Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Prayer – In one billion, three hundred forty nine million, six hundred seventy eight thousand, four hundred and eighty-twelve lessons.

Lesson 7

I hate planning. All planning is a waste of time because no plan ever works as intended. You always have to adjust on the fly so it makes sense to me to just fly by the seat of your pants to begin with.

Plans I have had that did not work out (yet) include:
 A plan to win some lottery and give 90% to charity and buy a Caribbean Island with the rest.
 A plan to make homemade ice cream.
 A plan to win the world cup with a secret play I called “the transverse, tangential, superplay.”
 A plan to write a blog about how prayer can change things when God has a specific plan for the universe and His plan is unalterable.

Sometimes when a plan doesn’t work I just shrug and adjust, like the time I drank “ice cream soup.” Sometimes I get thoughtful about what I can learn from the ruined plan. And sometimes I sit in a corner and sulk for weeks on end with intermittent, blubbering sobs crying that I want my “banky.”

This morning, I had the plan about the blog (the fourth one listed above). I decided to run an experiment about asking people for things that were already unalterable. I decided to ask my wife very sweetly, “Honey, would you please be extra kind to me yesterday?” Like most of my plans, it didn’t work. I was expecting her to be puzzled and confused. I had a great blog planned about it. Instead, she grinned and said “OK.”

This was one of those times when a plan failed and I became thoughtful about it. My wife has a unique sense of self-confidence. She is happy to inform anyone that she is “practically perfect in every way.” She could say “OK” because she is completely confident that she was especially kind to me yesterday. After all, she let me hang around with her…and she’s right, that makes for a good day.

It struck me that God is fairly confident that He is good and kind to His children. I wonder if asking God to bless me, or to bless missionaries, or to do His will, seems kind of silly to Him. Do I expect there is any chance that He would ignore His own character and promises and not bless missionaries? If I quit asking God to bless the missionaries, would He stop blessing them? Of course not! He has promised that he will bless and protect those that are serving Him with their lives. He’s not going to break that promise because I fail to pray for it. But should I bother praying for it when He has already promised it? Does it imply a lack of faith in His goodness if I must ask Him to be good?

I also wonder if part of the way He accomplishes His goals for me is by teaching me to pray for what He has already willed. Does praying that He would bless the missionaries, when He has already promised He would bless them, help me to join in union with Him by joining in union with His purposes and His plans?

Finally, I wonder if God wanted me to have my blog plan this morning, have my plan ruined by my wife’s sweet grin, and learn something valuable anyway. If that’s so, then as unlikely as it seems He might have a plan that’s better than my plan of winning a lottery and buying a Caribbean island too.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Prayer – In one billion, three hundred forty nine million, six hundred seventy eight thousand, four hundred and eighty-twelve lessons.

Lesson 6

I worked out today. I changed into athletic gear and then warmed up by walking up a flight of stairs to where the weight machines were. I marched right up to a machine that twists your abdomen like the rubber band on a wind-up propeller, toy airplane. I’m sure I’ve seen it in a museum about torture devices used in the Spanish inquisition. I set the weight at a level I thought would be an impressive challenge for a body builder… and started talking to the guy on the next machine over about which college football team he preferred. He was wearing an Auburn t-shirt, but he is a graduate and fan of LSU. The incongruity was as mind-bending as the impact that machine was designed to do to my stomach.

Meanwhile, a 125 lb. engineering student with a pocket protector asked if he could do a set on the machine I was “using.” I let him. He increased the weight and did a quick set of 20 reps. At that point I noticed that one of the televisions in the room was set to a soccer match. Well, I had to know what game it was, so I sat on a machine that was supposed to strengthen the long muscle that runs between your little finger and your knee cap. I didn’t want to distract myself from the match, so I set the weight at zero and continued to watch. After the match ended 40 minutes later, I had completed 18 rigorous sets of 2 reps each. I showered as a matter of principle, not because I had actually broken a sweat, and went back to work.

Tonight I saw 2 slices of leftover cheesecake in the refrigerator. Yeah, I’m on a diet but since I “went to the gym” today, I decided I deserved the little indulgence. Besides, I can work out again tomorrow and it would sill leave one more piece of cheesecake. On the other hand, if anyone eats that cheesecake before I get to it tomorrow night, I’ll be livid at that affront. I deserve that piece of cheesecake after the effort I put into working out.

Jesus told a story in Luke 17 about a slave that worked all day and when he came home he wouldn’t think of taking it easy. He first prepared supper and served his master. It would be silly and inappropriate for the slave to get the first seat at the dinner table, ahead of the master, just because the slave did what he was supposed to do all day. I think he was teaching something similar when he said “give us this day our daily bread.”

If Billy Graham were to pray for something, it seems like God would be practically obligated to give it to him no matter how silly, selfish, or sinful it might be. After all, Billy Graham has earned that answered prayer from all the hard work he has done.

