Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible… 6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
Faith is essential to prayer. Not only is it essential that we know the truth, we must depend on it. Those who lift up general prayers to some unknown “force” in the universe have no real hope that their prayers will be heard, instead of bouncing around among the planets in silent expectation. We pray to a God who sees, hears, loves, and works among us. And He will answer our prayers– in His way, in His time, and to our ultimate benefit.
That does’t mean that we must blindly believe everything we hear about God, or that we must agree exactly with everyone else who claims to believe. None of us has ever seen God face-to-face, nor can we claim perfect knowledge. But there are certain truths that do not change– God is GOD; creator, ruler, unchanging and Holy. God is who He says He is, not who someone speculates or imagines Him to be. God is mysterious, but He is “Knowable”–we see His character in the natural world, and we can see His reflection in the people around us who are all created in His image. Most of all, we have the testimony of Jesus Christ and of all who have followed Him and been transformed by Him. To all who earnestly seek Him, He has given us His Word, and His Spirit to guide us. And God is Good. Even though nature (and human nature) has been tainted and twisted by sin, God remains true to His own goodness. Even in the hard times, when God seems distant–especially when He seems distant–faith looks beyond our present circumstances, and the taunts of our enemies, to remind us of God’s providence, His Power, and His promises. Our present trials and calamities are not beyond His ability or His willingness to turn to good purpose, and they do not compare to the promises God has given.
Faith is essential to prayer, but so is faithfulness. Prayer is part of a growing relationship with our Maker. And like any relationship, it must be maintained. God is eternally faithful, but we are not–not in our own power or in our own will. And our faith, without faithfulness (in prayer, in devotion, in our everyday thoughts and actions) will wither and die. The same thirst we have for prayer in the valleys of life should be present when we reach the mountaintops. The same need we have to cry out for help should be the need we feel to cry out in praise. This will not happen without discipline, developed by daily seeking His face.
As we approach a new year, we can make many plans and resolutions– let one of them be to strive for faithfulness, especially in our pursuit of prayer. We know it is the right thing to do. And our faithfulness is not just for us. It blesses the heart of the One who was faithful even unto death. And it shines as an example to those around us– inspiring some to faith, and others to renewed faithfulness.
The Biblical figure of Daniel is mostly remembered for being thrown into a den of lions as a punishment for praying to the God of Heaven in defiance of a new law (proposed by his enemies, who hoped to set him up). https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Daniel+6&version=NIV The story is a familiar one– so familiar that we sometimes pass over the context and details. I don’t want to retell the entire story, but I want to put it in context. There is a lot more than just a den of lions and a miraculous rescue.
First, the Book of Daniel is filled with loosely tied stories in the life of Daniel, an Israelite captured by the Babylonians, and living in exile over the course of over seventy years. By the time we get to chapter six, Daniel is likely in his late eighties or early nineties! He has served under at least five monarchs in two empires, and has seen the utter collapse of two major capital cities (Jerusalem and Babylon). Because of the episodic nature of the first half of this book, we have very few details of Daniel’s everyday life– we never learn if he was married or had children; if he was ever allowed to return to the land of Judah; or if he was able to use his position and influence to help other Jewish families or speak out against the idol worship and human sacrifice practiced by his captors. In the story of Belshazzar, it seems that Daniel had been relegated to a lower position within the palace during the years after Nebuchadnezzar’s death– Belshazzar did not know of him; only because the Queen remembered his ability to interpret dreams was Daniel summoned and brought back to court. The events of chapter six are unique and shocking to us, but not in the context of Daniel’s life.
There is a pattern that gets repeated throughout Daniel’s story– it is the confrontation of two great powers– Daniel’s faithful service to God puts him in opposition to the powers of his captors. He is a captive and a foreigner, but that is not what makes him (and his three friends) a target of powerful enemies. It is his prayer life and his obedient devotion to God that causes him to be singled out. In seven decades, that devotion has never wavered, and Daniel’s life of prayer has been consistent, both in private and in public. Daniel doesn’t have to argue, protest, or announce his devotion. When he is praised for his abilities, he quietly gives the glory and credit to God. When he is vilified and betrayed, he quietly waits for his vindication to come from the God he has trusted through the years.
