Do you ever feel like your prayer life has become an endless pile of laundry lists?
I keep a prayer journal, and I have daily “prayer points” that help focus my prayers, but I have to be careful not to let my prayer life become all about “ticking the boxes.” It’s easy to see a list of names or a topic on paper or a screen, and make prayer about what is written in my journal, or making sure I don’t “miss” someone on the list. Prayer is a conversation, and it should flow like one. I would not like to have a conversation with someone who came to me with a long list of requests and nothing else.
That doesn’t mean we can’t bring our requests to God– we should! And sometimes it makes sense to list them out methodically and specifically. But it’s also important to remember that God already knows all the concerns of our heart. He is eager to hear from us— not just our concerns, but our other thoughts, too. He wants to hear our excitement and joy over small triumphs; our questions and ponderings; and all the little things that make us go, “hmmm.”
When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He didn’t have a list of names or specific situations. He asked that “Thy will be done in earth as it is in Heaven.” (Matthew 6:10). He asked the Father to “give us this day our daily bread,”(v.11) without specifying when or how. And He asked, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,”(v.12) without naming names or reminding God of the debts involved! Sometimes we need to be reminded that that God knows our needs, our neighbors, and our universe far better than we do!
Today, I want to put aside the “laundry list” and just spend time conversing with my Savior. I hope you will, too.
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good.
Psalm 14:1 (ESV)
Only fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good!
Psalm 53:1 (NLT)
One thing that seems to surprise many intellectuals is the discovery that other intellectuals are Christians! There is a certain class of thinkers who believe that only ignorant people “need” to believe in God. Many of them posit that the concept of “god” is outdated and primitive, steeped in superstition, and unnecessary for anyone. Others claim that any belief in a supreme deity, a Sovereign God who has authority over all humankind, and all of nature, is actually dangerous
If God could be discovered by intellect alone, this might be disturbing for those of us who are not certified “geniuses.” If mere knowledge about God could save us, we could trust intellectuals to be our “saviors” and spiritual guides. But just because someone is intelligent and learned doesn’t mean that they have attained wisdom. Wisdom is a gift of God, and it begins with acknowledging a simple fact– God exists. This does not come automatically with knowledge about God–such knowledge can be dismissed, twisted, and even lost. If God exists– not just as a concept or a long-lost myth–certain other truths must be acknowledged. Chief among these is the truth that I am NOT God.
Fools come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and intellects. There are people of limited intellectual capacity who are very wise. There are intelligent people who live as fools. Foolishness comes when we deny God– whether we deny His very existence, or His authority over our lives– and live as though we are the supreme authority in our own lives.
“The Fool says in his HEART, ‘There is no God.'” Foolishness doesn’t begin in the brain. It begins in the heart. The more I believe that I KNOW better than others–including God–the less I will listen to instruction, advice, and wisdom. The more I will do what I want– and justify it, even if others get hurt. The Apostle Paul–no intellectual slouch himself– warns us in 1 Corinthians 8:1 that “Knowledge puffs up..” Not all intellectuals are snobs, but it is easy to become hardened to others if they believe they know more or better than everyone they meet. And Paul’s warning is to believers! Just because we believe that God exists, we can be foolishly puffed up by our very knowledge of scripture, and ignore God’s sovereign call to love our neighbors! We can be foolish “Christians” who acknowledge that Christ exists, but deny His Lordship in our lives.
There are many intelligent Atheists. Some of them lead moral lives, and do many things that we might see as “good.” They give to charities, advocate for healthful living, a clean environment, and world peace. So why does the Bible use such strong language to denounce them as fools, who are corrupt and even abominable? Doesn’t God see their good works? Doesn’t God give them “credit” for doing the “right” things (sometimes more than their Christian neighbors!)?
God sees us from a different perspective– He looks on the heart. The heart of someone who denies God is the heart of someone in rebellion. It may be a quiet rebellion; it may be vocal and even violent. But once a person denies the very one who created her/him, their heart is corrupted and opposed to giving God His proper place. Even “good” deeds done in defiance of the God of all goodness will become twisted by the selfishness and pride of the doers. The smartest among us may have many great ideas for achieving world peace, but they do not have the power to control all of humanity, nor the authority to force others to accept their “brilliant” ideas. In the end, they will either face disillusionment and despair, or they will become tyrannical in their efforts to “fix” the world’s problems according to their own plans.
