PRAY FOR INSIGHT INTO OUR PRAYERS
I have come to realize, that I lacked insight into my petitions because I do not think l like a child. Jesus stunned the people in his day with these words, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth for hiding these things from the wise and understanding and revealing them to babes. Yes, Father, it pleased you to reveal your will to children” (Mt. 11:25-26).
At the outset, one wonders about Jesus’ logic? His public prayer left the listeners with the impression that God deliberately concealed truth from his people. But if we probe into his thinking, we find that Jesus used this approach to stimulate interest. For instance, he used parables in his teaching with those who did not follow him and to the disciples he explained them (Mk.4: 33-34). This method awakened the audience and drove it to follow Jesus and learn more about him. Likewise, this prayer must have had a sobering affect on the crowd. It was directed, like an admonishment, against those who withheld truth from the people (Mt. 23:14).
The wise and knowledgeable did not have the secrets of God, but those, who were considered foolish and uneducated, got it from the Son of God. And there was a valid reason why this was so. The wise and prudent had no room in their hearts for new insight. Their hearts were filled with pride and self-righteousness. They fed their egos on the faults and failures of the common people. Jesus made this quite clear in the parable about the two men, who went into the Temple to pray. The Pharisee referred to the tax collector and reminded God how good he was in contrast to that sinner. The tax collector, however, did not even dare look up to heaven, struck his breast and begged God to be merciful to him a sinner (Lk. 18:9-10). The difference between the two men was that the Pharisee was full of himself, while the tax collector was empty. Hence, it was the one, who acknowledged his shortcomings, who allowed God to fill his heart with forgiveness and remorse.
Prayer ought to remind us of our shortcomings. I recall how my mother withdrew into the cellar and exposed vocally her concern for me to the Lord. Some of the things she shared were not favorable. She assumed things not in existence. Nevertheless, her prayers added greatly to the shaping of my life. Her wish to keep me within the will of God, spoke more potently than a hundred doe’s and don’ts. However, she did this in private and was not aware of me being near by. This method of telling the Lord, what we think of others in our prayers in public leaves much to be desired. Unfortunately, we hear many such public disclosures in Churches. The Lord was not fond of such prayers. A seminary student was sent out to preach. Prior to his delivery, one elder was asked to bless the sermon. It went like this, “Lord, we know this is a poor student. He knows little, but he tries. And we pray, bless his efforts.” Of course the sermon was no longer delivered with confidence, and the student would never again set foot in that church. Obviously, the elder was tactless. But, also the student overlooked a very basic fact; namely, the need to reflect on his own shortcomings. I, too, have been insulted more than once, and not just in my early days of preaching. I learned to swallow my pride, corrected my mistakes and continued. Later in life, as I looked back at these unpleasant incidents, I became aware of the fact that they were not entirely unjustified; but more than that, they helped me understand my own selfish petitions better and helped me be a better servant of man.
The reason Jesus used this method of praying was to make people aware of their self-styled wisdom, and lack of real understanding. Their knowledge blinded them from recognizing God’s will. Man’s wisdom is but foolishness to the Almighty (I Cor. 1:20-21). What appeared harsh at first, proved to be a blessing at the end. Jesus was thankful for the fact that God did not tie his promises to man’s limited understanding, but to those who like little children, who were willing to learn. The babes, rather than the wise were opening up to God’s revelation. They received insight, rather than those who thought they had it. The lack of insight into the dealings of God, with his people, was one of Jesus’ major concerns. He tried, with great difficulty, to bring light to his people, but their darkness prevailed. They kept stumbling over their own understanding. They had eyes, ears, and minds, but their function no longer aided them (Mt. 13:13). Instead, a heavy log blocked their sight (Mt. 7:5).
It is not an irreparable condition of inner blindness. We are creatures of habit and become acclimated to darkness. I was nine years old when the Nazis began to fill my mind with their ideology and I became convinced of their false representation of truth. Five years later, it all fell apart. They destroyed my ability to perceive, and then choose what was right. The Nazis were not the only ones that had clouded my mind. The world is filled with people, who want us to follow their trails, which lead nowhere. It is not easy to discern the spirits that mislead. I have become very cautious to promises that are unrealistic. There is an inner light in me where I, alone, operate the switch. I am weary if someone else is playing with my life or soul. Jesus had this warning, “The eye is the lamp of your body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness” (Mt. 6:22-23). Let us turn our switches on and compare ourselves to Matthew 5:14-16. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on a stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
The disciples did not grasp, what Jesus was driving at. They had big dreams, without understanding, what they were. Jesus called a little child and had the child stand among them. Then he said, “Verily I say unto you, if you do not convert and become like little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whosoever humbles himself like this little child, that one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And who receives such a child in my name, receives me” (Mt. 18:2-5). Mark had Jesus take the child in his arms, and then speak to his self-elevated disciples (Mk. 9:36). Like James and John, we ask for things we cannot have nor can we manage to have it (Mk. 10:35-45). A child does not want more than it needs and accepts cheerfully what it is being given. It will not choose the most expensive gift, but the one that catches the eye and fits into that little hand. My wife and I could predict what our children and grandchildren would pick because they placed no value on themselves as we adults do. We constantly presume, that we deserve better than who we are, and what we do with what we have.
Man’s downfall is his inability to know himself. It is the Socratic formula that dates back to Adam and Eve. We do what the people did in Socrates and in Jesus’ time and in Adam’s day. We do deliberately disconnect our mistakes from their consequences, because we do not understand who we are, and what we do with what we have. We are in essence fallen humans, who have yet to learn to curb our appetites for things that destroy us. It is when we think we have gained understanding that we find it filled with disappointments and sorrow. In the words of the Preacher, we are reaping vanity upon vanity. All our struggles and toils can end in one storm (Ecc. 1). When we were married, all our earthly goods fitted into the backseat of our car. At the end of the last administration, real estate had put us into the millionaires’ bracket. But before the year of the present administration ended, we were practically left with what we had in our backseat when we were first married. To correct unforeseen circumstances, we had to give it all up. At least, it was not the wind that blew it away. Now, we are content with our daily bread and a soft bed and feel a bit childlike.