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Posts Tagged ‘faith’

This post will be longer than usual, but it deals with a subject that is so important to me right now that I ask your indulgence.

C. S. Lewis once wrote an essay entitled, “Petitionary Prayer: A Problem Without An Answer.” He described how the New Testament gives what appear to be contradictory instructions regarding petitionary prayer (prayer in which we are asking God for something). Interestingly enough, James gives examples of both. In James 1:6 we read, “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” At the same time James 4:13-15 reads, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” Other examples could be given such as Matthew 17:20 which talks about having the faith of a mustard seed and Luke 22:42 in which our Lord asks the Father to take away the cross, but ultimately submits himself to God’s will. So, how should we pray? Do we pray with the assurance that God will grant what we ask, or should we limit our prayer to praying according to God’s will?

If I understand Lewis’s essay, he ultimately gave up and admitted that he could not adequately reconcile the two views. While it may appear the epitome of arrogance to suggest that I can resolve anything C. S. Lewis could not, perhaps my current situation (stage 4 lung cancer) has given me plenty of time for reflection, as I have pondered in my life just what I should pray for. Do I pray for healing when my oncologist has said categorically that ultimately my condition is terminal, or should I pray according to God’s will? And if I do the latter, does that very prayer indicate a lack of faith?

When I was growing up, it seems that almost invariably petitionary prayers used the second model, especially if the condition was critical. I do not wish to judge peoples’ hearts, but it appeared to me even then, that these were not prayers of faith. Rather, the ones praying felt the need to “hedge their bets,” so that if the prayer was not granted, they could fall back on the  explanation that God’s will was that it not be granted. We did that, so that our faith would not be threatened by the petition not being granted.

So, how do I reconcile these two models for petitionary prayer? Here are my rather simplistic explanations.

The model that simply asks God to grant what we ask, because we have faith in him is valid, because it recognizes the nature of the relationship God wants to have with his children. I often fall back on the family relationship as an illustration. When our children come to us with requests, loving parents delight to give them what they seek. We want them to come to us, and it makes us happy to see the pleasure they receive from granting those requests.

At the same time, children do not always get what they ask for a variety of reasons. It may be that the parents do not have the ability to give what is asked, and in that instance the analogy to God breaks down. Sometimes, however, the parents do not give what is asked for either because they recognize that in the long run it would not be good or wise, or there are other issues that the child may not be able to understand.

So, how does this relate to our own petitionary prayers? The prayer which simply asks God to grant the request is a prayer of faith, because it recognizes both God’s power as well as his loving nature that cares for us.

But I am coming to believe that the prayer that subjects my desire to God’s will, when properly invoked, is an even greater expression of faith. It recognizes both God’s power and his love, just as the first model does, but it goes further. When I pray this second model, it tells God that I have enough faith to leave the outcome to him. It is also an admission that I cannot see the whole picture.

I believe that God has the power to remove my cancer completely, even when the physical laws of this universe say it is impossible. Of course, God could have just as easily prevented the cancer from developing in the first place. The fact that he did not causes my faith to ask a more difficult question. Is it possible that God wants to use this situation in some way that I cannot comprehend? As painful as it may be to contemplate, perhaps I should recognize that God did not cause my cancer. The physical laws of the universe did that. At the same time, he can use my circumstances just as he has promised to use every circumstance of my life (consider Romans 8:28). What if God is challenging me to allow him to walk with me through this circumstance, even if the end is my death? Am I willing to do that? Can I recognize that perhaps there are others struggling with their own doubts and their own demons who might read my words and be strengthened in their own faith? And if that happens, am I ready to acknowledge that my death might be worth that kind of transformation?

In conclusion, the first model is a prayer of faith; however, I have come to feel that the second model is an even greater prayer of faith. It reflects a trust that goes beyond my asking God for what I want. Instead, it says to God, “I trust you with this situation, recognizing both your power and your wisdom, and I willingly submit myself to your working in my life — no matter what the end result might be.” This kind of prayer is not “hedging my bets.” Rather, it is the response of a mature faith, that says to God, “I feel that the safest place to be is in your hands.”

Today, do you have the faith to place your situation in God’s hands and allow him to do whatever he wills with you? But I caution you (from personal experience), do not pray that, unless you really mean it.

