Sunday, December 31, 2006

Today and Daily

Do you ever get that feeling that your prayers are becoming a little one-sided? Sometimes I feel that I never stop asking for things in my prayers. As I pondered this for a while, I decided to go back to one of our chief models for prayer to see what I could learn.

The Lord's Prayer is one of the most concise pieces of the theology. You can study it, and study it, and the nuggets just keep falling out. Specific to my current concern I focused on the single phrase:
Give us this day our daily bread.
So direct, and what a full sentence. We are to ask for our needs to be met, but we ask for them for today. Not for tomorrow, or all week, or the ambiguous future, but today.

Just like with a genie you can't ask for more wishes. No fair asking for enough bread for all time. You ask for what you need now, today. The bread should be daily, continually, consistently.

As I considered the impact of this on my own life, I realized that there are aspects of this that weren't immediately apparent. By asking for today, and only today, we give ourselves opportunity to come back again tomorrow. If we truly seek relationship then we desire to come back daily. But because we are human and flawed, it doesn't hurt to have the incentive, the reason if you will.

When we ask for our current needs to be met, we acknowledge our dependence now and continually. We build into our habits and lifestyle, a recurring reminder of the nature of our relationship.

It was also worth noting that we aren't asking for our daily riches, our daily extravagance, our daily luxury. We are only asking for our bread, our needs. The daily continual praying is for needs. There is a time and place to address our wants, I believe, but that's a completely different phrase in this prayer. ;-)

Are your prayer habits what you'd like them to be?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Jump On Up

There is a part in each of our hearts that wants to help others and allows us to respond compassionately to people in need. Sometimes we must realize that at times it is ourselves that need that extra push, we are the ones that require assistance beyond our own abilities. We desire someone who understands our limitations and is able to take up our slack.
A man with leprosy came to Him and begged Him on his knees, "If you are willing, you can make me clean." Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man. "I am willing," He said. "Be clean!" Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured. Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: "See that you don't tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them." Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.
--Mark 1:40-45
In the life of Jesus, we always see great compassion. It is widely understood that God's love extends to those who are considered "untouchable" or "unclean". Throughout scripture we can read of the people who came to Jesus, people who whose lives were in disarray and chaos, people faced with illness and disappointment. People wracked with grief, the diseased, the broken ones.

The truth is that we are all broken in some way. We deal with our addictions, our selfishness. We face stressful work situations and depression. We realize how we let down our friends and loved ones, and wallow in our inabilities.

Why do I so often lack the courage of the leper? I have an open pass. We can't we take our needs directly to the Lord? So quickly and easily I forget His outstretched hand over my life.

I think perhaps it is to easy for me to idealize some perfect standard of worthiness. To imagine that God only loves those who measure up to a certain standard. His grace must surely be reserved for those of certain righteousness and goodness. I become mired in my own feeling of uncleanliness and worthlessness. In my own mind I remove myself from my family, my friends, my God.

Somehow, He always finds a way to remind me that I come into His presence because of His love and His love alone. It is by His grace and not by my works.

Remember the confidence of the little child in the presence of his loving parents. It brings to mind when my children run to greet me. When I am sitting on the couch, they run and jump into my lap, and crawl all over me. My son doesn't ask if it is okay, he just does it, and I love it dearly. He has confidence that he can draw close to me, that I would welcome them, and they did not need to ask permission.

Jesus tells us that we should look on our relationship with God as children who know that they are loved by a loving parent. We don't need to ask permission first. We can just jump up on His lap (as it were) and we know that He'll always be happy to see us, He always longs to enjoy our company.

I guess it can be hard to remember. But even if some days I feel like a leper, even if I'm having a bad hair day, or battling my low self-esteem, even on those days (or maybe especially on those days!) I can come to my loving Father just as I am.

If only the doing were as easy as the doing.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Leave Yesterday Alone

Many times when I am working I get called in to settle disputes amongst the engineers on my team. There are often many ways to solve technical problems and getting people to agree on which is correct in a given circumstance can be a challenge. Sometimes I have to bring out a new way of looking at the problem to drive consensus. This can be very hard for some because they are so focused on the past. It can talk a lot of work to accept that the past is gone and move on.
"What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work today in the vineyard.' 'I will not,' he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, 'I will, sir,' but he did not go. Which of the two did what his father wanted?" "The first," they answered.
Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him."
-- Matthew 21:28-32
In this parable, the father asks the son to work and the son says no. Later the son changes his mind and goes. The key here is that we get that second chance to get things right.

Notice how the father asks the son to work "today ". The invitations we receive are daily. Each day we get up and are invited again to go work the vineyard. And even if we didn't go yesterday , even if we didn't go the day before or the year before that or ten years before that. We still get that invitation every day. Again and again. Without failing.

This is not just about being invited to church, but to the many decisions we make each day as we live our lives. Today is always a new day. A new chance to express our love, to encourage, to forgive, to share.

Even after we say no. Even after we've said no a hundred times, we can still say yes. In Christ we maintain that freedom. We can receive that invitation, we can answer that call.

While understanding these concepts in a spiritual sense is an imperative, internalizing them as part of our walk is also truly foundational. For myself, the necessity to be adaptive and flexible is exercised constantly. And just as constantly I am found wanting. I find it easier to be forward-thinking about my work then about my faith. It is easier for me to make intuitive leaps in engineering than my spirituality. Perhaps because I spend so much more time working than praying? My thoughts are more often on the issues of my job, than the issues of my faith.

The good news, is that I get invited fresh every day. Every morning I have a new opportunity to say Yes. To commit and embrace. Every day is a new walk.