I’ve gotten a little stagnant in my prayer life lately – perhaps its because my life hasn’t changed up a whole lot and I’ve still been fighting the same battles – my prayers all look and sound something like this:
Father, thank You for this day. Thanks for putting breath in my lungs, thanks for waking me up this morning. You are good and merciful, and You let me speak to You even when I don’t deserve it. Help me be a good co-worker today; help me to serve people the way that Jesus would serve people; help me to be a good steward of the things You have given me; help me to respond to my surroundings and circumstances with grace and with peace. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Now – there are probably 100 different ways people would criticize that prayer: maybe I didn’t spend enough time in adoration, maybe I didn’t pray scripture, maybe I didn’t root my requests in the right things, maybe I should have been more supplicatory, maybe I could have been more intercessory. (I just read Tim Keller’s prayer, so the concepts, types, and elements of prayer are fresh in my mind.) Anyone who gave any of those criticisms would be, at least in part, correct.
The thing I’ve become all too aware of, however, is how weak my reasoning is to ask to be changed, and that’s my main motivation for writing today.
Let me take you under the hood of my theology and worldview for a quick second. I’m of the mind that God created the world with a very specific design in mind. A design for time, a design for money, a design for sex, a design for our diet/nutrition/health, a design for relationships, a design for work – you name it, chances are I could at least theorize on how God designed it to be done.
So, often times when I’m rethinking something in my life, I’m trying to contrast my current state with what I believe the God-designed world looks like, and then making adjustments to move my current state to that God-state. But in my approach, it has less to do with the fact that God made it, and more to do with the fact that I believe it’s the best system, the best setup that will give me the best outcome. For example:
If I indulge less, then I will save money.
If I save money, then I will be financially free and financially comfortable and have financial autonomy.
If I abstain from sex, then I will be emotionally, mentally, and physically at peace.
If I keep a cool head at work, then I will be less stressed outside of work and remembered well by co-workers.
If I treat my body well by eating well and working out, then I will have a less painful, longer life (at least in theory.)
See, all of those “ifs” are good things to do, and the outcomes aren’t half bad, either – but I’m not choosing to do any of them because it’s the God-designed way of living my life. Instead, I’m more or less using the God-designed way of living life (which speaks to the brilliance of God, I believe, that His plan for life is in some cases simply common wisdom,) to get the best thing for me.
And again – that’s part of the mercy of God, that even if we don’t know that it’s His design for our lives, we still get to reap the benefits of it. That’s called common grace.
Still, however, this approach is misinformed. Seeking our own good – as followers of Jesus – isn’t the point of our lives. It isn’t our job. Jesus made it crystal clear when He said to seek first the kingdom of God and these things (provisions) will be added unto us (Matthew 6:33.) So the benefits still come, but they shouldn’t inform what we do or why we do it.
Perhaps our approach to change should involve three questions: what am I being transformed into? How am I being transformed? Why am I being transformed? I think the theological answers are these: into His image, by beholding Him, and for His glory.
If you extract any of those three answers, the whole thing crashes.
If you seek to be transformed into anything but His image – perhaps someone you admire, or a vision you have of your “ideal” self – then beholding Him becomes unnecessary (as He is not your standard of what to become) and there is no glory to be given to Him (as it is not Him you are seeking to reflect.)
If you seek to be transformed into His image, but do so by any means other than beholding Him (see: 2 Corinthians 3,) then – even if you were successful in your endeavor – He gets no glory, because it is not Him who is doing the transforming, it is you.
If you seek to be transformed into His image, do so by beholding Him, but don’t do it for His glory, then your change is misinformed – simply because the point of being changed into His image is to reflect Him to the rest of the world and in so doing, point back to his glory time and time again.
But how glorious it is when the three things are fused together. Consider it –
we are given a gift, a chance, to be transformed into the image of God: the God who is good, the God who is kind, the God who is just, the God who is love, the God who is beautiful, the God who is creative, the God who is righteous, the God who is wise. we are heirs of such an image.
we are given a standard and a reference point to behold – Jesus Christ – who embodied every bit of that: He humbled Himself to come to earth, He spent His time with others, He healed the sick, He gave sight to the blind, He humbled the rich and exalted the poor, He preached good news, He told truths both harsh and comforting, He never defended Himself in the face of false accusation, and He ultimately gave Himself up – an innocent – to die in the place of guilty sinners such as you and me so that we’d have His inheritance, and ended up rising from the dead three days later, having liberated us after taking the keys to death, hell, and the grave.
and we are given the opportunistic mandate to reflect that glory: that any change you or I are able to make – whether that’s love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control – is a chance to love and glorify the Father who gives us good things, no gift greater than the gift of Himself.