“Me” or “We” With God
When asked about the time of his coming and the end of the age, Jesus described a future of utter chaos. Wars and rumors of wars, nation against nation; hearts would grow cold, despite an increase in knowledge (Matthew 25). As humans we have always talked about peace, but seldom achieved it corporately. Even within Christianity, established by the Prince of Peace, we find it difficult to look beyond our own needs. Let’s be honest, we are still mostly segregated, suspicious and comfortable to be divided to insure our perceived rights.
Our default approach is living out our faith through a Western paradigm that focuses on an individual relationship with God. Even our worship is fraught with “me,” “I” and “my.” We have lost the sense of body life which includes “we,” “us” and “our.”
The Apostle Paul does not attempt to persuade us to pursue inner peace. He encourages us to be a collective light and mirror of the life of Jesus Christ, an utterance of God’s love and peace. Jesus said: “By your love for one another, the world will know that you are my disciples.” A clear distinctive of the community that represents the Prince of Peace is love evidenced by unity and peace.
But is this what we experience? Outside of formal events like the National Day of Prayer, where do we learn how to pray together? Prayer together is a stream that leads to a bond of peace. It is the place where we quiet our hearts, listen to the master and direct our thoughts to the service of others. The strength of our bond is in the strength of our prayers. Not in the amount of prayers, but in the vulnerability of our prayers. When we step out of our personal agendas to pray for his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, our prayers shift from our needs and desires to his purpose and plan.
Let’s take a personal inventory. How many of us pray for others outside of our area of association or sphere of influence? If we are honest, most of us would agree that much of our prayer life is self-centered. When was the last time you prayed for healing of our land and peace in our communities?
Jesus made it clear that our testimony of commitment to God is based on our relationship with each other. We easily lose sight of our dependence on each other in becoming what God has called us to be. I would encourage you to take a moment in the day to tell someone: I need you in order to become all that God wants me to be.
James knew why consistent effective prayer is so difficult: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have because when you ask God, you ask with the wrong motives” (James 4:1-3). It is because we pray to fulfill our own needs.
We seldom pray fervently and consistently beyond our emotions or discomfort. For some, prayer is more of a burden, except when completely necessary. We all remember 9/11 when everyone was willing to pray, even those who were opposed to public prayer. It is easy to pray when you are desperate, and it is easy to dismiss prayer when it is inconvenient.
Principles of Prayer
Jesus knew human nature. We see it in his most trying time in the garden before his crucifixion. He asked the disciples to pray with him. He told them that the spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak, so they needed to pray for him and themselves. When the inevitable happened, they did not act in unity, they panicked and dispersed. The bond of peace that characterized their fellowship disappeared when the Prince of Peace was taken away.
Let me suggest three principles to help strengthen the bond of peace or unity in our community:
- Pray that we grow in humility “Be completely humble and gentle, be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Humility is all about how we see God, ourselves and others. When we put our lives in perspective, we recognize that all we are and have accomplished or received comes from the father above. St. Augustine frames this virtue of humility in this way: “it was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes us angels.” We think too much of ourselves. Jesus frames it for all of humanity: “If you want to be great, then learn to be the servant of all.” Humility is a formational virtue for the bond of peace. The deeper the foundation, the stronger the building. Humility requires patience, endurance and an appreciation for what others can contribute to our communities. I empower others by recognizing my need for them.
- Seek God’s Will in your Prayers Paul in Romans 12: “Be transformed by the renewal of your thinking … that you might know what is the good, acceptable and perfect will of God.” Our prayer life should include what we can do for God and others. I can only discover what I can do for God and others by seeking his will, reading his word, finding fellowship and communion with his people. Charles Spurgeon called prayer a “spiritual transaction with the Creator.” Corrie ten Boom asked: “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” God’s will should be the necessary guide to our prayers.
- Love God, love your neighbor When Jesus was asked: what is the greatest command? He answered: “to love God, and love your neighbor. All the Law and Prophets are based on these two commands.” The Apostle John reminded us: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God and everyone that loves is born of God. He that does not love, does not know God because God is Love” (I John 4:7,8).
As I review my life experience and walk with the Lord I have learned something about the importance of loving others. How do you love those who do not love you, who maybe even hate you? We think of love as an emotion, or an affinity for a person. The love Jesus suggested to his disciples was a commitment to serve. I love my neighbors by serving them despite how I feel about them. Jesus said, what credit is it for you if you only love those who love you? His modeled his command to love as he has loved by washing his disciples’ feet. We love God by serving him; we love our neighbors by serving them. Love and peace are partners. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
In our prayers let us pray for the humility to value others; God will certainly humble us. In our prayers, let us pray for his will; God will certainly reveal that to us. In our prayers, let us pray for love for our brothers and sisters; and God will show us how to serve.