Darius, (like Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar and others before him) is impressed by Daniel– enough that he appoints Daniel to a position of great power and authority within the kingdom. Daniel, because of his humility and integrity, is not threat to the rule of Darius–but he does pose a threat to those under him who are hungry for power and prestige. There will always be people in this world who will try to destroy what they do not understand or respect. Darius is not the author of Daniel’s dilemma, but a tool in the hands of corrupt officials. Daniel could have been hurt, enraged, or defeated by this decree from Darius– but he recognized that the real enemy wasn’t Darius, or the crooked satraps who put him up to it (or the hungry lions he faced)– the real enemy was the opposition to Almighty God and the refusal to acknowledge His authority. Darius is quick to learn that God’s power is real and absolute, and that God is gracious in his power, and loving toward his servants. The wicked satraps did not learn this lesson, and they perished.
Notice that, just as in the story of the fiery furnace, God did not remove the danger. Daniel’s friends had to go into the fiery furnace…Daniel had to go into the den of lions. And these were not just overgrown kittens. They would have been captive lions– just as Daniel was held in captivity! They were trapped in this den, unable to hunt for their food; dependent on the whims of their captors. They were kept in a state of uncertainty, fear, and hunger. They were desperate, and hurt, and angry. When Daniel is brought out of the den, and Darius orders the conspirators to be thrown in (with their families), the lions pounce with terrifying ferocity, not even letting the bodies hit the bottom of the den! God may allow us to face some terrifying “lions”– scoffers and rebels and desperate people who will try to take their anger and hurt out on us. Will we trust that God can stop their mouths while we wait for deliverance?
Daniel’s calm response to this entrapment was not the result of Daniel being “holier” than someone else, or more clever; God did not send him a vision of assurance that he would live to see another day. Daniel must have been terrified of facing several starving lions! At his age, he would not have had the strength to fight them. But Daniel’s obedience and trust won the respect of yet another ruler from a very different culture. And God’s miraculous rescue won the awe of Darius– so much so that he issued a decree throughout his realm to all peoples of every language in the kingdom to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel! Faithfulness, humility, and obedience always open up opportunities for God to display His Glory.
Just as Daniel was thrown alone into a lion’s den and sealed inside by a large stone, one day Jesus would be thrown into a tomb to face death and hell. He was sealed in with a large stone, but no one came to his rescue. He stood and faced our enemies– Sin and Death. His flesh was torn and crushed and His blood poured out, and He bore the wrath and punishment that we deserved, so that Sin and Death were defeated. And when He was finished, the stone was removed, and Jesus emerged victorious! His faithfulness, humility, and obedience let to Glory and Life. We may never face a literal den of lions– we may not be tested with persecution, but Jesus has already won the battle; He has permanently closed the mouth of our greatest enemy, and set us free!
Daniel’s prayer life is not marked by spectacular prayers of rhetorical magnificence. He isn’t known for fervent fasting and wailing prayers for the rescue of his nation (though he probably said many). Daniel is noted for his consistent practice of praying– good days, bad days; days of glory or ignominy; days of ease and days of uncertainty; days spent serving wise rulers, and days spent serving madmen and spoiled brats– Daniel quietly and faithfully went to God in prayer. He didn’t make a public spectacle, but he didn’t hide, either. Will we be faithful to seek God’s face throughout the day– in little matters and times of crisis; in praise and in pain; for our daily bread, our neighbor’s health, our nations’ revival, and our world’s salvation and healing?
