Prayer and Freedom

This weekend, we will celebrate the Fourth of July, or Independence Day, in America. Much will be made of the freedoms we enjoy here. Many are freedoms we take for granted; others are freedoms that have been twisted or abused by out citizens, residents, and visitors.

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I am very grateful for the freedoms of America. As a citizen of the U.S., I enjoy Freedom of Speech and Assembly; Freedom of Religious practice; the Right to Bear Arms; the Right to a Jury Trial with representation; the Right to Vote and participate in the democratic process; the freedom to move freely and do business across state lines, and so much more that I take for granted. But I want to be very careful to keep a proper perspective on civil and national freedoms, and citizenship in the United States. My citizenship here comes with many opportunities and freedoms, but it is not perfect. It is also not eternal– my perfect and eternal citizenship is in Heaven.

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The founders of the United States, in their Declaration of Independence, listed three “unalienable” rights– “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” But they were clear about where those rights come from; not from a government, or a king, but from The Creator. Only God can give “unalienable” rights and freedoms. Governments can topple; Kings can be deposed; Laws and Constitutions can be overturned. The rights and freedoms we will celebrate this weekend were written on parchment, not stone.

When I pray, I don’t pray to a government–even one founded on solid principles and good intentions. And even a corrupt government cannot take away my freedom in Christ to call on My Creator. I cherish the freedom I have to attend worship service, and to pray with my husband in public, or meet with other believers to share prayer requests openly. But even if those freedoms were curtailed by a corrupt government, I could still commune with God– there is no prison, or dark corner, or hospital bed, or place of exile where God cannot meet with me, hear my heart, and answer my requests.

And it is THIS freedom that I fear I take for granted most of all– that I can freely and confidently approach the very Throne of the Almighty, Sovereign God, and expect to be heard and even welcomed. I don’t have to apply for permission from a priest or the angels to pray. I don’t have to bribe someone to allow me to speak to God. I don’t have to fear that my very act of prayer will cause God to cut me off from His blessings or His presence. The Ruler of the Universe, who has the authority over not only my life and death, but my eternal existence, wants me to seek Him and talk to Him. The one who has the authority to force my obedience wants me to choose to listen to Him and follow Him.

This incredible Freedom is available to every person, regardless of their nationality. As an American, I have the freedom to speak and write, and otherwise tell about and show others about this much greater Freedom. Am I using my civil freedom to point others to eternal Freedom? Am I using this incredible Freedom to seek God’s wisdom and grace to follow Him?

Time to Renew

It’s that time of year again…my birthday is coming up and I will need to visit the Secretary of State’s office to renew my license plate tag; this year, my driver’s license also expires, so I have to renew that as well.

This is not a pleasant process– I will wait in line, answer questions, and have a photo taken.  I will write out a check or have money debited from my bank account (ouch).  I may have to wait another week or two for the new driver’s license to be sent out, and then I will have to live with the horrible photo for a few years. What a drag!  I often hear people complaining about the process–it’s a time-consuming, costly, bureaucratic nightmare, or it’s just an annoyance.

Except I don’t really “have to” do any of those things.  Being a licensed driver is not a life or death matter.  The law says that I must possess a valid license in order to drive, but thousands of people drive every day with no license, or a suspended or expired license, and “get away with it.”  Others choose not to drive, and do not carry a license or state-issued photo ID.

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But I choose to go through the annoying process because of the benefits.  Driving is a privilege– one denied to many who can’t afford, or can’t operate a vehicle.  Renewing my license brings much-needed revenue to the state, so they can (attempt to) maintain the roads, bridges, and traffic-related signs and lights that we use every day.  Renewing shows my commitment to obey the laws and authorities that govern (the roads in and around) my city, county, state, and nation. Renewing my license gives me an opportunity to register (or confirm my status) as a voter.  It even gives me the opportunity to learn patience and people skills!

All this to talk about another kind of renewal…

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  (Romans 12:1-2  NIV)

The Apostle Paul speaks about the “renewing of your mind.”  In renewing my license, I am conforming to the laws of the land.  This passage is not telling me to break the law; it is calling me to transform the way I view the world, the way I process the world, and the way I allow my thoughts to shape my behavior.  Instead of thinking about the license process as an inconvenience– I need to weigh the inconvenience against the benefits I receive from having a valid license.  Instead of focusing on the negatives around me– fear, hatred, selfishness, complaining, greed, lying, etc., I need to focus on how I can respond in hope, love, compassion, encouragement, generosity, and truth.  And I need to depend on the work of the Holy Spirit to transform the way I think about the world, about myself, and about God.

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There is a lot of ugliness in the world, lately; but there is also a lot of beauty.  There are urgent needs, but there are also abundant resources in Christ Jesus.  There are hardships, but there are also moments of peace, healing, and hope.

It’s time for renewal!

Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue, and if there is any praise, think on these things.  (Philippians 4:8 MEV)

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