God asks us, first and foremost, to trust Him. Second, we are to obey Him. Third, we are to live with, and love, others– to share the love and wisdom He gives! Fools may know about God, but they stop short of trusting Him, obeying Him, and learning to serve others. They deny His wisdom; they deny His Grace, and their need for it. They deny themselves the joy of relationship with the God of Love. There is nothing wrong with learning and intelligence– they, too, are gifts from God–but when we depend on them ahead of leaning on God’s wisdom, we become fools.
Father, I don’t want to be a fool. Help me to acknowledge You in everything I say and do. Help me to recognize Your wisdom, and cling to it. And help me to appreciate the wisdom of Your Word in guiding my intellect and learning.
I was being pestered by telemarketers the other day, and it struck me that God is the exact opposite of a telemarketer. Telemarketers call, generally when it is inconvenient, to sell you a product you did not know you even wanted! They may ask polite questions, but their goal is not to help you– rather, their goal is to sell you their product. They may have your name from a list (they usually slaughter the pronunciation of mine) , but more often than not, they simply call your number at random. They’ve never met you, nor do they intend to develop a long-term relationship with you. They are not interested in your family, your background, or your most pressing needs.
God is not a telemarketer. He isn’t trying to “sell” you anything. He cares deeply and personally about who you are, and what you need. He knows you– even better than you know yourself! And He says, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20) He doesn’t say that He will make an appointment to come to your door at His convenience. He doesn’t say that He will pound on your door and insist that you answer. He doesn’t say that He is there to make you a “limited-time offer you won’t want to miss…” The image in Revelation is that of a close friend who is always as close as your doorstep and waiting to fellowship with you.
The wonder of prayer is just that– God is ALWAYS, ALWAYS available and ready to listen, comfort, protect, encourage, forgive, advise, and just “BE” present. He invites Himself, but waits for our response to His gentle knock. He doesn’t walk away in disgust when we pretend we’re not at home. He doesn’t break in to our house, or peer through the window or blow up our voice mail box with frenzied messages.
Sometimes, WE are like the telemarketer– calling on God, insisting that He come to our rescue, or answer our doubts and questions, only to speed off without so much as a “Thank you.” And God still waits on the doorstep, waiting to come in and “sup” with us. So often, we have an agenda; we believe that God must have one, as well– that He wants a certain phrase or certain action, and then He will “go away” again, satisfied that He has “made a sale.” But God wants us to walk with Him in relationship (see Genesis 5:21-24; Genesis 6:8-9; Micah 6:8; Matthew 9:9; John 8:12; John 10:27; 1 Peter 2:21, etc.) In this sense, prayers is not an activity, but a pursuit and a way of life– an ongoing conversation between companions along their journey.
May we enjoy today’s journey and welcome the company of the One who created us, pursued us, redeemed us, and who loves us best!
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)
“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10)
I’ve been looking through the Beatitudes and how they relate to prayer. Jesus said that the pure in heart are blessed, for they shall “see God.” Have you ever spoken to someone who wasn’t looking at you? They looked past you, or around you, or down at their device, but they didn’t attempt to make or maintain eye contact. It can be disconcerting, and even rude. And yet, there are times when, with our divided hearts, we come into prayer without really looking for, or at, God.
At other times, our hearts cloud our vision, giving us a distorted view of God. We harbor sin or guilt, and we see God as unforgiving or unfair. We are holding on to our own will, and we see God as restrictive or demanding.
The pure in heart see God as He really is– Glorious, Merciful, Wise, and Just. They see evidence of His lovingkindness and faithfulness all around them. They see themselves through His eyes– beloved and forgiven–and they see others through the eyes of Grace.
This is not our natural state. We are NOT pure in heart. We are self-centered, self-absorbed, and self-conscious. King David recognized this profoundly when he was caught in his great sin of adultery and murder. In his own lust and selfishness, he had seduced the wife of another man, and when she became pregnant, David arranged to cover up the first sin–by having the man murdered. David was not a notorious scoundrel. He was even called, “a man after God’s own heart.” But when he was confronted with his guilt, David “saw” himself as he really was– not a victim of circumstance, or a martyr to passion, or a king who was above the law, but a man who had committed evil against others, and against a Holy and Sovereign God.
David’s prayer was in line with his vision. Not only did he see himself as he really was; he saw God as HE really is: Holy and Just, but willing and able to restore David’s purity of heart. David’s God is the same today as He ever was. He longs to make us clean; to restore to us the joy of our salvation (see Psalm 51:12), and give us the power to pursue our purpose and leave our past sins behind.