The Book of Daniel is a series of stories, disjointed, and filled with signs and wonders. Many scholars and critics over the years have suggested that these stories cannot be true; that they are legends created centuries later and added as Jewish propaganda. The story of Belshazzar in chapter five was a perfect example, they claimed. There was no written evidence for the kingship of Belshazzar. The last king of Babylon was a man named Nabonidus, so how is it that this story assumes that Belshazzar was the king giving a feast on the very night Darius would invade and conquer the empire? Recent discoveries, however, show that Daniel is more accurate in detail than the ancient historians, who were writing about the “big picture.” (For more explanation, visit this site: https://creation.com/archaeology-belshazzar). Belshazzar would have been the ruler/crown prince/regent of Babylon on that night. Not only that, he would have been young, spoiled, and eager to establish his own authority and prominence. This fits with the actions and reactions of these two men–the fact that Belshazzar would casually raid the storehouses for golden goblets that had been untouched in the days of his more powerful predecessor; that he could only offer Daniel the position of “third highest ruler”; the fact that, while Daniel is not contemptuous, he shows less deference to this “king” than he did to Nebuchadnezzar. In fact, he refers more to the glories of Nebuchadnezzar and the judgments of God than he does to the current state of Babylon or ANY of its other rulers.
There is a huge time gap between the earlier chapters and this one. Nebuchadnezzar’s reign was long; his son and grandson reigned after him (though both their reigns were much shorter). Belshazzar’s father, Nabonidus, reigned for over 15 years before losing the empire. The young Daniel of chapters one and two is now likely to be in his 70s or 80s! He has served faithfully under at least five rulers, but he is still considered an “exile” (see verse 13 of chap. 5), a foreigner, and a captive. In Daniel’s life of faith, service, and prayer, he has seen the “hand of God” working in his life and in the lives of those around him. Daniel has learned to trust in God’s provision, to submit to God’s direction, and to wait expectantly for God’s wisdom.
Belshazzar is terrified of the “Hand of God” as it writes on the wall of his father’s royal palace. He is the son of privilege and mysticism–the Babylonians were known for using signs and wonders to plan campaigns, seek power and wealth, and predict success. Their gods were capricious and full of wrath. But Belshazzar had never been visited by the God of the Universe. He had never taken the time to “number his days”, or consider his ultimate destiny.
Compare the judgment of God against Belshazzar (Mene, Mene, Tekel, Peres–God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end; you have been weighed in the scales and found wanting; your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians) with this psalm of Moses (Psalm 90)https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+90&version=NIV. Two take-away points:
Belshazzar’s days were numbered and he was found wanting. Daniel’s days were numbered, too. Daniel waited years, living as an exile and second class citizen, serving kings and powers who ignored, or even scorned his God. His life was prolonged, yet he continued to serve with no freedom or personal reward in sight. And his trials and oppression are not over yet! (There is a den of lions in Daniel’s future!) But God doesn’t look at our lives in terms of power, success, wealth, health, position, or other outward factor. God sees the small acts of service, the daily discipline of worship, the humble trust and dependence we place in Him. Daniel’s story has not been about accomplishment. Daniel never built anything; he never accumulated anything; he never preached mighty sermons, or wrote beautiful songs of worship. And even though God used him to solve riddles, interpret dreams, and prophesy, Daniel had nothing to put on a scale. Yet he was not found wanting, as Belshazzar was.
Daniel was not afraid of the Hand of God because he had learned to number his own days (See Psalm 90: 12-17), and he was able to gain wisdom, satisfaction, peace, and hope in knowing that the Lord God would establish even the smallest works of Daniel’s hands and make him glad for as many days as he had been afflicted. May we pray for, praise, and pursue the Hand of God in our lives today.
In this blog, I try to focus on three basic aspects of prayer:
The purpose of prayer
The power of prayer and
The practical pursuit of prayer.
Today, I’d like to just put in a plug for journals as a very practical way to pursue a better prayer life. For a more detailed list of ideas to get started, please see this page: Prayer Journal
Journals are as individual as the people who create them, but the very practice of writing and keeping a journal has certain universal benefits.
