When I was in high school, I had a Latin teacher by the name of Mrs. Hague. She was the classic classicist: older, bookish, spindly, and utterly devoted to learning. She once told me that the real difference in my life would come when I was more concerned about learning something than passing a test. I now believe that you can universalize that statement by changing “passing a test” to “just answering a question.”
We have become the short answer, quick fix society. We are all in a rush; we all want the three things that solve this problem or the five best ways to deal with that issue. But I believe that desire for the easy answer deminishes our ability to learn from living our life. One of the reasons, at least from my perspective, that religious law holds such sway on so many faithful, whether it is in Islam, Judaism, or aspects of Christianity, is that such rules give those who seek that path a set of identifiable parameters to follow. Do this, this, and that and everything will be in order.
Jesus once told the scribes and Pharisees that they lacked something significant. True, he admitted that they kept the easily discerned rules that dealt with tithing, even down to counting a tenth of the extremely small cummin and anise seeds, and Jesus even said they should continue to do that. Where they failed, he told them, was in the spirit of the law, the place where one decides what to do when it isn’t all spelled out one, two, three.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Matthew 23:23
Over this year’s Lenten observance, I have learned that prayer is one of those weightier matters. People purchase books or listen to teachers who offer them the one, two, three approach. There were times when I, in frustration, argued with God, saying to Him, “Just tell me what you want me to do!”
The three things that Jesus said the religious men of his day lacked were justice, mercy, and faith. The only one of the three that could even remotely fit the X ways to get right with God approach would be justice. But in the final analysis even justice demands wisdom and the ability to go beyond the letter to the spirit behind it.
We have turned Jesus’ s framework for prayer into a set prayer, but lost its significance when you consider how general it is, rather than being a laundry list of things asked for or noted to be given.
As I grow older I have come to the conclusion that the biblical principal that love cures most problems is more accurate than I previously wanted to admit.
Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:10
The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:14
If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. James 2:8
But love is not exact. It is discerning (Philippians 1:9-11) but needing discernment means it takes effort to see what is really love versus counterfeits that try to steal our righteousness.
In the same way, prayer is not exact, sometimes requiring the Holy Spirit to groan for us, far from an orderly checklist we so often hear or want to say ourselves.
There is one view of this life that says we are learners on a journey to discover who God is and what he wants from us. It seems to me that God purposely limits the easy answers, preferring that we “puzzle” it out, since engaging in that effort exposes our true heart, our true inclinations.
With that in mind, I pray that God blesses your efforts to meet him and that the peace he offers includes a large measure of patience and humility, so that whatever God gives will be “enough”.