I had a friend bring a prayer request to me this week. She told me that she prayed, but just believed that I was so much closer to God. How much I wish that were true. I spoke about Solomon saying that the words of the wise are like a cattle prod to the heart. God has been using the words of wise people in my life to cattle prod my heart in the last week or so. I try so hard to stand and looks so devote, but I can't hide the darkness in me. I stand naked in the presence of a Holy God.
I have been taking a class on The Screwtape Letters. Now this book is one of my absolute favorites. I would guess that I have probably read it about a dozen times. It is an interesting work of fiction from C.S. Lewis, but it is full of so much truth. The book presents letters written from Screwtape, an older demon, to his nephew Wormwood. Wormwood is a young demon just learning the skills of tempting the human heart to sin. One of the lessons that Screwtape teaches Wormwood, is that he should be encouraging his patient to think of real life, and leave thinking of deep and eternal things alone. I look at my life over the last few weeks, and I see that I have been had. When I was off of work during the month of December, it was so easy to make everyday revolve around God, and where I stand with him. When I went back to work, it seems that I lost complete perspective. I didn't walk away, but I put the important things of God to the side. I began to read my bible not that God ought to speak to me, but that I would be able to post something clever here. Something, that would make people see how clever I am, and share my post on their Facebook, and throughout that new place we call cyberspace. If I had taken that time to really think about God, then I would have made this all about him, and not all about me.
Another cattle prod hit me in the issue of prayer. Screwtape teaches Wormwood that he should encourage his patient to see prayer not as this nakedness before a Holy God, but some shapeless unstructured attitude of life. The patient should not make a big deal about body position or really engaging in a heart exchange with God, but this warm openness of spirit, which bears no real resemblance to what God asks of us in prayer. Prayer is that moment when our hearts are broken before a God that we can never please through our own actions. Prayer is that admitting of our complete hopelessness without the work of Christ. So many people I had committed to pray for, and yet I thought to think of them was just as valuable as coming in humility and pleading before God on their behalf. What I was doing and thinking it was prayer was so far from what it should be, that I am ashamed. The minute I think I have got it all figured out I have failed so miserably.
I work in Juvenile Corrections. It is a tough and challenging job. It is hard not to harden your heart, and grow cynical. When I first began, I invested in young men. After, seeing those same boys leave and either be killed or return to the criminal justice system, I believed the lie of Satan that men are incapable of change. If men are unable to change their hearts, then what I am I doing? How can I call myself a Christian, and yet believe that men are unable to change their hearts? As I was leaving my Screwtape class, a friend asked me a simple question. Are you praying for them? Like a knife to my heart, I was convicted. I had to swallow hard that pride that I was relying on. I am not as good as I think I am. I am failing in the mission that God has placed me in. I am limited in the role that I can play in these young men's lives. I am unable or not allowed to real break down the truth of the problems that they face. I can't tell them that their real problem is an eternal one, but no one has ever said that I was not permitted to plead for their souls before a Holy God. No one has ever said that I can't life them up in prayer. God is truly the only answer to the disaster of the lives that I come in contact with everyday, and I have been neglecting the most powerful tool that I have been blessed with in the role God has for me right now.
What answer can I give to my friend that insists that I am so much closer to God? That is simply not true. I am just as weak and fallen as everyone else. The gulf between Man and God is so vast that any difference between one person and another to God, is so miniscule in comparison as to render it completely insignificant. Were I trying to cross the Grand Canyon, if my bridge were two feet long, and yours were one foot long, it would not matter, because neither of us is really any closer to crossing that great chasm. It is ridiculous to think that we could be any closer to such a Holy God, than any other person. Were I to devote myself to some sort of monastic existence, then I would still be dealing with an uncompleted bridge that could not come close to reach the heavenly places. There is truly only one answer to this great chasm that we run head long into everyday. That answer is found in Jesus. He is the only one that can bridge that gap. So, it doesn't matter if a person is dedicated to daily prayer or scripture study, because in the end they will end up at the same place. Lying prostrate before the feet of Jesus, and begging for a blessing that we can never deserve. Another thing to keep in mind when we feel distant from God, is to ask ourselves who has moved. God is unchangeable. He remains. He has said "I am". If there is this feeling of great distance between us and our creator, then it is important to remember that we were the one to move.
When our children are young, we glory in those first steps. When they tremble and stumble in those first unsure steps, we see joy. God is the same way. It is not the arrival that God desperately seeks from us. He wants to see us as little children. He waits eagerly to see us reluctantly pull ourselves up on the furniture. He then waits and desires to see us step out, and take those firsts few steps. When we tumble to the ground again, there is no condemnation. He waits eagerly to see us stand again. It is the journey and not the destination that means the most to him. He is there to lift our heads, and he is there to guide us. He wants to see us following hard after him, and he is there to mend our scraped knees along the way. Thank God that he never requires us to get it all right all the time, because who then could stand before him?