Monday, July 07, 2008

Taken Aback By A Prayer

A little while back I sat in my last class at seminary. In the closing moments the prof asked Ross, a friend of mine, to close in prayer. In this prayer he was asked to think especially of those for whom this was the end of the seminary road.

Ross is a soft-spoken guy with white hair and an amazing moustache, so you always listen when he is going to say something. Especially to or about God. Sorry Ross, but its true.

Anyway, he prayed a fairly short prayer, sincere and to the point. In it he addressed the "God of help" and asked Him to guide us in our future steps. I appreciated it.

But what I wanted to mention about this prayer was the line he threw in there after those ones which quite literally blew me away, challenged, and inspired me all at once. Maybe it won't seem that special to you, but before the "amen" was even said I had pencil in hand and was writing the prayer down. It was one of those "flippancy eliminators" which I think is only possible to pray and mean (let alone follow through on) within the supportive communion of kindred spirits.

He came to that part where usually we go on to ask God for wisdom to make the best decision for our future or discernment to find his plan for our lives. That's what I was expecting, and it wouldn't have been a bad thing to say that. But instead this is what he prayed:

"Give them the courage to make the sacrifices that you ask of them."

Oh my---do I dare say it?---Amen.


Tony Tanti said...

I don't know, I see what you're saying. Sometimes I think this kind of well-intentioned thinking produces Christians who seek out martyrdom and sacrifice because they believe that only then can one truly serve God.

I kinda think God wants us to enjoy life, not that it's always gonna be easy but I hope that even when we're making sacrifices we're still doing what we're gifted for and what brings us fulfillment.

jon said...

yes, and i think the prayer has that in mind when it says "the sacrifices you ask of them".

something rings true here from the miroslav volf book i'm reading, that we are at our best as humans when we are giving and recieving, and it is a tragic slant on humanity for us to be born takers. i think giving and self-sacrifice are crucial aspects of God's creation and redemption intents for us.

but, you would probably agree, that most likely what God wants us to give from is what he has given us: our abilities, our passions, our availabilities, our resources, etc.

yet i would add that we are trained in the consumeristic individualistic capital of humankind to not think much about what we could give, and only about what we can spare to strike a deal for ourselves.

i don't think this is the life God calls us to as people who find themselves in Jesus.

Tony Tanti said...

I completely agree and I admit that my pendulum may swing too far the other way on this one but your major point here is still a big question mark for me, this statment - "that you ask of them".

How do we know God's asking?

Just as my viewpoint may be affected by being "trained in the consumeristic individualistic capital of humankind" could not a Christian making a "sacrifice" have their decision trained in the victim and martyrdom mentality of American Evangelicalism so that they feel validated in their decision as long as it's difficult?

I just think the difficult decision can be the wrong one just as often as the easy decision.

jon said...

i agree with you, and i face this turmoil myself (as perhaps you know). i have this idea that i can't be happy, because this is selfish, so i must do something that is difficult. i have come to trust my evangelical guilt-addiction and tendency to self-abasement more than I trust the God who is good. I really have to wrestle with this, and I appreciate those who help me do that as you are doing here.

however, to honour the paradox of the Christian life, i must maintain that think God does call us to self-sacrifice and a commitment to him that includes a willingness to be martyred for the kingdom.

but this does not equal self-flagellation any more than it equals the martyrdoms of extremist Islam. these are aberrations on either end of a truth.

so i agree with your point, to a point. it is liberating and wonderful to think that God wants me to give of myself, but that he has wired me in such a way that this will involve doing something i love and can enjoy.

however, "doing something i love" is not a good enough mantra, in itself, to be wholly christian.

too often the spiritual gifts classes at our churches tell us to use them for the express reason that we will then find self-fulfillment and joy in christ. this is not untrue, but as an end in itself it is incomplete and unchristian. for one thing, the gifts are for the church, which is ultimately the bride of Christ. most of our spiritual gifts teaching has a certain ring to it that sounds like we're asking people to put on a wedding gown with no intention of every getting married, only so they can look in the mirror and see how awesome they are.

