The Courageous Faithfulness behind the Covenant Prayer

7 01 2014

I’d like to spend a few moments today looking at the history of the covenant prayer and the faith from which it emerged. In the early 1600s a form of biblical Christianity arose, the Genevan Bible was being smuggled into England and King James Bible was commissioned. For the first time ever people were able to read God’s Word in their own language.

From this new access to spiritual truth came a people who desired to pattern their lives after that of Jesus, a people who prized courage, faithfulness, learning and discipline. These were the Puritans. These were the people to speak to if you wanted something done.

Their religious passion and courage appeared a threat to some both in the established church and in parliament. From 1629 to 1640 over 80,000 fled the state sponsored persecution to the new colonies in search of freedom.

Still more Puritan leaders remained and began a rise to prominence. Following his father King Charles the first opposed this new religious fervour, he appointed Archbishop Laud who set about to stamp out the Puritan movement, and he also wasted money on several failed conquests (in France and Spain). In all these things he clashed with parliament.

So in 1629 he suspended parliament. And so began 11 years of tyranny. In this period the King raised money by imposing fines upon the noble men, imposing ship levies, and forcing people to accept loans at exorbitant rates of interest. King Charles was becoming increasingly unpopular.

Eventually Charles was forced to recall parliament to levy taxes for a war with the Scots. Only now the Puritans were ready. They wanted an Act that ensured parliament would not be disbanded again without consent, an end to the illegal fines, and religious persecution.

Charles conceded. That is until he marched into the House of Commons to arrest five MPs he accused of treason!

Civil war was brewing and Charles fled London with his nobles as the House of Commons raised an army – known as the Puritan Army or the New Model Army.
Much of the rest of the story you know.

Cromwell defeated the cavaliers, the King’s family fled and the King was charged with treason.

So why do I want to share this with you?

This is the political and religious backdrop to Richard Alleine, who wrote the Covenant Prayer. He served as a Pastor in Somerset and wrote a number of religious and devotional classics such as ‘the vindication of godliness’, ‘heaven opened’, ‘heart-work’ and ‘a companion to prayer’.

His focus in the midst of all this political upheaval was on the devotional life of God’s people. Yet, living in this tumultuous time gives his covenant prayer even greater significance. For these are not empty words but words he had to live out.

In 1610 Richard Alleine was born and he lived through much of Laud’s persecution, his own writings were banned, yet many sought to hear him preach the gospel. In 1662 after the restoration of King Charles the II, parliament issued the Clarendon Codes, forcing Puritans to abandon personal and extemporary praying in favour of the prayer book. Clergy unwilling to comply would lose their homes and livings.

2000 clergy refused saying that the only Divine book was the Bible and whilst the prayer book may be helpful aid to devotion it could not be the only form of public prayer.

Richard Alleine was amongst that number. In 1662 he gave up his home and living, the five mile Act forbid him from preaching within five miles of an established church, and so he moved several miles away. It would have been difficult to start ministry afresh with none of the support he would previously have enjoyed.

Furthermore, he faced harsh restrictions and was called before the magistrate several times for ‘conventicling’ that is speaking at private functions. On one occasion he found himself arrested in the home of a prominent MP who cheerfully paid five pounds for his release. In this period of ministry many non-conformist ministers and their families were reduced to begging for a living and survived on little more than brown rye bread and water.

Forced from his home and living he eventually settled in Frome where he taught and preached until his death. He died on 22nd December 1681 and was buried in Frome and was buried in the parish church there. The local vicar, Mr Richard Jenkins, gave the eulogy. Testifying to the excellence of his character, his fidelity and truthfulness, that led to his stigmatization and persecution.

So when we consider these words. Let us remember where they came from, the courage it took to take an unpopular stand for the sake of the gospel, to bear reproach for the sake of Jesus Christ, and still to act with dignity.

