Saturday, 14 January 2012

Whitewashed tombs

"We're trying to be spiritual, to get it right. We know we don't need to clean up our act in order to become a Christian, but when it comes to praying, we forget that. We, like adults, need to fix ourselves up.  In contrast, Jesus wants us to come to him like little children, just as we are." ~ A Praying Life, Paul E. Miller
I am reading A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller, I am enjoying it very much and it has given me much food for thought.  One of the difficulties in our prayer life is that we think we must speak to God in a certain way.  We must use some spiritual formula that will allow us time at the feet of the Father.  But this is untrue.  Jesus has gained us access to the Father through His redeeming, atoning, cleansing work on the cross.  We now as little children can run to our Father with our every need.  Paul Miller points out that we happily sing Just As I Am but, "When it comes to praying, we don't come as we are".

Just as I am, though tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
sight, riches, healing of the mind,
yea, all I need in thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
 

Later he writes, "Why is it so important to come to God just as you are?  If you don't then you are artificial and unreal like the Pharisees.  Rarely did they tell Jesus directly what they were thinking.  Jesus accused them of being hypocrites, of being masked actors with two faces.  They weren't real...Become like the little children Jesus surrounded himself with.  When Nathanael first hears about Jesus, he says the first thing that comes to his mind: "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46).  It is the pure, uncensored Nathanael.  When Jesus greets Nathanael, you can almost see Jesus smiling when he says, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!" (1:47).  Jesus ignores the fact that Nathanael has judged Jesus' entire family and friends in Nazareth.  He simply enjoys that Nathanael is real, without guile, a man who doesn't pretend."

This is interesting, because obviously there is sin in judging another person and yet Nathanael doesn't hide it from Jesus - and Jesus commends him for his lack of deceit.  We cannot hide from God.  As adults we mustn't go around openly criticising people on the grounds that 'we are just being real', but in the context of a relationship with God we must be real simply because God sees all things.  There is no point coming to our Father pretending to be holier than we are, pretending that we care about things we truly don't.  He knows.  I think this is why Jesus said we must be as little children, to come honest and open with no guile to our Father.  Only then can He deal with our sin and our carnality.

A common worldly teaching for those who are alcoholics or addicts in some way, is that you cannot be treated for your addiction until you admit you have a problem.  If we only ever come to God with our masks on He will not deal with our issues because we are, in effect, hiding them from Him.  If we have a problem with a critical spirit God cannot deal with it until you come to Him real and open.  I have heard it said that the Holy Spirit is a gentleman, He won't force His way into any part of our lives, He waits to be invited.

Another difficulty in coming to God and trying to cover our sins and pretend we are more spiritual than we are is basically we are lying to God.  We are like Adam and Eve hiding in the Garden of Eden because we realise we are naked.  But God loves us just the way we are!  He knows we are fearful, critical, grumpy...etc., but like a parent He looks upon us with tenderness as His little children.  Little children who need their Father to help them through every day.  He wants us to rely on Him.

Indeed, God wants us to come to Him with everything, not just as humble sinners but as children.  Children will run to their parents with every little thing.  They recognise that they cannot function without their parents.  Indeed, child development experts have said that very little children do not have a separate identity from their parents.  A sense of individuality comes later.  This reminds us of Jesus, Who wouldn't do anything or say anything without the Father.  Here is the Son of God Who had the whole of heaven at His fingertips choosing to submit and become like a little child before His Father.  There was nothing that Jesus wouldn't have brought to His Father.

Of course we aren't perfect and without sin like Jesus, but God still wants us to come to Him - honestly and openly.  Coming like little children with no guile speaking to our Father about the things that really bother us, the little things that irritate, our little fears, our weaknesses, our joys, even our sense of humour.

The book also deals with issues that we all, if we are honest with ourselves, struggle with in prayer. Sometimes you feel your mind wandering and you can't concentrate.  But Paul Miller points out that if our mind is wandering then it is wandering to the things that are really important to us.  Bring those things to God. This really struck me as I struggle with this myself, I realised that as our mind wanders from prayer God knows why we are thinking or worrying about them, bring them to the Father Who really cares, Who wants to deal with minutiae of our mundane lives because He is our loving Father.  Don't come to God with a script, don't come with a mask on.

