Thursday, August 27, 2009

Protecting Your Integrity

Several years ago my dad and I went woodcutting together. It was incredible! He taught me how to use a chain saw at a time when I desperately needed a boost in self-confidence. It was empowering to wield the noisy machine and slice through the felled tree on my Aunt’s property.

We worked from opposite ends to cut the tree into eighteen-inch chunks. Then he showed me how to look for a crack in the core to place the wedge and hit it with a sledgehammer to split each round. After I split each one, he chopped the rest into firewood with his axe and we stacked the wood in the truck.

“Shouldn’t I split it more than once for you?” I asked.

“No, once you’ve compromised the integrity of the wood, it’s not hard to break the rest of it down.”

Wow! I knew what he meant by integrity: unimpaired, sound, whole. But my mind immediately jumped to the common definition of integrity: upright, honest, trustworthy, and faithful.

That’s exactly what the enemy does. He looks for our weak spots where he can set his wedge and hammers away until we break. If we give in, and our integrity is compromised, it will be much easier to succumb to temptation the next time, and the next, until we’re completely broken. Once we give in it can become the road to a tragic end. I’ve found that the best way to protect my integrity is to be aware of my weaknesses and constantly rely on God to be my strength.

Whenever I become so sure of myself that I think I’m invincible, that’s when I’m sure to blow it! God promises we’ll never be tempted more than we can bear, and when we are He will show us an escape route. All we have to do is ask.

“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” 1 Co. 10:12-13

Chopping firewood that day with Dad not only warmed me twice, when we did the work and when I enjoyed toasty fires that winter. It also warned me twice, by reminding me how easy it is to compromise integrity and by giving me an illustration I’ll always remember.

~ (c) Beth Vice, August 2009

Praying Like Pooh Bear: What is your prayer character?

I don’t watch a lot of cartoons these days, but the few times I have caught part of a new show, I sigh with longing for the days of Winnie the Pooh. I used to tape episodes and save them to watch with my girls at lunchtime or on family night. My husband and I enjoyed them as much as our girls because of the humor and genuineness of the characters. Each one embodies their own brand of foolishness, but the friends stick together. Relationships are mended, problems solved and joy continues in Hundred Acre Wood.

I don’t know what made me think of it the other day, but as I was praying, I suddenly realized how much I sounded like Eeyore. While I love the little gray donkey, I know that he is not a good model for prayer. The more I thought about it, I decided that Pooh is really the only character I would want to emulate. He is whole-heartedly devoted to Christopher Robin and his friends and the hero of every story, yet he manages to make a mess of things with consistent regularity. Christopher always forgives his little bear for his bungling efforts to solve problems on his own, and gently chides him for not calling for help sooner.

Can a cartoon be so rich in spiritual application, or have I just watched too many of them? I can see so many of my own prayer-sins fleshed out in this group of friends. I have a feeling, however, you will too.

Eeyore: The Faithless Prayer
When I pray like Eeyore, it goes something like this: Oh Lord, I’m having an awful hard time here (not that anybody cares, mind you). I wonder if you might help me out a little. I hope you decide to answer me, but I know it will probably take days, weeks, months…who knows how long.... before you get around to thinking about me. Hope to hear from you, but I’m not holding my breath.
Jesus had an encounter with a man with some Eeyore tendencies. The disciples had been unable to cast a demon out of his son that had controlled him since childhood, so he went to Jesus for help. His request? “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us."
Jesus answered, “'If you can!' Everything is possible to one who has faith."
Then the boy's father cried out, "I do believe, help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:17-24)

Sometimes I find myself saying this same kind of prayer, in a mournful, Eeyore voice and Jesus answers me much the same way. “What do you mean, if I can? Have you forgotten who I am?” He reminds me that He is the all-powerful Creator, the ultimate Healer, and my loving Savior. He not only can help me, but He wants to and will if only I will believe. So my prayer becomes, “Help me overcome my unbelief!”

Rabbit: The Controlling Prayer
Then there’s Rabbit, the Controller. I imagine his prayer would go something like this: Oh gracious God of heaven and earth… there are a few things I need to talk over with you. Here’s my list of the items I thought you might want to take care of. I am having trouble with those pests who are destroying my garden and I want you to get rid of them for me. With regards, your most humble and gracious servant, Rabbit.

When I pray Rabbit prayers, they have the guise of honor, but in reality are ‘to do’ lists for God. I want Him to get rid of the pesky pests that eat the fruit of my labor and sneak into my abode, but I offer no praise or love. It’s not a prayer of relationship, but a consumer attitude for my own pleasure and comfort.

James talks about this kind of prayer, saying, “You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4:2-10) He points out that the problem with this kind of praying is pride. The solution is submission to God and His will. Not an easy task. Yet I find that when I pray out of a desire for intimacy with God, I come with a blank page ready to write down His ‘to do’ list rather than reading Him mine.

