Tuesday Prayer: Relationships

Elohim, in the first mention of You in Genesis, Your name is given as a plural. In Yourself, You are a fellowship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is a mystery which You have chosen to reveal to us in Your word – a profound and infinite mystery which our finite minds struggle to grasp. Yet we are not commanded to understand but to believe.

If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?
(John 3:12)

Today we choose belief no matter what. We commit ourselves to walk with You in humble trust, knowing that You are who You say You are and are able to do what You say You can do. And we are thankful that You are not a disinterested, detached God. Instead, You are the God of relationships; the Triune Creator who deigns to commune with His creation. You are the perfect fellowship, inviting flawed and rebellious beings to lay aside our sin and join in Your holy unity.

As we go about our lives on this ball of rock and dirt, help us to be mindful that we who are in Christ belong to You. As Your word says in 1 Corinthians 6:20, we were bought with a price and are no longer our own. We are literally redeemed – bought back from a temporary master by the blood of the Holy One of God.

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
(1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Because of this simple yet fathomless fact, every aspect of our being ought to be in submission to You – even our relationships. Yet You allow choice, because love can only choose; it cannot coerce. Today, show us those areas where our relationships are not guided by You and Your ways.

In fact, start with our our relationship to You. Show us where it is broken and in need of restoration. From that primary and most vital relationship, we pray that healing, love, and unity will flow out from Your heart, fill ours, and spill over into others as we walk in obedience to You. Let us truly be the branches of Your Vine with Your life-giving truth and love making us strong for fruitful, eternal service to You, amen.

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
(John 15:5)

Useful Suffering

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
(Romans 5:3-5)

There is nothing quite like being a parent to highlight certain Scriptures with excruciating clarity.

Since Ash Wednesday, I’ve been reading and re-reading in the book of Romans, going through a couple of chapters over my breakfast and diving into a smaller portion for closer study when the meal has been consumed.

My weekend reading focused on chapters 9 and 10, which a read through a handful of times. I broke today’s fast with eggs scrambled with kale, onion, and red bell pepper along with a side of Romans 11, the previous two chapters still fresh on my mind. Then over coffee, I turned to Romans 5 for examination.

And I saw a horrifying glimpse of the grief our Creator feels over the rebellion of His creation. His children.

I saw it because I recognized a tiny sliver of His grief in Paul’s impassioned words from Romans 9:2-3:

…I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.

And I recognized it because now that my own little brood have begun trying their wings, I share a human-sized portion of the same unceasing anguish, not only for my brothers, but for my children.

If I could trade my salvation for the assurance of each of theirs, I would do it without a second thought. Now with our oldest counting down the months until legal adulthood, I am more certain of this than ever before.

There is definitely anguish in my heart as I watch him stumble into a trap lined with acceptance but secular to its purposeless core. Only weeks after I’d bragged on what a delight he has become, he has seemed to turn a darker corner and morphed into the stereotypical rude, withdrawn teenager.

And the people who have his heart are not my brothers and sisters in Christ as before. I do not even know where they come from, but he is more connected with them than with any portion of the Body of Christ at present. This is a source of terrible grief for me.

And yet, I know there will truly be no greater joy for me than if I live to see him and his sisters walk in the Truth.

For now, however, I pray. I watch. I search the Word for wisdom and guidance. And I pray even more.

Through it all, I also rejoice in this season of parental suffering because, while it is intensely frightening and painful to watch my firstborn dancing around a fire which threatens to consume him, I know this form of suffering, too, brings endurance.

Endurance in prayer, greater hope in the faithfulness of my Lord.

But it also because this heartache helps me to understand with greater poignancy the never-failing, never-ceasing capacity for forgiveness and love held by my Father’s many times shattered heart. And also because through this anguish, I begin to better understand His keen joy when even one lost child is found and begins to walk in truth.

Lord, forgive me the hurts I have inflicted on You by my rebellion and untrusting ways. I never knew what pain was until now. Please guide my children to You. May they become Your children more truly than ever they were mine, and we rejoice together to someday see them walk in Your Truth.  

 

Nothing Personal

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
(Romans 12:9-10)

All around me are relationships in crisis.

From common and trite forms of sibling contention to damaged marriages gasping out a final breath and everything in between, I have seen a great deal of contention.

But there are also marriages which are thriving. Siblings who truly adore one another. I know of marriages – my own included –  which have been salvaged only because the foundation is built on God even when every other part crumbled. Many of these are growing deeper in an active, genuine, and practical love day by day.

What’s the difference?

In several – though not all – cases, the conflict arises from a most intriguing dichotomy of human nature: our tendency to expect others to assume our best intentions in each of our actions while assuming the worst intentions of those who we believe have wronged us.

Often conflict arises because one or both parties have fallen for the oldest trick in the Book. Literally.

All the way back to the first man and woman, the Adversary’s tactic was to make the woman doubt the intentions of her Creator.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say… ?”

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
(Genesis 3:1b, 4-5)

From the dawn of mankind, the Adversary has been tempting us to assume God does not have our best interests at heart. Centuries later, the habit is so ingrained in us that we not only assume God has it in for us, we assume everyone else does, too.

We want to be forgiven when we’ve done a wrong – if we even own up to doing wrong, that is. Yet we are reluctant to forgive, preferring to lick our wounds and seethe with resentment.

When we cut someone off during our morning commute, we trust they will know we are late for a meeting, or we’ve had the flu and are just spacey, or whatever. But woe to the one who cuts us off as we drive.

If we are rude, it is much the same. When we are wronged, how dare they? Yet when we wrong others, why oh why do they not see our wrongdoing was a simple mistake?

One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given for parenting teens was not to take anything personally. The eyeroll, the death-glare, even the occasional exclamation of hatred – none of them are personal, even though they feel remarkably personal. Most of the time, the teen is just acting on their own hormonal sea of confusion. Their brains are not working.

But sometimes I do take it personally. And after that, I take it to God, who teaches me forgiveness and mercy.

Somehow, as I’ve prayed through this difficult aspect of parenting, God has been changing me. Not only are the horrible things my teens occasionally say or do not personal, the horrible things I occasionally say back are not, either.

My husband loves me. Thus, if he does something I find irritating or feel hurt by, I remind myself to assume his best intentions. Not his worst. In so doing, I have found it easy to appreciate him. And it just keeps getting better.

In fact, when I assume the best intentions of the driver who cuts me off or the rude grocery clerk and answer sour faces with a smile, I find my whole life is more pleasant.

How interesting that our God would encourage a behavior in us which only leads us to enjoy His peace and presence more and more…

After all, at a time when I rejected Him, He didn’t take it personally. Or rather, He took it intensely personally. So much so that He offered the blood of His Son and to lovingly discipline me until I was overwhelmed by His astonishing grace. For me. For all of humanity.

As a challenge – for myself as well as you – if someone rubs you wrong, try to remember a time you were a little prickly yourself. Feel a pang of sorrow for them because their day is clearly not going well. Recall the grace of a God who would be justified in eradicating each one of us, then smile and remind yourself, “It’s nothing personal.”

Let’s pray both that we can be a bit less delicate and for God to show us how and when we can outdo one another in showing honor.

Let love be genuine. Oh Lord, let it be!

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.
(Romans 12:15-16)