Old Camel Knees: a brief reflection on the remarkable prayer life of James the Just

James_the_Just_(Novgorod,_16_c.)The fourth-century church historian, Eusebius, relates a story gathered from the lost works of Hegesippus during the second century about James “the Just,” who likely wrote the epistle of James and was the earthly brother of Jesus. In the midst of outlining the persecution of the church in his Ecclesiastical History , Eusebius details the death of James in Book II, Ch. XXIII:

3. The manner of James’ death has been already indicated by the above-quoted words of Clement, who records that he was thrown from the pinnacle of the temple, and was beaten to death with a club. But Hegesippus, who lived immediately after the apostles, gives the most accurate account in the fifth book of his Memoirs. He writes as follows:

4. “James, the brother of the Lord, succeeded to the government of the Church in conjunction with the apostles. He has been called the Just by all from the time of our Saviour to the present day; for there were many that bore the name of James.

5. He was holy from his mother’s womb; and he drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh. No razor came upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil, and he did not use the bath.

6. He alone was permitted to enter into the holy place; for he wore not woolen but linen garments. And he was in the habit of entering alone into the temple, and was frequently found upon his knees begging forgiveness for the people, so that his knees became hard like those of a camel, in consequence of his constantly bending them in his worship of God, and asking forgiveness for the people.

7. Because of his exceeding great justice he was called the Just, and Oblias, which signifies in Greek, ‘Bulwark of the people’ and ‘Justice,’ in accordance with what the prophets declare concerning him.

There is so much we could discuss here, but today I merely want to draw attention to point (6) above, which highlights James’ ongoing life of prayer, specifically his worship of God and petitions for forgiveness on behalf of others. His dedication to prayer is such that his physical body reflected it: “his knees became hard like those of a camel.” It is because of this phrase that James is often referred to as “camel knees.”

The idea of praying on our knees is mentioned frequently in Scripture (Psalm 95:6; Daniel 6:10; Luke 5:8; Ephesians 3:14). Praying on our knees conveys humility – an appropriate sense of who we are – and awe – an appropriate sense of who God is. Getting down on our knees tells us in a very tangible way – through the posture of our bodies – that something different is occurring in our experience that requires something different from our bodies. As one commentator writes, kneeling in prayer communicates something vitally important: “We recognize that God is everything for us and that without his merciful love, we are, literally, nothing.”

These days many of us, especially those within evangelical traditions, rarely get on our knees in prayer. In fact, it is so out of the ordinary that when I recently invited our church community to kneel, I had to take extra time to set it up ahead of time. Those in what would described as traditional churches likely find it more common to descend to a kneeler each week for the confessional prayer. Regardless of our worship tradition, I would like to suggest that all of us could learn quite a lot from the Apostle James in his example of dedicated, humble prayer through appropriate kneeling.

However, let me take it a step further, and say that pastors and ministers of all sorts should take a cue on prayer from “Old Camel Knees.” It would be an invaluable breakthrough in ministry practice if all of us serving in ministry left a legacy like James of dedication in prayerful worship of God and intercession before God on behalf of our people. May God give us grace that our bodies would be marked by our dedication in prayer.

The Weekend Wanderer: 27 April 2019

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

 

sri lanka church bombings“Bombs tear through Sri Lankan churches and hotels” – On Easter Sunday, multiple bombs went off in churches around Colombo, Negombo, and Batticaloa in Sri Lanka. The death toll continues to rise, with over 350 lives now taken as a result of the bombings. As reports come in, it appears that the bombings were carried out by educated, middle-class individuals, including two sons of a wealthy spice trader, and may be in response to the Christchurch mosque bombing in New Zealand.

 

90392“Six Biblical Responses to Sri Lanka’s Easter Bombings”Ajith Fernando, a Sri Lankan theologian and resident of Colombo, offers insight into how we should consider our response to such an event as Christians. This is a must read by an insider to Sri Lanka for those of us trying to understand how we should think, feel, and respond to these terrible events.

