A prayer for a day of sad anniversaries

nycWars and rumors of wars.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall.
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

How long, Sovereign Lord? How long?

Therefore pride is their necklace;
they clothe themselves with violence.
From their callous hearts comes iniquity;
the evil conceits of their minds know no limits.
They scoff, and speak with malice;
in their arrogance they threaten oppression.
Their mouths lay claim to heaven,
and their tongues take possession of the earth.
They say, “How can God know?
Does the Most High have knowledge?”

How long, Sovereign Lord? How long?

Too long have I lived among those who hate peace.
I am a man of peace; but when I speak, they are for war.

How long, Sovereign Lord? How long?

Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?

How long, Sovereign Lord? How long?

He will judge between many peoples
and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.

How long, Sovereign Lord? How long?

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.

How long, Sovereign Lord? How long?

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

How long, Sovereign Lord? How long?

Love… and pray for them

As part of our ministry at Herald of Truth, we get prayer requests over the Internet. This week, one woman sent in a prayer request that touched my heart and left me speechless:

“Request: For the blessing of the life of ___, that her marriage may be restored and that she will leave my husband and allow our marriage to be restored for the honor and glory of the Lord.”

If you ever need an example of how to “love and pray for your enemies,” there you have it.

(It would be a violation of privacy to reveal this woman’s name. But I’d like to ask you to stop and say a prayer for her situation.)

Telling God what to do

I think about all the times in my life when I told God what he needed to do. Prayers that not only laid out the problem but also the solution. Prayers that told him what was best for my life, what would make me happy, what would make everything work out right.

Boy, was I foolish. Boy, am I still foolish.

Simple solutions to complex problems are rarely that simple and they are rarely solutions. That goes for international crises and for personal plans.

I need to learn to trust and say, “Your will be done.”

It ain’t easy, folks.

Photo courtesy of Kenn W. Kiser via www.morguefile.com

Good men doing nothing

I’m wanting to spend some time this week with a much-repeated phrase: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” I mentioned yesterday that the quote has been used ad nauseum to promote this action or that one (often conflicting actions, with both sides claiming to be the “good” side). I say that not in condemnation of the quote, but as justification for spending several days looking at it.

While I’m still unconvinced of the worth of the saying itself, I will admit what others have said: much of my angst in this situation comes from the misuse of this quote, particularly by Christians. Vern commented yesterday: “It’s probably better to limit the quote to the political/social arena and not apply it at all to the living of Christians.” Much of my distress comes from the fact that the “all that is necessary” saying is frequently used to move Christians into the political/social arena! The quote is used to say, “If you aren’t active in this arena, you aren’t doing anything.”

And, in the midst of our prolonged back and forth, Nick made a couple of key statements:

However, (and I’m certain Tim will talk about this later in the week), the quote is rarely used to criticize people who are, in fact, doing *nothing*. Literally, truly, nothing.

It is used to criticize people who aren’t following the quoter’s recommended course of action. Ask any pacifist how often they’ve been rhetorically bludgeoned with this quote. Anyone who thinks that pacifism (or even QUIETISM, for crying out loud) is doing nothing has a painfully shallow view of spiritual warfare.

Sometimes, doing nothing is precisely what is necessary for one person. But that’s completely different from the idea that all men and women made good by the blood of the cross and the power of the Spirit should choose to do nothing against the forces of evil.

What I look forward to in the coming days is the shredding of the assumptions typically driving its use. Not a call to ACTION, but a call to a specific – typically nationalist – course of action. Actually, I find that is isn’t typically used as a call to action at all, but as a pejorative against indirect action, compassionate responses, and non-violence.

Nick could see where I was headed with some of this. Tying in with yesterday’s post, I want to talk about the idea that “merely” praying is “doing nothing.” (Just typing the phrase “merely praying” makes me gag a bit) That’s definitely our culture talking. Dan Bouchelle posted something the other day, quoting an African Christian who said, “You Americans sure can sing, but you don’t know much about how to pray.”

In general, we don’t believe in the power of prayer. I saw an extreme of this a few years ago. I was participating in a Church of Christ Internet group, and one member wrote something like: “We pray because God commanded us to. We know that it’s not going to change anything.” Wow! How sad.

Those who don’t believe in the power of prayer will often use phrases like “sit around singing Kum Ba Yah.” Don’t know why that poor song carries the brunt of their wrath, but it’s come to characterize someone who believes that God can and will intervene in this world… even if it’s not in the way we would want.

Maybe that’s why I’m troubled by the lack of God in this quote. It feeds that worldly mindset that says, “If I don’t do it, it won’t get done. God certainly isn’t going to do anything.”

Prayer is doing something. It is action. The problem is, relying on prayer takes more courage than most of us have. It requires a loss of control. It requires patience… some prayers in the Bible weren’t answered for decades. Decades! It requires us to accept God’s plans, rather than stepping forward and shaping our own story.

Prayer is not the only action Christians should take against evil. But it is by far the most significant. When someone says, “All we can do is pray,” it doesn’t mean all hope is gone. It means that we still have our greatest weapon.

All that is required for the triumph of evil is for good men to stop relying on God’s power.

What you believe about prayer

Hollywood trivia: Dolores Hart is the only nun who is one of the voters for the Academy Awards.

Hart was a fairly successful actress when she decided to become a nun. She had starred in ten films, two of them opposite Elvis Presley. (She is continually asked about having kissed Elvis. She once remarked, “Screen kisses were limited to 15 seconds in those days. That one has lasted 40 years.”) She also performed on Broadway, winning a Tony nomination for one of her roles.

I like one story that is told about Hart. One reporter was being particularly aggressive in questioning Hart’s decision to leave Hollywood. Didn’t it seem a bit of a cop out, he asked, to leave a position from which she could influence the world and take up a life devoted to prayer? Hart replied, “It depends what you believe about prayer.”

Boom! There’s a phrase that Christians need to mull over a bit. It depends what you believe about prayer.

Non-Christians see prayer as something akin to meditation, beneficial for the one doing it, but of little use to others. Supposedly, Christians believe that the time they spend in prayer benefits not only them but the entire world.

I say supposedly because I hear more Christians than non-Christians scoff at prayer. Granted, I interact more with Christians; I recognize that. But when discussing topics like politics or pacifism, Christians seem quick to say, “All you want to do is pray? We need to do something.” [Actually, the common insult is, “So you just want to sit around singing Kum Ba Ya?”]

I believe in action. I don’t think saying “Be warmed and filled” is sufficient for the hungry. But I rankle at the suggestion that praying is “doing nothing.”

As Dolores Hart said, it all depends what you believe about prayer.