Three Musts of the Christian Life

This is from Leon Wieseltier’s “Kaddish”: The difference between study and prayer is the difference between thinking and feeling, between knowing and wanting, between what is within our power and what is beyond our power, between toil and arousal, between the life that does not pass and the life that passes.

Text: Matt 10:39 He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.

The context takes on a peculiar Jewish meaning as well as speaking to us today. It talks of loving Jesus more than family. The Jews would not be able to tolerate a family member turning to Jesus as the centuries unrolled. The book “kaddish” is one man’s journey to understand the origins of the prayer a son prays for his father upon his death for one year. In it the Rabbis have to deal with the issue of a son praying for a father who has become a Christian. The answer is that no prayers will be forthcoming to help that man in the afterlife. Wieseltier quotes a story to illustrate the constant tension in Jewish life between study and prayer. “In Judaism, the antinomy between prayer and study is ancient…’Raba observed Rabbi Himnona prolonging his prayers. He said: ‘They abandon the life that does not pass for the life that passes’.

They use the verse from Proverbs: “He that turns his ear away from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be an abomination.” The idea being that study is better than prayer as in the now twice quoted phrase with study being the “life that does not pass” and prayer being the “life that passes”.

What is sadly missing in all of their study and prayer is relationship.

I. Study: “the life that does not pass”

For the observant Jew study is everything. But it is different from our study. They pray the “Kaddish” for one year. Why? The Rabbis have taken the verse from Jerimiah about not mourning and have used it to establish the time line of mourning. I will leave it to your imagination how this happened, but modern Jewish study can trace all of the Rabbis comments upon this idea and understand the evolution of today’s life actions with the original biblical thought and the layers of Rabbinical thought that translated the verse into the way to live.

2 Tim 2:14-16 Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers. 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 16 But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness.

Heb 4:11-13 Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

We say it and it sounds too simple but it is true: prayer is us talking to God, bible study is God talking to us.

II. Prayer: “the life that passes”

The difference between study and prayer is the difference between thinking and feeling, between knowing and wanting, between what is within our power and what is beyond our power, between toil and arousal, between the life that does not pass and the life that passes.

There is some strength in these words. Yet, you can’t help but feel the weight of the writer agreeing that study with “the life that does not pass” has more to offer than prayer “the life that passes”.

The sadness of life for the Jew probably makes this true. Prayer, without relationship, set against the hardships and disappointments of Jewish life and reduced to rote prayers can’t possibly establish what Jesus was trying to give.

Luke 11:1 Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”

The most important part is “Our Father”.

It’s about God, a little help, forgiveness and right direction.

This is how Jesus ends this discourse on prayer: Luke 11:… how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

The most powerful prayer of the bible can be said to be Moses’ prayer that is signified with a dash.

Ex 32:32 Yet now, if You will forgive their sin — but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.”

Most of the heart’s prayers cannot find the right words.

Jude 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,

1 Cor 14:2 For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries.

Rom 8:26-27 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.

III. The final point is live the life

I always love that the Hebrew word for life is “Chi”. It is about strength and meaning with purpose. It is as far away from the “whatever” existence that you can get.

Rom 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

Rom 8:31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

Rom 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

Rom 8:37-39 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.


It is tough to live a life with the promises I just quoted if you do not take time to pray and study. Prayer and study make a life worth living, otherwise the world sets your course and you just go down it wherever it leads.


About hansston

Pastor a church in Sparta.
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