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Monthly Archives: June 2015

The Dangerous Prayer that is Guaranteed an Answer

If you’ve ever felt frustrated with silence from God, I know of at least one prayer that he always answers. And it’s one of the most dangerous questions to ask God.

If you’re courageous (and just a little crazy), try praying: “What more do I need to become like Christ?”

You better be prepared for the answer.

When the rich man asked Jesus something similar (how to “inherit eternal life”), Jesus gave him an easy three-step plan for success (Mark 10:17-22).

1. Liquidate everything you own.

2. Donate your assets to the poor.

3. Leave your life behind and follow me.

Is it really any wonder that “the man’s face fell” and “he went away sad” (Mark 10:22)?

Credit: galaxies and hurricanes (https://flic.kr/p/9R9JTS)

Credit: galaxies and hurricanes (https://flic.kr/p/9R9JTS)

It may sound like a humble prayer, but I actually tend to pray this only when I’m feeling confident in my spiritual growth. (Or “proud,” in biblical terms, and we know what happens to the proud.) I’ve made some recent victory over sin or breakthrough in my relationship with God, I tell myself. Or maybe I’ve plateaued for a little while, just coasting along with the wind at my back. Life is easy, and I think I’m doing fairly well.

So I naively fling this almost rhetorical question into the cosmos, challenging the Great Infinity to reveal what faults I have yet to conquer. I honestly have no clear conception of what I might improve on next. I’ve made it, my subconscious whispers. My work is done. With this thought floating through my mind, I drift to sleep already dreaming a faint glow of sainthood rests about my head.

Soon afterwards, God proceeds to “bring the hammer down.” You may picture Thor in all his demi-god fury, claiming vengeance on the unworthy, or Jesus comparing Pharisees to vipers and unmarked graves. With a few swift strokes, he smashes my idealistic self-image and obliterates my pride to dust. Remind you of a certain gold calf?

The decimation often comes through a loved one who bluntly informs me that my act is not together and, in fact, I have quite a lot of work left to do.  It’s amazing how much this news comes as a shock—mentally, spiritually, even physically. The clouded scales flake off my eyes.

While my self-esteem drops to zero, my gratefulness to God skyrockets. I turn to him again and admit I can’t pull myself together. He is the only one with the strength and mastery to complete me. So I hold out my hands and ask that he would pour his refining Spirit over me again, filling me up until nothing else can be contained in the same jar.

“Make me pure,” I cry.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10

And he answers that prayer too.

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Posted by on June 19, 2015 in Other thoughts

 

Don’t Look Down; Here’s Why

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I hadn’t thought before how important it is to have a belayer you can trust. Now I know better.

Eighteen feet in the air, the boy peeked over his shoulder. He looked down, just like we told him not to do. His long arms and legs were splayed as he flattened himself to the rock wall. He was a bear cub stuck halfway up a tree trunk.

The boy’s 5th-grade classmates below shouted for him to keep going. But the boy ignored his classmates and looked at me, the stranger holding his rope. He didn’t know I had just learned to belay that morning. He only knew my camp name (Swing) and that somehow I was his lifeline to the ground.

“What happens if I fall?” he asked quietly.

Most of the kids had never tried rock climbing. Many were nervous and doubted whether they could make it to the top. They didn’t realize that it was more important to believe in my ability than their own, since I was the one who would catch them when they slipped.

Each child who approached the wall needed me to be more confident than they felt. So I automatically put on a positive attitude and bolstered them with encouragement as I clipped the rope to their harnesses.

“You won’t fall,” I told the boy-cub clinging to the wall. “I won’t let you.”

He seemed to consider it and looked around for his next step up. Then he peeked again.

“But what happens if I fall?”

I anchored myself with a wider stance and bent knees so I wouldn’t lose balance. Braking the rope, I offered, “Put your hands on the rope, and I’ll show you.” I wanted to prove he couldn’t come down as long as the rope held him up.

He took the rope in one shaking hand and then changed his mind. The spectators cheered louder as he found a new handhold and pulled a foot closer to the top. The next time he looked down, he said he was done. The fear of falling kept him from going any further.

Down on the ground, it was easy for me to think he should have trusted me more. I knew he was safe. But if real life is like rock climbing, I wonder if my faith in God is any stronger than that boy’s in me. If God told me to let go of the wall and dangle from my harness, would I? Or do I try to make it one foot higher on my own strength before giving up, afraid to fall?

Isn’t it interesting how close the word “fall” is to “fail”? How many times has fear of failing stopped me from reaching my goals? Like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yet when fear glues me to the wall, God tells me I won’t fall, not because of my own ability, but because he holds my rope. My mistakes won’t mean my death because he won’t let me go. He points out the footholds I can’t see and encourages me to keep climbing. With confidence in him, not myself, I can go on. It’s still hard work, of course, and my body will be sore from the effort. But I’m not on my own.

Later in the day, a girl told me she was worried about her injured back but she wanted to ring the bell at the top. I reassured her she could come down whenever she was ready. She started off well and then slowed about a third of the way. She had trouble finding her next steps. She squatted down instead of extending up. Her arms got tired.

The girl said she needed to rest, so I told her to let go of the wall and I would hold her up. She hung from the rope until she felt ready to continue. She took longer than any of the other kids that day, but she went to the top and finally rang that bell. When she came down, she breathed hard and said her arms hurt but her expression revealed something else.

The boy came down in shaking fear. She returned to earth in blooming awe and joy.

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”

Isaiah 41:10

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2015 in Other thoughts

 

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