Discover more from Ben Simpson's Faith & Formation Newsletter
Go Ahead and Ask
If you are a person who prays, when you do, how does God seem to you? What’s God’s disposition? Is God eager to listen? Does God welcome your address? Is God glad to hear from you?
Even if you are not a person who prays, think about the image of God you carry around in your heart and mind. What’s God like?
I was thinking about this week as I was considering the things that I need, those circumstances, challenges, and concerns that have arisen. I was thinking about how I pray for those things, and what I expect. And as I thought about my own disposition, Jesus’ teaching on prayer came to mind.
In Luke 11:5-13, Jesus says:
Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
This teaching comes on the heels of a conversation Jesus had with his disciples about how to pray. He follows very direct instruction on words to offer to God with an exploration of how we see God in the first place, how we know and understand the person we address.
Jesus describes God as a neighbor whom we should petition boldly, even if our request is offered inconveniently. Or, you could say that Jesus portrays God as a neighbor whom we can trouble at any hour, for any need. Jesus tells to ask, seek, and knock, in other words, to take action, to be persistent. And he compares God, whom Jesus addressed as “Father,” as being superior as a parent than are human beings. But God doesn’t only give good gifts, God gives himself—the Holy Spirit—to those who ask.
And the Holy Spirit has a role in the life of the believer. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin. The Holy Spirit leads us into all truth. The Holy Spirit brings to our recollection the teachings of Jesus, and provides words for us as we serve and minister. The Holy Spirit intercedes for us in prayer with groans deeper than words. The Holy Spirit is “power” which we receive when we enter into a relationship with God by grace through faith.
When I go to my supervisor, who is a member of the faculty and serves as our Associate Dean, I approach them both in a manner fitting their office and that reflects my understanding of their character. When I go to the Dean of Truett Seminary, I conduct myself likewise. If I go to any person with a request, I keep in mind their position, their character, and their authority.
When we pray, when we address God, we must do the same. We must not only think about what we need, but who we address. We should consider the character of God, and God’s disposition toward us. We should rightly regard God’s authority, wisdom, and power as well. God has more information regarding our concerns, and the needs of others, than even the best human parent.
The one thing we can take to the bank when we pray to God is that God will give us himself. God will give us the Holy Spirit. In an ultimate sense, that is our greatest need.
I’m getting started on a book by Sonke Ahrens called How to Take Smart Notes.
Since my last newsletter, I finished James Clear’s Atomic Habits. Anyone could profit from this straightforward, simple, and wise book.
Just before Easter I finished Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy. I began last year. I’m glad I stuck with it. Though I disagree with some of the particulars of Dante’s theological vision, his wonder toward the divine, the richness of his characters, and the beauty of both his words and the majestic structure of the poem were to my profit as a reader.
And this week I began and finished Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals. This book isn’t an advice book, though there is advice in it, and for marketing purposes that is how it is positioned. But this book is a commentary on human limits and our disposition toward time. I loved this book. We’re mortal, life is relatively short, and human consciousness and the modern pace of life lead us to a number of assumptions that become woven into our way of thinking that are harmful for us. Burkeman, I think, puts his finger on many of those wrong-headed assumptions, and helps us to think about our thinking.
I think Burkeman gets a few things wrong about Christianity. His incorporation of Max Weber, I think, is a mistake, particularly because Weber’s conclusions in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism have been critiqued. Religious studies scholars and historians have argued that while Weber’s thesis was interesting and compelling (that Calvinist views of election and the Christian virtue of thrift contributed to the accumulation of wealth, the expansion of capitalism, and the building of Western society), other factors were also at play. Changes in the West over the past 500 years are partly the results of the Protestant Reformation. Religion has been a major factor. But it has not been the only factor.
Burkeman also seems to believe that the Christian belief in eternity results in a carefree and hands off approach to life in this world. While there is truth in this critique, again, this is not the whole story. It’s more of a mixed bag. If you look at Christian history over the past one hundred years just in the United States, you’ll find the social gospel movement. You’ll see Christian leaders working for justice and equality in numerous fields, including voting rights, substance abuse, racial justice, the right to life, criminal justice, workplace conditions and economic opportunity, human trafficking, care for the homeless, and on and on and on. And while Christians of left-leaning persuasion have a strong reputation for involvement in social causes thanks to their ties to the social gospel movement, Evangelical Christians have been much more active than they have been given credit for. It simply isn’t the case that religious belief causes people to squander away their present opportunities to live meaningfully and deeply. Burkeman does nod to that slightly, conceding that religious traditions also offer resources by which to grapple with the realities of time. But I think he undersells the point.
Sights and Sounds
Last weekend I watched a couple of movies. First up was the 2021 release Wrath of Man, directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Jason Statham. The story is set in Los Angeles, and Statham’s character is “H,” a cash truck driver. Being the sort of person who enjoys action films, I loved everything about this movie.
Wrath of Man is a revenge tale. When we meet H, we don’t know what he’s up to, who is he, or why he’s the central figure of the story. We find out soon enough. Flashbacks fill in the holes. The score, the pace, the clipped dialogue all together create an atmosphere of suspense.
For a Christian observer of the film, what is most interesting about the story is that H’s wrath is derivative of his love. He seeks to balance the scales and set things right due to a wrong he has suffered. This film brings into view the human concern for justice, and our desire to see judgment administered.
But because H is a only a man, his justice is imperfect. His methods for uncovering the true culprit are brutal, and though the viewer is meant to deduce that those he squeezes, and sometimes kills, for the information he needs are the scum of the earth, they are collateral damage on his way toward vengeance.
While certain vices are more central to Wrath of Man, it is arguable that each of the classic “seven deadly sins” factor in the plot: greed, envy, pride, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth. Envy, greed, and wrath are foremost. And while justice is served in the end, it is an imperfect justice, a human justice, leaving all kinds of carnage in its wake.
I also watched the 2021 film Protege, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Maggie Q. Much less to say here. I hated the film. But being an action loving person, I watched it in full.
Blackberry Smoke released a new album, Stoned, that I’ve been running on repeat all week. Great sound, some great covers. Listened to it while drafting this newsletter. Love it.
On the blog: I found this resurrection joke funny, Don Quixote and the young scholar Sanson understand envy, we’re time-bound and wisdom is facing that fact, and I wrote a prayer for Truett’s chapel service.
Before I go, standard copy.
If you are receiving this newsletter in your email inbox, great! If you are a reader who comes my way via social media but you'd like to subscribe, subscribe here.
I’m not checking those accounts, but content does push there. If you use social media as your news feed, follow there. Share my stuff, if you like. Maybe those services are for you. They are not for me. I’ve been a happier and less anxious person since I quit checking social media.
Publishers consider social media numbers when extending offers or invites to write. Likes, follows, etc. help a person like me make their way. Lastly, subscribe to the blog by submitting your email to the "Updates to Your Inbox" form in the sidebar. We're at 1,382 across platforms. Help us get to 1,500+.
That's the business.
If you like this post, click the heart and kindly share it with others. If you’re coming my way because someone shared this with you, subscribe.
Be well this week. Bless others.
P.S. - One of our stakes broke. The food was good on Easter.