It develops discipline. Prayer should be a daily practice, but having a journal can provide structure, accountability, and motivation. Writing down requests, answers to prayer, questions I want to bring before God, even feelings or events of the day, can help establish a routine and a reason to come back to the same place (physically, emotionally, and spiritually) each day.
It serves as a focus for each day’s prayers. There are times when prayer is difficult–maybe the stresses of the day are distracting; maybe I just can’t think how to begin because there are so many thoughts running through my head or needs that I want to bring up. If I begin with items in my journal, and add others to a list, it can be easier to bring order, focus, and steadiness.
It serves as a witness and testimony. One of the values of writing things down is that it gives me a chance to look back and review. Sitting down every few weeks or months can reveal how many times God has answered prayers that I’ve already forgotten about. It can also show how my ongoing prayers for certain situations may reveal changes God has made in my own heart and my own thinking, which sometimes helps me see why God didn’t “answer” my prayer when or how I imagined.
It serves as a reminder of God’s general faithfulness. In times of doubt or pain, it can be encouraging to see and remember how God has helped or healed so many others around me. Even if it brings up questions, like “Why did you heal that person, and not me”, in the end, there are mountains of examples of God’s care and faithfulness that allow me to see that He works “All things” together for good. All of which can be written in and added to the journal as a further reminder!
It serves as a reminder of God’s specific faithfulness. If I look at the list of people and situations in the past and present, I am often overwhelmed at the amount of love that God has showered on me in the form of friends, family, opportunities to meet and be inspired, or share and give kindness. In big ways and small ways, God has brought in and through my life miracles, amazement, and blessings– so very many. It is tragic that I can so easily dismiss such blessings, or be distracted by the same worries and fears that God has brought me through in the past. The journal sparks powerful memories of God’s enduring love for each one of us.
It convicts. As I mentioned above, it is tragic to think that I can so easily be dissuaded and discouraged by present troubles, when there is so much clear evidence of God’s faithfulness in the past. But the journal can also show times when I have been unfaithful or lacking in faith. This is important, not to beat myself up or become despondent, but to turn me back from such behavior and help me get back on track.
It inspires. As mentioned above, each person’s journal is unique and personal. God has given each of us passions and interests that can be brought into our prayer journal. If I have a heart for missions, I can include prayer requests from missionaries of my acquaintance, or from web sites. I can research cities and nations and people groups being reached by missions organizations. If I have a passion for art, I can include drawings and sketches that flow out of my worship time. My journal (and yours) can be filled with unique expressions of our heart for God– our deepest questions, hopes, worries, aspirations, and worship.
If you don’t already keep a prayer journal, I hope you will consider starting one. It’s never too late or “the wrong time” to start one, and it can be as personalized as you wish– keep a notebook, a sketch pad, index cards, a electronic journal, a calendar– whatever works best for your resources, your personality, and your needs.
I know by writing this, I’m dating myself a bit, but when I was younger (MUCH younger!) we used to listen to a Hi-Fi stereo system. It was a piece of furniture, made of wood, complete with legs and fabric-covered speakers, and it had an enormous hinged cover that had to be locked into the “open” position or it would slam shut as your head and upper body was “inside” trying to adjust the settings! It had a turn-table for records, an AM/FM radio, and even storage for albums and other gear. It stood proudly, if awkwardly, in the living room or family room, off to the side of the other large piece of entertainment furniture, the giant television set, complete with rabbit-ear antenna. Hi-Fi stood for “High Fidelity”, reassuring us that the sounds issuing from this box were as close as we could get to “being there” for concerts, broadcasts, and other recordings. Our model was “old school”– there was no remote control, no way to record in any other medium (no tape deck or USB port), no “pause” or “mute” function– all the knobs and buttons and “arms” had to be operated by hand.
