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Why Do We Pray?

March 30, 2022
By Nathan Daly '19

While I (class of 2019) was still at Rockbridge Academy, every Thursday at 11:30 AM, a half dozen high school guys would trickle one by one into Mr. Lawing’s classroom, snack on our lunches, chat for a few minutes, and then, for the rest of lunch, pray. When I happened to be at Rockbridge on a Thursday visit, I had the privilege of joining that same prayer group. I was reminded of just how precious these times of prayer are. I still consider Thursday prayer one of the best parts of my Rockbridge experience.

But prayer at Rockbridge is by no means the special province of Mr. Lawing and his Thursday prayer group. The whole life of the school is soaked in prayer. Prayer at the beginning of a school day, at the beginning of class, at the beginning of lunch. Prayer on the stage at concerts and on the starting line at cross-country meets. And of course, that tearful and joyful prayer for the seniors on their last day. From start to finish, Rockbridge is a praying school.

Why is that so? Why do we pray so much at Rockbridge? Do we believe God needs constant reminders to bless us? Do we believe He needs our suggestions to run the world? Do we believe He needs our permission to act? Or do we pray simply out of duty, uttering words into the sky with no real hope, or even desire, of an answer?

None of these are the reasons God gives us to pray. God is good, needing no reminders to bless His people. God is wise, needing no suggestions to govern His creation. God is sovereign, needing no permission to work His will. And, as we are united with Christ through faith, God is our Father. He will surely hear, and answer, His children’s requests. And this is why we pray. We pray because we want an answer. We pray because we expect an answer. This is the reason our Lord Himself gave His disciples: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find.” Do you want to receive? Then ask! Have you asked? Then you will receive!

It’s rarely easy, though, to live as though God really does answer prayers. Perhaps we’ve prayed for many things which we haven’t received: a test aced, a game won, a relationship restored, an ailing family member healed. How can we make sense of those apparently unanswered prayers? Were we just not praying sincerely enough? Some would say so, telling every disappointed believer to simply pray harder. But Scripture gives different counsel: God is His own master. He is not bound to grant our every wish: “He does according to His will among the host of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand, or say to Him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:35). At the end of the day, God does His will, not ours.

This is not, on the surface, the most comforting answer. What it sounds like is this: when I pray, God will give me what I ask for, but only if it happens to be what He was going to do all along. It doesn’t sound like prayer actually changes anything. And in a certain sense, that’s true. Prayer doesn’t change anything, in that neither the prayers of the saints nor the curses of demons can shake Christ from His throne or erase from His heart one word of the Covenant of Redemption. God has written His story, from “In the beginning” to “Happily ever after,” and that story cannot be changed. What we often forget, though, is that our prayers themselves are part of that story.

We can’t fully wrap our minds around it, but it’s true and vitally important. When God’s people pray and He answers them, it’s not that they happen to request the very thing He was planning to do anyway. Rather, God Himself placed that prayer on their hearts, in order that they might experience His faithfulness when He answers it. Or perhaps God’s people pray and He does not give what they ask. In that case, He placed that prayer on their hearts in order that they might experience His faithfulness by waiting. This is what happened to the Apostle Paul: he says the Lord gave him a thorn in the flesh, prompting him to pray three times for relief, in order not to take it away, but to tell him, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

So why do we pray? We pray in order that we might receive. But deeper than that, we pray that we might learn God’s faithfulness. We pray that we might learn His faithfulness the pleasant way, when He hears us and leads us through green pastures. We pray that we might learn His faithfulness the hard way, when He hears us and leads us through the valleys of deep darkness. We pray that we might learn it is by His faithfulness we live, that we might learn to rest in His faithfulness and not our own strength, that we might see His faithfulness fully displayed on that day when all prayers are at last answered.

Nathan Daly, '19, currently studies computer science and math at Johns Hopkins University. 

Posted in Worship
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What Are You Doing for the REST of Your Life?

January 26, 2022
By Melanie Kaiss, Staff Member and PE Teacher

“I’m not tired! Why do you always tell me I am tired when I am not tired!” Such were the protests from my early youth when my parents knew that I was overtired and lovingly sent me upstairs to bed. Little did I understand at the time that my rantings only added to their resolve to get me the sleep I needed.

How many of us still need this—someone to make us go to bed when we are tired, or insist that we take a break to rest? When so many things press in on us, demanding our time and attention, sleep, or rest of any kind, can seem like the most expendable part of our schedule. But to deny ourselves rest, a break, and even sleep is to behave like children lacking wisdom, obedience and faith.

