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It’s Easy to be “Good” in Suburbia

In Devotional on April 8, 2015 at 6:28 pm

Good FridaySometimes I have a hard time understanding the extent of my sinfulness and, correspondingly, my need for Grace.

I’m a pretty good guy. I’ve mostly obeyed the 10 commandments; I often give money to people who need it, and I go to church every week. When I sit in the pew on Good Friday, I know that Jesus died for me, but it’s sometimes hard for me to avoid the thought that he died a little less for me than he did for the guy sitting three rows back.

Also to my credit, I confess to the sin of pride with some regularity.

This past Good Friday I became aware that I was as much in need of God’s grace as anyone. This epiphany probably came by way of the Holy Spirit, but also the questions evoked through a film and a book.

When I walked out of the theatre after watching Selma, I was left with the question, “Would I have participated in the march to secure equal voting rights from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.” I’d like to think I would, but I don’t really know. After I read a biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I was left with the question, “Would I have resisted the Nazi campaign against the Jews, like Bonhoeffer, or turned a blind eye as so many Christians did?” I’m not really sure I would have chosen the road of justice.

I am currently aware of situations where good people are eagerly wallowing in wounded pride rather than seeking reconciliation. My immediate reaction to this is self-righteousness–a self-righteousness rooted in the fact that right this minute I am not doing the same thing. Under the same circumstances, my sin might be the greater. God knows, and he doesn’t judge by what I’ve done or not done, but by the condition of my heart.

By focusing rather on the condition of my heart, rather than on what I have done or not done, has helped me to more fully appreciate my need for the Grace that was given on the cross–the Grace that is enough to cover the sins of the worst racists as well as the most self-righteous.

Do You Pray Naturally?

In Devotional on December 29, 2013 at 9:05 pm

PrayerPrayer is Supernatural

The last book Bonhoeffer published in his lifetime was “The Prayerbook of the Bible.”  He writes this book while in prison for his participation in a plot to kill Hitler, and the subject of the book is the Psalms.  Remember, the Psalms of the Old Testament are Jewish literature.  You can bet that the Nazis weren’t all that thrilled with publishing books celebrating Jewish literature.  Apparently he was unaware that such material had to be submitted to the Board for the Regulation of Literature before publication.  Bonhoeffer was sticking it to The Third Reich at the same time he was teaching Christians how to come closer to Christ Jesus.

I read about Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on prayer in Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas, a book I received from my parents last Christmas.

In this book, Bonhoeffer suggests that we naturally wish, hope, sigh, lament and rejoice—but we should not confuse these things with prayer.  Unlike these internal and natural impulses, prayer is supernatural in that it must be initiated from outside of us, by God.  For this reason, he encourages Christians to pray the Psalms as Christ did.  Our own prayers would travel to heaven along with those of Christ.

Metaxas points out that praying the Psalms was much too Jewish for the Nazis, and probably too Catholic for the Protestants, who don’t go for recited prayers, but Bonhoeffer was insistent that Christians must pray the Psalms.

Because of this publication of this little book, he Bonhoeffer was forbidden to publish anything again.

Whether you accept Bonhoeffer’s imperative on the praying of the Psalms, it is important to understand that prayer is a supernatural activity.  My problem is that I usually forget this and do what comes naturally: “wishing, hoping, sighing, lamenting and rejoicing” (Metaxas 368).

Praying with the Psalms—which means praying with Christ (as well as the historical Church)—will at least externalize the source of my own prayers and once again remind me that my ability to approach God at all is his gift of grace.