The Deceitful Promise of Politics

In Psalm 120:2, we read these words: Deliver my soul, O Lord, from lying lips and from a deceitful tongue. When I read these words the other day, my mind immediately leapt to the fact that our country–Canada–is currently in the midst of a federal election campaign. Right now, all of the party leaders are making their rounds and making promises about what they will do if they become Prime Minister (or in Trudeau’s case, continue to be Prime Minister). And we all know what often happens to those promises once a leader gets elected. Lying lips and deceitful tongues, indeed.

But am I suggesting that all of our political party leaders are being intentionally deceitful and are therefore intrinsically untrustworthy? While I think we should always be somewhat distrustful of our political leaders, this is not really what I mean. Rather, I find myself wondering what it says about us that we can sometimes get so emotionally caught up in our political opinions.

The truth is, not one of our political parties–no matter what they say, promise, or claim–has the answer to our societal ills. While each candidate wants our loyalty, none of them actually deserve it. We should only ever give a leader our support tentatively and conditionally. We shouldn’t deceive ourselves into thinking that any given politician or political party can protect us or provide for us. Disagree with me if you like, but I don’t think Christians should be partisan in their politics. While our values may align more closely with this or that political leader, a healthier posture is being able to appreciate that no one party fully lines up with everything we hold to be important. Or that even if I vote for the Conservative Party of Canada, there may be ways I wish they were more like the NDP or the Green Party. At the every least, it’s good that different perspectives are on offer.

When participating in politics, therefore, Christians ought always to bear in mind that our ultimate loyalty is to the Lord of heaven and earth. It is Jesus who is our sovereign and king. We are citizens of a profoundly different kingdom. Power and authority belong to God. Never can any disciple of Jesus conclude that one political party is the political party, the one believers ought to support unequivocally. Such a posture is idolatrous.

So let’s not be deceived, either by the various political candidates or by ourselves. Once again, the psalmist reframes this conversation for us:

Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth take their stand,
and the rulers conspire together
against the Lord and his Anointed One:
“Let’s tear off their chains
and throw their ropes off of us.”

The one enthroned in heaven laughs;
the Lord ridicules them.
Then he speaks to them in his anger
and terrifies them in his wrath:
“I have installed my king
on Zion, my holy mountain.”

I will declare the Lord’s decree.
He said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have become your Father.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You will break them with an iron scepter;
you will shatter them like pottery.”

So now, kings, be wise;
receive instruction, you judges of the earth.
Serve the Lord with reverential awe
and rejoice with trembling.
Pay homage to the Son or he will be angry
and you will perish in your rebellion,
for his anger may ignite at any moment.
All who take refuge in him are happy.

Psalm 2:1-10

The “A.C.T.S.” Prayer

Speaking of prayer, 16th century Protestant Reformer Martin Luther said this: “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” Prayer lies at the heart of the believer’s relationship with God. That said, prayer can sometimes be a struggle. So sometimes we need help.

Indeed, in Luke’s Gospel (11:1) Jesus teaches his disciples the Lord’s Prayer because they’ve asked for help: He was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John also taught his disciples.”So, thankfully, there are lots of ways to pray. Using the Lord’s Prayer as a model and guide is one that Christians have used for centuries.

Another approach is to use what many call the “A.C.T.S.” model for prayer. It provides a helpful outline for praying. Each letter in the acronym refers to a particular kind of prayer: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication.

In this post I’m going to reflect a little bit on each of these aspects of prayer. I’m also going to point to examples of each in Scripture, because I believe our prayers are stronger when guided by God’s word. If you are someone who seeks to pray, but has trouble doing so, perhaps this will help you. I think the “A.C.T.S.” model of prayer is an effective guide to having a fuller and more meaningful prayer life.

Adoration

Prayers of adoration are prayers of praise, and the Bible is full of praises directed to God. Here are two examples, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament:

Let the whole earth shout triumphantly to the LORD! Serve the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Acknowledge that the LORD is God. He made us, and we are his–his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and bless his name. For the LORD is good, and his faithful love endures forever; his faithfulness, through all generations.

Psalm 100:1-5

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. You are being guarded by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. You rejoice in this, even though now for a short time, if necessary, you suffer grief in various trials so that the proven character of your faith–more valuable than gold which, though perishable, is refined by fire-may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him; though not seeing him now, you believe in him, and you rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy, because you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

1 Peter 1:3-9

The example from the Psalms overflows with joy and gratitude. The psalmist is directing his readers to praise God, to give thanks, to rejoice, all because of who God is and what he has done. The same is true of the opening of 1 Peter. Here Peter is encouraging the recipients of his letter to reflect upon who God is and what he has done. He connects the reality of who God is to their everyday (and sometimes difficult) experiences as followers of Jesus. Worship springs from seeing this connection, and ought to lead naturally to bless God and, as Peter puts it, to rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy.