I think maybe part of what Jesus was teaching was, “Just because you submit to what is best for God’s honor and reputation; just because you submit to His will being done on earth, it does not entitle you to health, wealth, and prosperity.” By submitting, you haven’t done anything as special as you might think. Submitting to God is just right and necessary, not so virtuous as to deserve preferential treatment. You are still entitled to no more than the provision of your basic needs, which He will do because he is a good master, not because you deserve something wonderful.

A sense of entitlement is incompatible with humble submission. Well, my cheesecake is gone. I think I’ll go hide that second piece to save it for tomorrow.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Prayer – In one billion, three hundred forty nine million, six hundred seventy eight thousand, four hundred and eighty-twelve lessons.

Lesson 5

Henry Kissinger once said “Ninety percent of the politicians give the other ten percent a bad reputation.”

I saw a movie called “Funny People.” I thought it should have been called “Depressed people who are ruining their own lives by making one self-absorbed decision after another with no regard for the impact of their decisions on others or the long-term impact of anything. They drink, abuse drugs, exploit others sexually and tell hundreds of offensive and disgustingly crass stories they consider “jokes” as pitiful and fruitless attempts to hide their emptiness and despair.” It might have trouble fitting on the poster, but I believe in truth in advertising.

The movie had five stars from some critic. The only good thing I can say about the movie is that we asked for extra salt on the popcorn and got a large so there were free refills. This gave us an excuse to leave the theater often. Other than that, it was offensive and depressing.

But it had a really good reputation. Reputation is a funny thing. Your reputation is not really who you are, it’s who people THINK you are. And who people THINK you are controls how they act around you and respond to you.

Socrates, Captain Kangaroo and nearly everyone in between has said something to the effect that you should act in a way that will create the reputation you wish to have. So, the McDonalds guy I was so impressed with really wasn’t as brilliant as I thought.

If you want a good reputation, the only course of action that makes sense is to treat others really well. Do what’s in their best interest. So, I’m very safe when I ask God to give me whatever will do the most for his reputation (to “hallow” his name). He even says that he does things in order to protect and enhance his own reputation (See Isaiah 48: 9 and 11 for good examples). It’s all neat and clean on paper. The problem is - I am not neat and clean.

I’m often petty and self-centered. So as soon as I figure out that God will want to do things that will improve his reputation, I start calculating how to use that to my advantage. I think it’s smarmy, but on the other hand, Moses did it too (See Numbers 13:12-14).

I may be going out on a big limb here, but I suspect that praying for his name to be “hallowed” as a manipulative, sneaky way to get whatever I want is somehow missing the point. In fact, it’s the same, self-absorbed thought process that made all the “funny people” so depressing. It’s just using God the way the characters were using sex, drugs, money, fame, “humor,” and each other. I suppose that using Him for my selfish needs is not consistent with desiring that his name be hallowed. I wonder if 90% of my prayers give the other 10 percent a bad reputation?

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Prayer – In one billion, three hundred forty nine million, six hundred seventy eight thousand, four hundred and eighty-twelve lessons.

Lesson 4

I decided it was fun to watch people’s reactions when I asked them to tell me which purchase would be of greatest benefit to the store, and why. So, a few days ago, I stopped to pick up something for a headache. I asked the clerk if it would be better for the store if I bought the normal bottle of generic acetaminophen that cost $3.79 or the large bottle with twice as many pills for $5.49. He suggested the small bottle, because clearly the store made more profit per pill. I thanked him, smiled, and then bought the other, larger bottle. I decided not to be angry at him, because he was just answering my question honestly, and I was able to make the better purchase by doing the opposite.

Later, I decided I wanted a candy bar (The other well-known cure for a headache). I stopped at a store near my office and asked the clerk which candy bar she would rather me buy. Without a second’s hesitation she said “Baby Ruth.” I asked, “Why?” “Because I like them,” was her logical reply. I decided not to clarify that I wanted to know what would profit the store best. I was afraid she would suggest gummi something. So I bought a Baby Ruth…..but I didn’t completely trust her. Just to be safe, I bought a Snickers, too. On my way back to my office, I ate the Baby Ruth and as it turns out, I liked it. It had enough peanuts I was able to justify it as health food.

I had one clerk this week that made a real effort to find out what I liked and what I wanted before he would answer my question as to which product he wanted me to buy. He asked if I liked chicken. He asked if I liked beef. He asked if I preferred spicy foods. He finally suggested the Big Mac. I would be willing to ask that clerk to sell me whatever he wanted me to buy, again. He didn’t just pull his personal favorite from thin air and expect me to like it. He found out what I liked, what I needed, what I wanted, and then told me that’s the one he wanted me to buy.

Then I realized that the last clerk was the smartest. Of all three places, when I asked them what I could buy that would benefit the reputation of the store the most, he got it right. He realized that the one that would cause me to trust that the store operated in my best interest was the one that would increase its own reputation. He gave the most insightful, best answer of the three.

I wonder, when I pray "make your name honored, revered, set apart as better than all others," is God as smart as that McDonald's guy?