Brain researchers have discovered something amazing that happens when we go to sleep. While our bodies are still, our brain is performing some important work. Like the cleaning crew that comes into the office after hours, your brain is also busy at night:

“In fact, when the lights go out, our brains start working–but in an altogether different way than when we’re awake. At night, a legion of neurons springs into action, and like any well-trained platoon, the cells work in perfect synchrony, pulsing with electrical signals that wash over the brain with a soothing, hypnotic flow. Meanwhile, data processors sort through the reams of information that flooded the brain all day at a pace too overwhelming to handle in real time. The brain also runs checks on itself to ensure that the exquisite balance of hormones, enzymes and proteins isn’t too far off-kilter. And all the while, cleaners follow in close pursuit to sweep out the toxic detritus that the brain doesn’t need and which can cause all kinds of problems if it builds up.” (“The Power of Sleep,” Alice Park, TIME, Sept. 2014)

When we are awake, the brain is busy handling the immediate demands of the day. Just as we cannot reflect and meditate at the same time we are teaching or having a conversation, our brains cannot run the “daytime show” while simultaneously cleaning up the place and dumping the trash. As teachers and parents, we understand this principle quite well. We don’t try to clean up while our kids or students are around. We wait until they leave or have gone to bed to clean up from the day’s activities. It is the same with your brain. Unfortunately, we often believe the opposite, thinking that skipping sleep (or rest) will allow us to get more done. God’s Word rebukes this notion:

“It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” Psalm 127:2

God, our creator and sustainer, knows what we need, and has told us. But knowing is one thing, obeying is another.

We know intuitively and experientially that we are finite beings; we have limits. The Bible describes us as “dust,” like “grass” and “flowers” that blow away (Ps. 103:14-16). God, on the other hand, is “the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary,” (Is. 40:28). Yet God establishes rest as part of His creation from the beginning: the seventh day is a Sabbath. He commands us to recognize and obey this regular time of rest. And this concept of rest permeates the whole Bible. Type “rest” into your Bible search engine and a theme quickly emerges from verse to verse: rest is a gift from God, and those without it suffer and are cursed. This is stark language that speaks to the seriousness of our self-sufficiency. Weekly rest, our nightly sleep, even routine breaks during each day are acknowledgements that we are not God. Instead, we accept and obey our limits, affirming the order of Maker vs. creature. Rest becomes an act of humble obedience. Obedience that leads to faith.

Going to bed, or simply stopping to rest, can be an act of faith. Our to-do lists often haunt us. But God’s promise is clear, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” (Matt.11:28). This is one of those verses we hear so often that we carelessly cast it away presuming we’ve already grasped the concept. But have we? Do we believe it, not just as some hope for eternal rest, but here and now, today, this moment? Our "Best Self Journals" and "Full Focus Planners" cannot ever give us what only our Heavenly Father can give: that eternal and continual promise of rest.  God causes us to lie down and sleep in peace (Ps. 4:8); we wake again for He sustains us (Ps. 3:5). Do you suppose God wants you to work beyond exhaustion or without refreshment? Then listen again, “For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His” (Heb. 4:10). Pray that you would believe it. As Augustine said, “Our heart is restless until it rests in You.”

One more thing: “Good night, sweet dreams.”

Posted in Worship

Path to Full-Time Ministry

January 12, 2022
By Schuyler Kitchin, Alumnus Class of 2014

            This past semester, I began working with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship as campus minister at Berklee College of Music in Boston. From when I accepted the job in March to ending this first semester of full-time ministry, I’ve been amazed how tailor-made this job is for me, a gift from God combining three of my deepest passions: music, college ministry, and Jesus.

            My passion for music has only grown in more recent years, but back when I was at Rockbridge, you could catch me in musicals, choir, and quartets (I even made it into the orchestra as a late-addition percussionist my senior year). Since then, my love for music has grown, both as a listener/appreciator and as a performer.

            My passion for college ministry developed right before I began seminary. I was working as a camp counselor at Summer’s Best 2 Weeks in PA, and in my final term, I was co-counseling a cabin of high school guys. During the day, we’d play sports, race boats, goof off in the mess hall, but then after lights out, my co-counselor and I would invite anyone who wanted prayer or to process life to come out on the porch to chat. A different camper accepted our invitation nearly every night, sharing the weight of social pressures, addictions, anxiety, and more. We would chat and pray, sharing the love of Jesus with each one. Right after that experience, I sensed that God was calling me to college ministry—who’s there on the porch when individuals like these head to college, where those pressures, questions, and fears will only grow? As I worked through my degree at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, I did some ministry with students at Gordon College and then interned with InterVarsity at Endicott College in Beverly, MA, for a year. I knew God was calling me to stay in Boston and that pastoral ministry was in the cards down the road, but college ministry was the call for now.