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In my weaker moments, I like to think that I am an insightful critic, with a keen intellect and powerful discernment skills. Fortunately, something usually happens to wake me up and reason soon prevails. The truth is that virtually everything I believe, even the principles by which I decide what I believe, are second-hand, received from someone else. This post is a good example of that. The idea came from another blog I read. If you want to read the article that inspired me, you can find it here. I highly recommend it.

http://www.alanknox.net/2013/07/so-what-am-i-against/

How often do we read or hear an idea presented and find ourselves reacting against it? It could be a political idea, a religious doctrine, or just a proposal for widening the street. When I was a young adult I remember a Christian leader who published a magazine whose sole purpose was to expose religious error. Admittedly, I usually disagreed with his arguments, but that’s not the point I wish to make. What struck me even then was the intense negativity of virtually every article he wrote. If you read his magazine, you had no doubt as to the myriad of ideas and doctrines he opposed. I could tell you virtually everything he was against. What was not as apparent, were the doctrines and beliefs he was for.

The next time you hear or read something with which you disagree, try resisting the temptation to frame that disagreement in negative terms, even in your own mind. Instead, turn it around. If you disagree with a certain position, is it just because you disagree, or is it perhaps because you are “for” something else, a different vision which you believe is healthier or more beneficial. Why do you react negatively to the point of theology or doctrine that was presented? Is it just a matter of tradition (“that wasn’t what I was raised to believe”)? If so, perhaps we would do well to consider if the alternative might have merit.

Maybe you are genuinely convinced that there is error in a particular belief. It has been my experience that if this is so, we should normally be able to find a good reason for our opposition, more specifically a positive belief, even a vision for a better, more fulfilling alternative. If we cannot frame the issue in a more positive direction, perhaps we should consider if the intensity of our opposition is justified.

It is perhaps human nature that as we get older, we begin thinking about what kind of legacy we will leave when we are gone. I have determined that I do not want to be remembered for what I was against. I would rather stand for positive beliefs and constructive principles. No, I will never convince everyone, but I would rather spend my remaining time on this earth telling people what I am “for” rather than fighting what I am “against.”

“What are you against?” I would much rather ask, “What are you for?”

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Sacrifice was pervasive in the ancient world. In Israel sacrifices were always animals (with the possible exception of Jephthah’s daughter in Judges 11). In other cultures human sacrifice became a common practice. Often those sacrificed were prisoners of war or slaves. Sometimes, however, parents would even sacrifice one of their own children.

The common thread in all this has to do with the purpose of sacrifice. In every instance someone sacrificed an animal or another person in order to either appease the gods or to receive a blessing from the gods. Sacrifice was at its heart a selfish act. I will sacrifice someone or something else for my own benefit.

One essential message of the New Testament is that God has turned sacrifice on its head. It begins with Jesus, because the heart of the gospel message tells us that Jesus sacrificed Himself for our benefit. I understand that there are a variety of interpretations of the meaning of atonement, but I do not believe any of them change this principle. In some form or another, Jesus sacrificed Himself for us.

But it doesn’t stop there. Paul tells us that we are called to imitate Christ’s sacrificial nature.  In Romans 12:1 he says, “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.” Ephesians 5 and 6 apply this principle to the various social rankings that existed in the ancient world. Yes, wives, children, and slaves are told to submit. [I most certainly do not condone slavery, but that’s a subject for another post.] But go back and read the passage more closely. The thesis sentence begins in Ephesians 5:21 where we read, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” And that principled is applied to all of the various roles. So, wives, children, and slaves are to submit. But wait, Paul gives the same instructions to husbands, parents, and masters. The message is that whatever role in which we find ourselves, we should live our lives in a manner that places the other person’s needs ahead of our own.

Have you ever considered that perhaps God does in fact call for human sacrifice? But how different from the way the peoples of the ancient world understood sacrifice. In fact, how different from how our culture understands it now. Isn’t it routine in the corporate world to advance oneself at the expense of someone else? We have all known husbands or wives who were more than willing to force their spouse to give up their own desires and dreams, so that the other party could get what they wanted.

You see, God’s view of sacrifice is just the opposite of how human beings have typically seen it. Sacrifice is first of all a sacrifice of ourselves. It means giving up what we want for someone else’s good. It also includes a recognition that our very lives are meant to be one continuing sacrifice that we offer in order to advance God’s kingdom on this earth.

Perhaps we think of extreme examples such as Mother Teresa. It would be easy to say that we don’t feel called to that kind of life. But do we have the courage to look at our lives right now? What about that wife I profess to love? Do I see her as being there to serve me, or do I truly try to understand her desires and her needs? Am I willing to give up what I want to make her life more fulfilling?

What about our children? Are they the objects of my ego, or do I really see myself as God’s instrument to raise them to be godly children, who reflect His love because they have seen it demonstrated in me?

God still calls us to human sacrifice. Have you answered that call? Are you willing to start today?

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Experiencing CHRIST Cover

First of all, my apologies that some of you will get this more than once. It is being sent to several sites, so there is some repetition.

I have neglected both of my blogs recently. I did so primarily because I was finishing up a new book that is now out in paperback and electronically for the Kindle. Right now, I am trying to get the word out.

