I have two items for my Church Write-Up this week.
A. Last Sunday, I visited a Missouri Synod Lutheran church. The
theme of the service was lament. Preaching about Psalm 31:9-16, the
pastor said that the Psalmist offers to God his sadness. The pastor
remarked that this is odd: Are we not supposed to offer God our best?
Why is God willing, even eager, to take the Psalmist’s sadness? The
answer is that it’s because God loves us.
The Psalms are raw and honest. The Psalmist does not always manifest
a joyful, forgiving attitude! And this is ironic, considering that God
in the Book of Leviticus desires pure, unblemished sacrifices.
Moreover, Jesus in Mark 11:25 tells his disciples to forgive as they
stand praying, and God will forgive their trespasses. Does this imply
that God needs to forgive us to hear our prayers, and God will forgive
us only if we forgive others? On that note, see Tim Challies’ Six Ways to Hinder Your Prayers.
Is there tension within the Bible, on this issue? On the one hand,
God hears imperfect people, with imperfect attitudes. On the other
hand, God desires perfection.
Christians may respond to these questions in a variety of ways. One
way is to say that God hears the prayers of sinners when they are
covered with the blood of Christ. We are imperfect, but Christ our
sacrifice is perfect, and that is how God hears the prayers of sinful
people. Another way is to say that God will hear us if we are on the
right track, or at least try to be on the right track. To refer to the
Challies post, many Christians will find that they fall short on that
list. Their obedience is partial and imperfect. Their forgiveness
falls short. They cannot eradicate every trace of doubt. They fail in
being perfectly kind to others. But are they at least trying to do the
right thing? Are they growing in doing the right thing? For many
Christians, God honors such an attitude and hears the prayers of those
who hold it.
Speaking for myself personally, I know that I fall short, even in
trying to have the right attitude and to do the right thing! I am
grateful for God’s law because it challenges me and upholds a righteous
standard, but I know that I need God’s mercy. I do not know if my
attitude is good enough for God to hear my prayer, but my policy is to
pray, and whether God listens to me or not is in God’s court.
B. I also listened to a sermon delivered at the church that I
normally attend. The pastor was continuing a series on prayer. He was
baffled that a person can be a Christian and yet not pray.
I have actually thought about this issue before. Years ago, I read a
blog post by a woman who had been a Christian for decades, and yet she
confessed that years went by in which she did not pray or read the
Bible. That baffled me. How can one be a Christian without cultivating
one’s relationship with God in prayer, or deriving nourishment from the
I can ask that question, and yet other Christians can look at me and
find my Christian practice deficient. Prayer and Bible study come easy
to me because I can do those things by myself: they do not necessarily
involve interpersonal interaction. But I struggle with the practices
that involve interpersonal interaction. Consequently, Christians can
ask: How can James be a Christian and not reach out to others with
love? How can James be a Christian and not be motivated to serve?
I learned a while back that there are plenty of Christians who
struggle with prayer. They do not know what to say to God. It is
awkward for them. They may excel at serving or reaching out to others
or witnessing, but personal prayer is a challenge to them. That
Christian woman who went years without prayer may have felt that she was
practicing her faith in other ways: by being a kind, loving person, and
by basing the way that she lives her life on the love of Christ.
I am reading a book called The Teaching of the Buddha. On
page 178, we read: “Therefore, to believe in the Dharma and to cherish
the Brotherhood is to have faith in the Buddha, and to have faith in the
Buddha is to believe in the Dharma and to cherish the Brotherhood.”
The Dharma is the path that the Buddha commands, and the Brotherhood
is a group of people who are committed to following those commands.
That passage reminds me of certain Scriptures. Love for God entails
love for one’s brother or sister (I John 4:21). Jesus in John 14:23
says that those who love him will obey his teaching.
It sounds automatic, doesn’t it? And, on some level, that makes
sense. If I love God, I will value those God loves, God’s people. If I
am secure in God’s love for me, that will enable me to love others,
even if they hurt me. In Buddhist terms, if one walks the Buddhist path
and becomes clean of greed and covetous desires, one will get along
better with those in the Brotherhood. The human flaws that hinder
relationships will not be a problem.
But this is easier said than done, and people, in their own lives,
may not find that B naturally follows A, assuming one can even get A
right in the first place!