By: Sarah Norman
We are not a society that values dependence. Dependence on anything is seen as weakness. We are told from day one to work towards independence. So we save and we scrounge and we make sure that we can take care of ourselves. What if I told you that may not be what God wants for us? Before I go any further, know that I'm talking to myself here as well. I value independence. I value self-sufficiency. I value the bootstrap mentality. I don't necessarily believe all of those qualities and values are wrong in and of themselves, but when we divorce them from God and start believing that we can take care of ourselves, that we earned every single thing we have, then our values begin leaning towards prosperity theology rather than the Gospel. This is why we are learning about prayer. We're learning to not constantly ask God for things and expect He will give us exactly what we want as long as we live a good life, but that prayer is surrendering our wills and our lives to God. That type of prayer is very different. That type of prayer is something I've only just begun to learn about.
Last week we began learning about the model of prayer that Jesus gave the disciples. We learned that the disciples saw that Jesus had a very different relationship with God than what they did and they wanted to learn how to have that for themselves, so Jesus taught them how to pray. We learned that part of prayer is surrendering your will to God's will, not trying to bend God's will to yours. After we learn to ask for God's will to be done, not ours, we see Jesus say something that goes directly in the face of our American excess mentality. He says, “Give us this day our daily bread,” (emphasis mine). They lived in a very different society. Saving up food was not an easy feat. They didn't have pantries and refrigerators and freezers. They didn't have bank accounts and savings accounts. And they'd been told the stories all their lives of how God saved his people in the desert by providing their daily bread. He provided manna from the sky daily. Just enough every day to keep them alive till the next day. This concept is so difficult for our 21st century, American brains to comprehend. But this is not a foreign concept to much of the world. Much of the world have no idea where their next meal or drink of water will come from. And much of the world's Christians rely solely on God for those things. But us, here, living in our houses, with our savings accounts and a grocery store on every corner that we can go to any time we need anything, we don't understand this mentality. I'm not saying that what we have is bad. Having enough food to feed our family, running, clean water, heat and air conditioning are good gifts from God, but how often do we acknowledge they are gifts? How often do we find ourselves congratulating ourselves for having all we could ever desire? How often do we really have to trust in God for what we need today?
Translating this into 21st century America is not an easy task. I'm not saying that we need to begin only having enough food in our house for today, that we need to get rid of our freezers, or close our bank accounts...unless that is something you feel God telling you to do, then by all means, listen to God and trust Him for what you need. But in light of learning how to pray and thinking about what God gives, He gives us what we need for today. He gives us grace for this day. Not for tomorrow, not for next week, not for someone else's day, but for our day, today. My husband and I are praying through a big decision that would drastically change our lives. It's a decision that, if I let it, would cause anxiety and distress because it's not a decision that will be made for another few weeks and I don't yet know which way the decision will go. I don't yet have grace for that decision because it's not something I need today. I have grace to get through this day, this specific moment with my husband half way across the country and my children running around me screaming and yelling because that's what little boys do. God gives me what I need today, the grace and patience to parent alone and love my boys exactly how they are, that is what I need today. What is it you need today? Not what you want or think you may need. Spend time with God and ask Him what it is you need. He already knows. Trust that He will give you exactly what you need for this day.
In Luke 11:5-13, the parallel passage to Matthew 6 where Jesus is teaching about prayer, He describes a father who's child is asking for something he needs. Jesus says of course the father will give the child what he needs and not a snake or a scorpion. And then he says “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” I read that correctly today, for the first time. I've literally never read the words Holy Spirit or if I had, they have never registered with me. Which might be why I've never really understood this passage. Anyone who has prayed for something and not gotten it has probably gone to this passage and asked God, “Why?” God doesn't tell us that he will give us everything we want, or even that He'll give us all the good things like the father. He says he will give us His Holy Spirit, which I would argue, is worth far more than anything else I could ask for. The more I learn about the Holy Spirit, the more I love the Holy Spirit. It's the Holy Spirit's power that we are given daily. Galatians 5:22-23 tells us “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.” These are things I need on a daily basis, and without the Holy Spirit working in me, they are impossible. These are the things I need from God, and he says He will give them if we ask.
The next thing Jesus tells us to pray is “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Jesus puts these 2 things together because we cannot have one without the other. As a follower of Jesus, I know what it means to be forgiven. We celebrated Easter a few weeks ago. We celebrate that there's an empty cross and an empty tomb. What Jesus did on the cross bought us forgiveness of our sins. For that I am so very thankful. But because I am forgiven, I have to extend that forgiveness to others. I cannot withhold forgiveness when people wrong me. Ephesians 4:32 tells us “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” This is not an option, this is a command. Someone's transgression against me is not greater than my many, daily transgressions against God. I am not better than God or more deserving to hold a grudge than God. If God can forgive me, I have absolutely no reason not to forgive others. That does not mean the relationship has to continue, that does not mean that earthly consequences don't need to happen. If the transgression is in the form of abuse in any way, yes you need to forgive and God will help you do that, but you need to also be safe and allowed to be a whole person which may mean pressing charges or cutting off contact with that person. You can forgive while also making sure you are safe. Those 2 things do not need to be separate.
Justin ended this week's sermon with asking us to pray a prayer. I want to end my blog today with that same prayer. When we are used to believing one way about something, it's hard to allow God to change our hearts. When our culture tells you one thing, it's very difficult to do the complete opposite. But consider today where you may be following the culture. Consider how our 21st century American ideals inform your Christianity rather than allowing Jesus to be the one to inform you on how to believe. May this be the prayer we can all pray, “God, you're so good. Fill me with your goodness. Give me just enough of this world's good, but not too much, lest I forget that you are greater. God, make me forgive others, lest I become bitter. Help me to be better so that both of us might get better.”