Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Time To Be Meek And A Time To Be Bold

I read a very interesting story about Alexander the Great in my Bible notes the other day.

Apparently Alexander prided himself on allowing his subjects to visit him and make requests. On one such occasion, a pauper came to him to make a request... nothing unusual in that. However this man didn't just hold his hand out for alms, he stepped forward with a shopping list that included farmland, a dowry for his daughter and a scholarly education for is son. The court waited nervously... surely this man would be executed... or at the very least, thrown in jail for showing such impertinence.

However, that is not what happened. According to the tale, Alexander acceded to every wish. After the beggar jubilantly left the palace, Alexander's servants began to express their shock at what had transpired. When asked why he had acted as he did, Alexander shrugged it off by saying "I get weary of these people who come to see me in their shoals asking for a gold piece. That man treated me like a king. He asked big!"

We can come to God in much the same way... but hold on... didn't Jesus say something quite different? He once told a parable:

"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'

"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'

"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Luke 8:10-14

I don't think these stories are contradictory... even though one is biblical and the other is not.

You see... Alexander's beggar wasn't exalting himself; he was recognising the exalted nature of his king.

The crucial thing to remember whenever we pray, is that we should be centring our thoughts and petitions on God... and not ourselves. When we approach God knowing our need of forgiveness, we must not become obsessed with our failings to the point that we refuse to receive God's mercy. The tax collector knew how bad he was... but he also knew the only person who could change that situation was God... so that is who his prayer focused on.

You see in his own way, the tax collector was very bold. He knew his failings, he knew the penalty of his failings.... yet he went before God anyway. He didn't wallow in self pity (for this in the end just leads to a never ending cycle of repeating the same mistakes - take that from someone writing, who has had experience in such things).

Unlike Alexander's beggar, the tax collector didn't seem to expect anything... he just hoped God would hear him and grant mercy.

Maybe you are reading this and you feel you are in the same position. How can God forgive you for what you have done? Do you prefer to hide it all away and just take it for granted that you are doomed?

There is hope.

God sees the genuine nature within our hearts. If we sincerely regret what we have done, we can have confidence that he will forgive us.

We must be meek enough to realise what we have done is wrong... and bold enough not to withhold ourselves from God... we must have the courage to come forward and ask forgiveness. It needn't be in front of an altar...you can do it just as well in the privacy of your bedroom.

And when we come to God with petitions... if he is at the centre of our requests, we can have confidence in his power to provide. We forget too easily that God is the ultimate resource. We prefer instead to struggle on in our own vain strength.

Yet as Paul prayed when writing to the Church at Ephesus... God is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or even imagine.

Jesus himself told his disciples that God responds to shameless audacity (as long as it is not selfish), that he longs to give us good things, and yet like the prodigal son we squirm around in the mud looking for pig slop.... when if we only lifted our eyes... there lies a banquet for us.

God did not put a Spirit of timidity within us. I am utterly convinced that big things are coming in this generation... but we need to wise up, we need to wake up. We need to be prepared to ask for God's empowerment if we we truly want to be a part of hi wondrous plan.

We need to get real. We need to stop being selfish and doing things in our own strength... we need to remember who we work for and that we can ask boldly for his power to be at work in us.

Lets conclude with the words of John Wesley, from his hymn And Can It Be That I Should Gain? In the final verse:

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

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