Prayer for Illumination
Eternal and expansive One: You have willingly come to me in the confines of my little world to stretch me, to open before me unimagined paths. Through the reading and study of the Scriptures, continue to work in me and through me, that by the power of Your Holy Spirit I may more fully become what You intend for me to be through Christ the Redeemer. Amen
Quite a few thoughts are running through my head today… first, the latest Barna Group report (be sure to check out the link and read the information for yourself) landed in my inbox. In the report, the findings indicate that nearly 3 of 4 Americans call themselves “Christian.” Interesting; to say the least. Secondly, and related to the Barna report, are thoughts concerning idolatry and (generally speaking) arrogance.
The single most common mistake people make in their spiritual lives is wanting God to follow their lead… If we want to take God seriously, though, we must be the ones ready to follow God’s lead. If we think about it, responding to God’s invitation should be something we want to do—as scary as it is, it is about trusting that God wants our ultimate good and believing that God is more capable than we are of leading us to it. –Tim Muldoon; The Ignatian Workout: Daily Spiritual Exercises for a Healthy Faith pp. 4-5
When I take a look at the world in which I live, the United States of America, it is hard for me to imagine that some seventy-five percent of its population consider themselves Christian (according to the latest numbers from the Barna Group). There is no judgment intended by my statement of disbelief, but there is doubt…in a big way. It seems rather incongruous the lifestyle and value systems of our nation as a whole when compared to the teaching of Jesus from the Holy Bible. This leads me to my next thoughts on the topics of idolatry and arrogance.
It is John Calvin who is quoted as saying; “The human heart is a perpetual factory of idols.” Acknowledging this inherent propensity is the first step of curing our ill. I wonder though, how many of us are willing to acknowledge our idolatry. My guess is that our arrogance stands as a major challenge (if not obstacle) to our acknowledgment. This, I believe, is why we have the seeming incongruity of a nation steeped in hatred, violence, intolerance, addiction, materialism, disease, hunger, and homelessness (to name just a few of our national ills) and a nation which overwhelmingly professes faithful allegiance to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Talk about things that make you go “hmmmm…” As I said though, I don’t intend for this post to be an exercise in finger pointing; rather, I want to ask myself questions about my own idolatry and my own arrogance.
How much time to do I spend searching the Scriptures? How often am I seeking Scripture with the prayer for God to illuminate me and reveal Himself to me, or do I prefer to proof text Scripture to validate and justify my own choices in life? Do I have an attitude of “I’ve got it or I get it” about Scripture and the person of God? How often do I sit through a sermon and disagree with what is being taught with no follow up in prayer, discussion, or study to see if (heaven forbid) I might be wrong? How many times do I “poo-poo” someone’s act of worship or the songs they sing, style of music, prayer style, and/or their acts of service? Why do I do this (assuming that I do)? Aren’t these acts supposed to be acts submitted to God; and if they are, who am I to criticize them? How about my giving? Do I tithe or do I argue about tithing being “part of the old covenant?” What do I give back to God in measurement of my time, finances, and other material resources… Do I consider myself first before working out the equation?
What do I think about the sacraments, what I do think about other persons and their practice of the sacraments? What do I think about theology in general, the doctrine of salvation, baptism, the Eucharist, the Sabbath, marriage, the role of women in the church and in the household… Are my views more right than someone else; and where did I get my views? Are my views my god’s views or God’s views? Are these views important? Why would or why wouldn’t I make a big deal about them?
I think many of us will rip through these questions and be able to validate our actions with very little effort. The reason I think this is because the god most of us have constructed is very knowable. We know exactly how he would answer all these questions and we speak very confidently for him. Of course; we should be able to… since we made him in our own image. We have all the answers. Arrogance. Me = guilty as charged. It doesn’t take much to slip into this place of idolatry; it happens pretty much without us even being aware of it. I’m sure there are a lot of people that would be shaking their head “no way, not me” right now too. One word; arrogance. Do you ever get mad at God? Do you ever wonder why your prayers go unanswered? What makes you think your prayers go unanswered? Do you ever think because your prayers are not answered in the way you expect, they went unanswered? Do you blame God or your kids or yourself for your children’s disobedience? Do you pray that God would make certain things happen? Do you ever wonder about how many things you want your way?
How can so many people profess to be Christian and following Jesus Christ (he is the one by which we call ourselves), yet be so far from one another. Is everybody wrong or is everybody right (in their own eyes). Idolatry. Arrogance. I cannot help but wonder what would happen if we, one by one, started to really make a whole-hearted effort to follow Jesus with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Oh, we’d still make a lot of mistakes, but they’d be a lot more beautiful than the mistakes we are making now.
Our desire to know God is important to God, even when we don’t particularly understand what is going on. –Thomas Merton