1st Pastoral Response

I am presently reading “Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace” by James B. Torrance and was struck by this statement concerning the pastoral practicality of the Trinity. He says:

It seems to me that in a pastoral situation our first task is not to throw people back on themselves with exhortations and instructions as to what to do and how to do it, but to direct people to the gospel of grace – to Jesus Christ, that they might look to him to lead them, open their hearts in faith and in prayer, and draw them by the Spirit into his eternal life of communion with the Father. (p. 45)

He gives an example of this where while he was walking along a beach he ran into the husband of a woman who was dying. The husband  found out that Torrance was a Presbyterian minister and told Torrance that his father had been a Presbyterian minister also but that he personally had fallen away from his faith. Now he really wished that he had the faith he once had and could pray like his father. He told Torrance that he had been walking up and down the beach trying to pray and failing miserably. Instead of immediately trying to instruct the man on how to pray, and thereby placing more of a burden on the man, Professor Torrance introduced the man to the Jesus who is already praying for us. The Jesus who hears out groans and failed attempts at prayer and translates those as He intercedes for us. Torrance invited the man into the communion of the God who already works, rather than just throwing more duty onto the struggling man.

Torrance sums it up this way.

The first real step on the road to prayer is to recognize that none of us knows how to pray as we ought to. But as we bring our desires to God, we find that we have someone who is praying for us, with us, and in us. Thereby he teaches us to pray and motivates us to pray, and to pray in peace to the Lord. Jesus takes our prayers – our feeble, selfish, inarticulate prayers – he cleanses them, makes them his prayers, and in a “wonderful exchange” (mirifica commutatio – commercium admirable) he makes his prayers our prayers and presents us to the Father as his dear children, crying: “Abba Father” (p. 45-6)

It was a really good reminder for me. My first pastoral response should be to help people know that the Father, Son, and Spirit invite them into what they are already doing, rather than just trying to impose more religious duty. To throw people onto Jesus and his effort, rather than throwing them back on themselves and their own effort.

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