Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Lenten Reflections: Luke 11 & 18

"Nevertheless, when the the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?"

I was overwhelmed at the question. All at once my heart cried out, "Yes, Lord, find it in me!" Yet I knew that my practice was in no way an indicator of that faith. You see I falter in prayer more than I succeed. I'm not particularly diligent in prayer. I am usually too busy chasing the rabbit trails of my stream of consciousness. I tend not to focus and reflect upon what God would do and have done in the world. When you don't think about what God is doing, you tend to forget that He does anything at all.

I was sitting in the park reading Luke's gospel as a part of my church's challenge to read the four gospels for Lent when I came across this convicting passage. I had a lot on my heart that day, deep questions and frustrations on that Thursday morning. Fed up with my job, longing for a home not so alien as this Ohio River Valley; I very much knew some changes I needed to make and steps necessary to explore my dreams, but where was the time? Imagine being submerged in a shallow but fast-moving stream headed for dangerous rocks. All you need to escape your skewering fate would be to stand upright for even an instant; the water is too fast for even so simple an act of self-salvation! It takes all your energy just to stay afloat, and this delicate balance would be easily turned to tragedy with even a small additional burden. What I really needed was a rope thrown from the shore.

See, sometimes I live life more like a deist or a stoic. The deist lives life as if God were far off and uninterested in the lives of men. For the most part, God has left us to follow our own path and isn't much interested in us. In its philosophical and theological heyday, this belief was considered liberating. I have to admit that I can't think of much more dreadful. How callous for an uninterested God to create a beautiful world then leave it to its own devices. Yet don't I sometimes live as though that's the God I serve? The stoic believes that by focusing on the things he can control and simply enduring the things he can't, he can achieve happiness in life. He shuns himself from exterior pain because it would leave a weakness. Don't I live this way too? Don't I resist weeping at the genuine sorrows of life? Do the things which pain the heart of God pain mine even slightly, or am I--a mere man--of a stronger heart than God?

Thus prayer is a struggle because my go-to preference is simply to do without it. I don't cry out to God because I think I should just keep a stiff upper lip and deal with the hard things. God doesn't change circumstances, I reason without thought. So really, it doesn't much matter if He's in heaven and sees me. He does what He wants, I just live with His choices. No one is going to throw me a rope. Stand up in the water no matter how much it hurts.

This isn't the same God who told the disciples to pray. He asks them, "What kind of parent, when his kids are hungry, throws a rattler in their faces? Or, when the kids are thirsty, gives him a scorpion?" I can't help but find the scene He describes humorous (who says Jesus isn't funny?). You're not exactly on the fast track to parent of the year if you withhold meals from your kids, much less if you toss poisonous wild life at them. I'm not a frequent viewer of daytime talk trash, but I'm sure I would hear about a story in which Maury Povich confronts that careless mother.

"Please, Momma, I want s'more."

"More whut?"

"Dishwater soup please. Please? I can see all mah ribs."

"Gave it all to the goat, boy. But here's a bag of black widow spiders. Catch 'em with yer mouth!"

Jesus continues, "If you, who are evil, know how to give good gifts, how much more will your Father in Heaven who is good give you good gifts?" Just like there (normally) isn't a single parent on earth who, though all parents are fallen, would abuse their children in such (hilarious) ways, how much more will a good and perfect Father give good gifts! It is this statement which prompts Jesus to ask if there will be faith on the earth when he returns.

When we pray for blessing, and the ultimate blessing of God's kingdom to come, we are showing our faith in God! Elsewhere, Jesus says that God knows what we need before we ask. That normally would lead us to conclude that there is no point in prayer since God knows what we need. Yet Jesus says, "Pray because God knows what you need before you ask." This is because God, in his omniscience, is not angry or offended at our lack. Instead, He already knows! Don't try and fake like you have it together before you go to God. You don't! It also means that our prayer is an evidence of faith. For just as we trust in God's knowledge of all things past, present, and future, so too we also trust in His strength to deliver all those good and perfect things He has ordained for us. Prayer is for our benefit. And in the mystery of Divine Providence and human agency, our prayers bring about are the means by which God carries out His perfect plan.

I wept at the realization that weakness is something we can hide from men but not from God. So why pretend? Why live as though He designed life to suck? Moreover, why think that no rope is coming? Jesus says that God knows you need a rope. Even a wicked, unjust judge would give you a hand if you bugged him enough. How much more will a God who loves you! And I pray so double-mindedly, praying for the best but expecting the worst. Could this be why Jesus asks after his teaching on prayer in Luke 18, "Will I find faith when I return?" Our prayer stems from the confident expectation that we are heard and what we request will come to pass. Quit posing and posturing. Own up to who you are because God is big enough to handle your rawness, answer your impossible requests, and save your soul.

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