What? A Privilege?!

“What a Friend we have in Jesus,  all our sins and griefs to bear!  What a privilege to carry everything to God in Prayer!”

The word “privilege” has taken a beating lately.  A privilege used to be considered a good thing.  Merriam-Webster defines it as, “a right or immunity granted as a particular benefit, advantage, or favor.”  A privilege is granted–given as the prerogative of someone in power or authority– to someone else.  It may be given as a reward, or granted for a limited time and under certain conditions.  But a true privilege is a gift–you can’t make your own privilege, and you cannot own or control a privilege– the terms are set by the giver, not the receiver.

In the past generation, the word “privilege” has become charged with political and societal connotations.  Those connotations, and the issues surrounding them, are worthy of discussion and could fill volumes, but I want to talk about a privilege that should be free of undertones and dubious meanings.

Prayer is a pursuit, and a practice.  It is personal, practical, and powerful.  But it is also a privilege.  Often one that we take for granted.

In pursuing prayer, we are not just developing a personal routine or discipline.  We are not just approaching a powerful supernatural entity.  We are fallen creation entering the presence of a Holy Creator; we are rebels entering the throne room of the King of Kings.

We have the right to approach God; to talk to, converse with, ask favors of, plead with, confess to, and expect answers from the One who creates galaxies with a single spoken word, and designs every unique flake of snow.  This same God grants us the right to draw breath, to experience both beauty and wonder, to question and to create.

Prayer in ancient times was almost universally accompanied by sacrifices, and surrounded with ritual– incense, bowing and prostrating oneself, covering or uncovering the head–in recognition of the horrible chasm, the great separation between God and mankind.  Many traditions still use ritual for prayer, and there is nothing wrong in this reminder of God’s Holiness and Sovereignty.  Yet God talks of prayer in intimate terms.  He didn’t impose ritual and sacrifice for his benefit, but for ours.  Several times throughout the Bible, he makes clear that he does not require the blood of bulls and goats–what he wants most is a humble and pure heart.  At the moment Jesus died, the great veil in the Temple was ripped in half from top to bottom–the most holy place laid open to all who might come into God’s presence.  Christ’s death and resurrection were not just means of saving us from Hell, but the means of bringing restoration of the intimacy God designed from the beginning.  God– Almighty, Omnipotent, and completely Holy–wants to give us the privilege to enter his presence and pour out our thoughts, feelings, burdens, and triumphs; to share intimacy with HIM.  We are not just objects of his care (or his wrath), not just creatures in whom he has a certain fond but distant interest.  We are recipients of lavish love and priceless privileges– forgiveness, power over sin, power to become more Christlike, restoration and renewal, and yes,  the pursuit of  prayer.

The Lost Art of Saying Grace

“God is great, God is Good…”
“Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest…”
“For what we are about to receive…”
“Bless us, O Lord, and these, Thy gifts…”

Saying grace at the family dinner table used to be a tradition.  So much so, that it has been made fun of several times in the movies and on television.  Some families recited a favorite prayer; others selected a family member to do the honors.  Some families held hands; some closed their eyes; some stood.  But NOBODY touched their plate until the Amen.

Grace has fallen out of favor in recent years.  Some families still practice it for the holidays or special occasions, but many of us have lost the art of saying grace.  In fact, many of us no longer have a family dinner table.  Some of us eat, sleep, and live alone; others share a house, but rarely a meal, and never a grace.  I would like to think that many of us WOULD say grace more often if  we made time and effort for it, but many others actually hold grace in contempt, calling it old-fashioned; a senseless ritual, or a meaningless tradition.

I want to look a little more closely at grace– how and why we say it, and what it means (or should mean) as part of our daily walk with God.  Calling grace a meaningless tradition may sound harsh, but it may also be a valid criticism.  If “Come, Lord Jesus…” could be replaced with “Gentlemen, start your engines…”, then it might be time to rethink the entire practice.  Similarly, if we dust off grace, only to say it for company, or to show that we still acknowledge tradition and have “good manners”, we’re missing the point.  Grace should be more than just a moment to bow our heads, say a few familiar words, and dig in…grace has become laughable and spoof-able precisely because it has become senseless, formulaic, awkward, and grudging.

I read a tragic statement by someone who asserted that saying grace is actually “graceless”– tactless and inane.  The writer suggested that when we thank God for food, we are really thanking him for feeding us, and choosing to bless us, as he allows others to starve– that saying grace makes us feel more special/less guilty in light of social and economic inequities, which he blithely allows.  In other words, saying grace, in this person’s opinion, makes us arrogant and apathetic to the condition of others, while giving an unjust God undeserved thanks.

I would posit that it should be just the opposite.  I suppose there are many who pray with the arrogant mindset suggested above, but their mindsets and their hearts are not mine to judge.  True grace is not about the recipient of the grace, or the other potential recipients of grace, but about the giver–God– and his worthiness to receive our sincere thanks.  If I believe that God is indeed unjust, then it makes little sense to feel “blessed” or “special” at all– an unjust God is also a capricious  and unreasonable God who is not likely to be impressed or swayed by my smug “thank you,” anyway.  So not praying doesn’t make me any less arrogant or apathetic toward others, nor does it move me to be more grateful or more generous than one who prays.  It merely passes the blame for all injustice to God, leaving me off the hook, and making me feel more just than God.

tablegrace

However, if God is loving and gracious, promising perfect justice in his time, and forgiveness to those who seek him; a God who promises to be close to the poor in spirit, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and who are broken and contrite; I am not thanking him for who I am, for what I have, or for what I think he should do.  I am thanking him for who he is and for what he has chosen to give.  And in thanking him for the very things I would take for granted,  I am reminded that blessings are not given for me to boast about or hoard, but to share with others.  That’s what saying grace SHOULD do–cause us to reflect on God’s goodness, and our call to share it with a needy world.

Grace is also an invitation– asking God to be part of every moment of our day, rather than just on Sunday or during a special devotional quiet time.  According to his Word, he’s always present, anyway.  But grace is a way of acknowledging and welcoming that presence.  And that invitation isn’t limited to Thanksgiving or Sunday dinner with the whole gang.  That invitation can be made anywhere, by anyone, at any meal (or snack, or midnight raid on the fridge!)

Is God welcome at our dinner table?  Does he share in our drive-thru breakfast, or our trip to the deli?  Do we allow him to join us at the restaurant, where others might overhear and find us quaint and old-fashioned?  Does he sit with us in front of the TV or computer as we absent-mindedly munch on a sandwich?  Grace isn’t about our goodness, our riches, or worthiness to enjoy God’s blessings.  Grace is about a gracious God who has poured out blessings on a graceless and fallen world; a God who loves us all equally and offers to give us something more precious than food– freedom, forgiveness, and family–forevermore.

“God IS great; God IS good; Now we thank him for our food.”
“Come, Lord Jesus, be our Guest; let this food to us be BLESSED”
“For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us TRULY grateful.”
“Bless us, O Lord, and these, THY gifts, which we are about to receive from THY bounty. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.”

gracelady

 

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