Catching the news on screen and in print these days would suggest that a war is on between religion and the popular culture, over issues such as medico-moral applications, same-sex marriage and religious liberty. One city newspaper commentator went so far as to say, “It’s always a good day when our elected officials get their marching orders from their consciences and their constituents, not from their religious leaders – be they Catholic, Muslim, Jewish or otherwise.”
For the longest time, in our lifetime, we have always thought there was or should be or could be or can be a friendly discourse between the two realms, that there was consensus on how citizens, regardless of faith or no faith, can responsibly and morally lead their lives and be a credit to themselves and society. Increasingly these days agreement appears more and more disparate between the two realms.
These times call for prayer, prayer to be able to lead lives under the watchful care of God and pass to our children the best modeling and example of faith-filled lives. For many of us, religious faith is the battery we run on.
If we are inclined to pray at all – we really don’t like God meddling in our lives. We moderns have certain off-limits signs that we want God to observe. Modern ideas conceive of a sharp and distinct chasm between popular culture and its civil freedoms and the messages and guidance that come from religion, the latter often accused as being anachronistic if not out of sync with progress and enlightened ideas.
Honest prayer turns us toward God and opens up our lives to great possibility. That parable Jesus told his disciples (Luke 18) about the Pharisee and the Tax Collector both who came to Temple to pray on the same day. The Pharisee’s self-serving-self-righteous prayer manages to keep God at arm’s length. Though appearing to be very open to God he is inclined to recite everything he has done well – just in case God has forgotten or has been too busy to notice. He is not like the rest of men, or so we are made to believe by his recitation.
By contrast, the Tax Collector’s simple but honest prayer of repentance pleases God. His is a humble stance that he is like the rest of men, a sinner, who marvelously has won God’s approval for his regret and his humility.
No one wins these kinds of battles that are current in the culture. But the Christian faith continues on, by the grace of God and not so much by how well we have observed its tenets. We strident Christians just figure that there are certain things we can never be and certain things we can never do simply because we love and admire the person of Jesus Christ, the Savior, who is coming back to take us with him.
When Jesus tells his disciples to be persistent in prayer He cannot mean be persistent in self-serving or dishonest or arrogant prayer. Who are we to tell God what He should be. We can only rely on the mercy of God. Honest prayer comes from a stance of humility. We are children of God, not God’s equal. Honest prayer opens us up to God, searches for God’s Will, not our own, prepares us to remove any off-limits signs in our lives that we know it all, thereby allowing God’s grace to touch our entire lives – our words, our thoughts our life’s pattern. God’s Word is always trying to influence our lives completely.
When we discuss any number of things, it always helps to understand deeply that we are, as the Tax Collector was willing to admit, sinners in search of God’s Will.
CMCS archives JNP 2013