PRAYER NEEDS AN ANCHOR OR ROAD MAP
I was twenty-one when I left home to live and travel on my own. I put six thousand miles between my folks and myself, before airplanes shrunk the planet. It took seven days on an ocean liner and four more days on a train to reach my destination. I ended up among people whose attitudes, customs, language and manners were completely unfamiliar to me and I became very lonely and homesick. The only thing I had to fall back on was my Mother’s Road map, “The prayer” in Psalm 119:9-11. “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”
My mother’s greatest fear was sin. She had her own definition of sin. It went far beyond the seven deadly sins or the Ten Commandments. She lived, as close to The Sermon on the Mount as anyone I have ever known. She took “Psalm One” literally, “Blessed is the person who does not follow the counsel of the wicked or joins in the way of sinners or sits where mockers sit. But his delight is in the Word of the Lord, and on his Word he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by a stream of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaves do not wither. Whatever he does, prospers.”
During the Nazi occupation, my mother did not attend a single meeting or party. When people were hiding and disposing their Bibles, my mother bought one from a leading Christian. My mother would not drink or eat anything that defiled her body, or allow a surgeon’s knife to alter any part of her body for fear that in the resurrection she may appear incomplete or unholy. She had a difficult time when all of her children, except one, were scared by death, accidents, illness and fire. She gave life to seven of us and infused her belief in all of us.
Sin has a character all its own. It is not as apparent as I was told. It was by those that had a taste of it; rather, it appeared somewhat glamorous and inviting. It is attired in an attractive garment called, “temptation.” Temptation is like walking in an orchard of apple trees filled with juicy red apples. I picked a few, and many of them had worms inside. My first temptation, I can remember, was when I was seven and my little friend was six. We were watching cows on the edge of our woods and we wondered how adults could stand all that smoking. We had tree leaves on the ground and decided to role two cigarettes and light them. We almost choked and burned our noses. My next escapade was even more humiliating. I was about eighteen and a relative and I went to East Germany to see neighbors of ours, who lived across the road from us in the Ukraine and in western Poland. They had four daughters. I went to school with two under Polish and then German occupation. Their uncle brewed his own liquor and with the help of my relative they slipped me one that put me out for the next twelve hours. The out was beneficial because I behaved badly toward a friend of the girls. After I regained my mental capacity, I did not mind to leave that place with a headache and with some embarrassment. This lesson has been serving me ever since. Good and beneficial things need no advertising, bad things do. In my travels, I discovered that apples with a bit of green in it were still free of worms.
I did fear the Lord God even as a young boy and I tried to live within the limits of God’s Words or Law, but my heart was not in it. I was never an unbeliever. The universe is far too large and complicated for me to assign its origin to human speculations. There had to be someone a lot smarter than our scientists to design a system that can run on its own; or even make a creature like a man who, too, can function on his own. I feel foolish even to think that things can just happen on their own. Even in my life, everything that has happened was caused by something. Some of the things I caused and others set some in motion. Everything is predestined by what we do. When I came to a crossroad, I was fortunate to have my Mother’s Road map with me and I began to rebuild my life with a new purpose for living in this world. From then on, the Bible became “a lamp for my feet and light for my path” (Ps. 119:105). In particularly, I began to anchor in Jesus as the “Light” I had to follow (Jn. 1:4).
The Bible, especially the practical teachings of Jesus, in the Gospels, have been superb guides on my journey through my earthly pilgrimage. It has been a pilgrimage because my life has not been smooth sailing. I did not travel on a big ocean, but on a narrow road. Jesus’ teachings helped me shape my destiny, even under adverse conditions. How I lived and what I did determined where I ended up till now and ultimately in eternity. It is the irreversible law of “cause and effect” and it controls both good and evil. Even the good, if it is not guarded and taken care of, will turn bad. Not too long ago, we had blueberry bushes, raspberries and strawberries galore. I neglected to replace them with new seedlings, and in a short time, we had nothing. My wife and I had a fairly good vegetable garden and we had chickens and ducks. We let nature take over and in no time nature disposed of everything. We did not manage as God had preordained for us to do (Gen. I: 26).
There is one more thing my mother left with me and that is, it was up to me to keep myself clean and not up to God. It was not God’s job to tend to myself, but my own. Until eternity enters my life, I am in my own hands and not in God’s hands. It took me eighty–four years to realize that my mother was right. God’s guidelines and laws are as good as my willingness to abide by them. These laws, by themselves, do not keep me clean. At best, they remind me how inadequate I am; rather, how unwilling I am to improve my life. My mother had this strange idea that I could not wrap myself in love and grace before I did what was right by cleaning up my acts. If I was not doing what was right, I had no right to expect to receive what is right. Grace and love were not gifts that we received, but gifts that we gave to others without anyone knowing it. It was what Jesus would do unannounced. It was a very simple theology. Grace was love and love put bread on the table. We lived through some harsh times when grace and love were stressed out and faith hung on a thread.
Faith for me went through some phases. God, the Creator and Christ, the Savior are absolute necessities for me. I cannot explain my existence or my destiny with out them. With regard to my journey through life, faith had to adjust to emerging needs. Deeds and works began to govern my faith. I was not permitted the luxury to hang on to some substance that made my faith viable. I did put my trust in things that did not last. My parents lost three farms in Europe and my wife and I lost two debt free homes in America. We lost them because we had to borrow money to help our children to put bread on the table. So far, we all have survived. What kind of faith was at work while we managed to survive? It was our money loaner’s faith in our equity to pay them back. We could turn over our equity and live sufficiently well on one third of the cost; but, then we would destroy our credit, we all depend on. Thus, our faith is tied to this world, whether we like it or not. If we all go bankrupt, we wipe out this nation and others with us.
The cruel reality is that I have had to put my faith in the system that runs this world. I have to put some trust in mammon and learn to live in his world. He, too, has guidelines that I must adjust to just to earn my bread. I am not isolated from the world like my mother was. She stayed at home all her life and father had to deal with mammon and his friends. Not everything in mammon’s world is bad. It is for me to decide what is beneficial and what is not. It is for that reason that I do need Jesus’ direction to guide me in my choices. My mother’s world was much more simpler than mine is and so are my prayers.