Jesus said, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness." (Matthew 23:27).  God hates hypocritical behaviour, He hates  when people act outwardly beautiful trying to hide their sin.  Bring our real selves to God because He loves us and can heal, restore, comfort, forgive.

“God loves you just the way you are, but He refuses to leave you that way. He wants you to be just like Jesus. ” ― Max Lucado 
We need to embed that in our minds.  God loves us just the way we are.  Or in the words of the hymn "Just as I am, without one plea".  Oh He doesn't want us to stay this way, like any good parent He wants us to grow and mature...but God is infinitely patient and loving. He isn't going to get fed-up if we keep on coming with the same issue, the same problem, or the same sin. If Jesus tells us we are to forgive our brother seventy times seven - in other words infinitely - then God will forgive us infinitely for He is merciful and just.

Jesus bought our ability to have this relationship with our Father at a great cost, we have the ability in Jesus name to come, warts n' all, to a loving Heavenly Father Who knows exactly what we are like and all our little (or big!) weaknesses, and yet He invites us as sons.

"Imagine that your prayer is a poorly dressed beggar reeking of alcohol and body odour, stumbling toward the palace of the great king.  You have become your prayer.  As you shuffle toward the barred gate, the guards stiffen.  Your smell has preceded you.  You stammer out a message for the great king: "I want to see the king." Your words are barely intelligible, but you whisper one final word, "Jesus.  I come in the name of Jesus."  At the name of Jesus, as if by magic, the palace comes alive.  The guards snap to attention, bowing low in front of you.  Lights come on, and the door flies open.  You are ushered into the palace and down a long hallway into the throne room of the great king, who comes running to you and wraps you in his arms." - A Praying Life, Paul E. Miller

“And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry." Luke 15:20-23

In whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in him. Ephesians 3:12

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16

And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. Galatians 4:6-7

4 comments:

  1. These are some really good thoughts on prayer. And you are right, we cannot fool God, He can see into our hearts, so we are being foolish to even try.

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  2. beautifully written. :)

    I was wondering how Miller addresses the issue when a person is bitter towards God. Is it okay to keep praying to God when a heart is really bitter and angry and accusatory towards God? do you know what I mean? because I have learned from the bible that God wants a humble heart (which is what I think you've written here nicely).

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  3. Michele - it is a lovely book all about getting closer to God without all the pretence.

    Emerrube - The book is all about relationship with God as a Father. About approaching Him as little children with no guile. Little children when they are angry express their anger or frustration to the ones they trust the most - i.e. their parents. What you find is that the little treasure can be an absolute pain in the derrière to his parents but an absolute delight to others (I have experienced this with my own children). It's because he feels safe to express his true self to the ones he trusts.

    The book speaks about this trust. To go to God messy and broken. He doesn't want you to stay that way but unless you are honest with your Father you cannot build on your relationship with Him. If you keep Him at a distance, held at arms length because you feel you aren't humble enough or holy enough or joyful enough (etc) then you will be unable to have a true relationship.

    God doesn't want us bitter and angry at Him, but we are now His children, heirs of His kingdom and we can approach Him as our Father. He KNOWS when we are bitter and angry at Him and like any parent He longs to reach out and heal, comfort and restore. But if we keep pushing Him away He won't force His way in.

    If we only feel we can go into prayer with God when we are perfect we are suggesting that Jesus accepts us only when we are perfect - and we know this isn't true.

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  4. Something else I thought of, we fear that if we don't approach God with the appropriate level of perfect humble reverence then *bad things will happen*. But God knows about you heart attitude whether you come to Him in prayer or not. Best come in prayer and lay it out before Him in all honesty then He can start to mend a bitter and broken heart. You can even say you don't feel like repenting, you don't know how to repent you're too cross - "sort me out Lord!" That's what I have done in the past anyway - when I have a problem with something and I know I am not reacting in a way that is loving, or right, I give it to God and say, "I really, really can't be loving and I can't repent about it, please help me."

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