Friday, July 27, 2012

Listen to Your Children Praying

What should God’s children pray for? Obvious answer, anything and everything!
Recently at Girls Camp, I was sharing a room with my daughter and 5-year-old granddaughter.  I was tired and perhaps a little cranky, and I said to my granddaughter, “Will you pray for me to feel better?” She was quiet for a bit and then said, “Feel better yet?” I said, “Will you pray out loud for me to feel better?” She sighed, and wandered off into the coat closet.  When I followed her, she said, “Go away!”  So I left her alone and from a distance heard her voice saying something.  Then she yelled at me, “Do you feel better YET?” And I did feel better.  It was a great moment. 

There are at least two important prayers that we need to pray, even more important than the prayer to feel better.

We pray for God to forgive us.  We ask God, who has adopted us as children, for forgiveness when we miss the mark, when we stray, when we sin.  And when we do this, we accept God’s forgiveness and forgive ourselves.  No wallowing.

King David with the perfect heart

1 Kings 9:4  God says to Solomon, “if you will walk before me with integrity (perfection) of heart like your father David, and in uprightness do what I have commanded you, keeping my statutes and judgments,  I will establish your throne.” Several other times David is referred to as having a perfect or complete heart for God.  Yet he wasn’t a perfect person.  So how was someone who is undivided in loyalty to God respond when confronted with his sin?

2 Samuel 11 David commits adultery (and murder).  Nathan confronts him and calls him out; prophesies woes, including the death of the baby. David’s sin has terrible consequences.  However, his perfect heart shows in his instant contrition on being confronted, and his acceptance of the consequences of his sin when he sees they are inevitable.

David’s prayer for forgiveness:

Pity me, O Judge, in my loathsomeness
because of your steadfast love, goodness, kindness, faithfulness
According to your deeply felt compassion
destroy my rebellion
submerge me in water and stomp on me repeatedly to wash away my crime, my depravity
purify me from my uncleanness
I intimately understand and admit my rebellion
my sin is continuously present to me

I have lost myself, wandered from the way, missed the mark, offended against you, you alone
I have caused this hurt and misery right in front of you
You are just and right in how you speak to me, and you are pure in how you have evaluated me, how you have condemned my action and how you punish me

I have been twisted up, writhing in perversity from birth
It was a calamity that I was born

You delight in, you bend down towards faithfulness, firmness, under the surface, truth deep within
you cause my walled off places to know intimately what is wise, prudent, skillful

Purify me from uncleanness, and I will be clean, shined up
trample me under water to make me clean, and I shall be shinier, whiter, than snow

Cause me to pay attention to joy, to yield to gladness, that the bones, the self you have crushed and made contrite may dance with joy.

Put my sins out of your presence
Wipe out my crimes, destroy my depravity

Shape in me a pure mind, will, understanding, oh Judge.
Repair, make new a firm, stable mind and spirit in me.
Don’t throw me out of your presence, don’t send me away from your face.
Don’t snatch away the holy spirit you gave me.
Bring back, refresh, repair the joy of victory and deliverance.
Support and brace me with your generous, noble spirit.

I will train rebels to stay on your road
condemned ones will be brought back to you

Rescue me from having shed blood, snatch me out of my guilt for murder, my judge who delivers me, who saves me

I will shout loudly about your right acts, your justice

O Lord, loosen up my words and I will publish your glory, your fame

you take no pleasure in sacrifice, or I would make one
burnt offerings don’t please you

the sacrifices to the Judge are a crushed, shattered spirit, mind, disposition
a shattered and broken understanding, will, mind, inner self, O Judge, you will not consider vile, hold as contemptible, think worthless

make glad, make beautiful, do well by Zion, in your favor, goodwill
defend Jerusalem

Then you will be delighted with the sacrifices of justice, of right living, with all the other offerings
then they will offer praise to you

We learn several truths about repentance from this prayer: 

Tell God you are willing to accept the truth of God’s evaluation of your action
Allow your emotions to fully experience the shame and sorrow of having caused misery, of having done harm; admit that it was your fault; express this to God
Ask God to scrub you up inside, even though it is painful
Invite God into your hidden, secret walled-up places
Embrace joy and gladness and praise God for God’s justice and mercy

Note that David sees his sin as faithlessness to God first; he lost his true center, his real self.  Note also that he admits that he did serious harm to other people also.  Both of these are true pictures of sin.

Christians and Sin
The apostle John in his first letter says these things:  Those born of God do not sin.  But if we sin, Jesus prays for us to God the Father.  Let’s confess our sins, and God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  There is no point in denying our sin or covering it up. This just shows that Jesus doesn’t live in us.  Let’s walk in the light, as Jesus is in the light and IS the light, so that we can fellowship with one another. Let’s not just say we love others but show its truth by our actions.  This convinces even us that we are in the truth. Sometimes our hearts wrongly condemn us, so our loving actions can reassure us because God is greater than our hearts, and God knows everything. And when our hearts are clear, we have boldness before God, and God gives whatever we ask because obey God, and that makes God happy.

