Ludwig van Beethoven

It was just him and me that evening

In a dimly lit coffeehouse on the south bank of the Thames,

Like we’d somehow met halfway.

 

Though I knew the Atlantic to be wider than his short jaunt from Vienna,

I offered to pay for the drinks

As he was the one who soared valiantly across the stars of two centuries

To meet me, and I simply took an early flight and a cab.

 

When we sat down, I happened to glance over his shoulder and out the window,

Catching the London fog along the length of the still river

As if it had wandered straight from some

Penciled copy of Eliot’s poetry

Or a chapter from that Dickens novel

Sitting softly on the shelf in a used bookstore near Piccadilly.

 

But all I could do was ladle my mug with both hands

Like a beggar warding off frostbite

As I tried to think of what to say, desperately wishing to avoid

The stilted air of an interview

Or the false pretense of coziness, talking about the weather

Or something equally grey and dull.

 

Yet, in the silence,

As the moon held its head above the water of the gentle, pebbled tide,

I looked to his navy coat, his shock of famous hair,

And, finally, to his curled fingers on the table

As they drummed lightly beside his empty cup and the black dregs

Splattered like notes along the bottom.

 

They spoke for themselves

The way they’d spoken all those years ago

In the Moonlight Sonata, the riot of the Fifth Symphony,

The glorious Ode to Joy.

 

And now, strolling down the street into the marble cool hours of night,

I slowly attach these headphones

And choose his Seventh Symphony in A major,

The one he reportedly wrote to convalesce from the storms of illness.

 

And I carry two thoughts, one for each pocket,

The first, how beautiful the winter air,

The second, a quiet wish that I could tell him how good it is to know

He’s still got it.

Intentional Fixedness in the Prayer of Jehoshaphat

No, not the prayer of Jabez. The prayer of Jehoshaphat.

A phrase I have adopted recently that I have become quite fond of using and reflecting on is: “intentional fixedness.” Part of the allure of that phrase stems from a number of verses that touch on such iron-sharp excellence in the Christian saint and his or her steadfast pursuit of the glory and pleasure of God:

Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth.” -Col. 3:2

“[…] But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” -Phil. 3:13-14

Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.” -Dan. 6:3

Fix my eye, eye-eyes, on You, oh, ooh, oh ooh, oh ooh, on Yoooou.” -For King and Country

That last one was just to see if you were still reading.

So the wholehearted desire for excellence in the call of the Christian is a non-option. Paul tells us in his letter to the Colossians that whatever we do, we ought to do with all of our heart unto the Lord (3:23). This is, of course, a derivative of Jesus’ statement that the greatest commandment is to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind (Matt. 22:37). It would seem that keeping an intentionally fixed gaze upon the Lord is tethered to an abundant passion for His glory and our joy. More on intentional fixedness in future posts.

This sort of intentional fixedness, however, is evident in the prayer of Jehoshaphat recorded in II Chronicles 20. For a bit of context, Jehoshaphat was a godly king of Judah, the son of Asa, and he ruled the southern kingdom after Israel was split in two. In chapter 20, Jehoshaphat is being approached by a “great multitude” of enemies for battle (vv.1-2). His immediate reaction to this news is our first insight into the sort of righteousness we ought to glean from Jehoshaphat:

“Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the LORD” (v. 3)

The order of this sentence is important. Jehoshaphat moves instantly from fear (“was afraid”) to an intentional fixedness in prayer (“set his face to seek the LORD”). This should be impressed in the muscle memory of the godly man. What boldness and confidence would we have in the Lord if we could knee-jerk into seeking the Lord in prayer as a response to any fearful experience!

Upon hearing the news, Jehoshaphat summons all of Judah into a communal spirit of fasting and prayer, and I argue that the prayer that follows from this godly king over his people serves as a model for the prayers we ought to pray with our hope intentionally fixed on the Lord. The king’s prayer follows four basic stages:

1. The Identity of God

Jehoshaphat begins his prayer simply affirming the very name and being of God:

“O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven?” (v.6)

This is a helpful reminder that beginning our prayer to God with petition (“Dear Lord, help me pass this test,” “Dear Lord, provide a hedge of protection and traveling mercies” [whatever those are], etc.) may not always be the most God-honoring way to communicate with Him. Jehoshaphat begins his prayer not by stockpiling groceries into the cart of God but by tuning his heart to sing God’s praise, to quote the hymn. He begins his prayer reaching for the pitch pipe, for calling on God by affirming who He is sets the key in which the rest of his prayer will be aligned. Notice he names God in three distinct ways: “O Lord (YHWH, the name of God), God of our fathers (the covenant-keeping God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), are you not God in heaven?” (the sovereign, celestial God above all men). Jehoshaphat acknowledges what the author of Hebrews would later declare: “Whoever would draw near to God must believe that He is” (11:6). We must first identify the awesome, glorious, all-powerful God to move us to a right position of humility and praise.