            My passion for Jesus was especially sparked in two classes at Rockbridge. In 7th grade Christ in the Old Testament class I was hooked by Mr. [Nathan] Northup’s vivid teachings on how the Bible was all connected with Jesus shining through all of it, as well as his fantastic illustrations and stories. In 11th grade New Testament class, we worked from Luke through Romans paragraph by paragraph; I didn’t even take notes, I just wanted to listen as we discussed the depths in the pages in front of us (and laughed at Mr. [Tim] Feeney’s jokes). Both of those classes contributed to a desire to dive deeper into Scripture that led me to an undergraduate degree in Biblical Studies and then to seminary. (As a cool bookend, my final work in seminary was presenting a message on Christ in the Old Testament to the Endicott InterVarsity chapter.)

            As much as I love the academic stuff, that is not what has kept me going. From high school onward, I’ve wrestled with doubts, mental health, fears. I have questioned my love for Jesus and his love for me plenty of times. I’ve experienced loss, ache, and silence. Yet even in all of this, Jesus has shown himself to be the Shepherd of my soul, even when he reveals himself as faithful Surgeon. This is what ultimately motivates me to be a minister at Berklee and wherever I am in the future. I’ve experienced Jesus alone as the light in the darkness and injustice of this world and as the healer of what is broken, lost, and wounded in myself and the world. And I want students to know his grace and easy yoke and to share it on their campus and in our city, bringing his light to the lost. The Holy Spirit has already been doing exciting and powerful work on Berklee's campus. It’s an honor to witness and be a part of it.

            If you’d be interested in hearing more about my ministry at Berklee and partnership opportunities (prayer/financial), please reach out to me at sskitchin96@gmail.com and/or follow my monthly newsletter at https://sskitchin.wordpress.com/.

Posted in Worship

A Difficult Devotion

December 08, 2021
By Jay Mitchell, Former Rockbridge Academy Board Chairman
Persisting in Family Devotions

Family, worship. Two words, each of which standing alone is richly warm and evocative. “Family” connotes community, belonging, and love. “Worship” conjures thoughts of reverence, jubilation, and communion. However, curiously (and sadly), when these two precious terms are conjoined into a single phrase (family worship), the associated words that come most immediately to mind are “boring” and “bland.”

Having lead family worship in our home for nearly thirty years with reasonable consistency and intentionality, I must confess that it is not one of my more successful endeavors. Although I have not had the courage to poll them, I suspect that “boring” and “bland” might summarize my children’s collective assessment. Nevertheless, by grace, my wife Deni, and I have persevered through the years clinging to the conviction that, in conducting family worship in some form on a regular basis, we are about a noble business the ultimate success of which is not only determined by God but is best left to Him to measure as well. 

At our house, family worship has taken on many different forms over the years, but almost always it has consisted of three essential elements: God’s word, prayer, and singing. 
1)    The Scriptural Component—For many years, we used a family worship card distributed by our church that listed daily Bible readings designed to prepare us for the upcoming Sunday’s sermon. At other times, I have simply read a Psalm or other short passage. More recently, I have used a daily reading from a devotional book such as (a) My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, (b) C. H. Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening, and (c) Note to Self by Joe Thorn. In the early years, when we had only young children, our Bible readings were “age appropriate.” However, in those middle years when our children’s ages spanned 17 to infancy, I refused to “dumb things down” and stubbornly taught to the eldest level, trusting that the younger ones would glean what they were able and calling on the older children to explain any difficult concepts to their younger siblings. 
2)    Prayer—The prayer component of our family worship has consisted primarily of thanksgiving and intercession. We collectively identify prayer items, and one or more of us leads in prayer about those particular matters. 
3)    Singing—Typically, we close our worship with a song, which could be a hymn, a contemporary chorus, or simply the doxology. 


Beyond content and format, I have learned that consistency is critical to family worship. As in virtually all other worthwhile endeavors, whether it’s physical fitness or personal devotions, so it is with family worship: much more is gained by small incremental efforts consistently applied over a long time than by lavish outpourings that occur only sporadically. Of course, this does not mean that family worship has occurred in our home every day of every week for the past thirty years. However, it does mean that Deni and I, together, have battled hard alongside our children not to succumb to their apathy, my indolence, or the innumerable distractions presented by our varied schedules. 

