Daily Devotional: You Can Be the Hero You Have always been waiting for

lords prayer 7

I continue looking at prayers that have both pulled me and others through personal trials and struggles.   In the last several posts I have looked at the Lord’s Prayer itself.

Here are the words of the Lord’s Prayer, as included in my United Church of Christ Book of Worship:

“Our Father,

Who art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our sins,

As we forgive those who sin against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil.

For this is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.  Amen.”

 

Today I continue to focus on “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”.

Hearing that phrase – “deliver us from evil” – strikes a chord with me today.

secondcomingGrowing up, the prayer “deliver us from evil” suggested a kind of helplessness toward the world around us.  In the Adventist “Church of God” church of my childhood, I remember many a stirring sermon about how Jesus would come some in the clouds, breaking into our world like lightning, in order to set right what had gone wrong in our society.   In those sermons, all of the problems of our world from pollution, to warfare, to poverty, would be described in minute detail.  Not to worry, we would be told, though they seem unsolvable, a solution is coming.  For when humanity reaches the end of our rope, Jesus will come again, riding in as hero to rescue, and will heal all that is broken in this world.

I still remember songs like the one below which were sung to celebrate this hope:

“  It won’t be long now till the world is at peace

Till troubles have ceased, it won’t be long.

It won’t be long now till the beauty we see

For the whole world will be, it won’t be long.

 

the-lion-and-the-lamb“The lamb will peacefully dwell with the lion,

The leopard will lie down with the kid.

The wolf and the bear will no longer be wild,

Little child, it won’t be long now.

 

“It won’t be long now till all people join hands

From many a land, it won’t be long.

It won’t be long now till the children will smile

And laugh all the while, it won’t be long.

 

“The lamb will peacefully dwell with the lion,

The leopard will lie down with the kid.

The wolf and the bear will no longer be wild,

Little child, it won’t be long now.”

 

What this led to in the church of my childhood was, instead of a commitment to set right these wrongs, a commitment to strict obedience to the teachings of that tradition, with the understanding Jesus would set it right for us.   So I remember hearing old sainted men and women of the church, when issues were raised about problems in the world, “Well, there’s no point in investing a lot of time in that.  Man’s problems can’t be solved in this world.  Jesus will solve it in the world He’s bringing”.  And so, they focused on their own individual “giving up of sins” like lying, lust, and not keeping the particular holiness rules of that church (like how short skirts can be, how much makeup is “too much”, and how exactly to keep the Sabbath) but by and large overlooked caring for the poor, fighting discrimination, resisting the many everyday social ills all around them which prevent the world from living up to this dream of all people being one which they sang about.

I imagine this is not representative of every strain of Adventistism, and it certainly occurs in other Christian traditions.

As a teenager I came to discover faith for myself among evangelicals.  While there, I heard promise of Jesus coming to save not so much on the distant return of the end of history, holy spirit 1but by coming to live in my heart.  There deliverance was instantaneous, in I could have the experience of my soul being forgiven, my heart being strangely warmed, I would experience personal freedom here and now and a future full of purpose in this life. I also would know I didn’t need to fear for my life after, because once I’m saved, I’m set.  In the charismatic circles I also explored they spoke of other experiences the Spirit could give that gave even greater sense of freedom.

I had a number of those experiences and can say there was some truth to those messages.  Knowing I am forgiven by God, knowing that I am loved with no take backs, and that I don’t have to worry about my soul’s fate was liberating to me.  And this sense that no matter where I go or what I do, I have someone present with me, a dear friend in the center of my life, through Jesus living in me, truly was life-giving to me in those days.

But this too had its limits.  For as I continued to live my life, there were moments that in my mind I knew God was with me, but God’s presence felt distant and that sense of guidance I found early in my faith journey hard to find.  I could not find in these evangelical circles an explanation for this, but just a questioning of my own faith.  If I only believed enough, I would not feel distant.   Also I was shocked to find that having an awareness of Jesus’ ongoing presence within me didn’t really bring total peace.  There were issues in my heart and mind unresolved from my upbringing, from the damaging messages culture sent my way, and (though I could not see it then) even from the mixed messages my own faith gave me.   Simply having Jesus in my heart and knowing it did not bring all the peace it promised.