Today, we have “Wi-Fi”– a word that looks and sounds very much like the earlier “Hi-Fi.” Most people think that Wi-Fi probably stands for “Wireless Fidelity.” I looked it up– the “Wi-” does stand for wireless, meaning that information is transferred via radio waves, eliminating the need for a wire or cable connection. But the “Fi” part does NOT stand for fidelity (or anything else, exactly). It is simply a brand name for a particular wireless protocol See more about the definition of Wi-Fi here. Still wireless communications, including cell phone service and internet, has radically changed our world, making it possible to connect with virtually anyone, anywhere, any time. It is a marvelous innovation with potential for great good. In our world and culture of global communications, we rely on Wi-Fi or wireless connections every day. We use them for information, entertainment, business, and social networking. I rely on it for this blog.
When it comes to prayer, it’s important to recognize the important difference between Hi-Fi and Wi-Fi . Both are important, but they are not the same.
High Fidelity Prayer (as I see it) is consistent, daily prayer. Faithfully coming before God and seeking His face. Some may use a rote prayer for grace, or bedtime prayers, matins, or other standardized prayers. Others may set aside a daily time to pray–15 minutes in the morning, or an hour after breakfast, or even 10 minutes before bedtime. Some people set an alarm to pray at a certain time each day. Many even make a habit to pray with a group once or twice a week. To some, this type of prayer may seem passe, outmoded, old fashioned–after all, if God already knows our every thought, why does it matter if we pray every day or meet with the same group? It matters because fidelity matters– faithfulness, even in the “small” things, matters to God.
High Fidelity Prayer may seem awkwardly placed in the middle of our “living room”–forcing us to take time; to make and keep a commitment; to face questions or ridicule–it may seem clunky and wooden at first, even scratchy and hard to tune. And they depend on being “plugged in” to our power source!
Wi-Fi Prayer is not the opposite of Hi-Fi Prayer. It is not “wrong”, or illegitimate. In fact, it is great to know that we can talk to God anywhere, any time, for any reason. Wi-Fi Prayer (again, as I see it) is spontaneous prayer that is poured out to God “in the moment”. It can happen as you are driving or walking down the street (just don’t close your eyes!) It can happen alone or with a group. It can happen in response to something you overhear on a bus or a train, or read in an e-mail, or hear on the news. It is not a substitute for Hi-Fi Prayer, but it is certainly a healthy addition to it.
But Wi-Fi Prayer, just like Wi-Fi communication, can be taken for granted. Wi-Fi prayers can become “small” and “hand-held”– things we bring before God because it seems like the thing to do. We tend to put little thought, and even less grammar, into our wireless messages; we sometimes put little thought, and even less doctrine, into our Wi-Fi prayers, relying on common phrases that sound religious, but lose meaning. “Jesus just be with _____________ during this time”, “put a hedge of protection around ________________”, “I’m just claiming your promises, Lord.” There is nothing “wrong” with any of these statements, but what do we really mean? Isn’t Jesus always with us? Why is protection always a “hedge”? Which promises are you claiming? Again, there is nothing wrong with any of these phrases, and we know that the Holy Spirit can understand even our deepest utterances and wordless groaning. But just like auto-correct can mess up the simplest message, so our auto-pilot praying can mimic real communication with our Lord and Creator. There are entire comedy routines built around this kind of praying– but it creates an uncomfortably convicting kind of laughter. We should not be shamed out of Wi-Fi prayer, but we should also be careful not to let our prayer lives become a joke. Thankfully, God listens to our hearts and not just our words!
Hi-Fi or Wi-Fi, prayer is a sure connection to a faithful God.
On a final note, whether we have to turn down the knob or hit mute, there is another important “sound” principle of prayer– LISTEN! There have been some voices mocking this element of prayer, claiming that those who claim to hear from God are hallucinating or just plain crazy. God rarely ever speaks aloud and directly to an individual–even Jesus, while He claimed that He only did what His Father “told” Him to do– never claimed to hear the audible voice of God telling Him what to do or where to go next. There are only a few recorded instances of anyone else “hearing” the voice of God directly throughout history. But there are countless instances of people discerning the “voice” of God, and the leading of the Holy Spirit throughout the ages. How? Often through changes in circumstances, other trusted voices, new insights into scripture, or the “still small voice” of their own conscience giving confirmation. The one caveat about “listening” for the voice of God– it will NEVER lead you to contradict God’s own word or act in contradiction to His character.
