Sunday with Michael Spencer: A Jesus Prayer

Sunday with Michael Spencer
A Jesus Prayer

Jesus, you don’t build institutions.

You don’t write catechisms. Or Systematic Theologies. Or critiques of someone’s theology or refutations of their catechism.

You don’t have a blog.

You don’t moderate debates.

You are the bread of life who gives himself for the salvation of the world. You are the one mediator between God and man. You are the bridegroom who loves his bride. You’re raising all of us like Lazurus. You’re healing all of us, casting demons out of all of us, calling all of us out of the un-real into the real.

The community that matters to you isn’t sitting behind some church sign. It’s not running around with some ridiculous label.

You aren’t submitting yourself to the teams built by men for their games with one another.

Jesus, you love the world. And you love those who are in fellowship with you. Not more or even in a different way than you love other persons, but only in a way that can be enjoyed and celebrated by all of us who are feasting at the same table.

You don’t have a database of membership. You don’t have 20 questions for me to answer. You are standing there before me, and your love is inviting me inviting me inviting me over and over and enabling me enabling me enabling me over and over. You’re taking me from where I’ve wandered, throwing me on your shoulders and beginning again. And again. And again. With all of us.

Jesus, you’re making crazy demands about trusting the Father. You’re saying ridiculous things about money and forgiveness. Jesus, you’re asking me to do things that are impossible.

You want me to trust you with the people I want to control. You’ve taken my prayers to change things and handed them back to me as the opportunity to let you love persons you love far, far more than I can imagine in ways I could never approach. Trusting you, by the way, is very difficult sometimes, but you never do quit asking, do you?

I’d rather theologize. I’d rather debate and score points.

I’d rather take care of me, do things my way and refer to you as my sponsor. I want you to be the god who makes my life work out; the god who makes my relationships “work.” You are the God who loves me, and loves all the people I pretend to love, with a love that’s overwhelming.

You want me to live my life in you. Not just quote the verse, but jump into the deep end of the pool with you there to catch me. You want me out of the boat, with you on the water. You want me to believe that you will never leave me or forsake me.

You want me. You’re very fond of me.

This kind of simplicity is very frightening. You are taking too much away. You are replacing it all with yourself.

Jesus, I need you a thousand ways. I can’t list them all, but I feel them, one by one by one, taking hold of me and pulling me away from you. I want that to end, and I want to hand all of my life to you, freely, in childlike trust and joy.

My emotions are following my perceptions and my perceptions are following my paradigm. I need you to take over all of it. All of it.

Jesus, you said you are the way, the truth and the life…and I told people I believed it. I didn’t believe it very much. I think I lie about these things a lot. But I want you to be the way, the truth and the life.

I’m afraid for it all to come down to just the two of us, but that’s the way it is, isn’t it? It’s the moment we all hear you, feel your gaze, realize you have singled us out for the Kingdom….but everything else must go: parents, wife, children, family, reputation, houses, lands, applause, security, health, normality. All of it goes, and you want the entire bet placed on you.

Lord Jesus Christ, Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on me.

16 thoughts on “Sunday with Michael Spencer: A Jesus Prayer

  1. I understand the thrust of your comments, Stephen, but it is the word “determine” in your last sentence that is indicative of where I disagree with you. I think that determination is beyond the ken of history, exactly because of the character of the documents that present Jesus to us. They are characterized by a faith in Jesus that is intrinsically linked to the belief that, though arising in “his time and place”, he transcends them by the power of his divine identity.


  2. Wow Robert I don’t know how to respond in a post. I guess I should have added the caveat to my own post that this approach has been beneficial to me. I can only offer it for consideration. The effort to glean historical information from the NT is not hopeless although you’re correct that it would be impossible to write a “biography” of Jesus that would meet modern standards of historiography. But we can place him in his time and place and determine to some degree the message he was spreading.


  3. Christiane, I was responding to Stephen’s proposal that it would be better for us to get behind the Christ of faith to the Jesus of history — I don’t think that’s possible. Certainly Josephus provides historical evidence that Jesus existed, and that a religious movement started around him, but not much beyond that. Some of the words attributed to him about Jesus and the early Christian community have been proven to be inauthentic, and that which we are confident he did write says nothing that can support the specifics of our faith in Jesus as risen Lord and redeemer. The witness of the martyrs is an altogether different matter, arising out of the actions and words of people who had made a faith commitment, and were in no way historically disinterested witnesses. It is impossible to get behind the Christ of faith to the Jesus of history with any significant degree of specificity.


  4. ” . . . since history cannot tell us if the resurrection happened, it cannot give us a Jesus of history.”

    Hello Robert F.
    actually, I do think there is ‘witness’ in history of the Resurrection . . . . the martyrs during the Roman persecution and down through the ages . . . . the martyrs, almost all of the first witnesses to the Resurrection ended us as martyrs themselves to the faith and they had actually SEEN the Risen Lord, and their testimony stands for all time

    even prior to the writing of St. John’s Apocalypse (the Book of Revelation), the blood of the martyrs was already being honored because where they fell, that ground was consider ‘holy ground’ and places of worship were built over those spots, with the altar placed above where the martyrs’ blood was shed in witness to Christ. The word ‘martyr’ means ‘witness’.

