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Chutes and Ladders

Most of us played a game in childhood called “Chutes and Ladders”  (or perhaps “Snakes and Ladders”?).  All players start in one corner of the game board with the objective of getting to another corner of the board along a meandering path.  Along the path there are chutes that drop you backwards to retrace a section of path and ladders that let you move ahead skipping portions.  Each player rolls the dice and moves their game piece hoping fervently to avoid the chutes and celebrating joyfully when we hit a ladder.  As a childhood game it is a fine thing – simple and easy to understand.  Concrete rules with a known start and a known end destination.  

But what happens if we have never stopped playing?  What happens if we are still playing this game of chutes and ladders in our prayer life?  Bear with me a moment as I stretch the analogy (possibly beyond limits!)….

I can find myself at times checking how much there is left on my mortgage (or checking the bank balance) or checking how my relationship is doing with a loved one (or checking in on my own level of internal peace).  In essence, I am looking to see where I am on the game board of life.  From these check points, I pray.  I tell God about a friend who is facing surgery and ask for Him to heal that person.  I tell God about a financial challenge or a job change and ask God to provide a solution or open a door.  As I pray, you see, I am projecting forward to where I’d like myself or others to be on the game board of life.  Here I am.  There is where I’d like to be (or would like another person to be).   My prayer life is filled with prayers to get from where we are to someplace else – someplace better.  In essence, “God help me avoid the chutes”  (i.e. don’t let me suffer or let anyone I know suffer) and “God help me find a ladder” (get the promotion, bless my children, etc.).  

I do not think these are bad prayers.  We are, after all, told to bring everything to the foot of the throne (Philippians 4:6)  and to pray at all times with all sorts of prayers (Ephesians 6:18). God bends close to hear us – our every need and want. I think He fully welcomes our prayers, even if they are mostly help me avoid the struggle and help me gain a leg up in the direction I want to go. 

I wonder, however, if we would all look vastly different if we dared prayers that stepped outside the bounds of the game board.  Would it touch God’s heart if we prayed something wild and fierce and…well…maybe a little crazy-sounding to our fellow humans?

I have a friend who told me many years ago that I should never pray for her to be safe when she travelled.  She told me she didn’t need to be safe – she needed to be audacious in her faith.  She asked me to pray for courage for her that no matter what happened she would speak boldly of her Lord and Savior and live a life so filled with trust that the world noticed and might ask of her God.  No – not safe for her, just audacious, courageous, boldly trusting.  Why?  So that others would notice and ask.  She wasn’t asking for a chute or a ladder.  She was asking that her game piece be swept from the board entirely so that only God could be seen.  Crazy, huh?  Wild and fierce.

What if – after we have asked for the things we want – we ask God to make us vessels of His glory as well?  What if we said, “And though I have asked for these things, still Thy will be done.  Make of me whatsoever you see fit, that I might show your glory to the world.”  It is a little scary.  We are suddenly moving beyond prayers for safety and avoiding pain.  We are giving God what I think of as “Isaiah permission”  (Here I am God!  Send me!) and “Job faith” (Though He slay me, yet still will I praise Him!).  

If I stop and think, I know that God’s goal is that none should perish and that all would not only know Him but be safe inside His family.  Since that is His goal — and since we are His– then that should be our ultimate goal as well, right?  To shift to that, however, we must move beyond a chutes and ladders prayer-life;  we have to start praying Kingdom prayers – wild, fierce, crazy prayers… 

And so let me end with that type of prayer:  Oh Lord!  Make us fierce! Make us warriors in our prayers!  Make us fearless in our prayers such that we ask for things that touch your heart for the world and You say, “Yes. Yes. And Yes.”

Walking Among Immortals

Walking Among Immortals

A good friend of mine recently sent me an excerpt from a C.S. Lewis’ sermon called “Weight of Glory”.  In this sermon, Mr. Lewis admonished that every person who comes into your presence is immortal.  Whatever you think of them, this is an immortal: a person who will one day be a soul of immense weight and glory — or a horror of corruption. 

For a moment, imagine the person you know best (you know, the one you love but who laughs too loudly, or passes smelly gas at weird times, or simply repeats themselves until you think you will go mad).  Or think of the person you don’t love but must interact with (the neighbor who doesn’t repair the fence but complains about your dogs, the clerk who nitpicks every error, the driver who rushes up in the construction zone and dives in at the last minute).  Now, instead of seeing them in all their annoying human frailty, clothe them with immortality.  

This person is immortal – s/he will live forever.  Either as a child of God, forgiven and bathed in Glory…or thrown into the river of eternal fire where they will suffer things we don’t even want to imagine. Forgiven, glory – or horror, river of fire. When viewed this way, their more annoying behavior fades into insignificance.  

It is, as Mr. Lewis observed in his sermon, a “serious thing” to live moment to moment with the weight of our neighbors’ glory on our backs. It is (or should be) quite humbling to remember that this person – whom we may love or despise, admire or want to avoid at all costs – is one that we can nudge closer to God or farther away with our words and actions.  In this moment, when we are confronted with this person, we should ask ourselves this question:  am I moving them closer to God?  Am I helping them lean towards forgiven and glory? Or am I helping them move towards horror and corruption? This is the weight you and I bear when we are confronted with another person.  It should make us humble – our words and actions have eternal consequence. 

Mr.  Lewis ends with this thought: each person you encounter is the holiest object presented to your senses.  If this person is a Christian s/he is already consecrated and holy – you are interacting with a holy immortal across the table or across the fence. Our words and behavior should encourage them in their trust of The One.  If this person is not a Believer, you are still interacting with an immortal – the question is yet to be answered if they will be an immortal forgiven…or a horror and corruption.

Today, as we each go about our life or visit hard-to-love family over the holidays, remember you walk among immortals.  Our words and behavior reflect what we believe about them.  When we remember that they are immortal (and if we believe they are valuable to God), we will treat them as the treasure God says they are.  It might look like this:

  • reply with a gentle word in the face of anger (Proverbs 15:1); 
  • ignore insults from those who don’t know any better (Proverbs 12:16); 
  • forgive 70 times 7 times (Luke 17:4).

You see, our words and behavior will point them towards God.  Or not.  

We have but this one life to influence each other’s immortal status, so “be ye holy, for I am holy”(1 Peter 1:16) and “in humility count others as more significant than yourself.” (Philippians 2:3). May you, my sweet brothers and sisters in the faith, tap the power of the Holy Spirit in you and so nudge someone closer to God…