When we desire to “see God,” we must desire this cleansing and restoration of purity. We can pray without it, but we cannot look at a Holy God with an unclean spirit. All we can do is look elsewhere– talking to the wall or the floor. God still hears us, but he wants to have a real conversation; one full of intimacy and understanding.
So, today, will I make “eye contact” during my prayer time?
I’ve been looking at the Beatitudes lately, and how they relate to prayer. Today I am focusing on “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5) Does this verse suggest that we should be meek or timid about prayer? Is God offended when we plead with Him or pour out our frustrations about pain or injustice? Doesn’t this contradict the writer of Hebrews, who says that we should “boldly approach the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16)?
God invites us to have a relationship with Him. Good relationships cannot survive in an atmosphere of fear. But they must involve respect. There is a tendency in the Church today to look at prayer as a casual conversation with God, where God is our “pal,” someone we hang out with and chat with like a best friend. But even our close relationship with God as “Father” demands the same kind of respect we should give to an earthly father or an elder. God is not “one of the gang,” or “the man upstairs.” He is God Almighty, and Lord of All Creation.
Like any Good Father, God wants to hear from us– all that is on our minds and hearts. But we must remember who God is– and who we are. We are His children, not His “crew.” In The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus began by addressing His Father, and establishing His place– “Our Father, which art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name.” (Matthew 6:9 or Luke 11:2) The meek person comes before God gladly, with awe and gratitude, eager to honor Him before all else.
And the second part of the Beatitude is also key in how we pray. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Many times, we focus on the inheritance itself– “the earth.” But what about the act of inheriting? The meek will not conquer the earth. The meek will not purchase the earth. The meek will not gain the earth, or win it, or demand it. Instead, the meek wait patiently for their inheritance. How would our prayers change if we took this to heart? God will give us all that we require– in His time, in His wisdom, for His purpose, and with His delight! The whole earth belongs to God– and He desires to share it with us! There is never a reason NOT to be meek, humble, grateful, or reverent before our Father. There is never a reason to be demanding, rude, dismissive, or grumbling when we pray.
This can be a very freeing realization. No matter how chaotic, frightening, or painful our situation, God IS in control. Wars rage, disease stalks, famine strikes, yet God has promised to give us access to all of His riches, including a peace that passes understanding and unspeakable joy! They are a guaranteed inheritance from our great Father– His lavish Grace and everlasting Love poured out on us.
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life,and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it, 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Sonfrom the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:1-5; 10-14 (ESV)
I memorized this passage as a child. And one part of this passage stands out to me today, because the wording of the verse has not changed, but our cultural reading of it has changed a bit. I remember churches, and evangelists, using the phrases like, “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior (or Lord, or Lord and Savior)?” “Are you ‘born again?'” “Have you asked Jesus into your heart?”
I know in certain circles these phrases are considered “old fashioned”, “evangelical”, and even offensive. Some of us don’t identify as Christians anymore– many of us prefer the term, “Christ-followers.” “Born-again” Christians are seen as hypocritical, overbearing, judgmental, and intolerant– even violent! And there are individuals and groups who give evangelical Christianity a “bad name” by their behavior.
Evangelicals have a reputation for putting people’s backs up, and putting people “on the spot.” They want to know, “have you GOT Jesus?” As though Jesus is a product and you either own Him or you’re missing Him. Can you get Jesus at the corner store? Do you “get” Him the same way someone “gets” a virus? Is He infectious? Can you sell Him? Lose Him? Trade Him away?
The Apostle and Gospel writer, John, was an evangelical. He was keenly concerned that His readers, friends, listeners– basically everyone he met, GOT Jesus. He wasn’t trying to sell a product, force a certain doctrine down others’ throats at the end of a sword, or offend those he met. But he DID want to make sure that people didn’t miss out on the GLORY, the incredible WONDER, the eternal GIFT of LIFE that had lived and walked and dwelt among us.
Today, there are many who claim to “follow” Christ– they have great respect for His teachings; they want to live a “good” and even “righteous” life just as Jesus did; they believe He was a great role model. But they haven’t “received” Him. They believe what they have heard about Him; they believe “in” Him, but they don’t believe “in His Name.” Truly becoming a “follower” of Christ is to become a “Christian”– willing to be called by His name and identified with Him. Not just as a wise teacher or a gentle soul, but as a sacrifice–despised and rejected, misunderstood– and obedient even unto death. Not just the physical death of a martyr, but the social death of an outcast, the death of selfish dreams and worldly success through compromise, the loss of relationships, property, status, freedom… John knew all of this first-hand. He was standing by during the trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. He watched as his brother and friends were beheaded, tortured, crucified upside-down, and driven into hiding. He spent the end of his life in exile for the privilege of being a “Christian.”