Consistency also should not suggest rigidity. In fact, consistency over the long haul is fueled by flexibility. For example, adjusting the time that we conduct our family worship to accommodate our schedules has been the saving grace to this daily endeavor. There was a period of a few years during which we shifted family worship from the dinner hour to the breakfast table because it offered a better fit. 

If flexibility is the fuel, then brevity is the oil that helps to overcome the frictional forces that grind against consistency. Except for those occasional times when genuine discussion springs forth, our family worship times generally last no more than 5 to 8 minutes. While such brevity imposes limitations, it has been central to preventing family worship from being crowded out by competing demands. 

So, why do it? We have persisted in this difficult devotion because it affords our family a corporate opportunity to exalt the wisdom, power, and love of our heavenly Father and to acknowledge our need for the grace of Jesus Christ. It is a propitious moment in the day for all of us—together—to be reminded of the gospel. In this sense, family worship is yet another means of grace, literally empowering us to live our lives in a manner worthy of our high calling. 

As such, can it be said that family worship is “bland” or “boring?” If that is my perspective, then it is simply indicative of my need. And that realization should not discourage me to pursue this blessed opportunity as one who is desperate to drink more deeply of God’s precious grace—desperate for me and desperate for my family. 

Jay Mitchell currently serves as an elder at Annapolis EP Church. He also served as the chairman of the board of directors for Rockbridge Academy. Jay practices law professionally, but adds his favorite avocation is teaching. He has been married to his wife, Deni, for over 40 years, and they are blessed with eight children (5 of whom are Rockbridge alumni) and 12 grandchildren. This article was originally published in the spring 2013 issue of The Rockbridge Reporter. 
 

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Jesus Is Better...Forever!

April 07, 2021
By Denise Hollidge, Grammar School Principal

I have been asked to write a final word as my date of retirement nears. It was easy to decide, really. I came to Rockbridge 20 years ago with knowledge of this truth, “Jesus is the most excellent way.” I longed for a school that would help me to teach that truth to my children. I believed that Rockbridge was such a place, and I pray it remains that kind of place for generations to come. We are all longing for the best for our kids, aren’t we? But do we really know what the best is? The writer of the Book of Hebrews mentions at least 13 times that Jesus is better, superior, or more excellent. Why does he say this with such passion and repetition? Because he was keenly aware that his audience was being wooed away from that truth to embrace something less.

Is our time any different? Some may ask why I state the obvious. “Everybody at Rockbridge Academy already knows that Jesus is better, Denise, even your kindergartners. Why waste your last words on what is clear and apparent to all?” I would assert that everyone might know it, but few of us believe it, including myself. The writer of Hebrews clearly believed that any of us could fall away from that truth. He reminds us that our disordered loves, our fallen nature, our chaotic, messy souls continuously search for other gods to worship. What is so sneaky about it is that most often these rivals for our hearts are good things.

There are many points of comparison within the Book of Hebrews to demonstrate that our hearts will only be well-ordered if we truly believe Jesus to be better, and all of these things are good. Jesus is compared to all past prophets who speak to us as mediators. He is compared to Moses and Joshua, and he is better. Jesus is compared to the angels who are sent as ministering spirits to us while he is the Conquering King to whom alone we owe worship. Jesus is compared to all past priests from the line of Aaron who all die, but He lives above eternally to intercede for us. Jesus is a better hope and the guarantor of a better covenant. He is a better sacrifice. Because of his blood, Jesus prepares a better place for us, a heavenly one. He is the better temple eternal in the heavens. All these Old Testament people, places, and things are good, but incomplete. They are preparatory, all pointing to the great truth that “Jesus is better…forever!”

So we are not so different from first generation Christians it would seem. Like our brothers and sisters of the past, we are still needing to hear that our hearts are easily drawn away to idols that are good but steal from us what is best. C.S. Lewis states in The Weight of Glory, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” A similar idea to that is a child wanting to stay at South of the Border rather than traveling on to Disney World. They are too easily pleased with the pleasure of the moment to make the further leg of the trip.

