Prayer, Plain and Simple

Prayer, Plain and Simple

Roman Polanski’s Case for Grace has Nothing to Do with Genius

posted by Mark Herringshaw

 art_polanski_roman_gi.jpgFrench authorities are bending over backwards today to defend Roman Polanski after authorities arrested the filmmaker on a 30 year old sexual abuse warrant. The point: He’s an artistic genius. Frederic Mitterrand, the French culture and communications minister, said “he wants to remind everyone that Roman Polanski benefits from great general esteem” and has “exceptional artistic creation and human qualities.” The problem: Polanski pleaded guilty in 1977 to having unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl – U.S. officials say he drugged and raped her – then fled to France before sentencing.

 

Perhaps sympathy and grace are called for here, but is the case for mercy based on Polanski’s “exceptional artistic creation and human qualities”? In other words, is God’s justice doled out differently from person to person, based on aptitude? We’d better hope not!

 

There’s a similar story in the Old Testament when King David, at the height of his power and influence seduced and “stole” another man’s wife, conceived a child by her, then had her husband, one of his loyal officers, killed. God did not overlook this injustice. He sent Nathan the prophet to confront David. Though he was King, he was in fact subject to the same laws of right and wrong that governed even the lowest rungs of society. There are not positional exceptions to God’s standards. It is perhaps the first case in history of what we now call “The rule of law” – that justice to an outside standard applies to everyone irrespective of power or wealth or popularity or genius. Everyone is judged by the same standard, in God’s eyes. As the Bible puts it, “God is no respecter of persons…”

 

Roman Polanski may have a case to appeal his sentence, but that case has nothing to do with the fact that millions of people respect him as a storyteller and social commentator. His only validation of grace is that God himself is merciful and judges none of us by what we deserve, and that he asks us to balance justice with mercy in our civic systems, just as he does in his “Kingdom of Heaven.” If Polanski wants mercy, he needs to ask for it the same way anyone would, and not hide behind the scrim of his fame and genius.  

 

Our right to prayer to God is anchored in this profound and simple fact: We all approach God on level ground. I’m no artistic genius and most of you reading this are not either. Still, we can come to God asking for mercy, no matter what we’ve done, knowing that his willingness to give mercy is not conditioned on our worthiness but on his willingness and on our appeal in Jesus’ name.

 

If you need pardon today, come to God asking for mercy. He’ll give it…

“God, I come to you asking for mercy. I don’t deserve pardon, either because of who I am or what I’ve done. I know I’m in need of forgiveness merely because I can’t help myself out of this fix. I appeal to your heart of love and compassion and I come in Jesus name knowing that he has taken my place and borne my punishment. That is my plea: guilty, but pardoned in Jesus’ name. Thank you!”

“No Fear Here”

posted by Mark Herringshaw

The LORD is my light and my salvation–whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life–of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1).

 

One day when my youngest son was just a toddler I was walking in the woods with him in a backpack. Up ahead, about 50 yards down the trail I suddenly saw a big momma bear and her twin cubs walk out of the trees. She turned and starred at me, then took one step in my direction.  A jolt of adrenaline – FEAR – flushed through me. Our Samoyed, Ransom was beside me and he barked. I yanked on his leash, turned on a dime and ran the other direction as fast as I could. Poor Michael! He bounced and jostled on my back and of course had no idea of the real danger. In that case, fear was a good thing, a very good thing. The energy it flushed into my system gave me strength to run a 100 yards that might have given me a gold medal in the Olympics. Fear can be a good. When there’s a mamma bear in the woods, fear is God’s provision!

 

Our problem of course is that the emotion of fear can’t differentiate between a real threat and a false threat.  Quite often our remarkable, God-given ability to imagine the future kicks in the wrong way and we imagine threats that aren’t there. We imagine a terminal disease, bankruptcy, our children’s demise, infidelity in our marriage, a pending pink slip. These scenarios may or may not be real. That makes no difference to our emotions. When we picture a threat, our fear-system pushes the alarm just as quickly as it does when the danger is real and present.

 

The only way to overrule our instinct to fear the future is to reboot our imagination with an alternative picture of reality, a picture given to us by God. That’s called faith. Faith is imagination. Hebrews 11 says it’s the “assurance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.” Again, faith is imagination – our inner picture of the future that aligns with God’s determined picture of the future. 

 

All of us face fears. But here’s the question: Are the things I fear based on God’s picture of the future or mine? What has God said about tomorrow? What promises has he given? He’s promised that he’ll never leave me alone. He’s promised that he will meet all my needs. He’s promised the fight on my behalf, and win! He’s promised… As I reconfigure my imagination based on his promises, I can trump the instinct of fear. Here’s a prayer for this principle:

 

“God, you have made big promises to me. I don’t see all these promises coming true right now, but I decide right now to let your words and not my fears depict my picture of the future. Please help me believe and see, ahead of time, an image of my life as you intend it to be. I can’t control my fears, but I can replace them with an imagination filled with images that you create. God, superimpose faith over the fears that cripple me. Remind me now of your promises: provision, forgiveness, healing, rescue, your endless love! Thank you for a new future and a new hope. I am not a victim of fear, thanks to your great and precious promises, promises you ALWAYS keep!”

