His Body's Fullness

His Body's Fullness

18 December 2015

Jesus' "hidden" life of prayer is at least as important as his public
ministry to vast crowds.  By esteeming it little by comparison, the
Church today turns a blind eye to a massive part of its existence and
responsibility.  And it ignores the true destiny of a great multitude
of its own members.

"Great multitudes came together to listen to him...And he would steal
away from them into the desert and pray there." (Lk 5.15-16)

"He went out on the mountain-side, and passed the whole night offering
pray to God." (Lk 6.12)

It is my settled conviction that the Church consists of three
"streams"  -  local church, missions and contemplative.  These three
flowed with equal vitality and complete harmony in our Saviour, during
the days of His earthly ministry.  The graces of local church life
were expressed perfectly in His close-quarters teaching in synagogues,
and the intimate warmth of visits to family homes.  Likewise, the
gifts required for missions were clearly manifested before the eyes of
huge crowds.

"Great multitudes followed him, and he healed all their diseases...And
there was a great multitude following him; they had seen the miracles
he performed over the sick." (Mt 12.15, Jn 6.2)

For the sake of His Body's fullness we must unshackle Jesus' prayer
life from our puny and limiting notion that it was only ever about
preparation.  That is to say, He retreated to pray alone to rest and
get ready for His next bout of intense activity.  So long as we are
hedged in by this point-of-view, prayer will only ever be something we
do before getting on to the really "important stuff", and thus finally
only of secondary importance.

All Believers pray...or ought to?  But for some Christians, living to
pray is the "important stuff", the main event, their vocation and
life.  And the Word of God Himself is their warrant and license.  For
them it is not incidental that the Alpha and Omega got up "a great
while before day" to pray in "a solitary place". (Mk 1.35)  For the
Church's contemplative stream it is their "meat and drink" that the
Author and Perfecter of all faith used to send the crowds away so that
He could go "by himself on to the hill-side, to pray there". (Mt

Our ongoing inability or failure to recognise this fullness in the
Head of our Body the Church, robs us all of our own completeness and
repletion.  For example, our Lord unnervingly warns Peter (of the
apostolic stream) that satan "has asked to sift you as wheat".  But
then (I think astonishingly!) He says, "But I have prayed for you,
Simon, that your faith may not fail.  And when you have turned back,
strengthen your brothers." (Lk 22.31-32)

This kind of prayer is not an aspect or attribute of the Man.  It is
His heart and Soul.  It is not just something He does.  It is who He
is.  In this "place" of prayer (which in fact He lives and breathes)
Jesus inhabits a dimension and realm of the Holy Spirit where the
"normal" laws of time and space are eclipsed.  Our Older Brother (Heb
2.11) has already engaged (to the point of resolution) Peter's future
devastating shaking through the devil's sieve, his "survival" of that
terrible trial, and his restoration to his foundational ministry.  And
all of this as if it were a present event.  So, when He prophesies to
this particular Apostle, the Son of Man's prediction is swaddled in a
confident and absolute "Amen"..."This is most certainly how it's going
to be!"

We the Church could save ourselves a whole lot of spiritual huffing
and puffing, and theological excuse-making if we occupied this
territory with Jesus Christ and made it our "home".  To enter and
engage the future, and to render it a past already dealt with, is

"Now faith is the title deed, solid ground, the realization of things
hoped for." (Heb 11.1)

Biblical faith is not "mind over matter", or the gung-ho approach of
"muscular" Christians.  It is the peculiar grace and responsibility of
the contemplative to "see", participate in, and resolve unto salvation
yet only imaginable events.  Through their perpetual intercession for
all of the world such moments in history can become the "past" in the

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." (Heb 13.8)

I take this promise of Scripture to speak not only of the Lord's
immutability (unchanging-ness and consistency).  It also declares His
ability to exist effortlessly and constantly within and outside of
time, the laws of nature and physics, and all of our current belief
systems and theological frameworks.

"A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was
with them.  Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among
them." (Jn 20.26)

As Protestants we have all too quickly (usually as the result of
prejudice) cut off our noses to spite our (spiritual) faces, when it
comes to matters supernatural.  We somewhat smugly dismiss as
superstition or occult, stories of the bodies of dead "saints" not
rotting.  Not to mention yet others whose bodies become airborne
(levitation) during prayer, or reproduce the wounds of Christ
crucified.  Even Francis of Assisi (by most deemed a very "safe",
interdenominational "saint") was witnessed to have had "his right
side, as if it had been pierced by a lance...overlaid with a scar
(that) often shed forth blood".  Believers in the past have also been
"famous" for burning with "the fire of love".  One dear mystic's heart
became such a "furnace of love" that whenever she drank water she
produced "a sizzling sound like that of water falling on a sheet of
red-hot iron".

Of course we are free to choose to sneer or freak-out.  But perhaps
such phenomena are important (not so much in and of themselves) but as
signposts urging us on beyond the comfort zone of our own (always
incomplete or even stunted) understanding of objective Holy Writ, and
subjective spiritual experience?

The extraordinary teaching and deeds our Lord Jesus performed during
the day, stood upon the shoulders of his "hidden" and usually
nocturnal life of prayer.  The three streams that flowed in blended
perfection in Him, now similarly run their courses in His Body.  But
being as we are, individually omni-impotent, we will each participate
and serve in one or the other.  The Christian who claims they are in
"all" has been rendered delusional either by illness, or an unhealthy
surfeit of ecclesiastical power.  The mentally sound Believer will
joyfully and peacefully understand and accept that they are called to
live and serve either in a local church, on a mission field, or in a
prayer house.

But humility is the key to really fully entering into this reality of
His Kingdom.  There is an ugly and noxious undertow within us, the
Church; the pull and the drive to be significant and important by
hogging all of the limelight, and insisting on being ministerial great
panjandrums.  For the sake of our salvation, God Almighty Himself
voluntarily and determinedly reduced Himself to the utterly abject
proportions of an outlaw, dying a criminal's death at the hands of
professional executioners.  Who on earth then, do we actually think we
are, swanning around in the current Western "me"-culture of church and
ministry?  Swanky salesmen, overturning the Gospel of salvation for
one of self-improvement and fulfillment?

The godly, authentic pastor or missionary (no matter how broad their
influence or electrifying their deeds) will be humble enough to
recognise their situation.  That although they may appear to be
"walking on water" they are in fact standing on the shoulders of their
contemplative brethren.  And in order for those who "live to pray" to
fulfill their destiny and duty, they in their turn have to be meek
enough to accept "death by drowning" the waters of physical
obscurity and spiritual poverty.

In proud independence and isolation, we will become repellent
caricatures of what we vainly imagine to be successful Christians.
But together in our distinctive streams (like so many reassembled
shards of broken glass) we may yet refract the blazing glory of the
One who "did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing". (Php 2.6)

("The Eagle and the Dove", V. Sackville-West, 1943, England)