Friday, July 8, 2016

A Life-Threatening Prayer

It was a beautiful country with military strength, political security, and financial wealth. Its leader was known for taking initiative, making visionary alliances, and building campaigns, but when the focus shifted from national concerns to religion there was only one acceptable answer. Those who served the Lord God, Yahweh, were were hunted down and killed. Many hid or fled the country altogether.
All but one. He did not instigate a coup. He did not run for office. He did not slander or begin a mudslinging campaign. He prayed. He prayed; not for better choices, a repentant nation, or a return to the good ol' days. He prayed earnestly--earnestly--that it would not rain.

Earnestly. Not once. Not twice. Not with an agenda of his own or a desire for a better government. He prayed that it would not rain. What was he thinking? Perhaps his thoughts went like this:

No rain = no food. No food = no health. No health = no wealth. No food + no health + no wealth = Desperation. Brokenness. Death. Famine. Drought. Anger. Fear. Loss. Terror. Destruction. Need. Repentance. Turning from false gods to the One, True God. Dependence. Humility. Trust. Honor. God's name revered; His truth embraced.

That was Elijah's request--God's glory. Over and above all possible outcomes, Elijah's desire was that the name of God be known, respected, feared, and admired. He was not in it for his own comfort or convenience--he would suffer with the rest. He did not seek the "best" earthly candidate or global reputation. His future, his life, was caught up in God's. As a matter of fact, his life was under contract for years. He endured hardship, thirst, and hunger. He was fed by birds of prey and a foreign widow woman. How humiliating. And that's the beauty of Elijah's life and prayer. It wasn't about him. It wasn't about him at all.

As I think about Elijah's reaction to perhaps the most wicked leader in Israel's  history, I have been challenged. Am I willing to sacrifice my (unknown) future for God's glory? What would it cost me to pray that His will be done at the expense of our nation's reputation, glory, and power? What is paramount--God's name or my comfort? And the queasy, questioning part of my heart asks, "Is that really necessary? Have we really gone that far? Isn't there more to be done?" Perhaps, yes. But I am convicted that my heart is not yet in the right place. This is not about God striking our nation with lightning or destructive force in response to my prayer as much as it is a question to my heart about what I value most. Do I honestly love Jesus Christ and His glory more? More than _____ (fill in the blank).

This, then, is a most unpopular--and deadly--prayer request. Not one of judgment or malice, but with a face bent down, knees on the ground, heart broken--after having done all, said all, prayed all, lived all, for His name and reputation, not my own. So I ask, "Is there an authenticity in my life that leads me to seek God at the risk of everything?" Sola Scriptura, Soli Deo gloria, Solo Christo, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide.... (By Scripture alone, for the glory of God alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone.)

I hear, and my body trembles;
    my lips quiver at the sound;
rottenness enters into my bones;
    my legs tremble beneath me.
Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble
    to come upon people who invade us.

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the deer's;
    he makes me tread on my high places. (Habakkuk 3:16-19)

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The last week or two I have been more aware of the ugly stain of sin that resides in my heart and eventually eaks its way to the surface. Why I'm surprised, I don't know. What I do know is that shame and embarrassment are never far behind. How could I be so cruel? So insensitive? So harsh? So selfish?

As I've written before, other people don't determine what's right and wrong, but they can sure provide feedback that lets me know I'm out of line--or need to stop and think about what, why and how I'm doing/saying what I am.

In these moments I remind myself that the stinky sin in my heart--the murderous, lying, "I want it my way now," demands are always there, always lurking. They are not just things I do; they are who I am. They are me, sin is my instinctive choice and nature.I must own it.

But God. In grace, by His love and with His mercy, God covers it with the precious blood of Jesus Christ. He has canceled the written code against me--and it is deserved, all of it. Through Jesus, He atoned for my sin and made a way for me to be right with God. Yes, sin is present. Yes, it is part of who I am--for now--but it is losing. Its power has been stripped. Its future has been crushed . And I am in the process of being transformed, day by day, little by little .

Awareness of sin is a sign of God's grace. A dead person has no awareness of disease, wounds, hunger or thirst. There was a time I had no concept of my brokenness and desperate need. But now that I'm alive, I struggle with the areas of my mind and life that drag me down, that reveal my natural state, hurt others and grieve the Lord. Conviction of sin is a work of the Holy Spirit.

So when sin and shame eat at my thoughts, I am learning to examine my heart and mind, to confess and ask forgiveness from those I have wronged. I turn to reminders of God's love, grace, forgiveness and push on...hopefully with more humility, patience, kindness, compassion and lovingkindness than before. Because God is just that good--and Jesus is more than able.

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,  and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.  In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,  having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.  And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.  He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:6-15 ESV)