I am part of a religious tradition in which we celebrate the Lord’s Supper weekly, and normally a lay person presides. To help people who may lack training, I have published a book that includes 52 devotionals for the Lord’s Supper. It also contains an introductory chapter designed to teach the elements that go into making an effective presentation. While the chapters can be read simply as devotionals, they are specifically meant for presenting to a church just before taking the Lord’s Supper. They might also be effectively used in a house church setting.

The electronic version for the Kindle also includes an interactive Table of Contents.

If you know of any individuals or churches that might benefit from such a book, I would appreciate your providing them with this information. The book is:

Experiencing CHRIST In Communion: 52 Devotionals for the Lord’s Supper

Below are links to my book.

Order paperback from the website ($7.95) — https://www.createspace.com/4210030

Order Paperback from Amazon ($7.95)— http://www.amazon.com/Experiencing-CHRIST-In-Communion-Devotionals/dp/0615790933/

Order Kindle from Amazon ($2.99) —  http://www.amazon.com/Experiencing-CHRIST-In-Communion-ebook/dp/B00C54BKXK/

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Our oldest son is 31-years-old. We adopted Geoffrey in 1981 when he was four weeks old. When he was approximately three-and-a half, after an extensive evaluation, a doctor told us that Geoffrey would be mentally retarded. No one who has not experienced such an announcement can appreciate how devastating this was for Jeannie and for me. In one instant all our hopes and dreams for Geoffrey were dashed, and we faced an uncertain, fearful future for which we felt totally unprepared. Acceptance did not come in a month or even a year, but eventually it became impossible to deny the reality of the diagnosis. Geoffrey is better at some skills than others, but basically he functions at a four to five-year-old level.

Jeannie and I could have reacted as 80% of parents do in such a situation, and one or the other could have sought a divorce. But while our wedding vows did not use the actual words, “for better or for worse,” that kind of commitment was at the heart of what we had promised one another. So we decided to embrace the new reality and forge new hopes and new dreams. Over the years we have learned much about our medical and governmental systems we would just as soon not have experienced. I will not pretend that our faith was strong throughout this experience. If our faith has grown, it has done so through the crucible of pain and disappointment. When Geoffrey was diagnosed, I will admit to being terrified of what the future might hold and to being almost overwhelmed by the responsibility. But step-by-step we learned and coped.

Not for a moment would I downplay the struggles we have faced or the problems we still confront, as Geoffrey is still living with us in our retirement. But there are some characteristics that Geoffrey displays that, while very different from most people, can speak to all of us. Let me list three.

  1. Geoffrey is almost always happy. He responds to everyone with trust and enthusiasm. He knows nothing of black or white, male or female, or any other artificial distinctions.
  2. Geoffrey has almost complete trust. Indeed, this is one reason we must be careful. It would never occur to him that anyone might wish to hurt him. Most people respond positively to Geoffrey, because he is open and direct in expressing his affection for virtually anyone he meets.
  3. Geoffrey assumes he will be cared for because he always has been. To whatever degree he possesses faith, it is simple, pure, and childlike, without any of the doubts or reservations we “wiser” people possess.

As I said earlier, I do not wish to minimize the difficulties or the hardships; this is not the life we would have chosen. At the same time, we have learned so much from Geoffrey that is positive. I don’t know what you are struggling with now. Perhaps it is worse than our situation. I am convinced, however, that the reality of that situation depends as much on how you respond to it as it does on the hardship itself. Happiness is not dependent on circumstances. In a situation in which 80% of couples divorce, Jeannie and I are happy even as we face daily challenges. We could just as easily have chosen to abandon our commitment and wallow in self-pity and despair. The temptation to do that was very real, and it resurfaces occasionally. I cannot change reality, but I choose to be happy. What about you?

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We have all heard the saying, “The only things certain are death and taxes.” I would suggest that there are two more things that, while not certain, are quite probable.

  1. We are convinced that we are objective.
  2. We are not.

I freely admit that I tend to be fairly conservative on political matters, and perhaps more moderate on religious issues.  Here’s my question to you. When you read that statement, did it cause you to tune me out, because obviously I had nothing of value to say? Did it make you more likely to read on, because you felt I was more in tune with your own thinking?

We cannot learn if we are unwilling to entertain alternate views. It is our responsibility to examine other ideas and to consider what value they may have. It would also be more productive if we present our views in a manner that would attract honest seekers who may disagree with them, challenging them, but respecting them as well.

I came across a comment on a blog today. Part of it read, “Discussing it [the Bible] with someone who believes exactly like you believe is like discussing important matters with a mirror.”  Remember, it’s easy to win an argument with a mirror.

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I saw this quotation by Nelson Mandela on Twitter and thought there was much wisdom in it.  “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

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