“Hope Takes a Miracle – Ask for it!”

posted by Mark Herringshaw

If you’re anything of a sports fan, then you know the feeling. Your team is down and time is running out. Anxiety and doom begin to settle over everyone. And then, strangely, through some subtle shift in the air, a sense of change arises. Hope… There’s a certain sweet aroma to hope. Often it has no visible base. The team is still down on the scoreboard. The clock is still ticking or it’s still the bottom of the 9th inning, yet an intuition of certainty takes over and you know, you just “know” a comeback is on the way. It’s the wonder of momentum and every coach would love to know the secret formula that creates it.

When things look bleak, when the score seems out of reach, when all facts and logic say the game is really over before it’s over, that’s when we need the miracle of hope that turns momentum. As in sports, so in all areas of life. When we’re up against the wall, down and out, and at the end of the rope, we have a choice to make: We can either fold and give in, or we can stand, ask for Outsider help, and then look and expect to find a sign – even a very small sign – that the winds are shifting and momentum is moving to our side.

There’s a great story in the Jewish scriptures (I Kings 18:41f) about this very mystery. Israel was in the grips of a terrible drought. Elijah the prophet climbed to the top of Mt. Carmel, on the north coast of Israel and there he prayed and asked God to send rain. He prayed passionately, but nothing happened. He repeated his prayer, and then sent his assistant to look out over the Mediterranean to see if any clouds had risen. Nothing. Elijah did this seven times – praying and then looking for evidence of a change. Finally, after the seventh persistent prayer Elijah’s assistant came back and said, “No real change, except for a small cloud about the size of my fist…” Elijah jumped up. “That’s it,” he yelled, and he ran down the mountain to tell Israel’s King. Sure enough, in short order  a mighty story brought a torrent of rain. Elijah prayed; he looked for a shift in momentum; when he saw the smallest sign, he took it as a fact and acted.

This is for us. Today you might be in a drought financially, or with your health, or in a relationship. Maybe there’s no reason to hope. Maybe you feel like the game is over before it really is. There’s still a hope for the momentum of hope to change. Pray. Ask God for an answer, then look for a small hint that the winds are shifting. That’s hope. And hope takes a miracle. God does miracles. If you need hope, ask him, then keep watch for the subtle little movements that indicate a comeback!

“God, you are the God of hope! You are the God of the impossible. You say that you will make a way where there is no way. You divide oceans, and raise the dead, and create rain in droughts and food where there is no food. You can do this. We want to believe it. But sometimes our emotions look at the facts and all we can feel is doom. We ask now for all those who feel the tide of momentum against them. Give them courage to ask one more time for an answer. Then give the stamina to keep asking and keep looking for and expecting a shift in momentum. Give them eyes to see even small changes, and give them a heart to believe again and to thank you ahead of time for the answer, and then to act quickly once the first hint of movement arrives! Hope comes!”

A Prayer by Forrest Church

posted by nsymmonds

A writer, friend of Beliefnet, and leader in the Unitarian Universalist church, Forrest Church has passed away. We here at Beliefnet have had the opportunity to work with him and publish his writing on the site, the latest of which was a prayer he contributed for our gallery, “Christian Prayers About Jobs and Money“. We wanted to share that prayer with the Prayer Plain and Simple readers. We also ask that you would keep his family and friends in your prayers.

 

Spirit of Light and Love

By Forrest Church

Spirit of light and love, Creator and Sustainer, God of many names, Sometimes the burdens I shoulder feel like more than I can bear. I am terrified I shall break under their pressure, My wallet flattened, My hopes broken, My dreams in dust, My mind staggering, Under the crushing weight of uncertainty.

As I struggle with my fears, And work to hold my creditors at bay, As I fight to regain a financial foothold And hope against hope To reverse my fall, Uplift my heart, oh God. Rekindle my faith. Make me mindful of thy many gifts, Lest, overwhelmed by the threats to my well-being, I forget them, And I forget you.

This is my prayer: to pray for what I have, To pray for health, if I am graced with health; To pray for love, if blessed with loved ones, Who offer me the priceless gift of love’s embrace. Remind me to pray, if I am blessed to be a parent, for the treasure of children; To pray for the wealth of friends, who stand beside me through my bleakest days, And share my pain.

In this veil of tears and trouble, Raise my sights to look out upon the many beacons, Shining their light upon my life. Remind me to give thanks for those, Who reach out to take my hand, Who walk with me and stand by me, Who raise my spirits by their presence, Whose smile brightens my view, And lifts my heart, And gives me joy.

For if I pray for the wonders that are mine To savor this very day, These, the most precious, of my prayers will come true. I shall again unwrap the present, Give thanks for thy many gifts. My lifeline will be strengthened, My perspective widened, And for one brief, shining moment, The shadows will lift from my heart. So it is I offer up my thanks.

So it is I utter forth, oh God, From the depth of my soul, This grateful prayer of gratitude and praise.

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