Towards the end of December, a dear friend started me on a journey of prayer. Real prayer. Not just the casual God toss up: “Oh yeah, I said I’d pray for so and so…Dear God, help precious so and so today in Jesus name, amen.” My friend’s New Year’s resolution was prayer, and something pricked my heart and mind.
I wasn’t working anymore due to some silly discs in my lumbar region deciding to act up, so I thought I’d give prayer a serious effort, or as my favourite British television detectives would say, “Give it go, Cindy.” So I did. I am. And it’s changing me, shrinking the ME and teaching me to see the specific needs of others.
Another part of concentrated prayer is that it requires concentrated Bible study with an intensity and urgency I haven’t ever experienced. It’s a different urgency than that of teaching. As a teacher of all things literary, I examined short stories, novels, and poetry with an intensity bordering on obsession. I wanted to “KNOW” –I wanted a depth of understanding that would help me be a better teacher. I needed to be the best—to thoroughly grasp and grapple with T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” or the short stories of Flannery O’Connor. I spent hours poring over texts and commentaries; requesting books from the library that were in storage for lack of use became a badge of honor for me. I wanted to be an expert in something.
Funny, the more I studied, the more I realized that becoming an “expert” was an impossible achievement. Besides, was it really so important that I understood Eliot’s poetry? How was it relevant in my daily life journey? And more importantly, was I giving God’s Word equal attention and persistence?
I’m in a place of stillness right now, which is very conducive to both prayer and in-depth Bible study. I’ve been going through Luke as a continuing review of the Gospels. Since kindergarten, I’ve been learning about Jesus. I remember the large pictures of Jesus with
the children. Soft, wavy, long brown hair, brown–sometimes blue eyes, and a very clean beard. He was often dressed in a white robe tied with some sort of rope—kind of like a monk’s robe. There were also pictures of David with his slingshot, and a young Daniel in the lion’s den (Daniel was actually about 81-83 years old when he was tossed in with the carnivores), and of course, baby Jesus in the manger. I remember these stories, but when you’re a child, they are presented out of context with no connection or chronology provided. It’s easier for children that way, I guess. But now, 50 years later, it’s time for me to really KNOW the Gospels. I want to see how they each connect to each other, and how God uses different voices and perspectives to tell His story. It’s much more real and believable that way.
So Luke. An Antiochian. A physician who traveled with Paul, and who states in the first verses of his book that his purpose was to write a “complete narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. “ Luke 1:1-4. I’ll leave it to you do discover who Theophilus was. It was a fascinating rabbit trail to follow.
I have filled up one notebook so far and have just hit Luke 17. I follow the cross-references, look up the original Greek (I actually have The Complete Word Study Dictionary for the New Testament by Spiros Zodhiates, Th.D. It’s so awesome and fun!) I used to teach my students to study an author’s tone by looking at their word choices. Then I’d have them “slash” out the word to look at its nuances and connotations.
Here’s an example: knowledge/epignōsis/acknowledged/confirmation/truth: An acknowledged, confirmation of truth. Cool.
It’s fun…and turns a single chapter into an investigation of customs and Old Testament connections. It’s inductive, sorry Sherlock.
At the end of my first notebook, I got stuck on Luke 17:5. “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’” Wowsers. Though they heard them teach and saw his miracles daily, they still had doubts—He wasn’t at all the warrior Messiah they had expected. They seemingly ignored Old Testament prophecies like the words of Isaiah 53 written almost 800 years before Christ: “He grew up before him like a tender shoot and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
By ignoring the prophecies, they had molded and shaped the Messiah into the god they needed at that moment—one who would free them from Roman oppression and give them back their Promised Land.
“Lord! Increase our faith!”
We do that, don’t we? Shape a god to fit our needs for the moment. I had a good think about this and created my own “god list.” I can’t use a capital “G” for god here because I’m not talking about the one true God—I’m talking about the one I want. The one I create for myself.
My desirable god:
- Doesn’t care how I act as long as my good outweighs my bad.
- Doesn’t allow tragedies to happen in the world, i.e. tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes…NATURE MUST BE IN HARMONY WITH MAN!
- No more turmoil in the Middle East. No ISIS or Boko Haram or Bashar al-Assad’s…
- No more cancer, or Zika, or AIDs, or heart disease, or DIABETES (for my Katie), or any of that awful stuff that erodes our health and sometimes our faith.
- Gives health and wealth to my family and me as long as I stay within His boundaries most of the time. He should provide my family and me a sort of protection bubble.
- Gives me the perfect job and house that includes an “open kitchen” with quartz countertops. And room for horses or alpaca. Or sheep.
- Gives me enough money to travel the world (now peaceful since it’s ISIS-free).
- I’d also like my new god to miraculously give me a longer neck and legs, and erase the minor tributaries running around my eyes, chin, and neck.
*Oh, an addendum: Please, please could this new god keep us from creating a political and social culture that allows people like Donald Trump to be an elected despot!!
Sure, it’s not an exhaustive list; I have more specific requests that are too personal for public consumption. Things about eradicating past mistakes as a woman, mother, wife, and even as a teacher…
As I look as my desirable god list, I see Eden. What once was and what God wanted us to maintain. Nature in harmony with man and itself. Man and woman in harmony with each other and their Creator—not just striving for an identity outside of what He has designed. We’d be secure in who we were created to be—secure in His love and perfection.
But like children are wont to do—we scramble after a different sort of life then what God intended.
Ultimately, He desired us to desire Him. I recently heard a great take on the concept of “relationship.” There is no relationship without choice. Even parenthood does not guarantee relationship—ask any parents with teenagers or adult children. Nor does marriage promise relationship—ask any man or woman who has gone through a divorce or who plods through a marriage lacking love. Relationship takes daily effort—putting love first and forgetting our need to be loved. Instead actively loving.
And so God—not my desirable god, but the one true God—gave His creation a choice. He loves without condition and waits for us to respond. He forgives, sacrificing Christ so we’d have a redeemer who waits for us to repent—or turn—so He can throw our sins as far away as the east is from the west (I think it’s somewhere in Australia).
Through my study of the Gospels, I gave up trying to create an idol god. I gave up my perceptions of who Jesus was and basked in the truth of who He is. I chose—and choose—relationship with Him as most valuable. Above all things.
Still I cry, “Increase my faith (Greek—pistis—conviction of truth)!” But it’s ok if I do ask because Jesus—the true God—provides the faith I need to move through even the darkest parts of this life journey.