These words, which so impacted John Wesley, emerge from a quiet life of faithful devotion and willingness to trust God in all the circumstances of life:

I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing,
put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you,
or laid aside for you,
exalted for you,
or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.





On the significance of the resurrection

9 03 2012

I was asked to write an article for our church newssheet the other day on the significance of the resurrection. And it got me thinking, I guess many of us know the comfort of the cross; we look fondly on it for assurance of forgiveness, freedom from sin, knowledge of God’s love for us. I would imagine that all three of us (Phil, Paul and I) have articulated these truths several times over. I guess we are comfortable and at home with these truths and our congregations are too.

Yet there is Word far more challenging and perhaps comforting in the good news of the resurrection. It is the calling not simply to what Martyn Lloyd Jones described as ‘dead’ orthodoxy but to a living faith. It is the calling to come to God’s house expecting to be thrilled by the nearness, the power and the tenderness of God with us.

So significant is the resurrection that the apostle Paul writes: ‘if Christ has not been raised then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain’ (1 Corinthians 15:14). For it is the resurrection that sets apart Jesus’ death from that of any other martyr. It is the resurrection that explains the growth of the Christian faith from a handful of Galilean peasants to a thriving faith throughout the Mediterranean world. It is the resurrection that makes it possible for us to have, not simply true beliefs but, living faith- a relationship with Jesus.

Jesus said, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him’ (John 14:23). This encounter with the living Jesus making his home with us, by the Spirit, has been the experience of Christian people right through the ages.

The Welsh Methodist, Howell Harris (1714-1773), described his own experience saying: ‘Suddenly I felt my heart melting within me like wax before fire, and love to God for my Saviour. I felt also not only love and peace, but a longing to die and be with Christ. Then there came a cry into my soul within that I had never known before – Abba, Father!’ It can be intimidating to read of people who have had such intimate and profound encounters with Jesus in the Spirit, but I believe that these accounts are genuine and should give us hope that Jesus has yet more to offer us.

Christian faith shouldn’t be a static thing. It should be a living growing deepening journey as we discover just how faithful and true Jesus is.

Father God, we thank you for the good news of the resurrection and the living relationship we have with Jesus through it. Speak to us by your Spirit help us to know more personally your love for us, so that in our daily lives we would know the joy of true communion with you. Help us to come to your Word and to worship with expectant hearts willing to be thrilled by your limitless grace. In the name of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.





A Prayer for Moses and Kim

21 03 2007

Moses and Kim are good friends of mine. They show me what true love really means and they are one of the most wonderful couples I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. I love them both dearly, therefore to hear that they have set a date for their wedding makes my joy complete. I pray for them both:

 May God bless and guide them,

bind them ever closer in holy matrimony,

give them beautiful children at the right time,

fill their home with love and joy,

surround them with good friends and a strong family,

and grant them fulfilment in all their common ventures,

so that their marriage may become a powerful testimony,

not only to their love but to the love of God,

who in all things protects and cares for us all.

Amen





thoughts on prayer

8 03 2007

Some thoughts on prayer provoked by Maria Toth’s recent post Stubborn 4 Christ!

Prayer is not just about persevering when you want something; it’s about being present when your world seems to be falling apart. During three years I spent at Cliff College I came to appreciate the practice of morning prayers and opposed people who wished to make morning prayers an optional part of life in the community.  

Structured prayer can contribute to a dualistic way of seeing the world- and the “prayer is what we do in chapel at six o’clock in the morning” attitude isn’t helpful. But setting aside a specific time for prayer can be a powerful practice, it holds you in times of doubt and it strengthens you in times of challenge.  

The monastic practice of morning (matins) and evening (compline) prayer is not a dualistic practice, but rather serves to remind Christians that God is with them throughout the day and watches over them at night. When it comes to the discipline of prayer I have found two things helpful:  

  1. Praying with others makes us accountable to them and serves as a good reminder that prayer is not about “us and God”, it is about “us, the world, and God”
  2. Praying the Daily Office is also helpful as it gives our prayer life structure and when we struggling to pray it gives us words.




