December 30, 2008

Expectations


“Dad – what do you think of it?”
“Er…”
“Did you like it?”
“…it was, um, interesting.”
“Oh right…is that a good thing…?”

What do you expect from your child? From your one year old? From your five, 10, 15 or even 30+ year old?

Expectations of achievement or performance are one thing, but moral, parental expectations may feel most pressing. Many people struggle throughout their lives with the crushing burden of (perceived) parental expectations.

So what should we expect? The Bible tells us all to be like Christ – not occasionally like him, or a little bit like him, but absolutely like him all the time! For us or our children to meet that standard is of course impossible but that is what God demands of us.

Perhaps that is why we may sometimes live in guilt. Not the sense of guilt God wants, which leads to sorrow, confession, forgiveness and then peace of mind, but the guilt that can lead to demotivation, even self-hatred and depression.

One difficulty we face is that maintaining high expectations of children can seem harsh and is very tiring. God advises fathers in particular not to “exasperate” their children, which translates at least in part to picking your battles. Telling a child off every time they do something wrong is not necessarily a sign of wise parenting. On the other hand, we need consistency and can easily spoil them by consistently letting them get away with things in the name of trying to be nice. It’s a fine line but I think we should always expect more of our children while having infinite patience with their trying to live as God wants them to.

Infinite patience…hmm. It’s not going to happen, but it can be made a little easier by reminding ourselves of God’s infinite patience with us. He has given us life, our children and everything good we have in our lives. If we are his then he has saved us from our sins and given us eternal life and yet we let him down every day. Despite this he welcomes us back with open arms when we ask for forgiveness. Not once, not 100 times or more, but every time.

Jesus told a parable where a man owed a fortune to the king, at a time in history when debt meant being sent to prison. The king was merciful and gave the man more time to repay his debts. That man, in his ingratitude, then went and had flung into prison a poor man who owed him a few pence.

It’s easy to blow up at our kids when they disobey in exactly the same way for the umpteenth time, and although anger at disobedience may frequently be justified, it wouldn’t do us any harm to bear in mind how many times we have disobeyed God and yet he has unbelievably and graciously welcomed us back. Have you ever had an exchange like this?

“Daddy/Mummy, I’m really sorry.”
“That’s not good enough.”

Ouch.

Often that is because they have broken something, spoilt something or upset someone (something perhaps less naughty than careless) that we come out with a reply like that. The wonderful thing about God of course is that a real sorry is good enough.

Perhaps a key to dealing with our expectations is to look at how God manages his expectations of us. When he told us to be like Christ he was not simply handing out a set of instructions but giving us an example to follow.

We may best serve our children not by trying to turn them into the perfect people we will never be ourselves but by focusing on setting them a good example. They are our first and most important mission field and they will get their idea of what it means to follow God not so much from what we say about it but how we behave.

December 29, 2008

Why Pray? 3: God is moved by real prayer

“And when he prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God.”
(2 Chronicles 33:12-13)

Manasseh was no ordinary King of Judah and no God-orientated man even generally concerned to do the right thing. He would worship pretty much anything he could find as long as it wasn’t God. Then there was the “sorcery, divination and witchcraft (2 Chronicles 33:2-7). He even used God’s temple to build altars to stars and burnt his own sons to death as an offering to them.

Having ignored God’s reminders (v.10) Manasseh was defeated by the Assyrians who put a hook through his nose and took him to Babylon (v.11), where really the story ought to end in self-destructive regret, remorse and withering away. Except it doesn’t end that way because God wasn’t finished with Manasseh. Instead we read that Manasseh “sought the favour of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers” (v.12).

That’s the kind of thing that makes me tilt my head to the side, wince and say “Oh come on. Of course he sought God’s favour! I’ll bet he humbled himself!”. Without knowing what comes next I’m thinking there’s no way God will fall for it and that the ‘repentance’ is about as sincere as the apology of a man caught with his hand in the till.

But Scripture doesn’t tell us that Manasseh felt mere remorse or that he acted humble, it tells us that he “sought God’s favour” and “humbled himself” – i.e. that he was completely genuine. It reminds me of the simple faith of the thief on the cross who recognized his lifetime of guilt and asked for Christ to save him.

As with the thief, the most remarkable thing is not Manasseh’s turning to God so much as God’s response. In this instance we are told that “the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea”. God first responded to Manasseh by restoring him to his own country and to the throne. We are not told how that restoration transpired or how long it took, just that it happened and Manasseh then “knew that the Lord is God” (v.13).

Manasseh, the most unspeakably immoral king in Judah’s history, prayed and God was “moved” and “listened”.

Are you ever too ashamed to pray? Maybe you have let God down yet again in the way you keep doing, maybe you have spoken harshly to someone again just days or even hours after begging forgiveness for your unpleasantness the last time. Or you have had proud thoughts for the umpteenth time and you can’t possibly go to God with it again.

Perhaps you have done something so awful in your eyes or the eyes of others that you can’t bear to face God even in prayer because you feel his anger would be more than you could handle.

