2) In this prayer just about everything is prayed for, yet the very first petition is that God would reveal Himself to us and all people, that He would bring us to Him and show us His ways and truth.  Is this really our top priority when we pray?  I know it is generally not mine, but I am challenged to make it so.

3) More specifically we should pray for the "the Catholick Church".  This is a phrase many stumble over so I will make it simple.  When we read 'Catholick' in the BCP or the Articles, or the Creeds it does not mean nor is it at all related to the Roman Catholic Church.  The word catholic means 'Universal' - when we pray for the 'Catholick Church' or 'catholic church' we are praying for the true Church of God, the Body of Christ.  When we confess in the Creeds that there is "one holy and catholic apostolic church" we mean that that there is an 'invisible church' which is the one true and holy church consisting of the true believers, the elect, who hold to the apostolic teaching and who will go to heaven.  Not everyone who goes to the church we see around us - the visible church - is actually Christian or will go to heaven.  In this prayer we are praying that the church we see around us would indeed by that 'invisible church' of true believers and that God would make this so by keeping the visible church in good doctrine, faith, and practice: or in the words of this prayer "That it may be so guided and governed by thy good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life"

4)  Only once you have prayed for the conversion of the world to Christ, for the Church of God, only then can you or should you pray for other people and yourselves about needs of body, mind, spirit, or life.  We can lift all things to God in prayer no matter how small or large, there is no concern we have which God is not interested in hearing about and lovingly responding to - whatever that response may be.  We should pray for people by name, lifting them up to God our Father trusting that as they are His children He will love them with a perfect love. 

5) Finally, when we pray we beg.  You beg for something when you need it but know you don't deserve or have a right to get it.  This is us.  If our prayers don't sound like we are begging then we are not praying right.  Think of the tax-collector who prayed to God in the parable we find in Luke 18.9-14

“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, turn Your wrath from me—a sinner!’"

This is what we call begging, this is what we call real prayer  - and this is the kind of prayer and the kind of man whom Jesus said walks away justified.

And it is this kind of prayer, this kind of humble heart, which is recognised in the final prayer of this part of the BCP - it is a prayer which can be said after any of the above to reinforce the point that we are sinners who don't deserve God's love and care but that He is merciful nonetheless:

A Prayer that may be said after any of the former.

O GOD, whose nature and property is ever to have mercy and to forgive, receive our humble petitions; and though we be tied and bound with the chain of our sins, yet let the pitifulness of thy great mercy loose us; for the honour of Jesus Christ, our Mediator and Advocate. Amen.

And the people said: AMEN!

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