What’s more, it didn’t mend my world.  For I was told the way to mend the world is to go mend world 2out and share about this deep inner peace Jesus coming into my heart gave me.  And anyone who knew me as a teenager and in my early 20’s could tell you – I did this.  Yet it seemed even then as if that was an incomplete picture.  For how many people who have this experience and it alone actually go out and change their world in practical ways?  How many, like I did even in those moments, are riddled with insecurities, self-loathing, doubts, and fears that keep them stuck?  In fact, though I didn’t see it then, now I realize that tradition also brought with it the same problem of my childhood Adventistism: just as those Adventists looked for Jesus to come and deliver us from the world’s problems in a way that brought healing to this world without our effort, so many of the evangelicals and charismatics among whom I learned faith looked to a rapture where all the faithful would be carried away from this world to a perfect one, while this world fell apart.   And why invest to make better a world you were leaving?

kingdom of god within thomasIn both cases, to be fair, I do know folks from each of these traditions who are doing more than what I experienced in terms of making their own souls whole or working to heal the brokenness of this world.  But to me these early experiences illustrate ways I can misunderstand what it means to pray “deliver us from evil”.

One of the things we have to consider when we pray for a deliverer is the challenging words of Jesus, who tells us

“20 Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.””

That last line – “the kingdom of God is among you” is also rendered by many translators as “the kingdom of God is within you”.

Jesus is putting a challenging truth out to us.  Often we sit, with eyes to the sky, looking for someone else to rescue us.  Who will come and save us?  We are like the singer of this classic song:

“Where have all the good men gone

And where are all the gods?

Where’s the street-wise Hercules

To fight the rising odds?

Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed?

Late at night I toss and I turn and I dream of what I need

 

hero on white horse“I need a hero

I’m holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night

He’s gotta be strong

And he’s gotta be fast

And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight

I need a hero

I’m holding out for a hero ’til the morning light

He’s gotta be sure

And it’s gotta be soon

And he’s gotta be larger than life

 

“Somewhere after midnight

In my wildest fantasy

Somewhere just beyond my reach

There’s someone reaching back for me

Racing on the thunder and rising with the heat

It’s gonna take a superman to sweep me off my feet

 

“I need a hero

I’m holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night

He’s gotta be strong

And he’s gotta be fast

And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight

I need a hero

I’m holding out for a hero ’til the morning light

He’s gotta be sure

And it’s gotta be soon

And he’s gotta be larger than life

 

Up where the mountains meet the heavens above

Out where the lightning splits the sea

I would swear that there’s someone somewhere

Watching me

 

“Through the wind and the chill and the rain

And the storm and the flood

I can feel his approach

Like the fire in my blood

 

“I need a hero

I’m holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night

He’s gotta be strong

And he’s gotta be fast

And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight

I need a hero

I’m holding out for a hero ’til the morning light

He’s gotta be sure

And it’s gotta be soon

And he’s gotta be larger than life”

 

be the heroIt is easy to look up to the heavens, longing for a hero to come from somewhere out there to rescue us from the mess we find our world in, our lives in, our hearts in.

Jesus tells us what we need won’t come by sitting up and staring into the heavens or observing the signs around us.   No, the transformation of ourselves and our worlds is right here, among us, available if we will take it into ourselves, into our hearts, into our hands.   As John 1 tells us of the living presence of Jesus, Jesus is not someone whose presence must be put into our hearts, for the living Christ is that very light that shines on the heart of every person.

This means that instead of needing to wait for the skies to split open and Jesus to appear, instead of needing to wait for some phenomenal religious or mystical experience, we can open ourselves to the fact we have within us and among us everything we are waiting for.

inner-peace (1)

If I want to see my world become a better place, behold … the light of Christ shines on me and others.  The Kingdom of God is ready to break forth within me, around me, in our very midst.  I can be the one I am waiting for.

The same is true for you.  It is true for the heartaches we carry, for the patterns of life that keep us captive, for the weights on our soul that seem unmendable.   We have within us the light to show us the path out of whatever darkness in which we find ourselves.  We have around us, among us, and through us, the presence of God with which we can work together to mend our own souls, mend the brokenness of the world, and help transform it all.

God delivers us not by us watching and waiting, but as we partner with God for our own liberation, the liberation of others, and the healing of God’s world.

hero 2I hope in the next couple of posts to look at some ways this can happen individually and at large.  But in the meantime, I want to challenge you as this reflection is challenging me: quit buying the message society and even religion teaches you that you are somehow powerless.  That you cannot contribute to changing your own soul, your own life.  That you are not enough to be the change you want to see in your world.  For in you lies the power that moved the worlds, for in every heart the living Christ whose word spoke creation into being, the living Christ who rose victorious over death, the living Christ who is free as wind blowing healing and new beginning through the world.   As you learn to listen to, partner with, and live into that reality, your heart can be healed and find deeper peace, your life can begin to be set free little by little from what binds it, and you and I can help bring true healing to what lies broken around us in our world. You can become the hero you are waiting for, and help others do the same.

Let us engage in that important work together.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

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