Now, when we praise God we are acknowledging and reminding ourselves why we believe in, worship, and obey God. We bring to our immediate attention to God’s attributes and actions. Our God is not just any God. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, of Moses and David, of Isaiah and Daniel, and of Peter and Paul. Our God is one who has acted in creation and history for the purposes of salvation, to establish an everlasting covenant with his people. This God and no other is worthy of our praise and worship. And when we praise God in our prayers (and in song) we don’t do so to make God feel better about himself. God doesn’t need our praises; we do. We need to be reminded regularly of who God is and what he has done.

Confession

Being reminded of who God is also reminds us of who we are. God is holy; we are not. We are broken and sinful. We need forgiveness. We need to have our consciences cleansed. We need to fess up to our mess ups. Confessing is part of what it means to hear and respond to the call of Jesus in his first sermon in Mark’s Gospel: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

God, create a clean heart for me
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not banish me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore the joy of your salvation to me,
and sustain me by giving me a willing spirit.

Psalm 51:10-12

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9

Confession relieves. It lifts the weight of guilt and shame. It brings us closer to wholeness, and it brings us back to ourselves, to who God created us to be. By confessing we face ourselves. And in truth, we can only fully face ourselves when we’re willing also to face God. Not only that, but we can only truthfully face God when we face ourselves. Neither is genuinely possible without the other. Ultimately, confession points us to the heart of Jesus and what he was willing to endure so that we could be reconciled to God. The forgiveness that follows confession is available to us because Jesus was crucified in our place to pay the penalty you and I deserve.

Having grown up Catholic, I have had the experience of being in a confessional booth and confessing my sins to a priest. Though the last time I remember going to confession, the priest and I actually sat in a pew together. Protestants will (pardon the pun) protest such a practice. Yet, whatever anyone thinks of Catholic sacramental theology, in Scripture confession is not an altogether private matter. Though no doubt many present day believers would find doing so uncomfortable, James 5:16 tells us to confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. Often God meets us through other people. Perhaps this verse from James is also part of what it means when in Galatians 6:2 Paul says Carry one another’s burdens.

Thanksgiving

Praise and thanksgiving are close cousins. We see this over and over again in the Psalms. Here’s one example:

Therefore I will give thanks to you among the nations, Lord;
I will sing praises about your name.

Psalm 18:49

It seems to me that in many respects we live an age of ingratitude. People often feel entitled. Rather than experiencing life with a humble sense of thanks, instead we can have a prideful sense of deserving special privileges. We earn our blessings. We work hard for them. They are our accomplishments. Or at least we sometimes live this way.

There are numerous calls in Scripture for God’s people to be thankful–and to give thanks to God specifically. I think this is a reminder of how life is a gift. It’s a reminder of what we read in James 1:17: Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. And so thanksgiving is not only about being grateful for what we have, but acknowledging the source of our blessings. As someone once said, “The atheist ultimately has no one to thank.”

Scripture also reminds us that there are reasons for thanksgiving beyond material well-being. Because even if life doesn’t go the way we want, and we don’t get what we want, we can still have plenty of reason to be grateful. More than enough, in fact. Ultimately, our gratitude in rooted in our experience of coming to faith in Christ and how that transforms our lives and our perspective. For example, when writing to the Colossians Paul says this:

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints  because of the hope reserved for you in heaven. You have already heard about this hope in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. It is bearing fruit and growing all over the world, just as it has among you since the day you heard it and came to truly appreciate God’s grace.

Colossians 1:3-6

Making a practice of thanksgiving transforms our attitude to the good things of this life, enables us to be resilient when circumstances are difficult, and orients us towards our ultimate hope in Christ. When we don’t feel thankful, praying a prayer of thanksgiving with the help of Scripture may very well lead to a deeper experience of gratitude.

Supplication

If you were to ask most people what prayer is, I’m guessing many, if not most, would say that prayer is asking God for stuff. Now, when I say stuff, I don’t only mean possessions. I mean that we ask God to act on our behalf. We ask for help. We ask God to provide. We ask God to heal a sick loved one. This kind of prayer is called petitionary prayer or, as the “A.C.T.S.” model says, supplication. It means to request something from God.

And isn’t it interesting that in the “A.C.T.S.” model of prayer that prayers of supplication are last?

This is similar to the Lord’s Prayer, which begins with prayers for the hallowing of God’s name, the coming of his kingdom, and the fulfilling of his will. Only then do we offer prayers for our daily bread. As far as prayers of petition go, Paul gives us the best example outside of Jesus himself:

Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Philippians 4:6

I do think, though, that learning to pray prayers of adoration, confession, and thanksgiving has an effect on what we see as needs. It shapes our perspective and priorities. At the same time, we are encouraged by God to pray for our every need.

We don’t always discern well between wants and needs, and I think growing in our discipleship to Jesus is in part the process of becoming more discerning in this very way. Prayer, especially when we take our cues from Scripture, is a training ground of the heart.

So that’s the “ A.C.T.S.” model of prayer. If you’re the sort of person who finds it hard to know where to start praying, I think it’s a helpful guide. Should you choose to make use of it, let it be a doorway into prayer, into deeper communion with the God to whom you pray. It’s not meant to be a legalistic formula. Instead, it’s an invitation to enter more fully into the presence our Creator and Redeemer. So may he bless you as you bring your praises, gratitude, your open heart, and your needs to him.