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” c.s. lewis

 

In all times, our hearts have easily misled us. We are encouraged on every side today to look inside ourselves to find truth and define the world with our own internal feelings. We need this reminder from the writer of Hebrews, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2. We need to run together with the church of Christ throughout all time. We need the body of Christ, his church, to preach the truth to us and our children. We need to encourage one another here at Rockbridge Academy in times of difficulty and delight that there is only One who is best. We need Jesus to save us from ourselves and transform us. We must have his help to order our lawless, tangled, topsy-turvy hearts so we never lose our first love. We all grow weary. We all lose heart. So my last words to you are, “Standfast, Scots. Jesus is better…forever!”

Denise Hollidge currently serves as our grammar school principal and will be retiring spring of 2021 after 20 years of service at Rockbridge Academy. She is married to Steve Hollidge and has 4 Rockbridge Academy graduates: John ('07), Anna ('09), Mary ('13), and Daniel ('15). 

Tags: Jesus
Posted in Worship

The Place of Theology

February 22, 2021
By Dr. Matt Seufert, Upper School Theology Teacher

We believe that God made the heavens and the earth and everything in them, man and woman, beast and bird, land and water, sun, moon, and stars. We also believe that God made man in His own image to be in communion with Him and to love and adore Him for who He is and what He did, does, and will do.

Because we believe these things, theology has both a foundational and pervasive place within Rockbridge’s curriculum.

Rockbridge students take one theology class every year. In these, they learn about God as He has revealed Himself in His Word. God, supremely wise and good, has spoken many things for our good, and we think it’s well worth the time to listen and to learn how to listen to everything He’s said. We spend a lot of time reading, thinking about, learning how to interpret, writing on, giving speeches on, and discussing Scripture and what others, whether Christians or non-Christians, have said about it.

Knowing what He has communicated to us is a necessary part of our communion with Him. It shapes our minds, affections, and wills to image His, and opens our eyes to and fills our hearts with the reality of what He’s done in creation and salvation, inciting us to love and serve. We want to think the things He thinks, since He knows everything, and we want to love the things He loves, since He loves only the things that are perfectly good.

Body and soul, we are His creatures, intent on relearning what we were created to be, ideally and experientially. A significant part of this happens in studying the Bible. Whether we’re asking if Bertrand Russell’s interpretation of Jesus’s cursing of the fig tree is defensible, where in Scripture you would turn to defend the deity of Christ or the Holy Spirit, what the Bible teaches about divorce, church attendance, homosexuality, oaths, or anger, how the Old Testament points us to Jesus Christ, what redemption secures, or how to exegete a Psalm, we are aiming to commune with the heart, mind, and will of God and so be shaped by our vital union with Him. As His image and thoughts take hold of us, we cannot help but image Him more. Since we believe this to be our beginning and our end (see Gen 1:26-27; Eph 4:22-24; 1 John 3:2), ruined by us but remedied and in the process of being remedied by Christ, the Rockbridge curriculum keeps Him front and center for Kindergarteners, Seniors, and all grades between.

In addition to having its own course each year, theology envelops every Rockbridge course. This naturally follows from our affirmation of God as Creator. Since He created all things, He is related to every subject. He is the context in which each subject operates. This does not mean that the answer to seven and fourteen is God. What it means is that the design of plants and animals, as seen in Biology’s labs, the beauty of sound or sight or words in Music, Photography, Rhetoric and Art, and the fixed laws of Science have their origin, final explanation, and full appreciation only in God.

The 12th-grade theology class is Apologetics, the rational contention for the Christian faith. One of the arguments for God studied by that class is called the Transcendental Argument: without God, not this. In that formulation of the argument, “this” refers to the world and everything in it, including human beings and their capacity to think, to feel, and to will. If God lies back of everything, you cannot fully explain anything apart from Him. I can appreciate and understand to a degree the uniformity and complexity of Mathematics without believing in God, but I cannot explain them. With God, I have the only explanation.

This holds true for all things and governs every question we raise. If we’re asking “What is justice?” with Plato, “Was the American Revolution justified?” in History, “What is the good life?“ in Literature, or “Is man an animal?” in 6th grade, we want our first impulse to be to look through the lens of Scripture in order to see with His eyes, and we want to be equipped to know how to look and how to think.

Seeing God and God’s world, ourselves included, as He and it is, is a lifelong endeavor, fueled by God at every turn, and one Rockbridge is committed to commending K-12.

Dr. Seufert is in his fifth year teaching 11th grade New Testament and 12th grade Apologetics. He is interested in his wife and three daughters, the local church, Scripture, teaching and preaching, reading and writing, baseball, food, music, the Psalms, the mountains, and almost any kind of physical exercise.

Posted in Worship

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