Armed with Prayer

LORD, SHOW ME WHERE I BELONG?

World War II began September 1, 1939.  My father was in the Polish army reserve and had to report back to his unit without notice.  He was put in charge of two horses pulling an old rusty canon and lined it up against German Tiger tanks.  It took the Germans less than a minute to wipe out his contingent.  He and another man were the only survivors.  It took them several days to crawl back to their headquarters.  And without anyone supporting their report, they were to be shot for desertion.  An officer from another unit had lost his men and was looking for survivors.  My father quickly said that he belonged to that officer’s unit and the kind officer replied, “If he says, he does then he does.  I need men.”  Father’s life was spared because he was able to say that he belonged.  I am facing the same thing regarding my relationship with others and with Christ.

Belonging secures our identity when our standing before man or God is being questioned.  Luke, the Gentile Evangelist was a keen student of the early beginnings of Jesus’ ministry and he preserved this statement of Jesus. “I tell you, whoever shall confess me before men, him will the Son of man also confess before the angels of God; but he that denies me before men, I will also deny him before the angels of God.  Also, whoever shall speak ill of the Son of man, it will be forgiven him; but he that blasphemes against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven” (Lk. 12:8-10).  To belong requires adherence to as small a rule as a dress coat.  Even the closest friend must blend in.   In The Parable of the Wedding Banquet, one guest did not identify with the other guests and he was evicted immediately (Mt. 22:1-14).  The bond that makes us belong is internal and not external.  It becomes external after the internal is confident that one can be at one with someone we can trust.  This something is simple down to earth faith.  Jesus did not find it among his own people, but in a Roman officer who believed that Jesus needed but to speak the word and his servant would be healed and so he was.  Gentiles from all over the world will belong with the Patriarchs and their own descendants will not (Mt. 8:5-13). 

Next to simple faith comes being suitable.  The principle of suitability is a male and a female and not two males or two females.  No new life can come forth from two males or two females.  The closest bond of belonging is between a man and a woman.  The next is the family.  The same principle applies to our religious orientation.  Jesus is the male or bridegroom and his followers are the females or the brides.  The Parable of the Ten Virgins is an example on suitability (Mt. 25:1-13).  The word “virgin” itself implies purity and holiness, devoid of immorality.  Their lamps were their lives and the oil was the ability to shine at night in a dark world.  Five virgins kept their lamps filled with oil and the procrastinators could not.  He identified with the wise and rejected the foolish.  John the Baptist identified Christ as the bridegroom. “The bride belongs to the bridegroom.  The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice” (Jn. 3:29).  Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles, equated the suitability between marriage and belonging to Christ.  “Husbands love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:25-26).

The Baptist and Paul were and still are puzzling.  Very much like Nicodemus, who came to Jesus by night and searched for an answer, how an older person could get into the wedding or kingdom with Christ?  How does one become a baby and be born again?  The issue was not becoming an infant again but a person that turns his or her back on sin and a perverted world that alienates man from God and everything that Christ represents.  In Nicodemus’ life, it was not personal sin, but the inability to break away from a system that had a confused view of what the Messiah represented.   It was his mind and spirit that were tied to Phariseeism that needed changing.  Jesus told him, “I tell you the truth, unless a person is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (Jn. 3:5-8).  Nicodemus was a teacher and did not feel the new breeze hitting his face, that demanded repentance, renewal, and reform.  His old system crashed the people and drove them away from their own Messiah.  Their fathers had hid the light or buried the Law of God with their traditions (Mk. 7:1-13).  Could we have become guilty of similar distortions?  Could “come as we are” to God be one of them?

My suitable “help mate” and I have been married over fifty-four years and our voices in our ears are a clear as a bell.  I have no problem identifying the voices of the members of my family and quite a few voices of friend and acquaintances.  Yet, when it comes to Christ, I have not always listened, rather read what He said that has been recorded for us.  Interpreters have far too often influenced my own interpretation.  During my defense of my Doctoral dissertation, one examiner accused me of listening to one hundred fifty experts and not to Jesus.  Actually, he wanted to know, what the text rather; than the interpreters said to me.  Yes, I was disappointed and it took me another year to spend time with Jesus and this liberal examiner proved to be right.  Jesus began to sound different and far more definite to my ears without the ears of others.  Like the Baptist, one has to belong or become a friend of Jesus to hear his voice (Jn. 3:29).  It is a friendship based on doing what Jesus commands.  “Greater love has no one than this, that one lays down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command” (Jn. 15:13-14).   John, Chapter 10, is the heart of friendship for me and it records the words of Jesus that are music to my ears and I pray that you too shall hear them.  Here are some excerpts.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen.  I must bring them also.  They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.  The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have the authority to lay it down and to take it back.  This authority I received from my Father” (Jn. 10:14-18).  Again Jesus answered, “I tell you, but you do not believe.  The work I do in my Father’s name testify for me; but you do not believe, because you are not my sheep.  My sheep listen to my voice.  I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life and they will never perish.  No one can pluck them out of my hand” (Jn. 10:25-28).  “He calls his sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought them out all his own, he goes before them and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.  But they will never follow a stranger.  In fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice” (Jn. 10:3-5).

I grew up on the farm and we had cows, sheep, pigs and chickens.  I would call and even push these animals and they would not listen; but, when the people who fed them signaled, they came running.  I watched a mother hen with her cheeks.  The hen was not afraid of me.  She sensed some danger and made a sound, sat down and her little chicks ran as quickly as they could and hid under her wings.  One time, I had to move her indoors and she would not budge.  I had to move her with her chicks.  Isaiah’s heavenly vision began, “Hear, O heavens!  Listen, O earth!  For the Lord has spoken: ‘I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me.  The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand’” (Isa. 1:22-3).  Perhaps one of our prayers should be, “Lord, help me to open my ears that I may hear your instructions again.  Show me where I belong!