At Grace Church Barrow we’re journeying through Revelation 1-5 this term. As well as being actual churches in first-century Asia Minor (what is modern-day Turkey), I’m convinced the seven churches selected (chapters 2-3) are also representative of all churches in time and space. Therefore as we read the letters there will be aspects of challenge and encouragement for all of us in each one.
So as we go through the seven letters to the seven churches (chapters 2-3), I thought it would be personally helpful to myself to write a prayer responding to each letter each week as a pastor…
The second letter in Revelation is to the church in Smyrna (2:8-11). You can read it here.
Lord Jesus, you are the First and the Last (2:8)! You are worthy of all praise and honour and glory and power, for you made us; you give us each breath; you hold our futures in your hands.
When the world around us seems like it has all the power, how good it is to know that you are the One who is actually in charge. When we feel battered, hopeless and despairing, how good it is to know that ‘from life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands our destiny’. When we feel increasingly marginalised and on the ‘wrong side of history’, how good it is to know that you are the Lord of history.
And you tell us that you ‘know’ our situation: our sufferings and poverty (2:9). How precious to be known by you, even in this situation. When it feels like we’ve been abandoned by others and left to find our own way, you still see.
In fact, you don’t just offer words of sympathy from afar. Groundless wishes that our circumstances will change. Instead you speak words that call us to see what we already have. You tell us that we are ‘rich’: that every spiritual blessing in Christ is already ours; that we have an inheritance that cannot perish, spoil, or fade; that we are no longer slaves, but children of our heavenly Father, in whom the Spirit dwells. That changes everything.
It has been hard, and we’re grateful to hear your acknowledgment of this (2:9). Of all people, you know what it means to be mocked, scorned and slandered. Because it does hurt, when some of those whom you might expect to stand by you or be your advocates instead cut you loose and hand you over. It’s hard to stand alone, especially when people you felt were in your corner leave you to go it alone. How it must have felt to be abandoned in that Garden…
If we’re honest, the prospect of suffering can be even more crippling than it’s reality. If we’re honest, we want to wriggle away, to keep silent, to publicly give up and renounce you. But you tell us not to be afraid (2:10), so please help us. Give us the courage we need to not let our all too tangible imaginings about the future run away with us. Give us our ‘daily bread’ to be faithful each day and in each moment and not worry about tomorrow and what it may bring.
It is a comfort to know that the devil’s testing will not go on forever. However long ‘ten days’ is, we know that it is limited and determined by you. By your grace, would the devil find that with you we have strength in our weakness to endure and keep on enduring.
And even if this persecution leads to death, keep us faithful.
Help me lead my people by example, trusting that ‘it is not death to die’. In my teaching and encouragement, help me not to be afraid of those who ‘kill the body, but cannot kill the soul’. Give me a greater reverence and affection for you, who can ‘destroy both soul and body in hell’ (Matthew 10:28). That we would know we ‘more than conquerors through him who loved us’ (Romans 8:37). That even the great enemy of death is but a doorway into your presence. Help us to see and believe and long for the victor’s crown that awaits us (2:10), and so help us entrust our loved ones to your care.
We hear the words of your Spirit in this letter. Give me ears to hear. Above the incessant noise of insult and mockery and threat. Through the haunting silence of abandonment and isolation and fear. These words are precious words. Not easy words, but words we long to receive and take to heart.
Help us, dear Lord, for we trust that you are the one who ‘died and came to life again’. And so our future is certain, because our hands are held in the grip of your nailed-pierced hands, you who bore our judgment and can lead us through death’s dark valley and out the other side. Into an eternal place where we will be more secure than we could ever be in this life, where we will be protected and saved from the ‘second death’ (2:11), altogether greater than any comfort or deliverance in this life.
In your precious name,