Calling oneself a Christian, or a Christ-follower, or “born again,” doesn’t mean anything in and of itself. I can call myself a doctor, or an artist, or a prophet. I may have studied medicine, or created a painting, or made a prediction and be completely hypocritical. I may end up giving a bad name to myself, and causing people to be cautious about other doctors, artists, or prophets. That doesn’t make THEM hypocritical, and it shouldn’t cause them to stop doing what they do well. What matters is not what I say I am, or even what others say about me, but what and who I demonstrate that I am. I want to let my words and actions declare my relationship to Christ. At times, I would like to avoid the ridicule and misunderstandings. I’d like to be able to distance myself from the “bad examples,” but, like John, I long to testify to the GLORY of the one I follow and trust, more than I want to justify my own self at the expense of others. Yes, there are some “fake” Christians, and some who are sincerely wrong in how they attempt to live– and if someone were to catch me in a bad moment on a bad day, and show only that moment to the world, I would be counted among them– but my goal is not to ask if others have a perfect track record, or if they know all the right Bible verses or even if they have the “right” answers. My goal is to ask, ” Have you GOT Jesus?” “Do you KNOW Him– not just about Him?” When you pray, are you praying to an aloof idea or to a personal Savior? If He called you, would you answer, or let it go to voice mail? Would you scroll through and “like” His social media posts, or would you actually DO what He said?
Jesus came. He walked among ordinary people. Crowds “followed” Him, hanging on His parables, excited about His healings, and impressed by His miracles. But very few of them actually became His disciples and “received” Him. But to those who did, like John, He gave them the privilege to be called Children of God– not because they were smarter or wiser or more righteous in their own knowledge or efforts, but because they were made new, “born” again, and transformed by their relationship with Him. May that be so for all of us!
I keep a journal of my daily prayer life. I have found it useful, and I recommend it as you pursue a lifestyle of prayer. Why?
It helps me keep organized and disciplined as I pray. Not everyone needs help in these areas, but I find that I do, and keeping a journal helps. It helps remind me to pray specifically for certain people, issues, locations, etc. That doesn’t mean that I don’t pray “in the moment.” But it means I have a focus when I sit down to start the day or finish the day in prayer.
It provides a place to document God’s answers to prayer. I leave space in my journal, and I go back through and note the ways God has answered prayers for various needs. It is a great reminder of God’s faithfulness and even His attention to detail!
It reminds me how BIG God is–I am amazed at how many different items end up in my journal. I pray for a lot of people each day, and a lot of different situations– needs, praises, confessions, worship, “unspoken” items, continuing issues…God hears them all. He knows them all before I even pray! Yet He delights in hearing them on my lips or in my mind.
It helps me focus on others. Life can be full of “self” distractions–“my” finances, or aches and pains, scattered thoughts, etc.. A prayer journal reminds me that others need prayer, that our lives are intertwined and impact each other, and also that others are praying for me. In that sense, it makes prayer a very unifying and “communal” activity.
It also makes my prayer very personal–conversely, using a journal means that my private thoughts and goals and relationships are in a journal for my eyes (and God’s!) only. I may write down a poem or someone else’s written prayers as well, but I’m not praying someone else’s heart-cry or someone else’s thoughts in place of my own.
Keeping a prayer journal doesn’t make me a “better” prayer than anyone else. It doesn’t impress God or bring me closer to Him because I have a journal of my prayer life. And I don’t recommend it for any of those reasons. But I have found it easier to be more consistent and more confident as I pray. I am not journaling just my words or even my thoughts– I am journaling a relationship.
How can you develop a prayer journal?
Do what works best for you–this is YOUR journal, not mine. I keep mine in four simple notebooks– one for each season, one page for each day of the year. But you could use index cards, or a calendar, or your smartphone or computer calendar. Use whatever works– it may take a few tries before you find what works best.
Pray! Ask God to give you wisdom about what to include or how to organize your journal. I use birthdays and anniversaries to remind me to pray for certain people, but I leave plenty of space for “spur of the moment” requests and ongoing issues. I also pray for various geographic regions, but you can organize it around cultural issues, family members, etc. There are even websites and books that can help you learn about various topics or people groups to pray for..
Start simple. You don’t need to have a year-long journal to begin the process. Try journaling for a month first, if that will help you keep with it.