2. The Power of God

After he begins his prayer asserting the sovereignty and very identity of God, Jehoshaphat shifts to a description of God’s power:

“You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you.” (v.6)

This is a right progression. Notice Jehoshaphat has yet to plea or request anything of God; he is simply occupying his heart and his lips with an intentional fixedness on the character and majesty of almighty God. How can we proclaim the name and identity of God and not be rocked into a whirlwind of praise and admiration? When Jehoshaphat prays to the God of heaven, he realizes he prays to an infinite, wonderful, mighty, passionate, jaw-dropping God; thus, he moves quickly from identifying God to trembling before His power. God is sovereign over everything, and Jehoshaphat is quick to remind himself of this in his prayer. There is no right petition of God without a right view of His absolute rule. God can give us nothing He does not own (Eph. 3:14-21). So when Jehoshaphat surveys the storm of Moabites and Ammonites descending upon his people, he cries out not to any old savior but to the Ruler of all kingdoms, Moab and Ammon included. The king prays to God, affirming His power to deliver his enemies into his hand, for they are subject to Him. For they belong to Him.

3. The History of God

After pronouncing both the identity and power of God, Jehoshaphat moves into a remembrance of what God has done in history:

“Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend?” (v.7)

Remembering in prayer the works and miracles of grace the Lord has already done for us provides an assurance and a confidence as we approach the God of might and power. Too many of us pray on tiptoes, weak in our footing and not quite sure if what we are peering at in our prayers is really there or really able to help. This is not the posture of those intentionally fixed on God! Jehoshaphat calls out to God and checks off a number of God’s mighty works in history as a way of both praising Him and bringing to his own memory the ways God has saved his people before. The psalmist elaborates on this point: “We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done […] so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God” (Ps. 78:4,7).

4. The Present Help of God

At last, Jehoshaphat makes his request known to God:

“And now behold, the men of Ammon and Moab […] they reward us by coming to drive us out of your possession, which you have given us to inherit. O our God, will you not execute judgment on them?” (vv.10-12)

By this point in his prayer and in our observance of it, we all can see his petition saturated in the truth and glory of his previous assertions. His identifying God has established His sovereignty over all things, including enemies. His describing the power of God has established God’s ability to provide a victory for Judah. And his remembrance of God’s might and grace in time past has established God’s willingness to provide a victory for Judah. Now, Jehoshaphat’s plea for the Lord to work is filled with these truths (i.e., “your possession”, “you have given”,” O our God”, etc.) The king has prayed in such a way that his request for present help in time of need is delivered to the Father soaked in the knowledge, trust, humility, mercy, and love that ought to exist between a saint and his God.

But, most importantly, notice how Jehoshaphat concludes his prayer:

“We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (v.12)

May this be the very breath of the Christian, steeped in an intentional fixedness on Christ and His identity, power, history, and present help in time of need.

Longing for Eden. Living in Babel.

So, here we go.

As Eden.Babel has been revamped and reorganized from its previous blog-manifestation, I’d like the inaugural post to throw back to an article I wrote over a year ago in which I first discuss our cultural and corporate depravity as a new Babel, institutionalized and broadly congratulated by its citizens. For Christians living in this age, however, we must have our eyes fixed on the glimpses and shadows of a new-and-greater Eden, the promised land where the lion will lie with the lamb and the Lord will rule the nations. We must remember that every knee will bow. As Mark Lowry once quipped, “The question is not whether or not you will acknowledge that Jesus is Lord, but when will you.”

We must engage wholeheartedly with this world; we must read its literature, hear its songs, observe its trends. We must be cultural reformers. We must live in Babel, but long for Eden…


God gave us Eden; we built Babel.

