Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Powerlessness preferred

Simeon and Anna operated outside the conduits of power in Jerusalem. They were both old, which by itself didn't disqualify them from being powerful; but we read that they spent most of their time in the temple not working the political machine but praying. Prayer is the refuge of the weak. We do not cry out to God if we think we can solve our own problems. I'm always amazed how many people tell me they don't pray about their own issues because they figure God has more important things to do, and they should just solve it themselves. As if that was somehow noble! Instead what they're saying is that they can control their own lives just fine, but they might be willing to pray about the lives of others whom they cannot control. Keep your distance, God, I'm doing okay here, and I know you're just so busy.

Do you hear what that says? God is busy, must feel overworked (we have completely misunderstood the nature of God) and so since he is to taxed to take care of me I will take care of myself. What we do in effect is we refuse to call him "Lord" (whether we use that word or not) and we like petulant three year olds say, "I can do it myself." Why would you not pray about your own concerns?

Two reasons I can see, The first is that we don't trust God and we believe deep down that he will do things that are not in our best interest if we give him free reign. This is a hard belief to confront because our words, perhaps for decades, have talked about God's faithfulness and goodness but under that shell we have not believed it. It is refreshing for me to meet someone like the man I spoke to shortly before Christmas who said, "I'm not sure I can trust God." That kind of honesty opens the door for God to work.

The second reason is that we are just so terrified of giving up control, and prayer by its very nature demands that we let go of our problems, even if we scoop them right back up at the end of the prayer. So for us to resist prayer may mean we don't want to give up control. The flimsy excuse that we're trying to save God the trouble is just laughable when you think about it.

Simeon and Anna were people of prayer. Luke says this explicitly about Anna, and we know it about Simeon because he hears the voice of God, recognizes it as God's voice, and obeys it. That comes with long practice of listening prayer. They did not spend their time and energy trying to gain control or power -- the pursuit of politics, whether in religion or in governance. They spent their lives knowing God. What a different kind of ambition this is! Rather than seeking power or control, they see their own powerlessness and acknowledge that God is at work, as he has promised, sending Jesus. And because they have been seeking God rather than their own ends, they have eyes to see the Messiah when he comes.

May God grant us such hearts and such eyes!

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