Don’t let the journal become bigger than your prayer life. This is a pitfall I landed in early on. I had the ambition to have a “perfect” prayer journal– and it ended up so convoluted that I wasn’t actually praying! Starting small allows you to build the habit first, and add the discipline of journaling in a more natural way.
Ask for help– just remember that you don’t have to do it “just like” anyone else, and you shouldn’t do it just to impress someone else.
See the attached pages on keeping a prayer journal on this blog..
Pursuing a lifestyle of prayer is a great way to start a new year. And continuing is a great way to look forward in the new year!
21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out demons, and by thy name do many mighty works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
In just the past three weeks, three of my family members and one of my friends have made the decision to be baptized as a public declaration of their decision to live for Christ. All of them (and the others who were baptized at the same times) were baptized by immersion, signifying that they have, spiritually, died to self, been buried, and are raised with Christ to eternal life. This is not a step to be taken lightly, and I have confidence that all four (and more) of those I know are serious in their passion to follow the Lord.
When I write about prayer as a pursuit, I hope to convey that prayer is part of a larger pursuit of seeking God. And seeking God must include acknowledging Him as Lord above all– especially self. Jesus warned about people who claim to follow Him in word, but do not obey Him. It is, unfortunately, very easy to “speak Christian-ese”: to sound righteous and reverent when we are around others who claim to believe, but justify behaviors that may or may not stem from selfish motives.
There are obvious examples of hypocrisy in our world, but in His famous “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus warns that many who seem to be doing good deeds, and “talking the talk” will not be part of God’s eternal kingdom. We are not to be seduced into thinking that God will be impressed by charitable giving, memorizing Scripture, or working on the Mission field if we are not willing to repent of our “secret” sins and false attitudes. And it is not for us to point fingers at “other” hypocrites– it is for us to humbly assess whether or not we are truly acting in obedience and submission to our Lord, or satisfying our own selfish desires and hoping for God’s stamp of approval.
Prayer should be a two-way communication. We pray to God, but we also listen for God’s guidance, wisdom, conviction, and encouragement. And we must act in obedience, and confess our disobedience if we want to “keep the slate clean” and keep a close relationship. When we refuse, we are just giving God lip service, and using His name to impress others and deceive ourselves. Others may judge us on appearances, but God sees what is in our heart. And “in that day” (v. 22), He will not let imposters through the gates of Heaven.
The Good News is that Jesus doesn’t leave us hanging in verse 23. He goes on to say, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house upon the rock..” (Matthew 7:24) Jesus is our Lord, but also our Savior and our Advocate. When we call on Him AS our true Lord, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins (1 John 1:9), and His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3a)
The act of Baptism alone does not have the power to save us. The practice of prayer alone has no saving power. But the pursuit of a relationship with Christ depends on such acts of obedience, humility, and trust. And the other good deeds that come from that relationship will not only help others, but will please God and strengthen that relationship. Instead of hearing, “I never knew you,” we can hear, “well done!” Not because of what we’ve done, but because of the partnership we’ve developed in God’s work.
May God bless all those who have recently taken the step of Baptism. And may we all continue to pursue that relationship of dying to self, being buried with Him, and rising to new life in Christ!
36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Matthew 22:36-40 (ESV via biblegateway.com)
This is a familiar Bible passage, and one that Jesus quotes from the ancient writings (in Deuteronomy and Leviticus). All the laws and regulations of history boiled down to two commands. And they are not what one might expect. The greatest commandment isn’t to believe; it isn’t a “shalt not”; it isn’t even to “obey.” Instead, the greatest commandment is to LOVE– love God wholly and without reserve, and love your neighbor “as yourself.”
It sounds so simple, but we don’t do it. In fact, we spend countless hours and waste energy trying to make the commandments MORE complicated and adding conditions, additions, interpretations, excuses, and critiques.
There is not enough time or space to list all the ways we try to avoid the greatest commandment, but here are a few I struggle with:
My heart–I love the Lord, but I don’t always love Him with my whole heart. I love His creation; I love His promises; I love the “idea” of God. But I also love my comfort zone; I love my own moods (especially happiness and self-esteem); I love the admiration of my peers; I love God, but…I don’t always pray to God the way I would talk to my best friend. I don’t seek Him out ahead of everyone else. I don’t always seek His correction or welcome His Lordship.
