‘Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.’
(Jesus to the Church in Laodicea)***
We move on to Part 2 of Prayer: from Places of Pain, doing so from an unexpected perspective perhaps, viz. the Revelation of John, 3:14-22 and especially v. 20 (quoted above from the NLT). [It may help, if you haven’t already done so, to quickly scan Part 1 to pick up the thread]
The exalted Lord Jesus is addressing the churches of Asia Minor, from a place of incomparable pain, viz his rejection as Messiah by Israel, his beloved covenant people. For him it meant terrible sufferings here on earth, culminating in his atoning death on Golgotha’s Cross, as Saviour of Israel and all nations. It’s important we start here.
The aged apostle John, Christ’s spokesman in this instance, also speaks from a place of pain. He is in exile on the lonely Aegean Island of Patmos for preaching the Good News of the kingdom. He addresses seven local churches in Asia Minor, including the one in Laodicea, a prosperous city known for its banks, medical school and textile industry.
The local church is also under pain, especially those members loyal to Christ and all he stood for. The governing Romans enforced emperor-worship, leading to Nero’s terrible oppression of Christians (or Domitian’s, depending on the dating of the Revelation).
Christ, and his servant John, weep over a church community being sterilized by creeping materialism and complacency.
- In their relationship with ‘the Amen and Lord of all,’ these believers had drifted into spiritual ‘lukewarmness,’ to such an extent that the exalted Lord is about to ‘spit (lit. ‘vomit’) them out of his mouth!’ (v. 14-16/NIV). Maybe John had the nearby hot medicinal springs in mind as a familiar metaphor to the Laodiceans…
- Sadly, the church imagined themselves to be ‘rich,’ not recognizing their spiritual wretchedness, poverty and nudity – hence John’s counsel to buy from Christ lasting riches and clean dress (v. 17-19). Remember Laodicea was known for its clothing industry…
- Worst of all, the church imagined they had spiritual insight when in fact they were ‘blind,’ needing the Spirit’s eye salve to make them see once more. As noted earlier, Laodicea was famous for its medicines and ointments, but these ‘blind believers’ needed more than that. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the total anomaly of ‘blind Christians and churches!’ ‘Christ have mercy!’
[Painting by William Holman Hunt]
Part of Christ’s rebuke and discipline of the Laodiceans includes a call to earnestness of heart and penitent prayer. [I recently re-read the story of the godly John Wesley, 18th century awakening leader and founder of Methodism. I was once more impressed by his earnestness in everything, especially the disciplines of Bible reading, prayer, godliness and the reaching of the lost. What’s become of his tribe?]
Believe it or not, Rev. 3:20 speaks to the very essence of prayer [sadly much evangelicalism has restricted this verse to leading individuals to Christ]: ‘Here I am! (Christ is never far away) I (the Amen/faithful and true Witness/Ruler of creation) stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me’ (NIV). We know the significance of meals in the Orient: they signified covenant, fellowship, friendship, celebration and joy! [Please bear in mind that Rev. 3:20 is addressing not only individual Jesus-followers but in the main local churches] I’m sure most of us have seen Holman Hunt’s famous picture of Jesus at the door, noting there is no door handle on the outside. I.o.w. we have to open that door into our hearts and local assemblies. How many people and churches are busy with worship and prayer and service and entertainment of members when all the time Jesus, the head of the Church, is himself shut out! If the cap fits, let’s at least wear it and repent…
Many years ago during my formal theological training I came across a little paperback simply entitled Prayer, penned by Prof. Ole Hallesby (1879-1961). He was an evangelical Norwegian Lutheran theologian with a heart for God. I have read and re-read it – I am ever grateful to him for opening my eyes to the essence of Rev. 3:20. Here are selected snippets from this little gem (chap. 1):
- ‘To pray is to let Jesus come into our hearts… It is Jesus who moves us to pray… Our prayers are always the result of Jesus’ knocking at our hearts’ door.’ cf. Is. 65:24/NLT (Judgment & Final Salvation), ‘I will answer them before they even call to me. While they are still talking about their needs, I will go ahead and answer their prayers!’
- ‘From time immemorial, prayer has been spoken of as the breath of the soul… The air which our body requires envelops us on every hand. The air itself seeks to enter our bodies and, for this reason, exerts pressure upon us. It is well known that it is more difficult to hold one’s breath than it is to breathe. We need but to exercise our organs of respiration, and air will enter forthwith into our lungs and perform its life-giving function to the entire body… Prayer is the breath of the soul, the organ by which we receive Christ into our parched and withered hearts… All he needs is access… He enters wherever He is not denied admittance.’
- Jesus wants so badly to ‘‘sup’ with us. In biblical language the common meal is symbolical of intimate and joyous fellowship.’ While meditating and teaching recently on Rev. 3:20, together with Jn. 1:1-5, Jn. 6:35, 6:53ff and 1 Jn. 1, it seemed to me that Jesus came to give us ‘three inter-related l’s’ (I’m not being trite here): LIFE, LIGHT & LUNCH!
- ‘To pray is nothing more than to let Jesus into our needs… To pray is to let Jesus glorify His name in the midst of our needs.’
- ‘The results of prayer… are not dependent upon the powers of the one who prays.’ [My comment: this in a time when believers are badgered into believing that their prayers are ‘not answered’ because of ‘insufficient faith,’ etc. What did Jesus say about the size of faith??]
- Jesus ‘knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. That is why he designed prayer in such a way that the most impotent can make use of it. For to pray is to open the door to Jesus, and that requires no strength; it is only a question of our wills.’
I trust the above opens some doors (pun intended) to you and me in the vital matter of prayer, especially when praying from places of pain! May I suggest you make a note of some of these points made by Hallesby for further meditation?
[*** I’m not sure what we picture when talking about a/the ‘church?’ A building, perhaps with a cross or steeple, clergy leading in one form or another, pews all facing the stage where ‘things happen’? (BTW, that only became the norm when the Church was institutionalised and professionalised by Emperor Constantine in the early 300’s AD) One thing is for sure, the ‘church in Laodicea’ probably consisted of a relatively small group(s) of repentant and baptized believers, relating to Jesus 24/7 and meeting in ordinary homes. They included rich and poor, slave and free, male and female, young and old. Essentially they gave themselves to community and gossiping the Kingdom. ‘All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper) and to prayer… And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.’ (Acts 2:42, 47b/NLT) [Hence my blog theme, Conversations About Jesus & Community] The good news is that today such ‘organic, simple church’ has been/is happening around the world!