 

Paul W Robinson“Wheaton College Professor Emeritus Dr. Paul W. Robinson Wins Fulbright” – After graduating from Wheaton College, my wife, Kelly, worked for the Human Needs and Global Resources (HNGR) program at Wheaton College, first with Dr. Bob Stickney, and then with Dr. Paul Robinson. Paul and his wife, Margie, became friends and a beloved uncle and aunt to us as newlyweds in those days. I have continued to connect with Paul over the years through mutual work with Congo Initiative, and I was thrilled to hear about this new opportunity for Paul.

 

30-days-adult-cover-201930 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World – For many years now, I have participated with others in praying for God to move powerfully in the Muslim world during Ramadan. One of the best resources for this is “30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World,” with their informed and full daily prayer guide. “It calls the church to make a deliberate but respectful effort to learn about, pray for and reach out to our world’s Muslim neighbors. It coincides annually with the important Islamic month of religious observation — Ramadan, a time of the year when Muslims are much more deeply aware of spiritual matters.”

 

Denton-Program-Guatemala-2018“A Christian Case for Humanitarian Intervention” – “The United States has the power, like no other force on earth, to protect the innocent from great evil. It has the capacity to send a message to lawless regimes. The message: they cannot always evade the moral laws that govern civilized nations. It is a message that is consistent with America’s vital national interests—and with its most cherished political and religious ideals. Conservatives, and Christians, ought to know and care about these ideals, which have done so much to promote international peace and security. Remember the American Creed, those self-evident truths expressed by thinkers from John Locke to James Madison: a belief in the God-given worth and equality of every human being, in natural rights, in the right to live in freedom, in liberty of conscience, government by consent of the governed.”

 

Mike Pence

“Mike Pence Is Coming to Taylor’s Graduation. The Class of 2019 Is Ready.” – “Taylor University recently made national news with its announcement that Vice President Mike Pence will deliver this year’s commencement address—spurring backlash from students, alumni, parents, and faculty. This is not the only recent political clash to put the small evangelical college in the spotlight. Last year, an anonymous newspaper titled Excalibur was created and distributed by a group of Taylor faculty who wanted to take a stand against the increasing liberalization that they perceived on campus.”

 

28f88c326477495985ff467547450456-jumbo“Can Black Evangelicals Save the Whole Movement?” – Not in direct response to the situation at Taylor with Mike Pence, but somewhat related you can read Molly Worthen’s opinion piece in The New York Times on what might save the evangelical movement. “Yet a vanguard of Christian consultants and community activists focused on racial justice is gaining a wider hearing in white evangelical institutions than ever before. Many of them have studied history, sociology — and that academic boogeyman, critical race theory, a conceptual framework focused on the power structures that help maintain white supremacy. They combine these tools with biblical arguments to challenge white evangelical assumptions about the role of the church in the world.”

 

yosemite-taft-point_s

“Selfie Deaths Are an Epidemic” – From Kathryn Miles at Outdoor Magazine: “Wu’s death, after all, is only the latest in a string of selfie-related fatalities. Termed ‘killfies’ by some social media researchers, these accidental deaths have involved social media personalities and, of course, adventurers. Canadian rapper Jon James McMurray perished last October after crawling out onto the wing of a Cessna while filming a music video….It can feel somehow reassuring to condemn deaths like these as foolish or self-absorbed, but that doesn’t seem entirely fair. And, frankly, emerging research doesn’t support that position.”

 

Music: The National, “Guilty Party”

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

A Plea for Prayer

prayer3

Today we have more than enough activity but less than enough praying in the church today.

Today we have more than enough hearts distracted by many things and less than enough hearts that live with the solitary focus of approaching God in prayer.

I do not say this to make us feel guilty, but to challenge us to live the teaching of Scripture that leads to abundant life.

Prayer was one of the chief characteristics of Jesus’ life, and so it should be of our lives as well.

Prayer is the means by which Jesus faced the struggle — whether tempted in the wilderness, agonizing in the Garden of Gethsemane, or in the Passion upon the Cross — and it must also be our means for staying alert in the struggles of life.

Prayer is hard work –- it requires discipline and diligence. Yet prayer is also joyful work –- it leads us into the presence of the God who loves us and holds the world.