but this does not deny the paradox that we are to love our neighbors AS OURSELVES. very interesting how Jesus does not present this in a way that allows for self-flagellation or destructive martyrdom.

however, if i am not self-giving, i am and end to myself, and this i am afraid is generally the mantra of American culture. it is why i think the attempt to really build community in the West will always hit a wall. it is why marriages flame up and die out. without self-giving, communion can only go so far.

i don't see a "victim and martyrdom mentality" in American Evangelicalism. I see it standing out against Christianity in other parts of the world as being pervasively individualistic, capitalistic, consumeristic, and all that. perhaps you have something in mind you can remind me of to help me know where you get that perspective.

so i appreciate what you are saying, but i will qualify all that i've agreed with you about (re. a fulfilling and enjoyable life in Christ) by adding that i actually do think that self-sacrifice is expressly the only way one can fully and truly serve God. This is the throbbing heart and ultimate offense of Christianity, is it not?

Tony Tanti said...

Great comments Jon, your intellect is dizzying sometimes.

I'm still not ready to agree with your last paragraph though. While your points about gifts being used selfishly at times is true, that doesn't mean that when used properly a person can't expect to have joy as they serve God and his people with their natural gifts.

You asked for examples of what I see as the victim and martyrdom mentality in US Evangelicalism. Let me try to come up with a few.

Christians who believe scientists are out to get them. (example: many Christians sincerely believe many scientists are intentionally rigging their work to disprove the bible's account of creation)

Christians who are offended that the Lord's Prayer and the Ten Commandments are taken out of secular, publicly funded schools where children from dozens of faiths attend.

Christians who confuse their faith with their patriotism and believe that supporting multi-culturalism is a direct attack on their religion.

Everything James Dobson says.

jon said...

oh i see. yeah. got you there. that's hopefully not the sort of mentality i'm defending.

you and dobson. i'd like to get you in a room together. that'd be fun.

i hear ya on the "joy" bit. i need to hear that, to counter-balance my "guilt-consciousness" evangelicalism. i guess i just won't make MY joy the be-all end-all. but if i trust my joy into the hands of God I do think it is given back ten-fold. however, i think i can expect him to allow me some hard times and suffering in this world, so this is a tough topic to sort out sometimes.

Tony Tanti said...

I certainly believe God can use hard times to teach us, I'm not sure I believe he wills them or allows them to happen though.

I suppose I believe he allows suffering in general but not specifically. If it falls on you he is saddened and willing to help but is rarely able/willing to step in and stop the created order from happening as the good and bad in the world continues. The sun shines on the righteous and the evil.

Take this example, let's say you are offered two jobs in two different churches. One is in a place you'd like to live and offers opportunities for you to use your gifts, the other is in a place you don't want to live and is a needy church where you know you will be unhappy a lot of the time but you think you might be the best option they have to lead them.

Would your mindset make you think long and hard about option 2 and maybe even choose it? I would pick option 1 without hesitation.

jon said...

yep. option 2 would be considered. but i'd need a pretty clear "call" else i'd go with option 1 as the common sense decision. taking up the cross can mean taking a job you believe God wants you to take even though it holds no promises of "success" or super-good-feelings.

i feel like if God "called" me to this he would affirm it clearly and would prepare and empower me for it, and even in the end there would be joy in it, too.

i must say that i would resist such a calling, but in principle would have to be open to it.

however, i would agree with you that my default should probably not be to just seek out the job in which i'll suffer the most. i'd hate to be one who thinks he is suffering for God when indeed he is suffering due to an unwise decision!

since its just the two of us here, we may need to continue this in person this weekend! maybe some "lurkers" will chime in as well.

wonder where that drive-by sermonizer went from a couple posts back?