So begins the story of human history. In Genesis 2 and 3 we read of God’s creation of Eden, and our hearts weep for the loss. Though many of us rarely (I would imagine) consciously mourn our lost home, nothing informs our existences more. Our daily struggles, our joys, our griefs, our pains, our pleasures are all viewed through the cracked lenses of our exiled state.

In Genesis 2 God created man, and man needed a place to call home:

“Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.”

Notice that God breathed through dust to make man and, upon breath one, went to work to build a home for us. God designed Eden for man. We must not miss the intentionality and the purpose of this grand garden. All good art (and yes, there is “good” art and “bad” art) reveals a deliberateness, an intentionality. God so loved man, on purpose, as to create an ideal, beautiful paradise for him, and therein “to put the man whom he had formed.” No ruse, no gimmick, no tricks. God laid Adam in the center of Eden as if to say, “I love you and want you to have all of this.” Eden was God’s first surprise gift for mankind. God crafted a masterpiece for undeserving, unlearned man seconds after his making and gave it over unreservedly. Our debt of gratitude to a loving God has gone strong ever since.

God lavished Eden upon man:

And out of the ground, the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.”

Eden was a brilliant display, an art form itself, the epicenter of loveliness and virtue. In Eden God surrounded Adam with an abundance of both aesthetic value (“pleasant to the sight”) and practical value (“good for food”). And, if that were not enough, God caused all this value, all this beauty, to spring up from the ground, a geyser of brilliant trees and fruits in a dazzling, miraculous kaleidoscope of creation. Wherever Adam looked, he saw God’s grandeur shooting up from the same dirt which formed his own bones and skin, blood and lungs.

At the heart of this wonder stands God’s first words to Adam:

“You may surely eat […]”

Adam, showered in God’s unbelievable abundance and joining God in unbroken companionship for all eternity, knew the intention of Eden. But God wasn’t through. Atop all of God’s unknowable love in Eden, God fashioned Eve, the “helper suitable for man,” and Adam was finally home. The beauty of Eden’s acreage, the love of a kind woman, all needs afforded, all hungers satisfied, all desires met in full, and all of God all the time. All of life was meant to be all-lived in all of Eden.

But man was a prideful beast, longing for the minds of gods, and he fell. Selling Eden for pretty words from a silver tongue, man traded God’s gift for the stuff of earth. From dust to Eden, Eden back to dust.

Generations pass, and man is steeped in sin. Evil is the order of the day. In Genesis 11 the full gulf between God and man is imaged in the colossus of Babel:

And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves […]”
 
Notice the Creation language borrowed from Gen. 1:26 “Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.” The parallel is distressing; as God’s display of His own image is man, man’s display of his own image is a tower of brick and tar. God builds a tower of dirt and calls it man; man builds a tower of dirt and calls himself god.

Nowhere in Genesis 11 does the Bible mention any attempt of man’s to “reach God” through the building of Babel. They simply built for themselves a great city and a tower “with its top in the heavens.” Their intention is unmistakable: “let us make a name for ourselves.” Let us build our own Eden, exchanging the breath of God for the smell of tar, the coolness of the day for the hot clay of a thousand bricks. Let us exist not in humility to God but in the pride of our own hands.

If I could summarize all of human history in one statement, I would say, “God gave us Eden; we built Babel.” God gave us all things richly to enjoy, and we threw (and continue to throw) everything away. With one hand we stack our pile of bricks to the sky, with the other we shake a fist at the sky. We sell God and Eden for the trifles of Earth and are angry at God for the suffering in the world?

Every corner of this world echoes the hallowed ground of Eden. All of this world, whether it knows or not, is a reaching back. All of this world is a longing for homecoming. All of this world, though feeding at the prodigal trough, yearns to come home to Eden and the Father. Any height of pleasure, any happiness, any beauty the world hands us is a warped, corrupted photograph of Eden. The world knows the language of Eden but only the words and no meanings. When Hollywood undresses and beckons us to the bedroom, it speaks the words but with no substance. One may know every word in English, but without meaning, he knows nothing; it is merely gibberish. When we gaze at stars, rock peacefully in oceans, stare into the greatness of Grand Canyons, we hear the language of God, but the meaning is lost. It is no wonder Babel became the confusion of languages; when we exchanged God’s garden for our own towers, we gave back the definitions but kept the words.