Prayer is overwhelming –- we stand before the Holy God of the universe with the burdens of the world upon us and the onslaughts of the evil one against us. Yet prayer also brings peace -– we know that we approach a God who hears us and cares for us, who holds the world together even as we lift the world’s needs up to Him, and who has won the victory over sin, evil and death upon the cross.

Prayer is something that takes us beyond ourselves while simultaneously helps us to find ourselves in the presence of God.

Prayer takes us around the world in intercession even as we are able to “be still and know” that the Lord is God.

Prayer is something that we mature in over the course of our lives, and yet we are ever and always beginners at prayer.

Will you join me in learning to pray, even as the disciples said to Jesus: “Lord, teach us to pray”?

Will you step forward in the face of the struggle in your personal lives, and with others, to learn the pathways of prayer?

Will you bring the needs the needs of the world into the presence of God through intercessory prayer, groaning with God over humanity and the entire cosmos?

Let us join Jesus’ first disciples in saying today:  Lord, teach us how to pray.

Praying for the Glorification of God

fullsizeoutput_a84From Ole Hallesby‘s classic work Prayer, published in 1931:

Here the purpose and meaning of prayer dawned upon me for the first time. Here I was privileged to see more clearly than ever before the purpose of prayer: to glorify the name of God.

The scales fell from my eyes. I saw in a new light the misuse of prayer and the difficulties connected with prayer as well as the place of our own efforts in prayer.

Prayer life has its own laws, as all the rest of life has. The fundamental law in prayer is this: Prayer is given and ordained for the purpose of glorifying God. Prayer is the appointed way of giving Jesus an opportunity to exercise His supernatural powers of salvation. And in so doing He desires to make use of us.

We should through prayer give Jesus the opportunity of gaining access to our souls, our bodies, our homes, our neighborhoods, our countries, to the whole world, to the fellowship of believers and to the unsaved.

If we will make use of prayer, not to wrest from God advantages for ourselves or our dear ones, or to escape from tribulations and difficulties, but to call down upon ourselves and others those things which will glorify the name of God, then we shall see the strongest and boldest promises of the Bible about prayer fulfilled also in our weak, little prayer life. Then we shall see such answers to prayer as we had never thought were possible.

(Pages 127-128)

Prayer of Dedication: Nehemiah

I continued our series on prayer this past weekend at Eastbrook Church, “Great Prayers of the Bible“, by looking at the prayers of Nehemiah that spur his role in the rebuilding of Jerusalem after exile. Turning to Nehemiah 1:1-11 and 2:1-8, we see a man troubled by the situation of God’s people and also stewing his way into a life dedicated to seeing something change. With Nehemiah, what might we learn about praying our challenges to God with openness to how we might become the answers to the very prayers that we offer?

This was also our first of two weekends outdoors for our worship services at Eastbrook. You can view the message video and the sermon outline below. You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

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Prayer for Deliverance: Hezekiah

As I continued our series on prayer, “Great Prayers of the Bible,” this past weekend at Eastbrook Church, I focused attention on King Hezekiah in 2 Kings, chapters 18-20.  This message was an exploration of how we can turn to God for help in difficult circumstances, with some reflections on how our daily lives relate to our lives of prayer.

Hezekiah is worthy of attention as he is one of the only kings spoken favorably about in the entire annals of the kings:

Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. (2 Kings 18:5-6)

I’m going to tell you that this message starts a little differently than usual, with some interactive time as a congregation and some singing as a response to that (which we had to cut out for copyright reasons). Sometimes God interrupts me in preaching and I just have to go with it. Thanks to the worship team for being so flexible with during the services.

You can view the message video and an expanded sermon outline below. You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

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Prayer that Intercedes for God’s People: Moses

I continued our series on prayer, “Great Prayers of the Bible,” this past weekend at Eastbrook Church. In this series we are looking at notable prayers throughout Scripture in order to learn how to pray. This series accompanies our Summer of Prayer at Eastbrook. This weekend’s message explored the perplexing encounter where Moses confronts God in prayer when God wants to annihilate the Hebrew people because of their rebellion in Number 14.  The main point: prayer is an exercise in loving self-sacrifice that points us to Jesus.

You can view the message video and an expanded sermon outline below. You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

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