My soul–Most of us would claim that we are “spiritual” on some level. But many of us (including me) don’t do a very good job of tending to our souls. We assume that behaviors and habits and a list of beliefs are “enough.” We spend very little time in prayer, worship, and Bible study (compared to the time we spend on chores, sleep, entertainment, driving around, daydreaming, etc.). I’m not suggesting that we all need to go into a cloister (especially in light of the second great commandment to love our neighbor). But souls, like bodies and minds, need to be nourished, exercised, and cared for. Very few of us make it a priority to nourish our soul-connection with God–to Love Him with all our soul. We skim over this part of the commandment, assuming it is much the same as loving Him with all our heart or all our mind.
My mind– My mind wanders– a lot! And I spend a lot of time learning “about God,” instead of learning “from God.” I want to know what God is like– to be able to explain Him or comprehend Him. But God is bigger than my ability to “know” or even to imagine. And yet, He invites me to “know” Him, not just know about Him. In fact, He invites me to “follow” Him, to be His disciple, to model my character and my thoughts after His own.
My neighbor–I want to love humanity. I want to love “everybody”– from a comfortable distance! But God calls me to love my neighbor– that person who cuts in front of me at the grocery store, or revs their car engine outside my bedroom window at 3 in the morning, or laughs at me when I’m having a bad hair day. And not just “love” them in the sense of tolerating them– God wants me to love them “as myself.” To value them, reach out to them when I might rather avoid them, or seek peace when they are “pushing my buttons.” God wants me to offer them grace and forgiveness, when I might expect to demand justice or recognition.
“As Myself”–Sometimes, I don’t love myself. Sometimes, I idolize myself. Other times, I despise myself. And the attitude I have rubs off on to others. God doesn’t call me to idolize my neighbor; to lie to my neighbor about Sin and its consequences, or to let my neighbor’s wicked behavior go unchallenged. Just as God wants to call me to repentance, He wants me to lovingly reach out to my neighbor, not enable her/him to live a lie. But if I am living a lie–not dealing with my own sin– I cannot demand from my neighbor what I am not willing to give to God. Similarly, I can’t give honest love to my neighbor when I despise myself– God created us both and loves us with an everlasting love! How can I give love I am not willing to receive?
My understanding of “commandment.” God has the authority to command my attention, my obedience, my worship, and my loyalty. But my “love?” God has given us the CHOICE to Love Him, and to Love others– He also gives us the imperative to live our lives filled with Love. It is not God’s will that we Love out of coercion, robot-like and against our own free will. Rather, God commands us to submit our will to Love in every situation. We are slaves to Sin, powerless to love perfectly–even when we try, or think we are doing well, we will fall into faulty thinking, ungoverned emotions, and uninformed, unloving reactions. We WILL break this greatest commandment, just as we will break other, lesser commandments. But God has also promised to listen to our confession and forgive us, redeeming our soul, cleansing our heart, and renewing our mind as we follow Him. God does not command us to Love perfectly in our own power. He does command us to choose Love–first and foremost for Him, and then for those around us whom He loves. In so doing, we will grow to understand the power of God’s commands as we experience the power of His Love!
Prayer is an exercise in juxtaposition–we seek to have intimate conversation with a mysterious and unknowable God. He INVITES us into this mystery. He pursues us, seeks us out, surrounds us with His Presence, yet He hides His face from us and shrouds Himself in light and cloud.
God is Spirit– He is Eternal, Omnipresent, and Invisible. Yet He chooses to reveal Himself– in the beauty of Nature, in the smile of a stranger, in His revealed Word, and through His Son. Everything we need, we can find in and through Him, yet we cannot say that we comprehend Him, because He is so far above and beyond anything we can imagine.
Prayer is a humbling experience– to approach the Throne of the One who holds the Universe in the palm of His hand; but it is also an intimate and very personal experience– to run into the arms of the One who knit us together and knows the very hairs on our head (or lack thereof!).
After a lifetime of praying and pursuing prayer, I still marvel at the complexity, majesty, mystery, and fragility of prayer. That God should desire to listen to me–whimpering, questioning, confessing, and even offering my best and inadequate praise– it astounds me. And yet it also sustains me, strengthens me, and stimulates me. This same God who holds the stars and planets inhabits the tiniest of atoms in the air I breathe. The same God who ordered the first sunrise, and has watched empires rise and fall, cares when I shed a tear and rejoices when I laugh. God who is perfect, has mercy on me when I confess my pettiness and offers forgiveness when I throw tantrums. The same God who bore the pain and agony of betrayal and crucifixion promises eternal life to those who have rejected Him– if only they will listen, turn, and follow Him.
Today, let the awe of Who God IS– both sovereign, unknowable, and mysterious, AND intimate, loving, and gracious–wash over you as you enter into prayer.