Monday, March 25, 2013

Praying for Christ

I am indebted to my parents for teaching me to pray as a child. When I was five or six, I was given the all important responsibility to pray for the health and wellness of our chicken. I prayed for angels to guard the chicken coops and keep them safe from snakes and biawak at night. My dad was a pastor in the remote regions of Malaysia. But I digress.

Prayer, to me, was like a checklist. Or, at worst, a wishlist. Sicknesses, check. Friendships, check. Exams, check check check check. Finances, check. Unsaved friends and relatives, check. Safety, check. The possibility of future romance, giggle giggle check. Of course, I say more than just "check" in my prayers. But the idea is that I asked for "God's will to be done" without really knowing what I was asking for. I assumed God's will was mysterious and unknowable.

The big boys came down with the stomach flu last week. Hanan first, then Emeth. My little balls of energy and unceasing chatterboxes were uncharacteristically quiet. During the day, they took turns spilling fluids of all kinds. During the night, they woke up every hour, crying, and feverish with hurting tummies.

My default prayer would be for the pain to go away, for healing, and soon. But, is this all I can pray for? Even children of non-Christians eventually recover from the stomach flu. How then do my prayers affect my family? What difference do my prayers make? What is the point in praying? When they are better, should I give thanks for the healing as the work of God or just accept it as the natural course of things?

What am I to pray for?

Our life of prayer (or lack of) reveals the desire of our hearts. The prayers we voice before God and before one another are statements of what we think we need, what we care most about, what we love most.

If my prayers are only about my external circumstances and if I seek God merely for his blessing and protection, my regard for God is as a genie in a lamp. My wishes are his commands. I am the master and God is the slave.

Let me emphasize here that there is absolutely nothing wrong with praying for our circumstances. But praying merely for God's blessings is not enough. We find wonderful examples in scripture of how God changes the circumstances of his people. Even so, the needs and sufferings of this world are minor emphases. Miracles are but signposts that point to greater realities.

God separated me unto the Gospel, made me his child, to reveal his Son to me and through me. This is my Father's will, that I may know his Son. And while I learn to behold him, my Father promises that I would become more like him. Therefore, last week, as I was praying for my sick children, I prayed for Christ.

In their pain and discomfort, I prayed that my children would learn to turn to the Lord for help and courage. I prayed for grateful, trusting, cheerful hearts. I prayed that we, their parents, would be the willing hands and feet of Christ. I prayed that we would grow in kindness, patience, and compassion for one another. I prayed that in our (teeny-tiny-relatively-minor) suffering, we would have a greater longing for Christ and to be with him forever. I prayed that our sickness would not be wasted, but that it would help us remember Christ.

*David Powlison helped me tremendously while I was thinking through this subject, "Modeling Grace through Prayer Requests."

Saturday, March 16, 2013

In remembrance of me

Even before the first bite of the forbidden fruit, there was ingratitude. Because we were ungrateful, we wanted to be God rather than obey God. Because we were ungrateful, we believed in the serpent's lies rather than God's instruction.
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:21)
Ingratitude is the root of the first sin.
Ingratitude is, in fact, the root of all sin.

My ungrateful heart seeks after things apart from God. He is not enough for me.
My ungrateful heart disregards God, dismisses his promises. I forget

Not giving thanks is no small thing. Gratitude is not a warm fuzzy feeling. It is more than good manners. More than the five-second prayer before meals. It is more than the obligatory thank-you notes I sent after our wedding, and the lip-service I pay at the end of emails.When I teach my children to say their pleases and thank yous, I am not just teaching them to be polite. I am teaching them a disposition towards life -- how to live rightly. I am teaching them how to worship.

While ingratitude is the root of all sin, gratitude is the beginning of worship. Gratitude is the very posture of God's children. Gratitude is the mark of the Christian. Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. Having nothing, yet possessing everything (2 Cor 6:10). We lament, yet we give praise. We grieve, yet we give thanks.

Gratitude is our response to what God has done. Because he first loved us, we love and fear him. Gratitude is the fountain from which all else flows: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Transition from two kids to to three kids has been full and happy, but not easy. There are days when tiredness and anxiety cloud my eyes like thick black smoke, distorting reality. This is the battlefield of my sanctification. Here, holding crying babies at 4  in the morning, I am learning to fight against my self-love.

Suddenly, my mind sees the significance of the thanksgiving passages in the gospels, Paul's letters, and the Psalms. Jesus made much of the only leper who remembered to say thank you. The Samaritan came back not merely to be polite.  He was a changed man. He turned and worshiped God.

Thanksgiving marks the climax in many of the David's psalms and Paul's letters. These men were not merely paying lip-service. They gave thanks not because it was in-style or because it was the "right" thing to say. No! They were engaged in battles. Whether they were fleeing from their enemies or sitting in prisons, they were warring against their flesh, waiting upon the Lord.

God has not left his children defenseless. He has given us weapons to fight and shields to resist. In bad times, gratitude guards our mouth from complaining and our hearts from losing hope. In good times, gratitude guards us against the first sin -- pride, vanity, and the desire to be God.

So, sing! Rejoice! Proclaim his amazing grace. Declare in the face of despair that Jesus has conquered sin and death.

Thank you Lord for the Gospel. Thank you Lord for upholding all things in your hands. Thank you Lord for my children, my husband. Thank you Lord for you have not left me an orphan. Thank you Lord for you have not left my children orphans. Thank you Lord for giving us to each other. Thank you Lord for giving yourself to us.

It begins by remembering.

Jesus gave his disciples a ritual on the night he was betrayed. It is no coincidence that the early church called it the Eucharist, which means thanksgiving in Greek.  This is my body broken for you. This is my blood that was shed for you. Do this in remembrance of me.

This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

Mess-free finger painting. I wrapped the paint and paper under a sheet of plastic. =)