Tuesday, April 30, 2013

On not bargaining with the Almighty

Psalm 66:13-14 (NIV)

I will come to your temple with burnt offerings
   and fulfill my vows to you —
vows my lips promised and my mouth spoke
   when I was in trouble.
I don’t yet put a ton of thought into how I teach my kids to pray. The focus at this stage remains on establishing conversations with God as a regular daily activity — even if it’s done through me praying the words while the kids sit and listen.

But one thing I consciously avoid with their prayers, and my own, for that matter, is what I would consider bargaining with God. That’s the thought I had when reading these verses — the kind of prayer that goes like, “God, if you just let me pass this test I promise I’ll stop fighting with my brother,” or “God if you get me out of this speeding ticket, I swear I’ll go to church every Sunday.”

I am sure I prayed in such a manner when I was younger, but I like to think I’ve matured past such strategies. To me, such prayers are indicators of a complete lack of understanding of the way a relationship with God is supposed to work. Anything I should be doing that’s right in God’s eyes is supposed to be unconditional — not because I expect to curry favor with the almighty. God is not up there waiting to bargain like a pawn shop proprietor. He loves me no matter what.

Further, the types of things I might have asked for in such a manner usually weren’t worth asking God for in the first place. What business is it of God’s if I pass algebra? Do I really need to escape a moving violation in order to agree to worship regularly? Any time spent asking God for material things or worldly success is time that could be spent asking for wisdom, peace, clarity or forgiveness.

I’m just not the type of person who expects, wants or needs God to solve my Earthly problems. I don’t ask God to magically fix our minivan or drop a few hundred bucks out of the sky to make it possible. Perhaps this isn’t a huge problem with other people, but I want to make sure I raise my kids to see God in a certain light, and that light does not involve petty favors.

But surely I do make vows in front of God. There are the obvious wedding vows and the promises I made upon joining a congregation and presenting our children for baptism. But those aren’t vows made in times of trouble. In that category are other things I communicate to God privately, such as a promise to target a specific sin I’m trying to shut out of my life or a commitment to a certain behavior or activity I feel called to address. When I ask for forgiveness, it carries the implication of working diligently to void repeating a mistake.

They are not public professions, but they don’t need to be in order to matter. I might need to share them with my kids at some point for them to understand exactly how I view my relationship with God instead of leaving it to Sunday school and chance, but we’re not all the way there yet. Still, I need God to hold me accountable because I want to do more than just believe, I want to live a life that reflects my faith. It can be pretty difficult, especially when I just forget to try. But it’s a worthy goal, and each day I try to take a few moments with God to rededicate myself.

I’m hoping to find personal fulfillment by being able to fulfill those vows. And it won’t be accomplished on my own.

A prayer for April 30:

Lord, please forgive me for the times I let you down. Help pick me up and set me back in the right direction. Thank you for your endless patience, because I know I need to seek forgiveness far too often. Help me teach my children how to pray, and please continue to help me work on my own prayer life. I know I don’t always offer up the things on my heart and mind, and I am sorry for not being more willing to open myself to you fully. Amen.

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