Piglet: The Anxious Prayer
Poor little Piglet, so timid and afraid: Dddear Father, I’m afraid that there is such terrible danger lurking nearby. I’m such a very small animal and you’re such a great and awesome God. I would like to be bbbrave, but you know that I am not very strong and the world can be such a scary place. I have heard there are heffalumps in the woods that might eat me up, so I think I will just stay here with you and not go anywhere dangerous today.

This cowardly attitude is one of the things God said would happen to His people if they forgot about Him. “…Those of you who survive in the lands of their enemies I will make so fainthearted that, if leaves rustle behind them, they will flee headlong, as if from the sword, though no one pursues them; stumbling over one another as if to escape a weapon, while no one is after them.” (Leviticus 26:35-37) When I take my eyes off God, fear and worry about everything that might happen takes over.

Psalm 37 is my all time favorite cure for the Piglet sin-drome. The writer pats my little Piglet hand and tells me not to fret, to trust in the Lord, and that even though it may look for a moment like evil is winning, God will conquer in the end. Trust, do good, delight, commit, be still, and God will rescue His faithful ones. Even those of us with very little strength of our own will stand firm to the end when we make God our stronghold and place of refuge.

Tigger: The Self-Centered Prayer
I love Tigger, don’t you? He is so full of energy and enthusiasm. But he can also be annoyingly self-centered. I can hear his prayer now: Hullo God! Hey, I want to thank you for my beautiful stripes and for making me such a fun and bouncy guy. Hoo hoo hoo! It’s great to be the only one of my kind, ya know. Well, I guess that’s all. TTFN, ta ta for now! And off he goes to do what Tiggers do best, which is whatever he feels like.

I have been guilty of bouncing into God’s presence all full of myself and then bouncing off to do my thing without once pausing to listen to what He has to say. I thank Him for this or that and ask for more stuff to make life fun, but it’s all about me.

Instead, Jesus gave us an example of the kind of prayer that focuses on God and our relationships with those around us. He said, " Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:9-13, New Living Translation)

Roo: The Immature Prayer
Then there’s little Roo. He’s innocent and easily enthused, but very young and ignorant. His prayer might sound like this: Hey God, Tigger invited me to go heffalump hunting and I’m going to be the first to have one mounted on my wall! Won’t that be cool, Lord? Mama doesn’t want me to go cause it might be dangerous, but Tigger says he’s got that all figured out. Well, bye God.

There must have been little Roo’s even in Solomon’s day, because he wrote: “Without knowledge even zeal is not good; and he who acts hastily, blunders.” (Proverbs 19:2) When I pray with great enthusiasm but no wisdom, God must shake His head and smile saying, “Here we go again.”

Maturity in prayer only comes from spending time in the Bible, getting to know what God says about heffalump hunting, or any other endeavor we might get excited about. Enthusiasm is great, but running fast in the wrong direction still gets you nowhere.

Kanga: The Status Quo PrayerBeing a mother, I have to admit that I have always kind of favored Kanga. However, I realize that she can be a bit of a stick in the mud. Her prayer would be cautious and anxious for the safety of those close to her: Oh Lord, my son is so fired up about this hunting expedition with Tigger, but I just don’t know that it’s safe. We’ve never gone to that part of Hundred Acre Wood before. I’m afraid that it just might be too dangerous for my little Roo. Maybe when he’s older...

I hear a lot of that kind of prayer coming from my mouth when my loved ones or church leaders start talking about plans that sound risky or daring. To be honest, it scares me. I’m comfortable with the way things have always been done and it makes me nervous when people start talking about new ways to reach people for God.

However, Jesus praised the woman who risked going beyond the status quo to touch Him. “A woman suffering hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the tassel on his cloak. She said to herself, ‘If only I can touch his cloak, I shall be cured.’ Jesus turned around and saw her, and said, ‘Courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you.’ And from that hour the woman was cured.” (Matthew 9:20). I want to be so desperate for God that I am willing to go outside my comfort zone and see miracles of healing take place.

Pooh Bear: The Trusting Prayer
Finally, we come to our pudgy friend and the Pooh Bear prayer: Good morning God, I really do love you. Your Word is like HONEY! I love being here with you; you are the best kind of Friend there is. I want to share your love with the others in Hundred Acre Wood, but, oh bother, I always make a mess of things. Will you help me?

Here is Pooh - with a head full of fluff, who struggles with honey addiction, continually fails in his attempts to do the impossible, and generally creates disaster wherever he goes. However, Pooh’s heart and motives are pure and he always asks for forgiveness when he does wrong.

This is what God loves. He says, “If my people, upon whom my name has been pronounced, humble themselves and pray, and seek my presence and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven and pardon their sins and revive their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14) That’s why I want to pray like Pooh Bear, because it pleases my heavenly Father. God hears that kind of prayer and responds to it with forgiveness and blessing.

~ (c) Beth Vice, August 2009