We have a Hi-Fi, Wi-Fi kind of God–let’s keep in tune, log in, and listen!
God is interested in the little things…we praise Him for his glory, majesty, and power–rightly so–but He is also the God of atoms, and quiet moments, and insect wings and snowflakes.
God celebrates with us in our smallest victories–biting our tongue instead of bragging, shaving a minute off our 5K run, not burning the dinner rolls, remembering to put gas in the car for my spouse. He also sees our smallest sins–when no one else is looking; when no one else knows our motives or inner struggle– God sees every detail, every motive.
God often uses yeast as a metaphor for sin–just a tiny bit can ruin everything. One tiny act– a fib, passing along a rumor, snubbing a neighbor at the store, watching “soft” porn on TV, hanging out with the “fun” crowd and taking dangerous risks, gambling “for fun” with money you promise to pay back later, drinking a little too much just a little too often, spending more time with that co-worker who “understands” your marital woes better than anyone…Most of us don’t set out to become addicts, thieves, adulterers, bullies, sexual predators, rage-aholics, embezzlers, or compulsive liars. But Jesus warns us that big sins start small: “murder” really starts with disdain and anger and hate; adultery begins with lust; and the love of money (greed) is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). Selfishness, pride, envy, rebellion– they lurk in little lies and delayed obedience and easy justification we allow in our daily lives.
But God is not only watching us under a microscope, waiting to catch us in some small act of sin. In fact, that is not His primary desire in watching us. God is searching eagerly for signs of obedience, faith, goodness, love, and kindness.
Jesus used parables about small things– a lost coin, a mustard seed, a pearl, a speck of dust, the eye of a needle, a narrow door/gate, a lily of the field– to illustrate joy, faith, self-control, obedience, trust, and even the kingdom of God. Small things are important, sometimes even glorious, in God’s eyes. Even some of Jesus’ miracles started with small, humble, simple things– water, five loaves and two fish, a few quiet words, a few tears.
Today, I want to pray that I will see God moving– not just in grand gestures and eloquent sermons (though I love to see Him move in those ways, too!)–but in the small moments. I pray that I will be sensitive, not to the world’s crushing words of hatred and deception, but to the still small voice of encouragement; to the hopeful smile of a stranger; to the rushing wind that lifts dust mites to glory in the sun; to the unshed tears of a widowed friend. I want to plant the mustard seed of faith and watch how God will grow it. I want to be that cheerful giver of my last coins in gratitude for the riches of Grace that cost me nothing but cost my Savior everything.
There is an old comedy/vaudeville gag, where a character enters a stately home, or an office, or arrives at an important event. They are greeted by a “straight man” character, who tells them to “walk this way”. The “straight man” then turns and begins walking in a manner that uses exaggerated mannerisms. The comedic character doesn’t just follow in the general direction of the other character– s/he imitates the exaggerated mannerisms as well.
In the last of three prayers from the song, “Day by Day” (see last Friday and Saturday), I want to explore how to “follow Thee more nearly.”
I have this quibble with the song lyrics– I know that “nearly” rhymes with “clearly” and “dearly”, but it is not grammatically correct, as it implies that I almost, not quite, but nearly want to follow Jesus, instead of saying that I want to follow Him more closely, or become a better reflection of His character. That said, I sometimes think that I fall into the comedic trap of thinking that “walk this way” merely means following Christ with exaggerated mannerisms– I follow “more nearly” when I should be following more closely.
