The passing of a new year is an occasion to look ahead. Frankly, the upcoming year had seemed more daunting than usual to me. Rowan’s invitations to TEC House of Bishops effectively gutted the Windsor Report, which had previously provided the framework for moving ahead. Next year holds two major conferences worthy of prayer campaigns—GAFCON and the Lambeth Conference. Both conferences will host many attendees, and Lent & Beyond is operating with a skeleton crew. More dioceses are expected to withdraw from TEC, and no doubt David Booth Beers will keep apace. We’ve been in this Anglican crisis one year longer. There are fewer of us. We are fatigued. We carry more wounds, and we are more mistrustful, even of our allies.
I cried out, ’Lord, teach me how to pray for this.’
The next day, my fellow intercessor, Torre Bissell, wrote,
“Jill, I think the word received this morning is very important: Pray for my people—their hearts are filled with anger towards one another. Pray that they will relent of their anger and know that they are just as much in need of my mercy as those they are angry with. Pray for my people to know my “Amazing Grace”. I want this to be heart knowledge, head knowledge, spirit knowledge. I want my people in every part of their lives to know their own personal need for redemption. There is not one—no not one—who can be justified by his own righteousness. The Episcopal Church on all sides is awash with self-righteousness that leads to death.
I think we should get people praying along these lines: Lord, reveal to us our own self-righteousness. You know our blindness—restore our sight. Could you organize a call to pray along these lines?”
We have failed in resisting cold love (Matthew 24:12). Nothing short of grace can bring us to hate a false gospel and love the messenger. God’s grace we must surely seek. Satan could care less whether we enter the broad path to destruction through the gate called ‘Lawlessness’ or the gate called ‘Cold love.’ Either way, he has snared us.
Jesus taught us that brooding anger can make us guilty enough to go into the fiery hell (Matthew 5:21-22). When we presume that our anger is attaining the righteousness of God, we isolate our spirit from the healing work of the Holy Spirit, which is repentance. Our self-righteous anger becomes a prison. This deception from Satan imperils our souls.
Secondly, after my prayer request, I talked to a friend and to my husband about the sense of helplessness I was grappling with. We’ve had decades of faulty instruction by the seminaries, 19 years of revisionist appointments by the Presiding Bishop, and decades of revisionist elections. TEC cannot be reformed by the legislative process.
Those of us whose lives have been centered on the church are prisoners to this pervasive and seemingly permanent reality. In response, some people have left TEC, and others have stuck their heads in the sand. For those of us whom God has not called to leave, how do we stay present and attentive, all the while differentiating ourselves? More and more, I feel like a fish in poisoned water, each assault on the foundations of the faith another dump of toxins into my environment. How do we remain healthy in an increasingly toxic environment?
Both intimacy and detachment are required—intimacy with Jesus and emotional detachment from how He chooses to effect His actions within the church. Our lives must be centered on Jesus, not the politics of the church. Like Simon Peter walking on the water, when we turn our eyes from Jesus to the storm, we start to sink. I know it’s next to impossible to be both attentive and detached, but that is our call.
Kendall’s advice to focus on the small things is sage. To continue with the metaphor of a fish in toxic water, the biggest fish have the highest concentration of toxins. This is because they are at the top of the food chain. The simple, one-celled organisms are exposed to the toxin in the water. The small fish eat many one-celled organisms; the larger fish eat many small fish; the largest fish eat many large fish. The concentration of poison is multiplied at each step up the food chain.
The smaller we are before the Lord, the less concentrated the toxin. The smaller we are before the Lord, the more room for Jesus. (My fellow intercessor Rev. Timothy Fountain shared Amos 7:2, 5—“How can Jacob (e.g. God’s people) survive? He is so small.”)
I believe this dual concept of intimacy and detachment is reinforced by the word received by Torre. Our self-righteousness and brooding anger keep us puffed up. Our God is a holy God, and He cannot share His glory with the sins that we cherish. By relinquishing these thought constructs of self-righteousness and habitual anger, we deed some of Satan’s territory to Jesus. The biblical word for thought systems that are not of God—strongholds—is a good one. It is within these strongholds that we allow Satan purchase over parts of our lives. By signing the deed of a stronghold over, we evict Satan from that particular territory. By repeatedly saying, “Jesus, I cannot do this on my own, but with Your help I renounce this habit of self-righteousness,” we send Satan fleeing (James 4:7). If this scene is repeated over and again by faithful people throughout the church, Satan’s footholds are eliminated, one at a time.
