I PRAY TO AVOID TRAPS
Jesus went with his disciples to the Mount of Olives and upon their arrival he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” After He himself had withdrawn three times to pray, He found his disciples asleep and exhausted from worrying. He asked them and said, “Why are you sleeping?” “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Lk. 22:39-46). I too pray to keep myself out of traps. Like Peter, I too am a bit hasty.
Peter trapped himself by his own words and so do we. We have this thing if our mouth called the tongue that says things we cannot keep. John Mark, Peter’s friend left us an interesting exchange between Jesus and Peter. Right after their last meal, they sang a hymn and Jesus said to the disciples, “You will all fall away, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter popped up, “Even if all fall away, I will not!” Jesus replied quietly, “Be careful, tonight before the rooster crows twice you will have denied me three times.” Peter insisted firmly, “Even if I have to die with you I will never deny that I know you.” All the others agreed with Peter (Mk. 14:26-31). The disciples trapped themselves with a commitment they could not keep. There are many times when we should say no rather than yes when situations need some heart searching (Mt. 5:37).
In The Parable of the Two Sons, Jesus provoked thinking on keeping promises. “There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ ‘I will not,’ said the son and later he changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.” Then Jesus asked his listeners, “Which of the two did what their father wanted?” The answer was obvious (Mt. 21:28-32). The Parable was intended to awaken the “yes people” from losing their chances of getting into the kingdom of heaven. Lip service is unacceptable in all commitments (Isa. 29:13). Our spirits may be willing to do things but our flesh is too week to do it (Mt. 26:41).
Our mouths are far too busy, at least mine is. I was about thirteen when a dashing German officer came to our youth group enticing able boys to join a special officers academy. One boy raised his hand. Yes, this one did. Wow, did I get the attention. A day later, I realized that I would be taken far away for my folks. I was overcome by fear and father had to bail me out. I was catching up my university entrance in a Christian Training Institute. An evangelist came to town and in one of the meetings he made us pledge the largest thing we had in our pockets. I had to surrender my only twenty Dollar living expenses for the month and it was in the beginning of the month. For the last sixty years I have never pledged again. I give what I can but without pledging. The only promise I made was to my wife and that was fifty-four years ago. I had people stop their pledges when they did not like my preaching. Our mother promised father that she would take care of him at home. Time came when she could not lift him up. It took two strong men to move him about. Mother had a nervous breakdown over her inability to keep her promise.
The minister that officiated at our marriage told us to sleep over problems before we try to solve them. It has been helpful over the years and kept us from entrapping ourselves. Unfortunately, many traps just spring up unexpectedly. Our first response is usually the one that demands apologies by swallowing our pride. It is easier and cheaper to be insulted than to insult. Personal experience comes in too late. It helps to turn to someone that thinks clearly when it is most needed. James, the half-brother of Jesus emerged as such a person. He knew how to deal with temper that gets us into most of the traps. “My dear brothers, take note of this, everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does” (Ja. 1:19-25). He echoed Jesus’ instruction, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mt. 5:11-12).
We do get agitated and our inside wants to blow over and explode. Occasionally we do and when we cool down and realize that we have turned a molehill into a mountain, we wish we had crawled into a mouse hole. How we wish we had tamed our tongue. It is the door to our heart or inside and somehow we cannot keep it shut. It is hung on loose hinges that squeak a lot and make unpleasant noises. James too had a tough time dealing with parishioners that kept lashing out at others. He wrote, “the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (Ja. 3:5-6). Should we presume that James was too severe on loose tongues and that Jesus will cover our floppy door to our heart then we are in big trouble. Jesus believed that his disciples and followers were accountable for controlling speech. “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of your heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Mt. 12:33-37). Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into a person’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him or her ‘unclean’” (Mt. 15:10).
Well, let’s close the trap before we get trapped. Paul the Apostle wrote to the pride inflated Corinthians, “If you think you stand, see to it that you do not fall” (I Cor. 10:12). James told his listeners that to brag or boast as to what we will or will not do is evil, (Ja. 4:13-16). An ancient saying states, “It is the empty heads of wheat that stand erect; the full heads bow modestly to the ground.” An Oriental Vizier carried with him on his trips an old mystery box. A persistent inquirer was permitted a glimpse inside and found a set of old working clothes. The traveler gave this reason, “Such was I when our sovereign deigned to lift me from the dust. If ever my heart is tempted with pride, I correct it by looking at these things and saying to myself, ‘Remember what thou wast'” (Wa.143)?