Years ago, a good friend of mine suggested that I read a book called “God On a Harley” (Review and summary here) It is a fable, and an interesting read. I don’t recommend it for theological content (the Christ it presents is more of a New-Age life coach, not a Messiah), but I’m glad I read it for two reasons: It challenged my conventional view of Jesus, and it challenged the way I thought about discipleship. At the time I was reading the book, I was also considering making some big changes in my life– changing careers, moving away from my home town, and trusting God to be “sufficient” in my singleness and lack of guaranteed income.
When we talk or think about Jesus’ time on Earth, we generally focus on His birth, His miracles, His death, and His resurrection. We don’t usually think of His everyday life…where He ate or slept or how He lived. If He were to walk among us today, He wouldn’t appear like the paintings we see– flowing long blond hair (which has always been inaccurate), white robe and sandals. He might wear a T-shirt and jeans, ride the bus or subway train, and hang out at Starbucks or the corner convenience store. Jesus didn’t live in a “holy huddle.” And, though He famously walked on water, He mostly walked the streets. He lived and walked and ate and spent His days among ordinary people–in fact, it was His willingness to eat with and talk to the marginalized, the forgotten, the ostracized people of Him time, that got Him in trouble with the religious leaders and those in power.
I don’t think Jesus in our time would be a tattooed, beer swilling, biker– but I’m convinced that He would be found sharing a story or a pizza with one; and with the kinds of people many of His “followers” would shun. The Jesus I want to follow “more nearly” is Holy, but He is not “Holier-than-thou.” I can’t follow Jesus more nearly if I’m following an image that only exists in a picture or my self-righteous imagination. In my youth, I had a picture of what “following Christ” looked like– but it was more about following expectations and selfish desires– successful career, marriage, giving to the “right” charities, becoming a pillar of the community. There is nothing wrong with any of those things, but if God calls me to serve in humble (even humiliating) ways, doing thankless tasks, and spending time, not helping the needy at my convenience, but truly serving– pouring out my time and my heart until only His strength keeps me going–I have learned the joy and honor that transcends anything I once imagined.
I’m not a biker, but I love the image of Jesus on a motorcycle, asking me to come along for a ride. If I want to follow Him “more nearly,” I couldn’t come up with a better metaphor. If Jesus came and asked me to ride off with Him on a Harley, several things would happen that relate to discipleship:
First, I have to commit. You can’t “sort of” ride along — you either get on the bike or you stay behind. You might know all about the motor, you might know how to ride, you might know the traffic laws, you might even watch a video of someone riding, but you won’t experience the horsepower under you, the wind in your face, the road slipping away behind you. The same is true of the Christian life. You can know about God; own a Bible– even memorize it; you can sing God’s praises, all without experiencing a relationship with Him. But you’ll never know the full power of His grace and acceptance until you commit.
Part of that commitment is to be willing to go when and where He’s going…you can’t go on the ride and stay at home. You can’t go two hours after He does. And that brings me to–
Trust! You won’t get on the bike if you don’t trust His ability to drive and His wisdom in knowing how and where to go. Once you’re on the bike, hanging on from behind, you can’t see all of the road ahead. You can’t steer or hit the brakes. In my own experience, I ended up leaving teaching after seven years with no “safety net.” I had no job waiting in the wings, no money saved up, and no “plan” other than to take whatever honest work I could find and follow God’s leading. I learned by experience that I can trust God’s ways to be better than mine; better than my expectations!
Riding together takes teamwork. Just because God is doing the driving and steering doesn’t mean that I just sit back and watch the scenery (though I can do a lot of that, too). If I’m not paying attention at curves, intersections, stops, turns, etc., I can throw everything off-balance.
Riding together, with my arms wrapped around Him is the closest I can “follow” Jesus. It’s not about what I know, or what I can “do” for God– it’s choosing to be in a deepening relationship with Him. As I live with Him, listen to Him, and trust Him, the knowing and doing will come naturally.
I want to follow with abandon– not just to walk several steps behind, or wander in His general direction, or watch what He’s doing from a distance. I want to hang on and share the adventure. That’s the way I want to “walk” with Him. That’s my prayer, “Day by Day.”
