Below is an “unpublished” prayerletter that I almost sent out to our West Valley PCA church plant prayer partners. Upon reading it, my wife commented that it was less about God’s work in our church plant, and more a reflection/confession on his work in me. It is written like a blog, she said, not a prayerletter. And so I post it as a blog, for anyone who cares to read… and pray!
I love words. For good reason, I think: En arche en o logos. (“In the beginning was the Word.”) By words, I do not mean my existence as a talking head (which is something that just happens, something that I do not enjoy, something that God is bound to change as he shapes me through Kori). I love the written word. My affection for creative literary verbiage has prompted self-discovery as often as it has created strife. Despite being a traditionalist on many fronts, I have learned that being a semantic challenger de facto makes one a non-conformist. I can thank my High School friend Carl Gregg, who threw a novel in my lap one lunch period, saying – Read this. It’ll improve your vocabulary.
Words. They can release us from the prison of other people’s ideas even as they rescue us from our own incomplete thoughts! Undeniably, effective word formation and articulation defines who we are.
Yet, how dangerous words can be. In his book, Under the Unpredictable Plant – An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, Eugene Peterson exposes me to the scary truth of word-flirtation:
Somewhere along the way… I saw that alongside and intertwined with being a pastor I was also a writer. My vocation was bipolar. In writing I am working with words; in pastoring, I am working with people. Not mere words or mere people, but words and people as carriers of spirit/Spirit. The moment words are used prayerlessly and people are treated prayerlessly, something essential begins to leak out of life.
In this first prayer letter of 2009, I share with you my greatest lesson of the first 3 months as pastor of West Valley Presbyterian Church. The lesson is this: culturally-nuanced and intentionally-contextualized words – even those with a localized gospel-semantic and aesthetic – they are just words… unless God’s Word and Spirit inhabit them through prayer. We have used many words at West Valley; words which I believe have resonated with our intellectual, yet spiritually stymied culture. Words like brokenness, community, authentic, weakness (contra strength), gospel meta-narrative (creation, fall, redemption, glory), worldview, otherness, newness. More than a few people have settled at West Valley PCA because they are hearing the gospel in a new semantic that I fully believe is a faithful semantic. Words matter to God.
And yet, confess that I have often used words “prayerlessly.” (Prayerless words. Thank God they are not empty words – for he has used them.) I know this, because over the first months of God’s good work at West Valley PCA, “something essential has leaked out of my life.” Joy… compassion, to name only two. Our family has gone through deep spiritual depression, difficult health challenges, personal trials of a wordless proportion. My own words have been incapable of relief, recognition, or recapitulation for others. You, our faithful praying friends, should know this.
And yet, thanks be to God for his Word, which is unchanging! Regardless of its semantic expression (exhortation, rebuke, psalmody, poetry, narrative, lament) it has bathed a broken young pastor in a language understandable. It is hearable, and because it is true – restorative faith has come again by hearing (Romans 10:17)! Kori and I stand up and attest that the Word of God is powerful and beautifully diagnostic for broken and sick people such as we have been.
I want you all – our church planting partners – to know that many are hearing of God’s grace and mercy at West Valley PCA through the text of his Word (his righteousness given to the unrighteous in Christ, his justice promised to the oppressed through Christ, his healing at the cost of Christ’s brokenness for our brokenness). Many unchurched are checking into the Word spoken in a language they can understand. You have made this possible, thank you. Even more, I want you to know that I need your prayers to be a pastor of prayerFULL written and spoken words, when it is so easy to speak and write prayerlessly!
Ironically, I long for God’s work of kingdom-explosion to continue just as it has been – by his unearthing our deepest fears, deceptions, needs, brokenness… so that through our brokenness we can see and savor Christ, and so bring the hope of his gospel (which we ACTUALLY believe, hunger for, search for words about) to the broken culture and persons around us! Will you pray to that end – and it will be a glorious eternal end of justice and mercy and joy everlasting for those who are in Christ in the West Valley (as well as where God has placed you)!
There are pictures and real prayer requests in the email prayerletter I send monthly… if anyone desires to receive said prayerletters, please comment and leave your email address!