I have been overwhelmed today with the concept of selfish prayers. God has been convicting my heart, and asked me to write this blog tonight. I am afraid to share, because I am going to talk about some very personal things. However, if God tells me to do something, then I need to be obedient to His voice.
This morning’s sermon was on an entirely different subject than the message that I took away from it. The pastor started talking about Jonah and I was completely distracted for the rest of the service. You know the story: Jonah was a Jewish prophet to whom God asked to go to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian nation and preach against their sin. Now Assyria was not only an enemy to the Jewish people, but also a very twisted and wicked group of people. No one in their right mind would march into their capital and tell them that if they did not repent of their wickedness, they would be destroyed soon by the wrath of God. However, that was exactly what God was asking Jonah to do.
Besides the fact that Jonah couldn’t stand the Assyrian people, he could not bear the thought that they might actually listen to him, turn to God, and be spared of the wrath of the Almighty. Personally, I would have been concerned about the danger involved. But, whatever, dude. Anyway, Jonah decides to pack his bags and go in the exact opposite direction and get on a boat bound for Tarshish. A storm came up, Jonah realized it was from God and ordered the crew to throw him overboard. He was swallowed by a fish, and three days later the fish spat him on the shore and God gave him another chance to obey Him.
Long story short, Jonah went to the city, preached, and the Assyrian nation not only turned from its wickedness but was also spared the wrath of God that was promised. Jonah was angry. He wanted them to be punished for all the wickedness they had done. They did not deserve mercy. So he went out east of the city and sat under a vine and sulked. The story ends with God confronting Jonah with these things, “Have you any right to be angry?…Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left…should I not be concerned about that great city?”
There are so many things that I will never understand about God. First of all, He can look at a person who we see as evil and see beyond that. He sees the confused person who has chosen to do evil, but who also has a choice to turn away from their wickedness and follow Him. Our limited understanding of God’s justice and the heart of man sometimes leads us to deadly decisions. There are some people, especially those involved in human trafficking that I could never imagine loving. I am filled with rage toward someone who could treat another person like dirt. In my mind, send fire down from heaven. Yes, Jonah, I think I can understand you.
However, God doesn’t exclude anyone from His redemption story. As I was sitting in the second service today, God brought to mind the passage from Isaiah 61:1-4:
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
Because the Lord has anointed me
To preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim freedom for the captives
And release from darkness for the prisoners,
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
And the day of vengeance of our God,
To comfort all who mourn,
And provide for those who grieve in Zion—
To bestow on them a crown of beauty
Instead of ashes,
The oil of gladness
Instead of mourning,
And a garment of praise
Instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
A planting of the Lord
For the display of His splendor.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
And restore the places long devastated;
They will renew the ruined cities
That have been devastated for generations.”
In my heart of hearts, I truly saw the captives as only the victims of abuse. I watched The End of the Spear again the other day and I was reminded of the incredible redemption story that first inspired me into mission work. My story also includes serious battles in the jungles of Ecuador, where God brought me back to Him. However, they made some interesting comments in the movie that really challenged me.
The story was set in the jungles of Ecuador where two worlds collide. One world was a remote tribe that was so brutal, they were killing each other into extinction. The other world was five missionary families determined to not let this tribe see extinction. One day, as the men sought to make contact with the natives, they were speared to death. It was the wives who eventually carried the message of Christ to the villages and salvation happened. When Steve, the son of one of the missionaries killed, went to the village as a boy, a polio epidemic broke out and the villages had to be quarantined. Steve and his mother and sister were stuck in the village, imprisoned in a place that was not their home. Steve talks about how Micaiani (the man who killed his father) was also in a prison, and this place was his home. It was only at the end of a spear when Steve had every right to kill Micaiani to avenge his father’s death that both found freedom from their prisons of darkness. As Steve said, “No one took my father’s life; he gave it.”
The love of God sees that there is more to being a captive than simply being a victim. Captives are also their oppressors, locked in a prison of their own that they cannot escape. When Jesus quotes this scripture during His ministry, He puts in direct context that this love is not simply for the lowly; it is also for those in high position. It is not only for the broken; it is also for those who break them down. What kind of love is this? It must be a God-sized love.
As I think about the different ways that God has specifically called me into mission, I am reminded of God’s passionate love for ALL people. I joined the congregation today in singing one of the verses from “It Is Well” that says, “And Lord haste the day when my faith shall be sight.” For the past couple years, I have never been able to sing that verse without a guilty conscience. What kind of selfish prayer is that? It is such a wonderful thing that I have found this freedom in Christ, and I understand that life can become difficult and we long for an end to our suffering. However, I cannot help but remember the reason that God has NOT YET ANSWERED that prayer: He is holding out for the Micaianis in this world, who are still imprisoned in darkness. We beg God to send down His justice, but in the face of God’s wrath, who could stand? When we pray for justice, we may not realize that a very real part of God’s justice is His mercy. Just as Jesus on the cross pleaded for God’s forgiveness over the very soldiers that mocked Him and spat in His face as they brutally killed Him, so we must come to understand what it means to live a life that proclaims freedom for the captives all around us.
I think about all the selfish prayers that I pray every day. I pray for my safety and happiness. I pray for things that I consider to be my needs, and I wonder how many times the theme of our prayers do not reflect the desire of God’s heart. We operate as if the salvation of the world is as important as our welfare. God did not even consider His own Son’s life to be more valuable than the redeeming love He offers to us. I wonder what it is that makes us think that we are justified in praying for our safety and happiness which are such small things compared to the Redemption Story that has been put into motion.
What do I want my life to be about? I have decided that I will live my days seeking the Kingdom of God. This decision, however, has opened the door to God working on my heart and correcting certain things that I did not want to have to deal with again. It is hard to allow God’s refining fire inside. However, I have to remember that this is not about my personal gain. The health and maturity of my faith will aid in the degree to which God will be able to work in my life to advance the Kingdom. Especially with the area of ministry that I am called into, it is important that I am not only physically healthy, but emotionally secure.
There are certain decisions that I had made about the sacrifice that I was offering to God; certain things that I believed I had to give up in order to pursue His calling on my life. God is reminding me to not try to predict the specific things that must be lost for the Kingdom. This has truly been humbling for me. It is the willingness to give up everything that makes a heart pure. I am learning how to be wrong in my perception of sacrifice, and even in prayers of relinquishment, a sense of selfishness can creep in.
In light of all these things, we come to this conclusion. We struggle to understand God’s justice, and we often pray selfish prayers of God’s wrath or salvation. We pray for needs and wants that are so trivial compared to the Kingdom of God. We long to give of ourselves, and often we plan on sacrificing something that God does not require of us. I have been so convicted of the selfish prayers that I have prayed lately. So what then, can we pray? I have found the purest example to be this:
“Our Father, who art in heaven:
Hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.”
There’s nothing selfish about that, is there?