“They sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind…” Hosea 8:7
Hosea was a prophet who foretold the destruction (and eventual restoration) of his people. God was pouring out his judgment against an unfaithful nation, and he used the tragic family life of Hosea as a living example of his dealings with Israel. Hosea married a prostitute; an unfaithful and unloving spouse who chased after men with ready money and cheap gifts. But when her activities resulted in slavery, shame, and despair, Hosea redeemed her and restored her as his wife. In the same way, God had made a promise to the people of Israel, but they had broken their covenant and followed their own rules, chasing after the surrounding cultures, with their foreign gods and their hedonistic rituals, including human sacrifice, temple prostitutes, and divination. There are many metaphors used throughout this book, but one that often stands out is the short phrase found in chapter eight. In it, God is talking about the unfaithful priests and leaders of Israel, who have not only betrayed God in their rebellion and idolatry, but have led others astray. God says of them that they have sown the wind, and are reaping/will reap the whirlwind.
How does this relate to us today in our pursuit of prayer?
I believe that many of us are sowing the wind– we do it in our careless words, gossip, rumor-mongering, complaining, babbling, prattling, and yes, in our half-hearted obedience, and our tepid prayers. We often come to God, not eager to commune with him, or to hear his voice, not in humble adoration and open confession, but to complain, wheedle, and boast. We pay lip service to his Holiness, while refusing to give up that bad habit that “isn’t really all that bad.” We thank him for his Grace, but harbor resentment against a neighbor or family member who slighted us. We ask for him to bring us success in our plans and ventures without really making sure if they line up with his will. We excuse our lack of attendance at church, and our failure to spend time in God’s word. We make rash promises to do “better” if God just gets us through this week. We ask for his blessing, and thank him for the riches he has bestowed on us, but we turn our noses at those in our backyard who are in need. We are bold about posting “Christian” sayings on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram–almost as bold as posting about our favorite new Brew Pub or Spa trip or “almost inappropriate” joke, or latest political rant. Except that our “Christian” posts are less entertaining and more critical of others. (They’re usually really pretty, though– pictures of flowers or mountain streams or desert sunsets–it’s really easy to “like” and “share” a sunset!.) We cheapen the Gospel, we cheapen the Christian walk, we cheapen prayer, when we pursue it as a hobby or a social habit. It is not something we do only because (or only when) it makes us feel “good” or “better”– it is something we pursue because it brings us life and peace for eternity, and it brings glory and joy to the King of Kings.
“They sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind…” There is a price for this shallow, careless pursuit of something that looks and feels vaguely like Godliness. It is the whirlwind…being tossed about by “every wind of doctrine” as Paul warns against in Ephesians 4. It is being caught up in doubts and half-truths, compromises, hypocrisy, division, scandal, and shame. It is having to face the onslaught of detractors and persecution that come as a result of so many of us abusing and misrepresenting the very Gospel of the one whose name we carry. “Oh, what peace we often forfeit; Oh, what needless pain we bear; All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.” The words of that old hymn are no less true today– when we trifle with prayer, carrying only our selfish needs, our petty complaints, and our flimsy agendas to God in prayer, we pay a huge price.
There is another metaphor, this one in the Gospel of John, that I think helps us combat this tendency to “sow the wind”– Jesus says of himself in John 15 that he is the vine, and we are the branches. If we are faithful, we remain in him– we draw our life and strength from him– and we are fruitful. Remaining in him, we are grounded– he provides the roots that keep us from blowing every which way. And he provides the nourishment, and strength to grow and produce more fruit.
I say “we” because I too am guilty of having sown the wind. The great news, in Hosea and in the Gospel of John, is that God is eager to restore us– to graft us in–to welcome us home after our storm-tossed wanderings. Let’s get serious about abiding in God, instead of scattering the latest “feel-good” religious spam. God, forgive me for the times I have cheapened your precious gift of prayer. Help me to abide in you, and refrain from careless words to you, about you, and about others.