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Posts Tagged ‘sacrifice’

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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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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