A third thing happened after I asked God how to pray. The Holy Spirit gave me a Bible story—Naaman and Elisha (2 Kings 5). Naaman, captain of the army of the King of Syria, was an honorable man, a mighty man of valor. But he was a leper. The Episcopal Church has a long, honorable, and courageous history. But it is now a spiritual leper, and people are shunning it.
Let us imagine that we are Naaman. Naaman hears of a prophet who heals. From whom does he hear? A learned physician? A statesman? No, from an Israelite slave girl. Leprosy was an incurable disease. He was not only willing to listen to a person of inferior rank and nationality, he was willing to pursue his healing even though it was counter to his personal experience and well-informed private judgment. Why was he willing? Like the four lepers from Kendall’s teaching on 2 Kings 6-7 , he goes in the only direction of possible hope, no matter how unlikely. He was willing to believe the unbelievable. He was willing to travel a great distance. He was willing to seek help from people he did not regard as allies.
What did he do first? Naaman went before his king and made his request, and the king provided Naaman all that was needful. When we go before God with our request for healing, will He do no less?
Naaman took a letter of introduction from his king to the king of Israel. The king of Israel did not believe healing was possible. Indeed, he viewed Naaman’s request with hostility. However, his lack of faith did not cancel out the faith of the Israelite slave girl, Naaman, the king of Syria, and the prophet. When we seek healing, we should expect to encounter persons of little faith in high places.
Elisha finally enters the story. Or does he? Elisha, the prophet who heals, sent his instructions for healing by a messenger, a servant. The climax of the story is anticlimactic, and Naaman is angered because Elisha has not properly acknowledged his great undertaking. There is a lesson here. Even persons acting in great faith can be too easily wounded, if they allow their focus to shift from the source of healing, the God of all the earth, to the individuals God chooses to use.
Elisha tells Naaman to wash in the Jordan River seven times. Naaman is offended because the prophet did not work the way he expected. The roller coaster of emotions in the last four years has been driven largely by our expectations of how healing should take place. We must let go of all our expectations of how God will heal this church in order to receive His healing. Naaman almost loses his healing because he regards washing in the Jordan to be such a little thing for so great an illness. Are we willing to humble ourselves? Are we willing to be faithful in the little things? (My fellow intercessor Torre Bissell shared Zechariah 4:10—“A day for little things, no doubt, but who would dare despise it?”)
Thank goodness, Naaman had traveled with servants because it is they who convince him to try it. He would have lost his healing if he had traveled alone. We need each other.
Naaman dipped himself seven times in the Jordan. Why did the man of God instruct him to wash himself seven times? The text doesn’t say. I would speculate that it is symbolic of a complete anointing of the Spirit of God. Zechariah’s description of the mourning of Israel when they recognize their once-crucified Messiah is instructive (Zechariah 12:10-13:1)—
1. God’s unmerited grace
3. Recognition of whom they have pierced
4. Mourning for whom they have pierced
5. Individual repentance over having blindly rejected the unrecognized Messiah
6. Corporate grief
7. Forgiveness and cleansing
Lastly, Naaman acknowledges the God of Israel in thanksgiving. (Torre shared Zechariah 4:6—‘Not by might and not by power, but by my spirit’, says Yahweh Sabaoth.)
On Lent & Beyond, we will be present to the small things this year—the Nicene Creed, the lectionary. We will attend to penitence for our anger and self-righteousness, a real challenge given the events to come. We will ask for a seven-fold anointing of the Holy Spirit. We will acknowledge the God of Israel in thanksgiving. We will not succumb to a spirit of helplessness because God delights in doing His best work in the most hopeless of circumstances, using the most unlikely persons with the most meager of resources, all to the glory of His name.
Most of all, we will focus on Jesus. I pray we all will become as a bride adorned for her husband.