Rev. Kleyn is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Edgerton, Minnesota.
At times we can be rather self-centered in the requests we bring to God in prayer. This is the case when our petitions are mostly for things we want or need for ourselves. As a result, we fail to pray for certain things that ought also to be included in our prayers.
One of the petitions we perhaps fail to include is the one mentioned in Psalm 122:6. In this text we are commanded, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!” We ought regularly to do that. We should not be so caught up in our own problems and needs that we forget to ask God for this.
To pray for the peace of Jerusalem is to pray for peace in the church of Christ. Jerusalem is the church as the gathering of believers and their seed within a congregation and within a denomination. However, she is not just anything and everything that calls itself church. Jerusalem is the church where Christ is present. And Christ is present where His truth is confessed and His Word is preached. There Christ lives with and in His people through His Word and Spirit. It is for the peace of that church that we must pray.
But what is this peace for which we pray? It is not a petition for earthly peace, as is sought by those who hold to an erroneous view of the millennium of Revelation 20. Nor is it a petition for peace between the church and the world. Rather, it is a petition for peace “within the walls” of Jerusalem. We are praying that unity and harmony may exist in the church of Christ as a whole, as well as among the members of that church mutually.
This peace, it must be remembered, is a reality. It is something that our Lord Jesus Christ, by His saving work, has established between us and God, as well as among us as believers. Since this peace exists, it ought to characterize the church of Christ.
Through this petition we ask God to bestow upon His church that blessing of peace that Christ has earned for her. Our prayer is, “Lord, may those who are at peace with Thee through Christ live in peace with each other. May all strife and hatred be gone. May those who enjoy blessed fellowship with Thee also enjoy such fellowship with each other.”
We ought to pray for this peace. We ought to pray for it within the congregation of which we are members. We ought to pray for it within our Protestant Reformed Churches. And we ought to pray for it on behalf of the church of Christ wherever she is present in this world.
Do we do so? Do we pray for the peace of Jerusalem when synods and classes meet? Or do we instead criticize the work of such assemblies? Do we pray for the peace of Jerusalem when there is strife within a congregation? Or do we rather sit back and condemn that congregation and its members? Do we pray for the peace of Jerusalem when we hear of God’s saints being persecuted and killed for their faith? Or are they simply forgotten by us?
There is an urgent need to pray for Jerusalem’s peace.
We need to do so, first of all, because of the attacks that come upon the church from without. The devil and his many cohorts, the enemies of the church of Christ, relentlessly attack her. They seek to drive her into extinction. Harsh and cruel are their attacks. Sometimes those attacks are bold and obvious, as through physical persecution. At other times the devil uses more subtle means to attack the church. But whatever the means, these attacks threaten seriously the peace of the church of Christ.
Another reason for the urgent need to pray for Jerusalem’s peace is because of the troubles within the church. The members of the church, though saved, are still sinners. As a result, congregations or denominations are often characterized by strife and disagreement, discord and disunity. Some members think too highly of themselves and have no time for others. Other members are not willing to forgive those who sin against them. Still others refuse to see and confess their faults to God and to one another. All of this greatly disturbs, and in some cases even destroys, the peace of the church.
The church urgently needs the prayer for her peace.
To pray for peace implies that we seek peace.
This means we are those who keep our tongues from evil, and our lips from speaking guile; we depart from evil and do good; we seek peace and pursue it (Ps. 34:13, 14). We put aside all that might disturb peace between us and a fellow believer. We put off the old man of pride and envy. We refrain from all gossip and slander concerning others. We love our fellow saints, even if they are difficult to love. We speak good and kind words to them and about them, even though we might find it much easier and much more enjoyable to speak evil. We are peacemakers in the church of Christ.
Seeking peace involves realizing that it is always sin that creates a lack of peace. Sin causes separation and strife. Sin takes away the possibility of God’s people dwelling together in unity. When that sin remains unconfessed and unforgiven, it creates enmity and hatred between those who, in Christ, ought to be friends and ought to be at peace with one another.
That sin does this is not something we would deny. But the problem is that we are very quick to think or say that the sin that does it is not our own sin, but the sin of others. We convince ourselves that the lack of peace is always someone else’s fault. If only that particular person (or group of people) would stop being so stubborn and difficult, all the problems of the church would soon be resolved.
However, if we understand and believe that sin is the cause of disunity in the church, we ought first of all to examine ourselves. We are all sinners. It is very well possible that our own sin is also contributing to the lack of peace. In fact, it is highly unlikely that this is not the case. If nothing else, our sin of pride is a contributing factor—our sin of esteeming ourselves better than others. Those who seek peace are quick to see and confess their own sins.
