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Prayer, Plain and Simple

I believe God does bargain, but his terms are high stakes. Most of the time I don’t have courage to stay in the game. I fold my hand before the bidding starts. Here’s another clip from Six Prayers God Always Answers – a dare to play poker with Jesus!

Martin Luther had a quick wit and a quicker tongue, and throughout his life said things he had good reason to later regret. Luther had already received a Master’s degree, when in 1505, at his father’s urging, he enrolled in law school. One day as he walked near the university a lightning bolt struck so near him that in panic he cried out, “Help, St. Anne! I’ll become a monk!” The storm passed. His life was spared.

He regretted his words. Yet, Luther kept his promise. Against his father’s wishes, Luther dropped law school and entered an Augustinian monastery where he applied himself fully to the meritorious systems of Medieval Catholicism.

A monk’s life encompassed bargain after bargain. Luther, like the pre-Christian Saul of Tarsus, excelled in cutting good-works deals with his Creator. He fasted, repented, served the poor, and vigorously studied both ancient and contemporary scholastic theologians. In 1510, Luther even walked 850 miles to Rome, crawling up the steps of St. Peter’s Cathedral to prove he deserved a hearing before God. 

But ten years of such rigor moved him no closer to God. His bargains all felt one-sided. The harder he pressed, the deeper the silence. God eluded him. His prayers were not answered.

Then one day in 1514, Luther was locked away in his study, on the second floor of a tower attached to the seminary where he taught. He was reading Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Suddenly another lightning bolt struck. Though it was only metaphoric, this one didn’t miss.

Luther was working his way through the first chapter when he came to the words, “righteousness that is by faith… ” Suddenly, his whole world tilted 180 degrees.

Negotiations with God were closed. The deal had been sealed 1,500 years earlier when Jesus had exchanged his perfection for our brokenness. In a flash, Luther realized his monkish pandering was all nonsense. To bargain with God was to presume the parties hold currencies of equal value. The reality, Luther realized was that we hold nothing of substance at all.

To offer God compensation for his favors is insulting, like offering to pay the host of an extravagant feast with the change in our pocket. The very currency we offer to pay our debt–obedience, good works, faithfulness–is the very stuff of which heaven is made. Like the rich man with the suitcase of gold bricks, we’re proudly pouring out pieces of asphalt and chunks of cement. And God is just smiling at the pathetic mess we’re making.

We have nothing of worth to offer him. Our currency holds no value in his kingdom. And even if there were a way for us to exchange our currency for his, he is far too generous to ever be fairly compensated. Instead, all we need do is accept the gift as given. But in asking to receive that gift we are in essence exchanging our life–for his Son’s.

What is the currency of heaven?

Life.

Our life is the only cash God will accept.

What are the rules of commerce?

Ask.

Receive.

Get more than you bargained for.

I’m getting in the game. You?

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