A Prayer for Trust in a Time of Anxiety

“Most loving Father, you will us to give thanks for all things, to dread nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on the One who cares for us. Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, and grant that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested unto us in your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Don’t Stop at the Yard Sale!

This morning I was driving along the main road of our municipality to pick up something from Tim Horton’s. At several places along the side of the road, there were yard sales. People hoping to rid themselves of items they no longer want or need.

Recently I helped my twin sons clean their room. A number of things went to the curb for garbage day, including stuff we had once purchased and imbued with value. Things our sons haven’t used or needed in a long time.

And, dare I say, in my basement there are still–still!–several boxes that remain unpacked from moving here seven years ago. Yes, you heard me correctly. And how sad is that? Clearly, the stuff in those boxes is very important to us. I should rent one of those dumpsters that I sometimes see people use after a basement has been flooded and they need to toss away all the damaged items.

Even now, when my wife and I are thinking about what to get our kids for Christmas or for their birthdays, we take into consideration the space we have in our home and whether or not the gift will be of genuine value and worth spending money on. Or will it end up on the curb sooner than later? Caveat emptor, indeed.

Sometimes, of course, we keep stuff for sentimental reasons. We hold onto special items which remind us, for example, of our late parents. Things often hold our memories. They tell our history. We have three storage containers–one for each of our kids–that contain examples of school work, report cards, art, etc.

All in all, we definitely have a relationship with our stuff. Our things are one of the ways we signal to others who we are–or who we want people to think we are. This is true whether we’re speaking of the clothes we wear, the books on our shelves, or the trinkets and novelty items we collect and display.

This makes me think of this parable Jesus told:

“A rich man’s land was very productive. He thought to himself, ‘What should I do, since I don’t have anywhere to store my crops? I will do this,’ he said. ‘I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones and store all my grain and my goods there. Then I’ll say to myself, “You have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy; eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.”‘ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared-whose will they be?’ “That’s how it is with the one who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

Luke 12:16-21

The guy in this parable has upside down priorities. His vision was entirely earth-bound. He was spiritually myopic. Jesus effectively unveils how we can become very easily attached to and distracted by material possessions.

Think about it: how many of us have storage sheds, storage closets, or whole rooms dedicated to storing stuff we don’t really use?

But we might use it. You never know. Better to hang onto it. Just in case.

As I was driving by the various yard sales this morning, I pretty much knew that stopping to check them out was a bad idea for a couple of reasons. One, I don’t really need anything at any of these yard sales. Two, I probably wouldn’t find anything that I really want at these yard sales. But just in case I might, I remind myself of my first reason for not stopping.

Seeing these yard sales also made me realize a good reason for not having my own yard sale. Most items at most yard sales don’t get bought. I’m guessing. Which means that if it’s your yard sale, you have to bring everything you tried to sell but didn’t back into your house. That’s a lot of back and forth to try and get rid of some stuff. My curb is much closer and more convenient.

I have the sneaking suspicion that when it comes to stuff–my stuff, for instance–that two things are true. First, I would find it hard to part with a good portion of my stuff. What if I want it later? After all, I spent money on that! The truth is, when we hold onto our stuff, often our stuff holds onto us. Second, if I were to get rid of some stuff that I find it harder to part with, I really doubt I would miss it all that much. Ironic, isn’t it?

Nowadays I’m a little more circumspect when it comes to shopping. Do I really need this? Will it be well used and serve a valuable purpose in our home? Or will it instead be one more item that ends up neglected and taking up space? If I find it hard to get rid of some stuff because I feel guilty for having spent money on something I don’t really use, that should make me more cautious about buying new stuff.

Not only that, but I want to be more self-aware of my motivations. When I was younger, I would sometimes shop just to shop. You know how it is. You go to Wal-Mart (or when I was growing up Zellers or K-Mart) or whereever, not because you have specific things you need to buy. You’re window shopping. Just looking around. I’m more aware than I used to be that the impulse to spend and buy is often rooted in a longing for meaning, for identity, for happiness, for peace. Because we all know the initial excitement of getting something new. There’s that little buzz we feel. The new thing we’ve bought gives us pleasure and distracts us from the deeper feelings of pain and loss. But of course that fades. And many people, when this happens, go shopping again.

Did I mention that I very nearly hate going to Wal-Mart these days?

Like Jesus says through his parable, when we are focused on our material possessions we are at risk of putting ourselves in spiritual peril. But when we are instead rich toward God, even the things we do have and keep no longer hold onto us. So, yes, enjoy some of your stuff for what it is. Don’t count on it to be what it can never be. And get rid of whatever things have become more of a burden than a blessing in your life. If it keeps you from trusting in and loving God, it’s best not to have it at all. Because, as Jesus says elsewhere, For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

A Collect for Bedtime

“O God, your unfailing providence sustains the world we live in and the life we live: Watch over those, both night and day, who work while others sleep, and grant that we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other’s toil; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”