Next time you feel like that remember Manasseh. You have done nothing worse than him, and have not let God down more often than he did, and yet God was “moved” when he humbled himself.

There is no sin too frequent, no evil too heinous that Christ’s blood will not wash you clean if you will but take it to him. Your offering of a humble heart and true repentance deserves nothing, and yet it moves God and he will grant you mercy greater than you can imagine.

Why Pray? 2: Health issues


10 days in bed with a badly sprained lower back does a bunch of things and one of them is preventing you from doing anything on a computer. Hence the crashing silence after the supposedly weekly 'Reasons for Prayer' started three weeks ago.


It wasn't just the back pain either. After three days I had to call the doctor out as the pain belonged to a different universe than the over-the-counter anti-inflammatories and painkillers I was taking. Unfortunately the codeine I was given produced symptoms (severe chest pain and shortness of breath) that looked remarkably like an angina/heart attack.


An ambulance trip and several tests later it was determined there was no angina/heart attack, but that I had some calcified plaque in my heart unrelated to the symptoms. I was referred to a cardiologist who will do more tests in 6 months before coming to any conclusions about my cardiac health. Meantime the chiropractor referred me to a dermatologist and she took a little chunk of mole real estate today for a biopsy.


Probably the overriding lesson in all of this for me so far has been what Paul the Apostle was learning in dramatically more unpleasant circumstances:

"But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead." (2 Corinthians 1:9)


What has been surprising and humbling is how the Lord has helped me to realise a little more how many things I have to thank him for and how much I can enjoy gratitude for his mercies to me.


17 things I thanked God for today due to what's happened over the last couple of weeks:


1. The ability to sit...

2. ...and stand up...

3. ...and walk.

4. A good chiropractor

5. Health insurance

6. Early detection of plaque in the heart

7. My biological family

8. My spiritual family

9. The usefulness of pain in preventing further damage

10. Access to God through prayer

11. A heightened sense of God's sovereign power...

12. ...and His grace and love to me in countless ways...

13. ...and my complete dependence on Him in everything.

14. Painkillers (not withstanding point 9!)

15. A good measure of cardiac health

15b. Very early warning of a problem if the news isn't so good

16. Modern medicine and medical services (including the CT scanner, ambulance, hospital, medical staff, ECG, a skin biopsy...etc., etc.)

17. Time to read and pray


"But [God] said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is
made perfect in weakness'." (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Why Pray? 1: Because we can

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:19-22)

What would it be like to have the ear of the US President? How great would it feel to be picked out for such a privilege even if you had absolutely no political experience? How awesome would it be just to sit regularly in the presence of such power and influence? To see the inner workings of the White House, spend time in the Oval Office and have access to everything and everyone there? What would you do with that opportunity? With an open invitation to drop by whenever it suited you how often would you visit?

I can scarcely imagine how excited I would be. First, receiving word of the opportunity, what it would involve. The awe of being let through all the security checkpoints because the President had personally vouched for me. The excitement each and every time I opened the door to the Oval Office, knowing that today would be something different, that if I had my wits about me I would experience things that would stay with me forever.

The writer of Hebrews has just made the point (10:12, 14, 17-18) that Christ’s sacrifice is a once and for all deal; a fact the Holy Spirit attests to and which means our sin is paid for in full and removed from us “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12). It is because of this outrageous and unwarranted set of circumstances that we have “confidence to enter the Most Holy Place”.

In the Old Testament only the High Priest was allowed to do this, and he was only allowed to do it once a year – to make a sacrifice in the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum of the temple. This was therefore a shocking and revolutionary thing to say to Hebrew people, on a level of significance infinitely beyond the open invite to the Oval Office. And it is no less revolutionary for us to think of entering the immediate presence of the creator of all things, the eternal God sitting on his “throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16).

It is Christ’s blood gives us that confident access to God’s presence. That was the price paid by God to give us this relationship with God. The opportunity to communicate with him at any time we wish and have him listen to and respond to everything we have to say to him. We have the option any time we want to learn, to go straight to him. No priest to act as mediator because we have Christ. No aloofness on God’s part, no business or busyness that would keep him from us, no hesitance in ushering us in. No sense that perhaps we are not relevant to his grand processes and plans. After all it is our own personal high priest who is in charge of God’s house.

How often prayer feels to us like filling out a tax return – a necessary but unfulfilling task. Like a pile of thank you notes to be written or a shopping list to fill out. We don’t deny it ought to be done but we don’t leap at the chance because we have completely lost touch with what it really is. God is no tax collector, rich uncle or supermarket but would anybody be able to tell if they hear us pray?

We have been granted reason and confidence to approach God directly and boldly, through Christ’s sacrifice wiping out the sin separating us from Him. ‘Obligation’, ‘ought’ and ‘should’ don’t belong in the same sentence as prayer. They don’t even belong on the same page.

Let’s do it, let’s “draw near to God”…just because we can.