    There is a portion of the Book of Revelation that speaks to this:
    ” 9And when the Lamb opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony they had upheld. 10And they cried out in a loud voice, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge those who live on the earth and avenge our blood?”
    (Revelation, Chapter 6)

    you know, we think of ‘relics’ being medieval, but the truth is that there was a custom to honor the Christian dead who died as witnesses at the hands of persecution by creating places of worship where they fell and where their blood soaked the ground . . . that custom goes way, way back in the Church

    Robert, here is more encouragement:
    At the time of Christ, there were reports from non-Christian historians about the existence of Jesus . . . check out the historian Josephus as an example . . . Our Lord WAS an historical figure


  5. Almost all the primary historical documents about Jesus are wrapped up in religious belief in him, because almost everything written about Jesus by his contemporaries or the next generation was written from the perspective of faith. The primary documents were written because the Christian community had religious faith in him, and there isn’t anything near enough documentation from anyone outside this faith-generated community to provide a corrective. Given those constraints of the documentary material involved, the most that sober history can do is give us a profile of what life was probably like in first century Palestine, what the thought-world of the average first century Palestinian might have been like, and how they lived their lives; but it cannot tell us much definitive about the individual Jesus, who apart from the faith tradition that developed around him would’ve been passed over as entirely by history as any peasant nobody. My opinion is that cause of the New Testament documents being written was the resurrection of Jesus, and since history cannot tell us if the resurrection happened, it cannot give us a Jesus of history. In addition, history cannot tell me, because it is not positioned to do so, if my own faith in Jesus’ resurrection is warranted or not. Now if historians found new authentic evidence that Jesus was a real stinker, who robbed people and routinely lied for his own advantage, it would undermine my faith both in him and the community that witnessed to his resurrection; but so far, nothing like this has been found, nor is it likely to be.


  6. “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. (Misattributed to Maya Angelou. Maybe Carl Buehner). Feeling is fundamental to the human condition.


  7. “You’re very fond of me”. That’s an unusual statement. Somehow we often divorce the religious, spiritual use of the term, “Love” from anything resembling a connecting emotion. Fighting the juvenile notion of Jesus as boyfriend, yada, yada, yada, also quietly inures us to the idea that we are “liked” by God. We rarely think of Him as reveling in us and just as rarely do we revel in Him. How wildly unfortunate. We don’t even know what form that takes. How do you do that? Too self absorbed. Navel gazing. Totally unnecessary. Forget it. Michael Spencer, what on earth are you talking about?


  8. ” It may seem like it would be good to get behind all that history and back to a pure religious relationship to Jesus Christ…”

    One solution is to try as much as is possible to get back, not to the Jesus of Faith, but to the Jesus of History. To place him in his own context not ours. To place him in his own time and his own place. Paradoxically this has the result of distancing us from him (since the historical Jesus held some ideas that will rest uneasily in a modern context) but I would submit that in our own troubled time this may be what is most needed.


  9. Thanks for sharing this.

    Thanks for posting MS this morning.

    It is a simple reminder, as I sit alone in the quietness of the vineyards hear in Paso Robles,- a great reminder today.


  10. Yes, but I think the key here is the assertion around “systematic theology”and exalting insitution over the simplicity of faith.. Correctness for the sake of it over rellationship. There is nothing wrong with those things as long as we dont idolise them but keep them in their place.



  11. I appreciate Spencer’s desire to return to the immediacy and concreteness of Jesus as the center of the Christian life, and as far more important than theological assertions, positions, confessions, debates, institutions; but the concluding Jesus Prayer itself, “Lord Jesus Christ, Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on me,” is itself packed chock full of theological implications, decisions, and assertions that were wrought out in history through the deliberations, disagreements, and debates of an institutional church. It may seem like it would be good to get behind all that history and back to a pure religious relationship to Jesus Christ, untrammeled by the contentious back-and-forth of pious disagreements and theological conclusions, but it is actually impossible, and we are fooling ourselves if we think we are doing that.


  12. “My emotions are following my perceptions and my perceptions are following my paradigm. I need you to take over all of it. All of it.”

    ” . . . in the midst of our perceived deficit
    you come
    you come giving bread in the wilderness
    you come giving children at the 11th hour
    you come giving homes to exiles
    you come giving futures to the shut down
    you come giving easter joy to the dead
    you come – fleshed in Jesus.

    and we watch while
    the blind receive their sight
    the lame walk
    the lepers are cleansed
    the deaf hear
    the dead are raised
    the poor dance and sing

    we watch
    and we take food we did not grow and
    life we did not invent and
    future that is gift and gift and gift and
    families and neighbours who sustain us
    when we did not deserve it.

    It dawns on us – late rather than soon-
    that you “give food in due season
    you open your hand
    and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”

    By your giving, break our cycles of imagined scarcity
    override our presumed deficits
    quiet our anxieties of lack
    transform our perceptual field to see
    the abundance………mercy upon mercy
    blessing upon blessing. . . .”

    (Walter Brueggemann)


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