What comes after Tabor? Tabor is the traditional name of the Mount of Transfiguration. There Peter, James and John encountered Moses—the voice of the Law, Elijah—representing the Prophets, and Jesus—the final Word of God. It was glorious!
Seminary is like Tabor. Like the three disciples, you graduates studied Moses—the Pentateuch and Hebrew, Elijah—the message of the Prophets, and Jesus—theology and the New Testament. It was wonderful!
But Tabor ends. So does seminary. As the disciples come down the mountain, they find human need and… failed ministry! The nine left behind, though also educated by Christ, couldn’t cast out the demon. When Peter, James and John show up, they don’t rise to the occasion. Jesus alone responds to the cry of need!
Why has Jesus allowed this failure? What was he wanting to teach his disciples—even after Tabor?
Evidently, biblical studies weren’t enough. Doctrine wasn’t enough. Not even a beatific vision was enough! That day all the disciples met their personal insufficiency for ministry. So, they ask Jesus: Why can’t we do it? And Jesus responds: “This kind of spirit—this kind of raw evil, this kind of pastoral or missionary problem—only comes out by prayer.”
In fact, what was Jesus—the human being, the preacher, the missionary—doing on Tabor? Luke tells us (9:29): praying. What was he doing as he began public ministry, at his baptism, when the Spirit came down? Again, Luke says (3:21): praying. Jesus spent his first month of ministry where? In a pulpit? With people? No, in a desert, praying. And when ministry left him too busy to eat, what did he do? Sent the crowd home and stole away to pray. Shouldn’t that tell you something?
So how do you pray like Jesus?
Lady Wisdom says she will pour her spirit on those who listen (Proverbs 1:23). This spirit, Zechariah says, is one of “grace and supplication” (12:10). You have him, Paul says, to help you pray, to even make groanings in a way only God understands (Romans 8:26-27). The New Testament exhorts you to pray in, with, or (as in my French Bible) under the propulsion of the Spirit. This Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 16:7).
Yes, theology is for prayer. What good is it to gain the whole world of theological science and lose its soul?
Paul prays in Ephesians (1:18; 3:17-19) that the eyes of the heart receive spiritual vision to know what is, in fact, unknowable: the geometry of grace—the height, depth, breadth, and width of the love of Christ. And that by that kind of knowledge—beyond books or commentaries—you might be filled with the fullness of God’s presence!
It’s a breathtaking prayer. It’s theology prayed. And—most importantly—its content is so necessary for life, for ministry, for mission.
In academic terms: Exegetical, biblical, dogmatic, moral, historical, and practical theology exists for… spiritual theology. Certainly, our pietist forefathers would agree with that! That sums up their program. It should sum up ours.
Can I introduce you to a friend? His name is Randy. He was my seminary dean. He had a Ph.D. from the prestigious University of Edinburgh, he grew our student body to about 200, and he was honored by the State Legislature for his many contributions to education and society in South Carolina.
He was also our pastor. He took me under his wings and mentored me in pastoral visitation. One day, after our rounds, he pulled out the Westminster Confession and asked me: “Paul, why don’t you become a Presbyterian minister?” “I want to be a Lutheran,” I told him.
After graduation, while loading a rental truck to move to Minnesota for studies at the Lutheran Brethren Seminary, Randy showed up. He climbed up in the truck, tied our children’s bicycles up on the sideboards, and then went into the house, took the vacuum from my wife, and said: “I’ll finish the sweeping.” The next day at church came a bigger surprise. He announced in the service: “We’re taking an offering to help the Szobodys get to Fergus Falls.”
What no one knew was that we did not have enough money to get to Minnesota! I did two architectural jobs to pay for the trip, and one of them never paid. Nevertheless, the offering came in around the very amount we lacked!
Not long ago we stopped to visit Randy and his wife Molly. Now aged, hardly able to walk, Randy made his way to a chair. I asked, “Pastor, I watched you over the years. You were always putting out fires and solving problems in people’s lives, in the seminary, in your synod, but you never seemed discouraged, you kept your spiritual vitality. How did you do it?”
What I was really asking was this: “After Tabor, how did you do effective ministry?”
He lifted his head and spoke softly: “I talk to God a lot.”
Dr. Paul Szobody serves Lutheran Brethren International Mission with his wife Teresa as missionaries in Chad, Africa.