There is a crucially important reason why we ought to pray for Jerusalem’s peace, and why we ought to be diligently seeking her peace. It is this, our love for God’s church.
God Himself loves His church. Eternally He chose it and every member of it in Christ. In time He has purchased that church to Himself with the blood of His own dear Son. The church is as precious to Him as His own Son. He loves His Son, and He loves His Son’s body and bride. He loves her as His glorious work in Christ. Understanding God’s great love for His church as the gathering of the great multitude of the elect, we love her too.
That body of Christ, we realize, comes to manifestation on this earth in the institution of the church. The gathering of believers and their seed in the church on earth is a visible manifestation of Christ’s body. We therefore love the church as institute as well.We love her as such because of what she is and means for us. We are members of that church. She is our “spiritual mother.” Within her walls we have been raised. Through her we have been taught the precious truths and riches of the gospel. As living members, we are continually nourished and fed by her with food for our souls. Within her we experience blessed fellowship with God and with fellow believers. We love the church and our blessed membership in her, and therefore desire and seek her peace.
Many today do not love the church. They are apathetic toward her. They believe there is no need to have a church or to be a member of one. They convince themselves they can worship God anywhere, apart from the church. For that reason they do not attend church, do not confess their faith, and do not participate in the life of the church. They do not value the church for what she is as the means God uses to nourish our souls unto life eternal.
May that never be true of us! Let us, young and old alike, love the church. May the cause of the kingdom of Christ be dear to our hearts and uppermost in our minds. May we be concerned, not for our own success in this world, or even in the church, but for the advancement of God’s kingdom and covenant. May church-life be central in our lives, and Sunday the day we enjoy most of all the days of the week.
Our love for the church, however, may not be a selfish and narrow-minded love. It is easy to have that kind of love. Then we think only of the particular congregation of which we are members. And we think very little, or not at all, of the other churches within our denomination. We are selfish and narrow-minded. We consider only our own needs and leave other churches to fend for themselves. We give generously to our own general and building funds, but grudgingly to other collections. And if another church has strife, we judge and condemn her instead of praying for and seeking her peace.
It should not be that way. Our love must be a love for the denomination. We are to be mindful of every congregation. And, beyond our own denomination, we must remember and pray for the church of Christ universal.
Another reason why we must pray for and seek peace in the church is because we realize the church’s need for peace so that in and through her God’s people can be blessed. It is a fact that when there is lack of peace it is practically impossible to worship. The minister finds it difficult to preach. The members find it difficult to listen. And if this strife exists on a personal level between two members, neither of them is able truly to worship. That is exactly why Christ commands us to resolve such differences before we enter God’s house in order to worship (Matt. 5:21-24).
We pray for and seek peace, therefore, so that we are able to worship and to be blessed through the Word and sacraments in worship. We need peace so that God might provide us, within the walls of Jerusalem, the nourishment necessary for our souls.
That is a desire we have not just for ourselves personally, but for all the members of the body of Christ. Psalm 122speaks of that, too. We pray for the peace of the church, not just for our own sakes, but also for our “brethren and companions’ ” sakes. We have a concern for all of God’s people. We love God’s saints. They are our companions and brethren. We want them, too, to be fed by the Word that brings peace and comfort to our souls.
What a blessing it is when there is peace in the church of Christ. Then worship is a joy. Then fellowship with God’s people is something we look forward to. Then we are eager to gather with them so that together we may praise our God.
But what an awful thing when that peace is lacking. What an awful thing when, on account of our sins, we create an atmosphere in the church which makes true worship of God all but impossible. What an awful thing when, as a direct result of our hatred and pride, church is a place where we would rather not be, and fellowship with God’s people is something we prefer to avoid.
Pray for Jerusalem’s peace, but also seek and pursue it!
The prayer for Jerusalem’s peace is a prayer, finally, for the coming of the day of Christ. In this world we will not have perfect peace in the church. Sin still exists. It disrupts peace again and again. The church is far from perfect.
But true peace is coming. Then there will be no more fighting or strife, not even among those who now in this life cannot agree. In the new Jerusalem, none will hurt or destroy another. The church, as gathered from all nations of the world and throughout all ages of history, will be a perfectly united whole and will lift up one harmonious voice of praise to God. Amazing peace! Wonderful peace!
The prayer for Jerusalem’s peace is therefore also this prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly! Come to deliver us from all strife! Give us soon that eternal peace!” Is that our prayer?
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!