Second, we ask God to forgive others through us.
Jesus emphasizes forgiving right from the start.  Matthew 6:12—“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (KJV). It’s one of the key ideas of the Good News that calls me to account all the time.

“Forgive” has in its Greek heart the idea of send it away, disregard it, give it up. “Debts” has in its Greek heart the idea of “should,” obligation, duty, including the duty of making amends for injury.

So a reasonable paraphrase might be “Set aside our ‘shoulds’ as we set aside ‘shoulds’ for other people.” Or “cancel out our unpaid obligations to You, God, as we cancel out others’ unpaid obligations to us.”  Or “let us off the hook as we let others off the hook.”  (See Strong’s Concordance.)

Then Jesus goes on to say, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

“Trespass” has in its Greek heart the idea of missing the mark, or, figuratively, lapsing from truth or uprightness, going astray. How astonishing that we are told without wiggle room that we are to forgive other human beings for not getting it right, and even for getting it wrong. Jesus doesn’t limit forgiveness to “if they are sorry.” 

I need help to do this.  It is so hard for me to forgive my betrayers and my enemies. I have experience with spending nearly a decade asking God for vindication and at the end having God ask me to forgive. The great opera singers Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle help us understand feeling betrayed in their rendition of “Scandalize My Name”:

Jesus understands what it means to be betrayed.  Once again, we remember that our high priest has been through our experience. Jesus is not surprised by betrayal.  He warned Peter that he would be a coward and deny knowing Jesus.  He warned Judas by referencing Psalm 41 when Judas was leaving their last meal together.  Jesus also knows that God will not let his enemies triumph over him and that he will be in God’s presence forever.

In Mark 11, Jesus says, right after one of the great prayer promises, “When you stand praying, let go, send away, give up whatever you are holding tightly against someone else.  Then your Father in heaven lets go, sends away, gives up holding against you your straying from the right way, your lapses from the truth.”

See also Luke 6:36-37: do not judge, do not condemn.  Instead, forgive, and give.

Psalm 41 moves from blessing those who care for the poor, to a prayer for God’s healing, to the statement that “My enemies wonder in malice when I will die, and my name perish. And when they come to see me, they utter empty words, while their hearts gather mischief; when they go out, they tell it abroad. All who hate me whisper together about me; they imagine the worst for me.

“They think that a deadly thing has fastened on me, that I will not rise again from where I lie. Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me. But you, O Lord, be gracious to me, and raise me up, that I may repay them.  By this I know that you are pleased with me; because my enemy has not triumphed over me. But you have upheld me because of my integrity, and set me in your presence forever. “ (Psalm 41:5-12)

The word “repay” here almost everywhere means make things right so one can be at peace. 

This psalm shows us what many of the psalms do, that we can take our pain from being betrayed to God. We can pray for justice.  And then we need to leave it there. “Vengeance is mine,” says God, “I will repay.”

Forgive them for they know not what they do. This is what Jesus prayed for those who denied that he was God in the flesh.

Jesus makes a way back for betrayers and makes peace to his enemies. We know the story at the end of John’s Gospel where Jesus asks Peter if Peter loves him.  And we have this promise as well from the prophet Zechariah: “And I God will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem so that when they look on the one they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn…On that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.” (Zech. 12:10, 13:1).

St Paul in Romans 12:17-21 gives us good advice with regard to those who have betrayed us or who we think have betrayed Jesus. 

Don’t repay anyone injury for injury. Take care to present to others what is useful, good, genuine, beautiful, honorable among all people. Be strong in yourself to make peace and live in peace with everyone. You are dearly loved.  Don’t insist on being vindicated, don’t punish others for how they’ve hurt you, but get out of God’s way and give God space to judge. For God says, Vindication, vengeance, punishment belong to me. I will take care of setting things right.

Therefore, if your opponents, the ones who do what you hate, the ones who hate you, are hungry, feed them. If they thirst, give them drink. For in so doing, you will call up in them the painful memory of how they have harmed you and give them motivation to repent. Don’t let meanness and wickedness win over you, but instead you win over them with goodness, honor, uprightness, and joy.

So how do children pray?  About everything and anything, of course. We ask our Father to forgive us for our missteps, our strayings, our errors, our harms to others, and we ask our Father to forgive others as well through us.

As we close, if you want God to forgive you for something or to help you forgive someone else, you are free to come down to the front to pray, or to pray where you are.  We’ll sing our thanksgiving for the great love Jesus shows us, and then you are free to go.

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, nevermore!
How He watches o’er His loved ones, died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth, watcheth o’er them from the throne!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, love of every love the best!
’Tis an ocean full of blessing, ’tis a haven giving rest!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, ’tis a heaven of heavens to me;
And it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee!

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