Peace March, London

23 02 2007

I was reading the news reports of the protest against gun crime, held yesterday in the Capital, when I came across this quote by twenty-three year old Adrian Harrison:

‘I wanted to be in the presence of believers’

It’s such a powerful phrase, but why does he want to be amongst the faithful, what does it mean for him to be with the believers, and how will faith make a difference on the streets? I don’t have all the answers, but I know that Adrian Harrison isn’t the only one turning to the community of salvation and to God for help.

Heavenly Father,
I do not understand the social pressures or the culture of gang violence faced by those in southeast London, but I know that you understand all things. In the midst of this area be with those caught up in gang warfare, those in gangs, those intimidated by gangs, and those who become victims of these gangs.
In the name of the Prince of Peace,
Amen





Speaking Truthfully- thoughts on ‘salvation even in sin’

25 01 2007

Yesterday, I was reading an essay by Stanley Hauerwas entitled ‘salvation even in sin’ within this essay Hauerwas reflects upon Ephesians 4:25-5:2 and draws links between our ability to speak truthfully about our lives and our understanding of sin and grace.

The same day, I had the great privilege to be given a preview of the next fresh expressions DVD, which features talking heads with Graham Horsley, Graham Carter, and Martyn Atkins. I was struck by something Martyn said about our failure to effectively disciple people over past hundred years. ‘How is it’, he remonstrated, ‘that people can go to church their entire lives and the something happens and fifty years of discipleship goes out the window?’

I suspect we find part of the answer in Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2. Sadly, the church has become a place where people put up the barriers. Instead of being real about the struggles we have faced, we smile and say things like ‘I’m great thanks’ even when things have not been good at all. I guess sometimes this is because we are scared of being honest about our struggles; we are afraid of speaking truthfully about our lives, and when somebody does, very often they receive condemnation rather than grace.

I believe in holistic small groups not because small group discipleship is the flavour of the week but because it seems to be the starting place for learning to speak truthfully to one another, to radiate grace. Not the otherworldly grace, which knows no sin, but the real gritty grace illustrated most eloquently in the cross of Christ.

Heavenly Father,
Help us to speak more truthfully about ourselves,
And enable us to listen to one another with grace.
Let us be slow to anger but quick to forgive,
And surround us with your love.
Be with us now,
In the coming minutes,
And help us to know your will.
We ask this in the power of the Holy Spirit,
And trusting in the love of Christ,
Your Son, our Saviour.
Amen

* In work at the moment I’m organising a conference entitled, ‘Creating Effective Disciples; through small groups’ it is designed to resource and encourage churches and leaders with small group ministries. It will be run at High Leigh in Hertfordshire on the 13th and 14th March, for more information, send me an email by clicking here.
Thanks.
James





Our Victory!!

22 01 2007

I was considering the significance of eschatology for Christian discipleship in the midst of a hostile secular society and I came across this story on the Ekklesia Project website:Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa was preaching in the cathedral in Capetown during the days of apartheid. Police and paramilitary lined the walls of the packed sanctuary, intimidating the congregation and recording everything that was said. Tutu preached prophetically of the coming day when the walls of apartheid would fall, and even though the armed might of the state was powerful, it was not God. “Indeed,” Tutu said to the police, “You have already lost.” He paused, flashed his famous smile, “So why don’t you join the winning side?” The crowd roared and everyone got up dancing.

I thank God that I was not born amidst racial hatred or communist dictatorships, that I know Christ and that I am free to worship Him without fear of persecution. I thank God that the victory is in Christ. I only ask that I would know more fully, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the implications of Christ’s victory for my life in Christian discipleship.Lord God teach me:
to turn the other cheek,
to act with meekness,
to renounce violence,
to forgive as you have forgiven,
to offer mercy,
to avoid retaliation,
to resist accommodation,
to live with integrity,
to honour You,
to the glory of Jesus Christ,
Amen